Remarkable Fraud in the Seventh District

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Many of the districts where Missouri men crossed into Kansas to vote for John W. Whitfield and make him Kansas’ non-voting delegate to Congress exhibited remarkable amounts of fraud. The usual routine involved voters dramatically in excess of the entire voting population of the districts then and in the February census, just three months after the late November election, who arrived in armed parties and openly declared their proslavery purpose. They saw no reason to hide the obvious.

Even with the high bar set by the fraudulent votes elsewhere, Kansas’ seventh district stands out. It alone accounted for 584 non-resident votes, constituting 96.69% of votes cast in the district and 33.80% of the 1,728 non-resident votes cast in the whole of Kansas. The Howard Report called it

The most shameless fraud practised upon the rights of the settlers at this election

Matthias Reed, who had previously lived in Missouri but came to the seventh district to stay, attended the election and testified that he saw many men he did not know, and he knew most of the people then in the district. He did recognize some from his days in Missouri.

Samuel Ralston I saw there, and he showed me where he had staked off a claim, and said he had bought a large tree of Mr. McGee for timber. Some of them I saw there have claims in the Territory now, and are living here now. I do not know whether Mr. Ralston ever lived on his claim or not, though I understand he has blacks working on it; but I do not know whether he has any home on it or not.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

At least Ralston bothered. Others couldn’t be troubled to even attempt the pretense of a claim, let alone a real one. Reed also testified in passing about some free soilers with claims just as absentee and notional as anybody who came from Missouri boasted, though they had nothing on the scale of Missouri’s Blue Lodges, Sons of the South, and Self-Defense Associations to move them into the territory in vast numbers.

Reed described the district that cast 604 votes in November, 1854 as

tolerably thinly settled at that time, but I could not tell how many actual settlers there were in the district. There were not many settlers at the polls. I think some twenty or forty there.

Few people, with fewer still coming to attend the polls on election day, and one has a perfect district for hijacking an election. For all that, Reed reported no difficulty casting his vote. The appearance of so many Missouri men, armed and belligerent, would naturally deter many despite that. Who wants to risk the mob? What man in his right mind would hazard it for the sake of a non-voting delegate?

Reed might not have seen it, or might have contrived not to see it, but some people did. The story of one of those will come tomorrow.

Kansas Vote Fraud By the Numbers

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

John A. Wakefield’s testimony gives a good idea of what went on in Kansas’ first election, but he could speak only to what he saw in his own district. The Howard Report includes witnesses and findings on the lot. In district after district, Missouri men came by horse, wagon, and foot to vote in large numbers. We can’t know exactly how thoroughly they swamped out the votes of actual Kansas residents in sending their man, John W. Whitfield, off to Washington as Kansas’ non-voting delegate. No census of the territory took place until February, 1855. But the Howard Report used a combination of witness testimony and comparison with that later census to arrive at rough figures.

I’ve taken some of their figures and reproduced them here with percent of legal and illegal voters added:

Kansas' first election (click for a larger version)

Kansas’ first election (click for a larger version)

It doesn’t take much examination to note the impressive number of fraudulent voters. Across all Kansas, they come to 60.78% of the votes cast in the election. In the district where the Missourians least exerted themselves, they still constituted 32.68% of the vote. Nowhere else where they appeared did they come in at less than half.  How does one call the sovereignty popular when the most popular part of it involved outsiders voting in the elections that the locals, so the doctrine dictated, out to decide for themselves?

Antislavery men insisted that popular sovereignty amounted to nothing more than a scam to smuggle slavery into the territories and keep white freeholders out. The Missouri men, with their Blue Lodges, Self-Defense Associations, and Sons of the South appeared committed to proving them right in district after district, without more than the most trifling efforts to legitimate their votes by writing their names on registers of claims invented on the moment or on stakes put into the ground as they passed by.

If taking Kansas for slavery, or keeping it depending on one’s particular interpretation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, meant violence then they threatened as much on the ground and promised it to the general public. The sons of Missouri would not shrink from a little fraud. They stood not just for their own immediate cause, but for the future of slavery in the Border South at large. That their actions might outrage abolitionists deterred few and may even have added to the appeal. They got to do right, in their own minds, defend their rights, and stick a needle in the eye of interloping, holier-than-thou outsiders who dared pass judgment upon them for their way of life.

