The fact that George Park criticized the actions of the Platte County Self-Defense Association and other border ruffian bands who crossed into Kansas to control its elections might have in itself earned him a visit from the mob and a printing press delivered with care to the bottom of the Missouri River. Furthermore, while Park’s surname and founding of the town put the Park in Parkville, he did have the poor fortune to hail originally from Vermont in an area where most men, per Magers, treasured Virginian, Kentuckian, and Tennessean heritage instead. That he had gone off to fight for Texas’ independence, where he escaped a firing squad, might not enter into it. Nor his long and successful residence in the town that bore his name. His decision to channel Thomas Hart Benton and curse abolitionists and nullifiers alike, in the heart of Atchison Country, could not have done him any favors. But Magers suggests another factor in bringing the Self-Defense Association to the Industrial Luminary‘s office that Saturday morning. He draws on a letter sent by Frederick Starr to the New York Tribune and published on June 4, 1855. I didn’t find a letter bearing Starr’s name, but I think Magers means this. It begins by setting the scene:
On a warm day last Summer a large crowd had assembled at the town site of Atchison in Kansas to attend a sale of lots. “Dave” himself was there, and as there was much whisky and many friends, he got “glorious” a little earlier in the day than usual. So with much spitting on his shirt and making himself generally more nasty than common, the Vice-President delivered himself something after this wise:
“Gentlemen, you make a d[amne]d fuss about Douglas-Douglas-but Douglas don’t deserve the credit for this Nebraska bill. I told Douglas to introduce it-I originated it-I got Pierce committed to it, and all the glory belongs to me. All the South went for it-all to a man but Bell and Houston-and who are they? Mere nobodies-no influence-nobody cares for them.”
A friend of Bourbon Dave’s heard the remarks and came back to Parkville with them. George Park’s partner in the newspaper, Patterson, took the words down and published them in the next issue. The Tribune’s correspondent remarked that Atchison’s friends, though not the man himself, had sobered up by this point. His paper, The Platte Argus, published a denial but the Parkville witness shot back that he heard what he heard and any man who said otherwise lied.
It might have all ended there, but John Bell had a nephew in St. Louis who read the account and did not care for Atchison calling his uncle a friendless nobody. Said nephew wrote Atchison. Did he say it?
The tone of the letter was strongly suggestive of “the usual satisfaction.” Dave evidently thought his three hundred pounds of flesh too good a mark for a pistol-ball, and he accordingly replied to the nephew that he had the most distinguished consideration for his uncle and never said such a word about him-if he had said anything that the lying scoundrels had tortured into what they had published, he begged that it might be passed by as he was “in liquor at the time.” And thus the Vice-President escaped the vexation of personal responsibility for his language. Drunkenness is not unusually regarded as a valid plea for a lawyer to make in behalf of a client, but it seems very good for a Vice-President.
To hear the correspondent tell it, Atchison got the proper number of cold shoulders from the affair. That would surely keep it fresh in his mind. If he wrote anything like the letter to Bell’s nephew it must have galled him. The author of his troubles? Surely not Bourbon Dave or his bottle, but rather George Park’s paper. Magers writes that Atchison kept up a strong grudge against the Industrial Luminary. When Park criticized Atchison’s border ruffians, he finally had a casus belli to let him take his revenge and, conveniently, police proslavery orthodoxy at the same time.