A Free State Fourth, Part Nine

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Charles Robinson highlighted the differences between the rule of the white man’s republic and the slaveholder’s despotism by emphasizing the sins of slavery and the sins of slaveholders. The latter, however, could come by coincidence. Plenty of men in New England liked their alcohol. One would not have to go very far to find the foul-mouthed or degraded in any state in the Union. The pride of a white man might suffer to have such rulers, but they came from all over and with all manner of politics.

Robinson doubled down on the sins:

Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted, if not his who withholds from the laborer his due; who makes merchandise of men, women, and children; who sunders family ties, sending the husband perhaps to the cane-fields of Mississippi, the wife to a New Orleans brothel,l and the children to the rice swamps of Alabama, never to see each other again, and all to spend their lives admit whips and chains. Is it not ‘confirmation strong as holy writ,’ that their conscience is corrupted, when such men ‘repel the doctrine’ that such proceedings are wrong, either morally or politically? when they ‘hurl back with scorn’ the charge that conduct like this can be inhuman? Perhaps it is not inhuman, if they are fair samples of humanity, but it is certainly unbeastlike.

Slavery made men into these unbeastlike things. Robinson threw their own words back at them. In repelling abolition doctrines and hurling them back with scorn, the proslavery men degraded themselves in a way no free soiler could. Their consciences unburdened, they then felt quite free to subject even white men to their violent despotism. Their cherished rights could not survive such impositions:

And who are the cowards in this contest, if not those who shun investigation, tremble at free discussion, or even the expression of an opinion; who cry out, ‘Down with the press, down with the church, down with every man that disapproves of oppression?’ And what acts are cowardly, if it is brave and manly for scores of men, maddened with whiskey, to prowl about in the dark and destroy the defenseless, to seize peaceable and unarmed citizens, to tar and feather them, to throw printing presses into the river, and threaten to shoot governors and hang editors, and especially to march upon a weak and defenseless people by thousands, armed with deadly weapons of all kinds (the most deadly of which is whiskey), and trample under their feet the dearest rights of freemen, imposing upon a neighboring Territory a foreign government and laws not of their choice, at the point of the bayonet? If those acts are brave and heroic, what are cowardly and villainous?

Per Robinson, it all came together. Other people might share lesser versions of their sins, but slaveholders made themselves into peerless sinners. Slavery demanded they excel in all their evils and spurred them to heights of depravity to which no other class of humanity could aspire. To allow slavery into Kansas required allowing in all the rest. They must accept the end of any critical discussion of slavery. They must accept the end of their right to self-governance. They must accept, if not slavery for themselves, at least the status of conquered subjects rather than citizens of a republic.

Robinson did preach abolition. He also preached mere antislavery. He put the two together in a way more acceptable to skeptical members of the audience. One could draw the inference from his indictment that white men in slave state suffered as they should not thanks to slavery, but he did not drag the audience there and ask them to overthrow slavery in Missouri as well as Kansas. He did invoke the suffering of black Americans, but couched it in indignities and moral corruptions suffered by whites as a consequence. Robinson found the tension between antislavery and abolitionism. Instead of pulling back from one or the other, he brought them carefully together. If it did not convert antislavery men to abolition, it might at least bring them to see more connections between their qualified, intensely racial opposition to slavery and the abolitionists’ less qualified, less intensely racial opposition.

Either way, one couldn’t miss the essential message. The militia receiving their flag before he spoke underlined it, and Robinson concluded with it. Kansans had the choice to submit to tyranny or to fight:

Every pulsation in Kansas vibrates to the remotest artery of the body politic, and I seem to hear the millions of freemen and millions of bondmen in our own land, the patriots and philanthropists of all countries, the spirits of the Revolutionary heroes, and the voice of God, all saying to the people of Kansas, ‘Do your duty.”

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