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield, Part Two

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

John A. Wakefield, resident of Kansas’ second district and witness to the election of November, 1854, told the Howard Committee that more than two hundred Missouri men came into his district to vote. At the time, he estimated that the entire district boasted only forty or fifty white men. The committee’s report concurred, finding only thirty-five resident voters to two hundred twenty-six outsiders.

Some other testimony in the Howard Report, from Missouri men and their proslavery friends in Kansas, emphasizes that while they came over to vote they mistreated no one. They might have come with guns, but threatened nobody. They might have lubricated themselves well, but who didn’t? If anything, they brawled more among themselves than with political opponents.

Wakefield told a different story:

Soon after the polls opened, a stranger came to me, and said he wanted to speak to me. He took me on one side, and said, “I understand you have come here to-day to challenge votes.” I told him I had not come for any such purpose, and asked him why he asked me that question. Says he, “if you challenge a vote here to-day, you will be badly abused, and probably killed; and as you are an old man, I do not wish to see you abused.” I then remarked that that kind of talk would not frighten me, but I thought it was the duty of the judges to see that all voters were legal voters.


Those men were armed with revolvers, some with guns, and a great many with clubs; and a great many of our settlers, knowing these facts, did not go to the election.

Nice election Wakefield had there. Shame if anything happened to it.

A majority of them were very much intoxicated, and they were very noisy. The language they used against the Yankees was something like “damn the abolitionists, kill them.” One of them came up to me and seized me by the collar, and said, “you are a damned abolitionist.” When I drew my cane on him, his brother came up, and told me not to mind him, that he was drunk. One of the judges then, it being right before them, invited me to come in where they were, or I would be abused. I did so, and remained there until the polls closed.

That the judges, who the crowd chose by acclamation, sheltered Wakefield speaks volumes. Given their popularity with the Missouri men, who Wakefield testified raised not one voice against their selection, they clearly leaned proslavery. Yet they intervened to protect him despite his unclear position on the issue. Perhaps Wakefield’s age played a role; he did turn fifty-seven that year. But it seems unlikely that they would intervene if they didn’t think his safety genuinely threatened. The language of the time can make it sound a bit like a minor scuffle, but members of a band of armed, drunken rowdies did seize him and threaten him. The threatened abuse could have easily come down to a deadly beating. When confronted with a large number of loud, drunken, heavily armed men promising violence it behooves one to take the threats seriously. Certainly such pronouncements have a decidedly chilling effect on voting one’s conscience, all the more so in an age before secret ballots.

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield, Part One

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

The Howard Report told Congress and the American people what a great many of them already knew very well from the newspapers: hordes of men from Missouri crossed over into Kansas not to settle and stay, but to vote in its first territorial election. They made their man, John Wilkins Whitfield, Kansas Territory’s first non-voting delegate to Congress. The Missourians came over in organized groups, whether as part of a single conspiracy or multiple groups working in parallel. Some of the participants told the committee just that, freely admitting that at least hundreds crossed the border to vote on who should represent Kansas in Congress.

That all took a great deal of doing. Andrew Reeder, Kansas Territory’s first governor, split the territory into seventeen electoral districts. Each would have its own election judges and polling place. The committee that

In the first, third, eighth, ninth, tenth, twelfth, thirteenth, and seventeenth districts there appears to have been little if any fraudulent voting.

Eight of seventeen districts made for a good start, but obviously the Missourians couldn’t go everywhere. Where they did, different scenes played out.

John A. Wakefield, then living in the second district of Kansas and lately from Iowa, set out the 28th of November, accompanied by a Colonel Safford, late of Ohio but also then living in Kansas, to go speak to the people and about how they should elect him when they voted the next day.

We came down in a carriage, and on the road met a number of persons in companies-at least one hundred and fifty in all-on horseback and in wagons. Colonel Safford asked some of them in my hearing, where they were from; and they said “from the State of Missouri, and are going up to Douglas to vote to-morrow.”

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Wakefield also went to Douglas, where he

found a crowd of wagons, and a large gathering of men around the house where the polls were being held. When I got out of my buggy, a man came to me and said, “is there many more of the boys behind?” Supposing he took me to be a Missourian, I said I thought there were a great many. Says he, “by God, half of Clay county will be here to-day. Now,” says he, “old man, I will tell you how to do, if you want to vote. We have a parcel of clerks, and you will see them writing on the heads of barrels. Do you go to them, and tell one of them you want him to register a claim for you.”

