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This Guilty Land


John BrownBleeding Kansas, John Brown

Grade Level:

6-8 dependent upon where Kansas history is taught


The purpose of this lesson is to show that John Brown was a complex man. To this day people disagree whether he was a martyr or a terrorist. This lesson uses quotes and objects from John Brown’s lifetime to highlight this complexity.

Standards addressed:

Kansas history:

  • KH7B2I4: Describe the role of important individuals during the territorial period (e.g., John Brown).
  • KH7B7I2: Examines and analyzes historical documents and artifacts.

National Standards:

  • US History 5-12, S1A: Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principle cause of the conflict.



  • John Brown came to Kansas to support the
    abolitionist cause.
  • John Brown was tried and hanged for treason
    after leading a raid on Harpers Ferry.


  • Analyzing issues
  • Organizing information
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Primary sources

Essential Questions:

  • Was John Brown a terrorist or a martyr?
  • Was John Brown typical of the abolitionists
    working to make Kansas a state free of slavery?
  • Do the ends justify the means?


  • character chart
  • class discussion
  • epitaph


  1. Provide context for the lesson by placing John Brown within the period of Kansas Territory and the years just before the start of the Civil War. Share with the class that John Brown was a complex man. Some consider him a martyr and others a terrorist.
  2. Pass out the “Getting to Know John Brown” cards. Using the cards, have students organize into two groups— “What did John Brown say?” and “What did others say about John Brown?”
  3. Complete the “Who is John Brown?” worksheet using the information on the cards. Discuss what students included on their worksheets.
  4. Using the cards, class discussion, and worksheet, have students write an epitaph for John Brown.

Download the Complete Lesson Plan

This lesson plan was originally prepared by the Education and Outreach Division, Kansas State Historical Society for Territorial Kansas Online. The standards cited in the pdf form of the lesson plan were those from the 1999 Kansas State Standards. On this preview of the lesson we have made every attempt to match them to the current 2004-05 State Standards.