By Brian McGinty
Unaccountably, as historian-attorney Brian McGinty observes in a new book, not one among Brown's many biographers has devoted more than a chapter to the trial itself.
After summarizing the events at the arsenal, Brown's capture and his
provides an account of the trial proceedings which is comprehensive and informative.
Consistent with the uneven mid-19th-century practice regarding the use of court reporters, none was present at the Brown trial to generate a transcript.
has thoroughly mined the contemporary daily newspaper accounts to produce a highly readable, illuminating narrative.
capably explains the complicated legal issues involved, including the unusual charge that Brown, who was not a resident of Virginia, had committed treason against that state, and the jurisdictional problem arising from the fact that by 1859 the Harpers Ferry arsenal was situated on federal, not state, land.
also details Brown's active role in his
own defense, even though by law he
was barred from testifying.
analyzes Brown's compelling statement at sentencing which turned the defense into an attack on slavery.
McGinty addresses larger matters, as well.
focuses on several controversial procedural aspects, including the Virginia court's appointment of local defense counsel (two of whom were witnesses to some of the underlying events), its refusal to allow Brown a continuance, Brown's debilitated physical condition as a consequence of his
wounds, and the aberrant, cursory handling of Brown's appeal by the Virginia Supreme Court
These facts grate harshly on the modern ear which is accustomed to zealous protection of an accused's rights.
analyzes the resulting fairness question competently and appropriately, with an eye to the trial's 19th-century context.