At least in the second district, the Missourians wanted to put on a good show. Wakefield testified that he saw many such men writing on barrels. They could use all the fig leaves they could find, as Wakefield testified

That district was newly settled, and there were not exceeding fifty men in it-I think not over forty. I think there were two hundred and sixty-one or two hundred and sixty-two votes polled, and Whitfield got two hundred and thirty-five votes, if my memory serves me right. I got twenty votes, I think, and Flanigan six votes. I do not think there were actually more than thirty-five legal votes that day.

When stealing an election with fraudulent votes, one doesn’t want the risk of making things too close. More than two hundred votes in excess of the voting population of a district sounds like a comfortable, if very conspicuous, margin.

A Secret Society or Societies?

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The Howard Report laid out a grand claim: a secret society organized in Missouri and with branches across the South and in Kansas conspired to move proslavery men into the territory to vote in its first ever election. They elected John W. Whitfield, an Indian agent from Tennessee, and promptly went back home to Missouri. They resolved, however, to continue intervention in Kansas to ensure it came in as a slave state by means of further non-resident voting and, if needed, violence.

We know that organizations in Missouri that reached into Kansas and, by correspondence, throughout the South did exist. But to what degree did they form an active, single conspiracy and to what degree did they constitute a general movement similar in motives, if not all methods, to the work of the Emigrant Aid Societies? The committee expressed frustration in trying to get any useful information about the inner workings of the operation:

Your committee had great difficulty in eliciting the proof of the details in regard to this secret society. One witness, a member of the legislative council, refused to answer questions in reference to it. Another declined to answer fully, because to do so would result to his injury. Others could or would only answer as to the general purposes of the society; but sufficient is disclosed in the testimony to show the influence it had in controlling the elections in the Territory.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

I omitted the footnotes, but the report helpfully points one to the testimony in question. J.C. Prince told the committee that he and a hundred men came into Kansas the day before the November, 1854 election.

The most, perhaps all, the party were from Missouri,. They went to Fort Scott to vote. On the day of the election, Barbee and Wilson, two of the judges, made some attempts to swear some of the men; but they got them in some way not to swear the voters, and I think none were sworn that day. They all voted, so far as I know; at least they told me so. I think I was acquainted with about fifty who voted there, and who lived in Missouri at that time. There were but very few resident voters; I should think not probably over fifty. […] I should suppose there were but about twenty-five legal voters that day at Fort Scott.

Losing an election when one can import more voters than the other party has present would make for a remarkable accomplishment. Prince also testified that others came to Fort Scott on the same mission. When voting ended, most of them took up and left at once. Prince stayed the night, at least.

Why did they go?Aside the general imperatives, Prince testified that

Some of the most influential men of Missouri in the company that went urged me to go and vote.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Prince gave no names, but would go so far as to say that influential men made their opinion known. Men like David Rice Atchison? Or his lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow?

William P. Richardson told a similar story, though he actually bought a claim in Kansas. In an election in March, 1855, he urged four hundred to five hundred men who came over from Missouri not to bother voting as he expected to win easily. Richardson volunteered also that someone had paid the expenses of the Missouri men who came over to vote, but he had nothing to do with it.

I don’t know that the testimony the committee cited supports their conclusions all the way in respect to the secret society, but it probably made little difference. A single organization or a number working in parallel clearly facilitated Missouri men crossing the border to vote proslavery in Kansas elections.

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.

Stealing Kansas’ first election

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The Howard Report describes the scene that greeted Andrew Reeder when he arrived to begin governing the territory of Kansas. Already a dispute existed over whether repealing the Missouri compromise had by default legalized slavery in the territory and so no legislature could restrict, or whether the repeal merely gave the territorial legislature the option to introduce slavery at some point. David Rice Atchison and his associates, and other proslavery filibusters and settlers had the predictable opinion: the territory stood slave until made free, and could not be made free until its constitutional convention at the earliest. This gave them plenty of time for to run off antislavery settlers and ensure only the right sort of Kansan, who might actually live in Missouri, voted in the elections to send delegates to any such constitutional convention. They would have the best democracy that thuggery could steal.

