“Negro-Slavery, No Evil.” Part Six

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Full text. Parts 12345

The Platte County Self-Defense Association, via Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, insisted that it lived up to its name. It concerned itself with the maintenance and defense of slavery not in Kansas, but in adjacent Missouri. Its members further cast themselves as the advance guard for slavery in general. If they failed, Missouri would fall to freedom. Then abolitionists would descend not on chilly Kansas or Missouri valley hemp country, but on the virgin cotton lands in Arkansas and Texas where planters really saw their future expansion heading. They stood for themselves and for all the slaveholding states, prepared to fight enemies from without and subversion of the sacrosanct color line binding all whites together on behalf of slavery at home.

As the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act had proved, and the Dred Scott decision and two famous Confederate invasions would later prove, defending slavery often required conducting offensive campaigns in free territory. Stringfellow owned up to that:

There is another measure which we have proposed, which may be deemed local and personal, and which has been grossly misrepresented by the abolitionists and their sympathisers. We have been charged with pledging ourselves to assist in the expulsion of all settlers who go to Kansas from the non-slaveholding States. This, like most other abolition statements, is purely false. On the contrary, the only pledge we have given touching the expulsion of any person from Kansas, is one which we expect ere long to be called on to redeem by the good men who have gone to Kansas from the non-slaveholding States. That pledge is, that we will, when called on by the citizens of Kansas, aid them in expelling those who are exported to that Territory by the Abolition Aid Societies. With these, the honest men, who go to Kansas from the non-slaveholding States, are not to be confounded.

No, the men of the association would never go to Kansas to run out everyone from a free state. Yes, they would go when asked by Kansans to evict the illegitimate mercenaries of the Emigrant Aid Societies. They knew Kansans would ask because they expected to supply the Kansans. They would not run out slaveholding Kansans, of course. Nor would they answer the call of Kansans from free states who asked them to help run out outside agitators in favor of slavery, however amusing one might find the image of them racing across the border to haul themselves back to their starting point. This sharp distinction allows Stringfellow and his comrades to pledge themselves to defending legitimate settlers in Kansas, while limiting legitimacy to the settlers who will come and vote the way they prefer. Heads they win; tails the free soilers lose.

Stringfellow justified the distinction without difference by appeal to frontier mythology. People who came to Kansas on their own, who would come mostly from Missouri as the shorter distance meant lower costs, went

with the spirit of freemen to secure a home for their children, they go respecting the rights of others

Not like the other sort:

the slaves of Thayer & Co. and his associates, to do their masters’ bidding; to drive others from the Territory, to steal negroes from Missouri.

How dare they propose to drive people from Kansas! Didn’t they know that job belonged to the Platte County Self-Defense Association?

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