A Free State Fourth, Part Five

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Even in light of how things had gone to date in Kansas, and stood to go in the future, Charles Robinson kept in mind that not everyone in Lawrence might go along with his radical take on the situation. Invoking the enslavement of whites risked pushing too hard, especially when a Massachusetts abolitionist did so. He might say that “we must become slaves ourselves” but providing some evidence would, entirely aside from simply fulfilling his obligation as a speaker, at least deflect some charges of New England fanaticism in heterodox Kansas.

What better place to look for such evidence than the proslavery press? Robinson wisely opened with lines from the Atchison Squatter SovereignThat paper’s editor, John H. Stringfellow, had more of a claim to mastery of Kansans than most, as he then sat in the Legislative Assembly. His brother wrote the border ruffians’ manifesto, Negro-Slavery, No Evil. The paper even came from a town named after the senator who did so much to ensure the admission of slavery into Kansas, David Rice Atchison. The man himself had come over to join in the election stealing fun back in March.

The Sovereign declared:

Our Legislature should make the publishing or writing of abolitionism an offense of high grade, but indictable and actionable, if loss is sustained.

Kansas had to gag its antislavery men, or at the very least make them pay should such talk infect someone’s slave with such madness as to steal his or her body from its rightful owner.

JH Stringfellow

John H. Stringfellow

And further:

Only one Free-soiler will get a seat in the Legislative Assembly, and he will be expelled unless he mends his manners very much.

Only one did get his seat. If by mending his manners, Stringfellow meant that he must abjure antislavery, he came away disappointed. Samuel D. Houston did not repent. Nor did the legislature expel him, given the impotence of one man to stand against its tide. But John Stringfellow could smile in the end all the same. Houston resigned his seat in protest.

Where better to proceed from the Squatter Sovereign than to the Platte Argus, Atchison’s own organ?

It is to be admitted that they (the Missourians) have conquered Kansas. Our advice is, let them hold it, or die in the attempt.

From the Argus, Robinson wound back into Kansas with the resolutions of the mob that lynched William Phillips.

That no man has a right to go into any community and disturb its peace and quiet by doing incendiary acts or circulating incendiary sentiments. We therefore advise such as are unwilling to submit to the institutions of this country to leave for some climate more congenial to their feelings, as abolition sentiments cannot, nor will not, be tolerated here

William Phillips

William Phillips

Such people should leave at once, for

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

They could not, they insisted, take responsibility for the ruin that antislavery men courted by speaking out. They could not take responsibility in the sense of taking blame, they might have said. They would very much take responsibility for meting out the punishment. They had a line of men almost camped out to buy tickets:

a vigilance committee, consisting of thirty members, shall now be appointed, who shall observe and report all such persons as shall openly act in violation of law and order, and by the expression of abolition sentiments produce a disturbance to the quiet of the citizens, or danger to their domestic relations, and all such persons so offending shall be notified to leave the territory.

The Missouri Argus said it plainly:

Abolition editors in slave States will not dare to avow their opinions. It would be instant death to them.

Rhetorical excesses aside, Robinson had it from the presses of the very principals of the proslavery party and their allies in Missouri precisely what they intended for Kansas. They aspired not to white male republicanism, unless one construes “white male” to include only proslavery men, but rather the dictation of slavery to Kansas above all other concerns. To dissent from their orthodoxy made antislavery men something less than white, less than male, less than members of the community. Such men deserved only the treatment accorded to outlaws.


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