Reeder had to have an election eventually and proslavery men pushed for him  to do it immediately. They suspected that they had a strong early advantage, but that could only wane as people from farther-flung lands arrived. Best establish the entire apparatus of territorial government under their influence, staffed with men they could depend on to introduce and protect slavery in Kansas.

According to his testimony to the Howard Committee, Reeder

landed at Fort Leavenworth on Saturday, the 7th day of October, and made it [his] first business to obtain information of the geography, settlements, population, and general condition of the Territory, with a view to its division into districts, the defining of their boundaries, and the ascertainment of suitable and central places for elections, and the full names of men in each district for election officers, persons to take the census, justices of the peace, and constables.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

That ended up requiring a personal tour of the territory, complicated by the far-flung settlements and poor infrastructure. From October 14th until November 7th he traveled Kansas with a small party. That done, he

then saw that if the election for delegate to Congress (which required no previous census) should be postponed till an election could be had for the legislature, with its preliminary census and apportionment, the greater part of the session, which would terminate on the 4th of March, would expire before our congressional delegate could reach Washington; and I deemed it best to order an election for a delegate to Congress as early as possible and to postpone the taking of the census till after that election.

That decision did not please everyone:

whilst the citizens of Missouri were vehemently urging an immediate election of the legislature, the citizens of the Territory were generally of the opinion that no immediate necessity for it existed.

Reeder cites reasonable practicalities motivating his decision, but to proslavery partisans the very distinction between citizens of Missouri and citizens of Kansas might look partisan. They in turn denounced Reeder, who answered back that he answered to Kansans, not Missourians.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Atchison resolved to show him otherwise and called for five hundred to cross over from Missouri on election day, November 29, 1854, far more than that obliged. Allen Nevins describes it memorably in Ordeal of the Union:

more than 1,700 Missourians illegally crossed the boundary to vote. On horseback, on foot, and in buckboards, carts, and wagons, the well-armed slavery men crowded the river ferries in the upper counties and the muddy roads in the lower. Some went to the nearest polls while others pushed well into the interior. The more conscientious drove a stake, marked a tree, or signed a claim-register in a feeble effort to validate their votes, while others took mere mental resolve to be settlers-or simply damned the Yankees, and let it go at that. Proper judges of election were set aside in one polling place after another. Of the 2,871 votes cast, it was later estimated that only 1,114 had been legal. Out of 604 ballots in one notorious centre, 20 were legal and 584 illegal.

So much for letting the people of the territory decide for themselves. The voters, legal or otherwise, got a proslavery delegate elected to go off to Congress and scored their first public victory.

Few hopes for a neutral governor

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder, Franklin Pierce’s choice for governor of the new Territory of Kansas, arrived in October. He found a land that the law allowed white Americans to settle from the very end of May. But nobody had surveyed any land to let them make their settlements legal and defend them against claim jumpers. Nor did the new frontier have an elaborate police force to maintain some level of order. The frontier did have, however, militant bands of proslavery (at least on paper) filibusters, Border Ruffians, and the like facing down similiarly militant bands of antislavery (also on paper) settlers, Jayhawkers, pauper abolitionist Hessians, and other tools of the Emigrant Aid Societies. Both sides had their own newspapers up and running. With threats of violence emanating regularly from over the line in Missouri, completely aside those from distant Washington, disinterested settlers had every reason to pick a slavery side and stick to it.

Reeder had broad powers to establish the initial territorial government. He could order up a census, establish a provisional capital, draw electoral districts, and hold elections for the territorial legislature. Until that legislature sat, Reeder could use his vast powers as he wished and shape the developing institutions to suit his preferences. Reasonable observers at the time might have expected him to do all he could to make Kansas a slave territory. He owed his position to Pierce administration patronage. He declared that if he could have afforded one, he would have taken a slave to Kansas. Reeder came to the office with no previous experience, so naturally one would expect a party hack or someone easily controlled by party hacks.

Reeder has a mess on his hands, where any action he took could have explosive consequences. But did serving his patrons mean making Kansas into slave territory? That would please the southern Democracy. Did it mean keeping it free? That would please northern antislavery men, including some Democrats. Did it mean giving popular sovereignty a fair shake, without regard to the eventual outcome? That would please Stephen Douglas and potentially defuse the situation by establishing that his pet doctrine really could work as a moderate sectional compromise. Reeder apparently preferred the last option.

