The Fuss

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Adam Fisher told the Howard Committee that he did not personally fear for his life in the face of Missourians arriving to steal the special election at Leavenworth on May 22, 1855, but he preferred to avoid “a fuss”. Thus he took the votes of anybody who offered without much questioning. His free state colleague, Matthew France, risked more in moving to challenge many. All day long Fisher and the proslavery judge, J.M. Lyle, outvoted him. Then they, or Lyle alone but with Fisher’s willful ignorance, tricked France into signing a return that declared itself consisting of the votes of lawful, resident voters. He didn’t find out for some time that they’d done so.

France knew going in, however, that civil society in Kansas had gone downhill since the March election’s massive fraud. He told the committee

There was some excitement here at that time on political subjects.

That put it mildly. The Howard Report describes the changes wrought in Kansas by the first legislative election:

The invasion of March 30th left both parties in a state of excitement, tending directly to product violence. The successful party was lawless and reckless, while assuming the name of the “Law and Order” party. The other party, at first surprised and confounded, was greatly irritated, and some resolved to prevent the success of the invasion. In some districts, as before stated, protests were sent to the governor; in others this was prevented by threats, in others by the want of time, and in others by the belief that a new election would bring a new invasion. About the same time, all classes of men commenced bearing deadly weapons about their personas-a practice which has continued to this time. Under these circumstances, a slight or accidental quarrel produced unusual violence, and lawless acts became frequent. This unhappy condition of the public mind was further increased by acts of violence in western Missouri, where, in April, a newspaper press called the Parkville Luminary was destroyed by a mob.

France’s testimony added that the election in Leavenworth took place “just after the mobbing of Phillips.”

I take these two subjects together both for the obvious reason that both come in the aftermath of the March invasion and fraud and for a point that I’ve let slide lately. The Missourians who came into Kansas did not go out of an abstract desire that Kansas have slavery, though they did prefer that. Nor did they go entirely for their own benefit as future Kansans, as so many would come and vote only to turn around and leave again the same day. Rather they understood that a free Kansas would harbor abolitionists who would come over the border and encourage their slaves to steal themselves away. With slavery already seeming precarious in a Missouri that seemed more demographically Northern every year, and the concentration of Missourian slavery right on the Kansas border, they understood the future of Kansas as directly and profoundly entangled with the future of Missouri. Furthermore, if Missouri could not maintain its slavery, then what did that say about the peculiar institution’s future in Kentucky, in half-free Maryland, or in Delaware where the free blacks outnumbered the slaves?

A line on the map might separate Missouri and Kansas, then and now, but physical and human geography tied them together. Thus one would only expect that efforts to police orthodox opinion on slavery would cross the border. The Platte County men tried as much with Frederick Starr. If proslavery Missourians could steal elections and get away with it in Kansas, surely they could now run out antislavery subversives in their own midst.

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