The Fuss and William Phillips, Part Three

William Phillips

William Phillips

Parts 1 and 2

A mob in Leavenworth decided that William Phillips, a lawyer, correspondent for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, and antislavery man, had to go. They made that decision during the night of April 30, 1855, apparently just after an altercation between Cole McRea and Malcolm Clark that ended in McRea shooting Clark. The mob imagined that Phillips had encouraged McRea to shoot, perhaps even giving him the gun. But witnesses to the event would not tell the Howard Committee that they saw any such thing. They “supposed” and believed “a general rumor”, according to A. Payne, who attended both the meeting where Clark and McRea had their dispute and the later meeting concerning what to do with Phillips.

This all sounds very sketchy, but given the mob gathered and made their resolutions to get Phillips out of Leavenworth that very night I don’t think one can deny that they considered themselves provoked by something Phillips had done then, whether they had facts or not. Per the mob’s resolutions, he had to make himself scarce by afternoon of the following Thursday, May 3. That same day, they would meet again to discuss what to do with the other “abolitionists” about. Phillips probably earned that title by writing Andrew Reeder to contest the March election results, if not before.

George F. Warren testified that the notice held the signatures of a virtual directory of Leavenworth’s proslavery luminaries:

William Hughes, now a clerk in the land office of Mr. Calhoun, surveyor-general; H. Rives Pollard, associate editor of the Kansas Herald at Leavenworth; William Adams, publisher of the same paper; D. Scott Boyle, then and now a clerk of the territorial court under Judge Lecompte; Eli Moore, deputy city marshal of Leavenworth: J.M. Lyle, chief clerk of the Shawnee legislature; D.J. Johnson, lawyer; Bennett Burnam, city surveyor; J.M. Alexander, a lawyer from Pennsylvania; J.C. Posey, a surveyor. I do not remember the names of any more.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The copy of the resolutions in the Howard Report has more names, but does not undertake to identify them. Lyle served as a judge of the special election on May 22. A. Payne, one of the committee’s witnesses, also signed it and at the time considered himself a member-elect of the territorial legislature in right of his election during the frauds of March. Whether one can pin down each name from the report or not, it’s clear that a substantial amount of influence backed the notice. These men had it in their power to make life difficult for him, lynching or no.

Per Warren, he and Phillips left on the third. Payne testifies that after the meeting where they decided how to deal with abolitionists in their midst that day, they

went to Mr. Phillips’ house again, and was told by his brother that he was not there. The committee retired, being satisfied that such was the fact.

That doesn’t make for much of a lynching. Phillips just left town and the mob considered their work done. Warren further testified, however, that in the evening he and Phillips came back to Leavenworth. He gives no reason other than the mob for their departing, so one imagines they hoped that by simply ducking the confrontation, Phillips would defuse things and thenceforward continue with his life. He can’t have expected to go unnoticed on his return, given his late notoriety and Leavenworth’s small population.

Payne, among others, spotted him:

I next saw Mr. Phillips the evening of the adjourned meeting, about dusk, in the city, near the Herald office. Some person, I don’t know who, remarked, in my hearing, that Phillips had deceived us, that he was now in town.

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