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Political Tyranny and the Story of Henry Box Brown

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I’ve been working on the topic of Civil Disobedience for a talk I’m giving at a conference in LaGrange, Georgia, on October 1. There are too many Christians who believe they can win a shooting war with the United States government. Pres. Biden was right. To take on our government, we would need “F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.” This was a terrible thing to say. It gives the impression that Pres. Biden would use the full power of the US military against the American people, even nuking them. Give the insanity of the leftist mobs, I would not discount a national force to subjugate the newest enemies of the State.

We are still far away from any such a scenario. The first step is to take back our country through legitimate means. We also have state governments that can exercise their Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights.

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John Calvin (1509–1564) was neither unaware nor indifferent to tyrannical rulers. He had experienced tyranny firsthand while living in France. While he did not preach the “right of revolution,” he did support the belief that lesser magistrates — city or provincial governors — could lawfully resist a greater magistrate (e.g., a prince or king) who was oppressing the people. Resistance to tyrants could not come by way of “private persons” or “individual citizens,” as in the case of the Anabaptists, but rather by legal means and through duly ordained civil authority. This reformational view, developed by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, later became the basis of America’s struggle for independence against the British government in the eighteenth century.

The question is, is it ever morally right to resist a duly constituted government when that government is acting outside its jurisdictional boundaries? Most would say yes. What are some of the ways resistance can take place? There are noted biblical examples that I’ve discussed elsewhere. There are further examples like fleeing from tyrannical rule. It’s difficult to do this in the United States unless we take refuge in states willing to exercise their constitutional rights against Federal tyranny based on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and the principle of limited federal power based on the enumeration principle, that is, only those powers listed in the Constitution are legitimate for the national government to exercise. But back to the point of fleeing in the face of tyrannical governments. There is biblical precedent.

Moses fled from Pharaoh (Heb. 11:27; Ex. 2:11–25). David fled from Saul (1 Sam. 18:6–20:42). Elijah fled from Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 19). The English Separatists fled England in 1608 and moving to Holland. Wanting to maintain their English roots and traditions, they made their final move to Plymouth in 1620. Separatist leader William Bradford wrote in his History of Plymouth Plantation the following:

For many, though they desired to enjoy the ordinances of God in their purity, and the liberty of the gospel with them, yet, alas! they admitted of bondage, with danger of conscience, rather than to endure these hardships; yea, some preferred and chose the prisons in England rather than this [religious] liberty in Holland with these afflictions.

When Europe was in the throes of war under the rising tyranny of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, many fled to other parts of Europe and the United States.

The initial response to the Nazi takeover was a substantial wave of emigration (37,000–38,000), much of it to neighboring European countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland). Most of these refugees were later caught by the Nazis after their conquest of western Europe in May 1940. Jews who were politically active were especially likely to emigrate. Other measures that spurred decisions to emigrate in the early years of Nazi rule were the dismissal of Jews from the civil service and the Nazi-sponsored boycott of Jewish-owned stores.


By September 1939, approximately 282,000 Jews had left Germany and 117,000 from annexed Austria. Of these, some 95,000 emigrated to the United States, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to Great Britain, and about 75,000 to Central and South America, with the largest numbers entering Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia. More than 18,000 Jews from the German Reich were also able to find refuge in Shanghai, in Japanese-occupied China. (Source)

There was the Underground Railroad that moved slaves from slave states to non-slave states, Canada, Mexico, where slavery had been abolished, and some Caribbean islands where there was no slave trade. Canada was a popular destination because it was “beyond the reach of the United States’ Fugitive Slave Acts.”

One of the most ingenious and daring escapes from slavery was accomplished by Henry Box Brown. Brown mailed himself to Philadelphia from Richmond, Virginia, in a wooden crate. This was long before next-day delivery. The box was three feet long, two feet wide, and two-and-a-half feet high with an air hole for breathing.

“Ordinary modes of travel he concluded might prove disastrous to his hopes”, the abolitionist William Still writes of Brown in The Underground Railroad; “he, therefore, hit upon a new invention altogether, which was to have himself boxed up and forwarded to Philadelphia direct by express.” With the aid of a Massachusetts-born white man called Samuel Smith, who, in exchange for a sum of money, arranged for the box to be received at the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in downtown Philadelphia, Brown had himself shipped via Adams Express on March 23, 1849. After twenty-six hours of rough handling by deliverymen, he was pried from his coffin and — being a deeply religious man — sung a song of thanksgiving he had written, based on Psalm 40. (Source)

He added “Box” as his middle name and published the Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide, Written From a Statement of Facts Made By Himself. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Brown made his way to England, but not in a box! There “he continued to speak, sing, and present his [painted] panorama [depicting Brown’s personal experience and the history of slavery and the slave trade], as well as to stage reenactments of his escape, arranging to have himself shipped from Bradford to Leeds to bring attention to the American abolitionist cause.”

God or Caesar?

In many ways, the crux of the evangelical political dilemma today is the unwillingness of many professing Christians to live up to the full claims of the Gospel and all that this implies. Professor Moltmann nailed it when he compared contemporary Western Christianity with the failure of the Christian churches under Hitler’s Reich: ‘We also have no right to speak of God and with God if we do not do it in the midst of the conflicts of our political world.’

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Was Brown’s escape illegal? In terms of the law, it was. Was he morally right to escape since chattel slavery based on kidnapping (Ex. 21:16) was a moral evil and the fact that his wife and children had been sold to another slave owner? Yes.

Watch this short video from the TV show America’s Got Talent and the story of Henry Box Brown coupled with an amazing bit of prestidigitation and escape artistry.

American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit for more information, content and resources


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