“I am for resistance-I care not to what extent.”


Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Eli Thayer’s abolitionist army descended on Kansas, but men from Missouri had every advantage. They lived right next door to Kansas. They’d slipped over the border long before any law permitted them to do so. They had all the warning they needed that free soil settlers would come and used that warning to form groups devoted to keeping them out of Kansas, like Atchison and Stringfellow’s Platte County Self-Defense Association. Missourians crossing the border might not all care for slavery, in Missouri or elsewhere, but enough of them saw Kansas as theirs to readily ally with the proslavery men. If the natural advantages did not prove sufficient, then threats of violence might. If threats of violence did not suffice, actual violence could follow.

How could Thayer’s and other free soil settlers expect to claim Kansas as their own against all this? They appreciated their predicament keenly, both in the cities of the East Coast and out on the frontier. In his June 29, 1854 edition, Horace Greeley printed a letter from Abelard Guthrie, a Benton Democrat wrote to detail some of the preliminary skulduggery:

So it seems the foul deed has been consummated, and this beautiful Territory, for whose benefit I have spent so much time and money, is surrendered up to the full power of Slavery. But the outrage is not to stop here. It is but one link in the chain of insult and injury offered to the people of the free states.

Before the Missouri Compromise repeal hit Congress, the body considered a bill to buy up some land from the Indians living in the area. Congress appropriated fifty thousand dollars for the job and then the matter hung in abeyance. Only after the repeal became part of the Kansas-Nebraska Act did things move on that front.

and then, instead of a Commissioner being sent to treat with the Indians in the ordinary way, delegations from each tribe have been hurried off to Washington, and the treaties there made, so that neither the tribes at large nor the public know anything of the conditions of these treaties.  The Indian Agents, the Senate, and the particular friends of the Administration alone know what is going on. These individuals circulated the story that no citizen would be allowed to take claims or settle on the lands ceded by the Indians to the Government, until the full surveys were made and the lands offered at public sale.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

All of that might sound irregular and worrisome, but not much to generate outrage. However:

In the meantime, Senator ——– sent a private telegraphic dispatch to his friends to go and take possession of the most desirable locations. This information was circulated secretly, and thousands of the pro-slavery party swarmed over the country before those not in the secret were apprised of what was doing. These men, I understand, have banded together to prevent the settlement of anti-slavery men in the country. Several meetings of these “clubs” have been held in Missouri, and anti-slavery men have been denounced with fierce threats.

Greeley helpfully makes it clear to anybody who missed the obvious inference that David Rice Atchison sent the telegram.

Guthrie asked if the outrages would ever end. A Senator actively conspiring to deny land to free state men? Arranging misinformation so they think the lands ceded by the Indian tribes had to wait on survey before claims, while telling his proslavery friends to rush in and take them up? Guthrie wouldn’t stand for it:

Will the people of the free states quietly submit to these wrongs and insults-to be mere vassals of the slave power? I am for resistance-I care not to what extent.

Italics in the original.

With violent threats already on the table, Guthrie had to know full well that others would read in his commitment to resist a commitment to violence. If proslavery men imagined that antislavery men wronged them, so antislavery men imagined the same thing of proslavery men. If proslavery men would fight for Kansas, so would antislavery men.

Update: The previous version of this post gave the wrong date for the issue of the Tribune.

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