A Secret Society or Societies?Posted: June 11, 2014
The Howard Report laid out a grand claim: a secret society organized in Missouri and with branches across the South and in Kansas conspired to move proslavery men into the territory to vote in its first ever election. They elected John W. Whitfield, an Indian agent from Tennessee, and promptly went back home to Missouri. They resolved, however, to continue intervention in Kansas to ensure it came in as a slave state by means of further non-resident voting and, if needed, violence.
We know that organizations in Missouri that reached into Kansas and, by correspondence, throughout the South did exist. But to what degree did they form an active, single conspiracy and to what degree did they constitute a general movement similar in motives, if not all methods, to the work of the Emigrant Aid Societies? The committee expressed frustration in trying to get any useful information about the inner workings of the operation:
Your committee had great difficulty in eliciting the proof of the details in regard to this secret society. One witness, a member of the legislative council, refused to answer questions in reference to it. Another declined to answer fully, because to do so would result to his injury. Others could or would only answer as to the general purposes of the society; but sufficient is disclosed in the testimony to show the influence it had in controlling the elections in the Territory.
I omitted the footnotes, but the report helpfully points one to the testimony in question. J.C. Prince told the committee that he and a hundred men came into Kansas the day before the November, 1854 election.
The most, perhaps all, the party were from Missouri,. They went to Fort Scott to vote. On the day of the election, Barbee and Wilson, two of the judges, made some attempts to swear some of the men; but they got them in some way not to swear the voters, and I think none were sworn that day. They all voted, so far as I know; at least they told me so. I think I was acquainted with about fifty who voted there, and who lived in Missouri at that time. There were but very few resident voters; I should think not probably over fifty. [...] I should suppose there were but about twenty-five legal voters that day at Fort Scott.
Losing an election when one can import more voters than the other party has present would make for a remarkable accomplishment. Prince also testified that others came to Fort Scott on the same mission. When voting ended, most of them took up and left at once. Prince stayed the night, at least.
Why did they go?Aside the general imperatives, Prince testified that
Some of the most influential men of Missouri in the company that went urged me to go and vote.
Prince gave no names, but would go so far as to say that influential men made their opinion known. Men like David Rice Atchison? Or his lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow?
William P. Richardson told a similar story, though he actually bought a claim in Kansas. In an election in March, 1855, he urged four hundred to five hundred men who came over from Missouri not to bother voting as he expected to win easily. Richardson volunteered also that someone had paid the expenses of the Missouri men who came over to vote, but he had nothing to do with it.
I don’t know that the testimony the committee cited supports their conclusions all the way in respect to the secret society, but it probably made little difference. A single organization or a number working in parallel clearly facilitated Missouri men crossing the border to vote proslavery in Kansas elections.