The Sixteenth District, Part Four

John Sherman

John Sherman

Parts 12, 3

Yes, I know that I misspelled three in yesterday’s post. I’ve fixed it.

H. Miles Moore, the free state government’s attorney-general, stood at his office chatting with Howard Committee member John Sherman on May 28, 1856. A posse of twenty-five men armed with muskets and bayonets marched up on them in military order. The leader proposed to arrest Moore and another man present. Moore turned to Sherman to learn what he should do. Sherman declared himself powerless to stop the arrest. He had the right of it; House committees may have subpoena power and the ability to toss you in jail for contempt of Congress, but individual members do not have law enforcement authority.

But Sherman didn’t just cut Moore loose and hope for the best. He did what he could.

Mr. Sherman then turned to Major Wilkes, and asked him if he had a warrant for our arrest, and he said he had not. Mr. Sherman then asked him by what authority he made the arrests, and he said, “By an authority higher than my own; I am not acting on my own responsibility;” and then holding out his hand with a crumpled piece of paper in it, he said, “I have a list of names here for arrests.”

Nothing sounds at all odd about that. An unspecified, higher authority put down a list of people to arrest. What could a person do?

Moore apparently didn’t like his chances if he resisted or tried to escape, so he locked up his office and came out. He tried to question Wilkes on his own behalf:

I then inquired of Major Wilkes by what authority he arrested me, or if he had a warrant from anybody for my arrest. Major Wilkes replied, “I have no time to parley; take your place in the ranks;” which Mr. Parrot and myself did.

So much for that. They joined two other prisoners on the march. Sherman saw a chance to get more information and asked one of them about his arrest, but the column moved on. The other prisoner, a Mr. Conway, did get to say something, though:

As we started Mr. Conway turned to Mr. Sherman and said, “I have left the papers I was copying with Mrs. Sherman.”

I don’t know to read that as a statement that Conway had worked copying papers for the Howard Committee or as a way of directing Sherman to a set of papers that would shed light on things. The former seems more plausible than the latter, but the statement could support both interpretations.

Anyway, the posse

hurriedly marched down and placed [its prisoners] in a warehouse of Captain Clarkson, and kept there, under a strong guard, until the next morning, when I was sent for by the commissioner. A guard went up to the committee room with me. The committee refused to examine me while I was under guard, unless some legal authority was shown for my detention.

Moore’s captors declined to oblige.

I was then taken back. Subsequently, and while I was in custody, I was informed by Captain Clarkson that a secret council had been held, and had determined that I must leave the Territory. I asked him what were the charges against me, and if I might not go before the congressional investigating committee and make some explanation. He said that I had taken a prominent part in the free State movement, and had accepted an office under the State organization, and therefore I had become obnoxious, and with other free State men, a list of whose names they had, must leave the Territory.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

A thorough explanation of the legalities of the free state government must wait for a future date, but doesn’t this look like something out of the Eastern Bloc or a Star Chamber? A secret council decided that you had to leave the territory. No charges filed, no defense available, just leave or face the consequences. In a time when proslavery bands did lynch white dissenters, and sometimes on far less grounds than taking part in an illegal shadow government, Moore didn’t have to work hard to imagine likely consequences.

But Moore protested all the same. He had a great deal of money invested in Leavenworth. Leaving would ruin him. Furthermore, he had his wife on the way and expected her shortly. Should he abandon her?

He said that under those circumstances I would be allowed a little longer time than otherwise, but I must leave the Territory in a very short time, at all events, and his orders were imperative.

They must have let him go because his testimony, dated two days after his arrest, concludes as follows:

Being compelled thus to leave, I have requested by Messrs. Howard and Sherman, who deem my evidence important, to give it thus in private, believing as I do that my person and life would be endangered at this time should I give it in public.


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