Secret Societies of Kansas Stealers

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

All of those people who followed David Rice Atchison’s advice and made themselves temporary Kansans in order to vote in the territory’s first election had to come from somewhere. Moving large numbers of people, especially in an era with poor communications, takes organization. Local newspapers could help, and the United States Postal Service would carry the necessary letters, but without some groups coordinating things, only a diffuse number might come over to steal the election. Clearly more than that crossed the surveyor’s line into Kansas.

They came from Missouri, according to the Howard Report, under the auspices of a secret society

formed in the State of Missouri. It was known by different names, such as “Social Band,” “Friends’ Society,” “Blue Lodge,” and “The Sons of the South.” Its members were bound together by secret oaths, and they had pass-words, signs, and grips, by which they were known to each other; penalties were imposed for violating the rules and secrets of the order; written minutes were kept of the proceedings of the lodges; and the different lodges were connected together by an effective organization. It embraced great numbers of the citizens of Missouri, and was extended into other slave States and into the Territory. Its avowed purpose was not only to extend slavery into Kansas, but also into other territories of the United States, and to form a union of all the friends of that institution.

Passwords, secret handshakes, penalties for breaking secrecy, this all sounds a great deal like the Ku Klux Klan minus the white hoods and burning crosses. It also sounds like the Know-Nothings. The participants would probably prefer we remember them as descendants of the Sons of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence. We need not oblige, but should understand that they saw themselves that way.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

I don’t know that a single organization existed out of all this. The plethora of names sounds to me much more like a network of groups allied for common cause. Either way, they belong together as a movement whether they institutionally merged or not. Their collective method comes as no surprise:

Its plan of operating was to organize and send men to vote at the elections in the Territory, to collect money to pay their expenses, and, if necessary, to protect them in voting. It also proposed to induce pro-slavery men to emigrate into the Territory, to aid and sustain them while there, and to elect none to office but those friendly to their views. This dangerous society was controlled by men who avowed their purpose to extend slavery into the Territory at all hazards, and was altogether the most effective instrument in organizing the subsequent armed invasions and forays.

The aims and rhetoric all sound quite like what B.F. Stringfellow outlined in his Negro-Slavery, No Evil.

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