Gentle Readers, further exploration of George Goode’s speech against Frank Blair will have to wait for a day. I have received some criticism that I feel deserves a response. I love to see comments on the posts and other feedback. It’s nice simply to know if someone likes what I’m writing, but they’re also a chance for me to learn things and get better at this. I am, as I said way back, an amateur. My archival access reaches only as far as my personal bookshelves and my internet connection. I hope to be educational and interesting, but even if I fall short of that this blog gives me occasion to further educate myself.
All that said, Mark sent these tweets in response to my post here. Sorry about the language.
The language aside, Mark has a few reasonable questions. I will begin by taking the first two tweets together, which I understand to pose this question: Why have I merely referred to David Rice Atchison’s (and others’) efforts to stop Kansans from voting and not also discussed their murdering, terroristic, treasonous ways?
I have taken the vast majority of my account of what happened in Kansas on the day of the November, 1854 election for delegate directly from the Howard Report. The House of Representatives commissioned it and gathered testimony from numerous witnesses to the actual events. I used its summaries to guide me to the testimony I shared on this blog, as the testimony could benefit from better organization and I’ve yet to have the time to sit down and read every word from each witness. Those summaries pointed me to the abuse of John Wakefield, the threats made against W.F. Johnston, and the human wall which prevented antislavery people in Leavenworth from voting. They also called out to me the staggering fraud in the Seventh District.
If that testimony included an account of David Rice Atchison, or anyone else, committing murder at the polls then I did not see it. If I missed it, then I regret that intensely and ask to be pointed to the correct spot. I would go back and make at least one post using that material. Who did Atchison murder? When and where? I’m ready and willing to learn.
I do consider the intimidation campaign and the threats made terroristic, but through it unnecessary, given that I quoted some of the more violent ones and a proud defense of the use of violence to preserve slavery (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), to use the adjective itself. The words speak for themselves. Here from Atchison himself:
you know how to protect your own interests; your rifles will free you from such neighbors. … You will go there, if necessary, with the bayonet and with blood.
And here his lieutenant and author of Negro-Slavery, No Evil, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow:
I am ready to go, the first hour it shall be announced that the emigrants have come, and with my own hands, will help to hang every one of them on the first tree.
Which leaves us with the question of treason. I do not think that, at least so far as my narrative has yet reached, Atchison or anybody else has committed treason. They have certainly stolen an election. They have certainly behaved as violent thugs. They will do so again in the future. But I take pains to keep to a roughly chronological approach here. I try not to introduce too much from later in time in order to help convey the sense of events as they unfold and make it easier to understand historical actors and the choices they made at particular moments. As history provides no shortage of injustices, I have no doubt that future misdeeds will feature on this blog as the narrative reaches them.
That said, I do consider the confederates who appear at the end of the decade traitors. They staged a rebellion against legal, legitimate authority in order to preserve and extend slavery, one of the most loathsome and contemptible causes I can imagine. It fights for the top spot on my personal scale of moral horrors only with genocide itself. I don’t think that I’ve whitewashed it at all on this blog. Just recently I went back and revisited the subject through Frederick Douglass’ narrative. Nor do I think that I failed to plumb the depths of slaveholder motivation, considering utterly reprehensible suggestions like how they should prefer slavery because it gave white men a ready supply of non-white women to rape. There are many other posts in this vein, but those two come immediately to mind.
Which brings us to the second set of concerns. I do think it matters that Jefferson Davis, David Rice Atchison, Stephen Douglas, and Franklin Pierce cooperated to repeal the Missouri Compromise and so expand slavery. I’ve written about that before. However, I find that criticism incomplete and lacking in nuance. It appears that Douglas, Davis, and Atchison pressured Pierce into signing on. That doesn’t lessen his culpability in my mind, but does change the nature of his involvement. The complaint likewise neglects the important roles of Archibald Dixon and Phillip Phillips in the affair. With regard to a conspiracy, I don’t see the work that went into passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act as all that different from that done for any other legislation. I also don’t think it’s clear that Douglas was himself a proslavery man per se. He appears to have cared very little either way and all his bills to organize Nebraska previous to 1854 left the Missouri Compromise intact. If anything, Stephen Douglas strikes me as a committed westward expansion and Pacific railroad man who needed proslavery support and had no problem with courting it. This does not, of course, excuse his willingness to do so.
Did those principals conspire to kill people? I think that Atchison did, but not while in Washington. It’s obvious that his group and others in western Missouri pledged themselves to violence on slavery’s behalf, but I don’t know that he put heads together with Pierce and Douglas and they exchanged tips on how to best shoot someone or organize a paramilitary band. Douglas later deplored the violence in Kansas, though he always hurried on to the fiction that antislavery forces started it.
Finally, I care not at all for the names of Lee’s pets, hypothetical or otherwise. I have far more interest in the whippings he ordered for his slaves and how thoroughly they refute the notion that he was some kind of benevolent slaveholder. I don’t much care what Jefferson Davis said or didn’t say about honor either, though the broader topic of how southerners understood their codes of conduct might come up in the future.
Does that suffice to answer your concerns, Mark?