Topeka, Kan. — Whenever Sam Brownback leaves the governor’s office in the state capitol of Kansas, he faces an iconic image of John Brown. The big mural of the militant abolitionist, painted by John Steuart Curry in the late 1930s, hangs across the hallway from his door. It depicts Brown as a hotheaded bitter clinger, clutching a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other, and standing over a scene of Civil War mayhem. His hair sticks up as if on fire, his long beard blows horizontally, and his eyes glow with madness.
“He’s not the kind of guy you’d invite to a barbecue,” jokes Brownback. “But he does represent Kansas. This is a place where people have come to fight about right and wrong.” In Brown’s time, the fight was over slavery. In our time, says Brownback, it’s about the future of self-government: “Are we going to be Europe or are we going to be America again?”