The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Seven

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Magers’ paper.

The Platte County Self-Defense Association’s mob of two hundred sent George Park’s printing press to the bottom of the Missouri River, thus silencing the Parkville Industrial Luminary’s non-agitation on slavery and criticism of the proslavery border ruffians’ intervention in Kansas. As a nice bonus for David Rice Atchison, the destruction also revenged him on Park for publishing remarks that Bourbon Dave made in his cups. The incident sheds light on the fact that the filibusters feared for Missouri’s slavery in more than an abstract sense. As B.F. Stringfellow set down, they feared they may have already lost Missouri to slavery. Certainly their failure to evict Frederick Starr for his suspected abolitionism earlier on gave them reason to wonder. An enslaved Kansas would reverse their nightmare of an abolitionist safe haven, instead giving Kansas-based border hooligans a base to police proslavery orthodoxy on the Missouri frontier.

The story could end with the Industrial Luminary’s press rusting in the river. But Park’s reaction sheds more light on the complicated nature of slavery politics in the Missouri hinterland. He circulated a letter in response to the destruction of his press, pronouncing himself

filled with the deepest concern for the events that have transpired and the passions that bear sway-premeditated as they have been, by a large and powerful secret organization.

But at the same time:

I am happy to know that the people of Parkville and vicinity took no part in it

Men from Platte County did, but not from Parkville and environs. The mob surely didn’t let Park or any associates run a census of its members, but one imagines that small town residents in a frontier area knew one another well enough by sight to spot any familiar faces. That said, Park knew the limits of his town and his own conscience. He may favor a free soil Kansas on economic grounds, but

the charge of abolitionism is false; I have never harbored such a thought, nor meditated an action, detrimental to the honor, the interests, or institutions of Missouri; but have labored unceasingly to promote her prosperity. It is true I have not believed the honor and interests of Missouri to be in that course of policy marked out by some politicians-duty has compelled me to cross their path, which has brought on my devoted head the bitterest persecution.

That stand brought a mob of Atchisonians down on Park, but not his close neighbors. Would they permit no dissent at all? Park declared his love for both sections, his desire for a peaceful Union, and reminded readers of his service in the Texas Revolution. He dared the mob to come, insisting he would not leave his home. He’d rather be consigned to the waters with his press, but even his death would not destroy freedom of the press. But

If there is no security in the land of Washington-if an American home affords no protection-if the time has arrived when this union must be dissolved, and all its kindred ties and mighty interests broken and destroyed, and drenched with fraternal blood, then let me be buried beneath the turbid waters of the Missouri, rather than live to see such a scene. God save our country!

Park’s brave words did not stop him from leaving town in the end. Magers’ paper references a circular letter dated November 8, 1855. Therein the people of Parkville protested his eviction and said they needed him back. They could decide for themselves who did and did not belong among them, even if they disclaimed abolition and free soil in the doing. Park did return, and got $2,500 in damages out of the mob, but later found himself in Illinois and did not return to Missouri until after the war.

We can take from this that the people of Parkville tolerated George Park just fine and resented the Self-Defense Association’s meddling in their affairs. His free soil beliefs might make that tolerance less than pleasant on occasion, or they may have distanced themselves from it in the name of not bringing a mob down on their heads, but they felt confident enough to take a stand in his favor. In their forebearance, they lived up to the Self-Defensives’ nightmare: Missourians who would not tolerate proslavery vigilantes dictating to them the range of permissible opinion.

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