Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, writing for the Platte County Self-Defense Association, explained its intentions to his readers. The members feared that Emigrant Aid Societies unfairly competed for land in newly opened Kansas. They would plant mercenary paupers on that land to both keep Kansas free soil and undermine slavery in adjacent Missouri. They would do that by bringing into Missouri’s slave belt men of open abolitionist sentiment. They would gather and announce themselves, emboldening Missourians who already had doubts about slavery. They would also encourage free blacks, the worst sort of black to men of Stringfellow’s thinking, and use their homes as outposts on the underground railroad. The tide of free soil footsoldiers rushing through the Missouri slave country would also, with the lure of profit, induce even decent slaveholding men to turn traitor by selling them supplies and otherwise giving them aid.
We should not discount the fear of white subversion, breaking the almighty color line that kept poor white nonslaveholders and rich whites slaveholders together. The planter class really did need the assent of a great many whites to keep their slaves because whites did have and had used in living memory the power to end slavery within the bounds of a slave state. If that power lay dormant after New Jersey’s 1804 emancipation law, that did not mean it had vanished. White solidarity kept slaves in their places.
The impetus for that white solidarity came in part from fears of a racial holocaust. Slaves had revolted violently in the past. Very large and frightening revolts had taken place in the Caribbean, the greatest and most notorious in Haiti. Servile insurrection lurked seemingly around every corner to some Americans in the middle of the nineteenth century. The United States never had a massive revolt on the scale of Haiti, slaveholders thought they had in the past caught conspiracies to accomplish just such a thing. If they had to torture or terrorize confessions out of the alleged conspirators, that only meant that they knew what awaited if they told willingly. Paranoia played a role, but sometimes slaves really did set out to get their owners.
The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin. To induce a slave to escape, involves not merely to the master the loss of that slave, of that amount of property; but it brings in its train far more serious consequences. Other slaves are thereby induced to make like attempts; a hatred for their masters, whom they begin to regard as their oppressors, is thus begotten; and this, too, often is followed by arson and murder.
A good example could break white solidarity, convince the slaves to revolt, or both at once. Personal safety and racial paranoia ran smoothly together. Black brutes would kill innocent whites if let free. Inspiring whites to debate the merits of slavery openly would lead to poor whites turning against it. One would enable the other and soon everything would fly out of the slaveholders’ control. That might mean their personal ruin, but it would surely mean their financial ruin:
Already the effect of the coming of such a band of abolitionists to our border, has been not only to reduce the value of our slaves, but of our land. Slaveholders fear to come among us; good men who are opposed to slavery, will not come; and should Kansas be made a harbour for negro-thieves, ours, now the most prosperous portion of our State, will in a short lime become a desert waste. We must at once sell our slaves, abandon the culture of hemp, our great staple; suffer our fields to lie idle, until slaveholders driven from our State, Missouri shall fall into the hands of freesoilers, and a new people be brought to take our places.
The reference to good men opposed to slavery has to make one wonder what such person Stringfellow would have recognized. The Emigrant Aid Societies brought men opposed to slavery who he called bad on this grounds.
The fall of Missouri to freedom would, of course, have broader implications:
Not less is the interest which other slaveholding States have in the end, though seemingly it be less in the beginning of this struggle. The abolitionists are fully awake to the true nature, the future consequences of this struggle. They proclaim the purpose of their efforts to be, to surround Missouri with non-slaveholding States; force her to abolish slavery; then wheel her into their ranks for an attack upon the States south of her.
Missouri vanquished, Arkansas and Texas are looked upon as easy victims. Slavery then restricted to a small space, they rejoice in the contemplation of an early exhibition of another Haytian liberation.