Resolutions of the Public Indignation Meeting, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

The Lynching of William Phillips: parts 123, 4, 5, 6, 7

Resolutions: part 1

The Public Indignation Meeting of April 30, 1855 affirmed the right to drive abolitionists, by which they meant any antislavery person, from Kansas in the name peace and quiet. In doing so, they affirmed their understanding of popular sovereignty: they constituted the populace and they exercised sovereignty. Slavery existed in the territory until the legislature passed laws barring it. The proslavery party, with great help from Missouri, then ensured that it would dominate the legislature. Attempts to redress the obvious fraud got William Phillips taken over to Missouri, tarred, feathered, and sold at auction for a quarter of a cent by a black man. Such efforts also made Andrew Reeder still more obnoxious to the proslavery men.

But the indignation meeting did not conclude its resolutions with a general affirmation of slavery, and an endorsement of driving Phillips from Kansas that also reserved the right to do the same to others. They also had a few kind words for their future victims:

Resolved, That in the present state of public excitement there is no such thing as controlling the ebullition of feeling, while material remains in the country on which to give it vent. To the peculiar friends of northern fanatics, we say, this is not your country, go home and vent your treason, where you may find your sympathy.

We just can’t control ourselves in these wild times. If you remain, you’ve asked for it. The invocation of treason has some irony given events at the end of the decade, but from where the proslavery party sat abolitionists attacked the very foundation of the Union. The founders, to their minds, built the nation on accommodation of slavery. Beyond that, to nineteenth century Americans one could commit treason against a state or a section as well. John Brown hanged for treason against the state of Virginia. Likewise people who fought enforcement of the fugitive slave law found themselves branded traitors.

Having threatened virtually everyone except proslavery southerners, the indignation meeting then had some kind words to offer.

Resolved, That we invite the inhabitants of every State, north, south, east, and west, to come among us and to cultivate the beautiful prairie lands of our Territory, but leave behind you the fanaticisms of higher law and all kindred doctrines, come only to maintain the laws as they exist, and not to preach your higher duties of setting them at naught; for we warn you in advance that our institutions are sacred to us, and must and shall be respected.

Everyone can and should come to Kansas, from anywhere in the country and with any beliefs, so long as they set those beliefs aside and became proper proslavery men at the border. Kansas belonged to them, not to the nation at large. But in the unlikely event that a reader missed the point, or didn’t quite parse the general references to institutions and condemnation of Higher Law, they hammered it further home:

Resolved, That the institution of slavery is known and recognized in this Territory, that we repel the doctrine that it is a moral and political evil, and we hurl back with scorn upon its slanderous authors the charge of inhumanity, and we warn all persons not to come to our own peaceful firesides to slander us and sow the seeds of discord between the master and the servant, for as much as we may deprecate the necessity to which we may be driven, we cannot be responsible for the consequences.

Rights? Freedom? The proslavery men cherished each one and affirmed it in another resolution.

Resolved, That recognize the right of every man to entertain his own sentiments in all questions and to act them out so long as they interfere with neither public nor private rights, but that when the acts of men strike at the peace of our social relations and tend to subvert the known and recognized rights of others, such acts are in violation of morals, of natural law, and systems of jurisprudence to which we are accustomed to submit.

You could have all your rights as an American citizen, the rights patriots died for and which all sections celebrated, but those rights did not extend to dissent from slavery. People uttering such sentiments placed themselves beyond the law, surrendered all rights, and freed the community to do with them whatever it liked. They would most likely make a considerable fuss.

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