Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz’s The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism explains the contentious debates between abolitionists and McKim’s role as a mediator. In her book, Laughlin-Schultz addresses Mary Brown’s South-bound trip to see her husband John Brown leading up to his execution. McKim and a party of other abolitionists accompanied Brown as they traveled by train, wagon, sleigh, and ferry to Virginia. Around the time of the execution, Mary Brown and James McKim were close: she stayed with him and later Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia. While McKim did not witness Mary and her husband’s reunion, he published an account of his time traveling with her and spoke at John Brown’s funeral. While I have yet to find the account he wrote, once I have access to the full book with the citations, I will be able to track down where I can find this document.[1]

Beyond briefly touching on McKim’s and Mary Brown’s friendship, Laughlin-Schultz addresses the factions of abolitionists that attempted to exert their control over the funeral arrangements. Some abolitionists, believing John Brown to be one of the greatest abolitionists, fought to have his body buried in a huge funeral at a national cemetery. They wanted to turn his funeral into a rallying cry for abolitionism, complete with various speeches made in support of the abolitionist cause. However, the Brown family wanted the funeral to be personal, so other abolitionists respected this desire as well as Brown’s dying wishes that the funeral not be grand and argued for it to occur in a private setting, unencumbered by abolitionist tides. Ever the mediator, McKim, according to Laughlin-Schultz, talked to both parties until everyone was in agreement. McKim acknowledged both the desire of the family for a personal burial for Brown and the desire of “‘the friends of the slave'” to have the opportunity to convey their “‘public manifestations of respect for the remains of the martyr.'”[2] The compromise was a fairly private funeral in which McKim and another abolitionist spoke about Brown’s role in their cause.  Concluding that McKim  “sought a sense of continued relevance, an affirmation that their decades long work for the movement still mattered,” Laughlin-Schultz reveals McKim’s “continued relevance” was not as the leading figure of the abolitionists nor their main writer, but rather the mediator who, behind the scenes, struck bargains without compromising on the abolitionist cause.[3]

[1] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 68-76. [JSTOR]

[2] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical, 75-76.

[3] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 80.