Anarchy in Kansas

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The men of the Missouri frontier desperately wanted Kansas, some for land, some for slavery, and some for a mix of both. Congress threw open the doors and invited everybody in with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but no civilian government waited on the ground to see to an orderly settlement. This could only invite trouble, but to further complicate things no survey of the available lands yet existed. The government in Washington or a future government in Kansas couldn’t tell the land-hungry settlers from either section just what lands they could have. Some territory still belonged to the Indians, at least for a time. Some did not. Where did one end and the other begin?

In the absence of the land survey and clear boundaries to the remaining reservations, not an inch of Kansas stood open to legal purchase. The way things ought to work, those surveys would find their way to a federal land office somewhere in the territory. People would go out and look around, decide what land they wanted, and either file a claim for it via preemption or buy it outright. Preemption worked a bit like homesteading. One went to the land and improved it, increasing its value and the value of adjacent land. If a citizen or somewhere in the process of becoming one, the settler thus earned the right to buy the land at a set minimum price. Poorer settlers could thus establish their claims and then work the land to help meet the subsidized price.

With no legal means to resolve their disputes over prized land, settlers would naturally resort to deciding things by who had the most friends or shot the straightest. No other means existed until the land office received the first surveys in January, 1855. Even without slavery inflaming sectional tensions and inspiring partisan bands to contend over the territory, this just asked for trouble. Land disputes invited settlers to court powerful friends, whether well-heeled Yankees or a United States Senator.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

The United States Senator in question, David Rice Atchison, saw himself as just the man to resolve matters. He had helped make Kansas open for slavery. He and his cohorts founded the Platte County Self-Defense Associationof late embarrassments. If anybody could take charge and serve at least as the figurehead for proslavery settlers and slavery-indifferent but anti-Yankee settlers alike, he could.

Anyone in Kansas who got on the wrong side of one of Atchison’s clients would naturally incline toward the Emigrant Aid Society’s patronage, whether they cared much for Eli Thayer’s antislavery politics or not. If one can’t blame the Missouri men for feeling a bit betrayed and overwhelmed by conniving outsiders with their deep pockets, then one can hardly blame their opposites for increasingly aligning otherwise. Atchison gave them plenty of reasons. His lieutenant, B.F. Stringfellow threatened violence and lawlessness. One might think a senator above such things, especially if he intended to participate himself, but Atchison had no such scruples. According to the testimony of Dr. G. A. Cutler to the House committee appointed to investigate Kansas affairs, Atchison appeared in Kansas in March of 1855. He came with eighty well-armed men and gave a brief speech including these words:

We came to vote, and we are going to vote, or kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.

2 comments on “Anarchy in Kansas

  1. taxsanity says:

    You have no idea what they wanted, much less “some for land, some for slavery”. That may be true, but their actions do not show that., And you dont even have the right men for sure.

    Atchison had 1700 men, most were not from Missouri, most were from Texas. In fact, Atrchicon, on his famous raid of Lawrence, carried a red flag of some sorty — for blood he said in his speech — and the Texas flag.

    You should read that speech, its one of the most amazing in US history.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but you do seem to know Atchison a little. Actually, in the testimony, he said he would get 5000 men next time, and kill all the abolitionist in Kansas.

    On these important matters, it helps if people like you get it right, instead of thinking you know whats in the minds of those men, how about better description of what their leaders — Atchison — told them.

    Or do you even know about his speech?

    And do you even know about Sumner mentioning him quite specifically in his Crimes Against Kansas. And in that speech, Sumner did not just accuse Atchison and men like him of the voting by force, but of killing and — DOING SO WITH APPROVAL OF THE PRESIDENT.

    Try to grasp that. It’s important. Davis and Buchanan hired this guy, who rode under a Texas and other flag, to kill and terrorize anyone who spoke against, or wrote against, slavery.

    This violence against free speech — and Atchison bragged of it — was the problem., Atchison says what he is after in the speech — to STOP free speech! And he brags the men will be paid by the federal authorities! ,

    You are better than some Iver read, who idiotically claim Atchison was “keenly interested in making Kansas a slave state”. That’s it. No mention of going there, no mention of killings, no mention of promises to kill more, and no mention of his speech. That same writer, a so called “historian” working for Yahoo answers, claims Atchison was for popular soverighty, and that Charles Sumner was against it!

    That’s a special kind of stupid right there. THis guy goes on repeated killing sprees, to stop free speech, to kill and terrorize, and that’s popular sovereignty Orwell much>

    I could easily say they wanted power and to rape slaves — and were paid by Atchison from funds Jefferson Davis provided. But I don’t know if they were into raping slave women, most slave owners were, however, like Robert E Lee, apparently, see this,

    • I think that I have answered most of your concerns in my other reply, but there are a few separate things here:

      I have struggled in vain to find copies of most of Atchison’s speeches online, save those he gave in the Senate. Can you direct me to a source? With regard to free speech in general, his group endorsed the pamphlet Negro Slavery, No Evil which explicitly called for making antislavery speech illegal and declared that the group’s members would take it on themselves to police it violently until such time as the law changed to oblige. I quote it here:

      Though we fully recognise the duty of all good citizens to obey the law, to rely upon the law, where there is no law, the right of self-defence requires that we should resort to the strong hand for self-protection. We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

      I am not aware of any evidence that Jefferson Davis or James Buchanan hired Atchison to go out and filibuster Kansas for slavery. As with the speeches, can you direct me to a source? I would be intensely interested in any such documents.

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