John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 21-22.
On the night of May 24, Brown and a group of seven men cut the throats of five unarmed proslavery settlers and hacked them to death with broadswords. Brown's actions need to be understood within the context of the Radical Abolition party and its doctrines. Brown is often described as unique among abolitionists, the ne plus ultra of fanatics, but he is seldom associated with political abolitionism. Yet he aligned himself closely with Gerrit Smith, McCune Smith, and Douglass, attended other political conventions with them, and justified his actions under God and the Radical Abolitionist message that whatever was right was practicable, to paraphrase Douglass. Brown and his comrades were not far removed from Preston Brooks and the thousands of Southerners who sent him canes of congratulation: both sides advocated violent means for realizing wholly different visions of their country. But the two men's uses of violence differed in two ways. First, Brooks used violence to defend his (and the South's) honor, while Brown used violence to defend his (and Radical Abolitionists') vision of social equality. Second, Sumner had challenged and provoked Brooks with his speech; Brown's victims had done nothing directly to provoke or challenge Brown and his men.