The Storming of the Second District Polls, Part Three

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

Storming of the Second District Polls: parts 1, 2

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield: parts 1, 2

The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, parts 1, 2, 3

Wakefield’s testimony does a good job by itself in covering what happened at the Bloomington polls on March 30, 1855,. but he missed one more incident worth noting. Wakefield and the judges of the election, the witnesses considered so far, would naturally draw proslavery wrath. That doesn’t excuse what the proslavery men from Missouri did on election day, but one would reasonably expect them to get the worst of it and that their experience thus might not give a good indicator of how the Missourians treated others. Their testimony does include the Missourians obstructing access to the polls, and of course the actual taking of the polling place by force, but the judges spent their time inside the building or run off to safety elsewhere. Wakefield did much the same.

The Howard Committee had testimony from an ordinary voter of more serious mistreatment than harsh words and intimidation. J. N. Mace came to vote on March 30, arriving later on in the day as he lived seven miles from the polls. By the time he reached Bloomington, the Missourians had already crowded the polls.

There was a very large crowd around the window there, so that it was very difficult of access. I heard cries from the crowd that “no damned Yankee should vote there that day; that the first man who took the oath, they would rip his guts out.” Those were the words they used.

The threats of violence did not take long to find physical expression. Mace made it to the window after a good hour. He came in right behind a man who offered to swear an oath to his residency in Kansas. That voter left when told that the crowd would murder him if he did. Mace

then stepped forward to the window, when a man on my right took hold of my arm and said, “Unfold that vote and let me see it.” I told him I came here by the United States law to vote, and that law gave me the right to vote by ballot; and if I could not vote so, I would not vote at all.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Missourians pressed: Would Mace swear an oath? If the judges asked, he would. He did, however, give way to an older Missourian to vote first.

After he had voted, I stepped forward, put my hand inside the window, and gave my name; when, at a word, from one of the two men who stood one on each side of the window, I was seized by the people in the crowd and dragged from the polls through the entire crowd. They made shouts of “Kill the damned nigger-thief,” “Cut his throat,” and many cries of that kind. I saw revolvers cocked and bowie-knives drawn, all around me, at that time.

But Mace had an idea. He would appeal to the crowd’s patriotism.

After I had been dragged out of the crowd I regained my feet. I had a small American flag under my arm. When I got to my feet, I unfurled it and held it over my head. I told them that we were here, and had no law to protect us, and I sought protection under the American flag, which was universally respected in foreign countries, and I supposed it would be here. The crowd did not seem to understand what it meant, and they let me alone. Some of them asked what it meant; and some one of their party said they had better not kill a man when he was under the American flag.

That only went so far. The Missourians came with their own flag, with just a single star. Some in the mob suggested that their banner took precedence over the false one of the United States. I don’t want to read too much into that, but thousands of Americans would make the same calculation a few years down the road. They might consider themselves proud Americans, but also proud white men of a slaveholding society. If the Union, with its federal flag flying over abolitionists, threatened slavery, many would choose slavery first.

Mace doubled down on the flag:

I then said, “Who calls this flag false are traitors.” One man who had a large cloak on, threw it off and came up to me, and, thrusting his fist in my face, asked me if I called him a traitor. I said, if he called that flag false, he was a traitor. Then another man stepped up to me, and told me to take that back, at the same time opening a clasp-knife, and put it so it touched the breast of my coat. Another man had a revolver, which he held close to my ear. Another man struck at me with a club, and a friend of mine turned it off with his arm, and it struck somebody else.

Before anything further could happen, the Missourians lost all interest in Mace. Their fellows had just burst into the cabin housing the polls and the election judges for the big standoff. Why sate one’s appetite for mayhem on the bit players when the protagonists become available?

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