Goode for Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Frank Blair told the Missouri legislature that the future of the state hung in the balance. Would Missouri remain a backward slave state, scaring away immigrants and depressing its economy with slave labor? Would it oppress the white man by forbidding him to speak antislavery thoughts? By putting Thomas Hart Benton back in the Senate, Missouri would show itself as a state looking to the future. It would grow rich on trade passing through to free Kansas. Immigrants would flood not only into the new territory but to its elder neighbor. They would bring their labor and money, uplifting all.

But they would only come so long as Missouri looked properly inviting. If Missouri made itself the enemy of the white man’s republicanism, if it outlawed antislavery speech, if it subverted Kansas’ self-government, then it could hardly seem welcoming to an outsider. Let Kansas go free and enslaved Missouri would still profit. In fact, it would profit far more than if the nation saw it as the home of despots who yearned to apply the whip to white men.

Atchison’s supporters did not let that go by unchallenged. Blair had outright accused Atchison of trying to sabotage Missouri by his Kansas filibustering. More damaging still, Blair had a point. Atchison’s Platte County Self-Defense Association declared itself for outlawing antislavery speech. It embraced illegality when the law would not sanction its actions. It and other groups had broken the law already in Kansas, proudly and openly.

George W. Goode rose in the Missouri legislature to defend Atchison. Like Blair, he saw the senate race as the key to Missouri’s future:

The occasion was one of no ordinary interest. The most important matters of state are deeply involved in the result. The peculiar circumstances in which we are placed, force upon us the inquiry whether we are to continue a slave State, or humbly yield to an insidious influence, directed to the subversion of our State policy, and the substitution of free for slave labor.

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

The antislavery movement talked about an insidious influence seeking to subvert the white man’s government too. They imagined a slave power conspiracy that worked to enslave them all. Goode, like Stringfellow, imagined a conspiracy in Missouri to turn it into a free state.

I wish that I could believe that it was nothing more serious-nothing more permanent in its consequences; that a six years’ term of service in the Senate of the United States, with its ordinary incidents, were the only matters involved in the result of our present action; but I cannot so believe. I cannot if I would, suppress the conviction that this discussion, ending, as it is likely to do, in no immediate practical good, will prove to be the precursor of that spirit which I had hoped would be confined to the East and North, but which I am bound to believe from recent signs is only waiting for the expected happening of certain events to stand forth upon the soil of Missouri, and openly proclaim the triumph of its votaries here-the spirit of Abolitionism-it has already invaded our State in specious guise, and unless rebuked now, and here, in a manner to arrest its course and give peace and quiet to our citizens, we had as well make up our minds at once to submit to the disaster-the degradation and utter ruin which await us.

Abolition, not slavery, meant destruction and debasement. Goode set himself up as a mirror image of standard free soil rhetoric. The antislavery men, not the proslavery men, had their conspiracies. They would subvert the white man’s self-government. They designed ruin rubbed their hands in anticipation. The enemy stood before them in the person of Frank Blair, and behind Blair in the person of Thomas Hart Benton.

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