He hit problems right off. The House ordered up a committee to study what happened in Kansas, gathering testimony and eventually ordering up a report which opened with the central fact of the entire Kansas dispute:

It cannot be doubted that if its condition as a free Territory had been left undisturbed by Congress, its settlement would have been rapid, peaceful, and prosperous.  […] by this time it would have been admitted into the Union as a free state, without the least sectional excitement. […] The Testimony clearly shows that before the proposition to repeal the Missouri compromise  was introduced into Congress, the people of western Missouri appeared indifferent to the prohibition of slavery in the Territory, and neither asked nor desired its repeal.

Atchison, Dixon, Phillip Phillips, and the F Street Mess really blew it. The division went right back to the repeal itself:

Different constructions were put upon the organic law. It was contended by one party that the right to hold slaves in the Territory existed, and neither the people nor the territorial legislature could prohibit slavery: that power was alone possessed by the people when they were authorized to form a State government. It was contended that the removal of the restriction virtually established slavery in the Territory. This claim was urged by many prominent men in western Missouri, who actively engaged in the affairs of the Territory. Every movement, of whatever character, which tended to establish free institutions, was regarded as an interference with their rights.

Did the repeal mean that? Did the Missouri men have the right reading of the Kansas-Nebraska Act? If they did, what did that mean for popular sovereignty? A neutral path which pleased them would have to result in a slave territory with a single, narrow window when a constitutional convention could work abolition. Reeder had hardly any room to stake out neutrality at all. He must take up the cause of Slave Power, at least until the state constitutional convention, or they would see him as an enemy. The question had to have an answer and Reeder had to give it, but any answer meant taking a side.

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.

Bountiful Whips

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

The insecurity of slavery in the Border South stimulated many extreme measures to defend it, including the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The presence of so many whites, so few blacks, and so many outsiders made the hard-nosed, violent ways that the Lower South constructed white solidarity harder to exercise and more likely to backfire. Thus Kansas became a test case for whether or not Border South slavery could endure.

I intended to follow immediately along on that thread today, but have lately taken up Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. I picked up a very cheap Barnes & Noble edition some time ago and it finally reached the top of my pile. Born in Maryland, Douglass lived under the Border State slavery regime. In the course of telling his own story, he tells many others about how his fellow slaves suffered. I read one of those just today and it struck me as a good way to turn things back, at least for a moment, from a story about the future of white settlement in Kansas and the implications it had for the white man’s Union to a story of how white Americans suppressed the agency and stole the lives of black Americans.

Douglass wrote about an overseer, the aptly named Austin Gore, who excelled at his job. He could turn anything a slave did into a sign of insubordination and would readily answer that with the lash.

Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he indulged in no jokes, said no funny words, seldom smiled. His words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks were in perfect keeping with his words. Overseers will sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with slaves; not so with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully with his whip, never using the former where the latter would answer as well. When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and feared no consequences. he did nothing reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at his post, never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfil.

Leaving aside Gore’s exact job, he sounds like a model employee. People at the time didn’t have to set aside the job to make that call, since they knew full well that they wanted someone to manage slaves. Manage them, Gore did:

His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Demby but a few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. the second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.

Gore did not own Demby. He belonged to Gore’s boss. Thus he had to answer for destruction of property. That didn’t bother Gore in the slightest. He told his employer

that Demby had become unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves,-one which, if suffered to pass without some demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the total subversion of all rule and order upon the plantation. He argued that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, the other slave would soon copy the example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement of the whites.

Gore kept his job and his reputation spread. He knew his business. So did the 545 other Maryland men who listed their profession as overseer on the 1850 census. More would do the job for themselves and thus might tell the census that they farmed or planted. Over in Missouri, the same census found only 64 overseers. Maryland had a few counties that looked like bits of the Lower South, more than half enslaved. Missouri’s most enslaved county, Howard, could only manage 5,886 slaves out of 15,946 people, 36.91%.

Small wonder that Stringfellow, Atchison, and the rest felt so vulnerable. Even Maryland, with half its black population free, could produced better slavery numbers than Missouri could. They might have already lost their home state, so best secure the one next door. Otherwise they might find black Americans voting, with their feet or otherwise.