Acts of the Bogus Legislature, Part Four

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Parts 1, 2, 3, Greeley’s pamphlet

The proslavery majority of the Kansas Legislative Assembly warmed up by proscribing the death penalty for inciting, supporting, or even just suggesting slave revolt. Dare to speak or write against slavery and you must die. The same penalty applied for simply bringing such written material into Kansas. If you received a copy of William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper in the mail, you could and, if caught must, die for it. Helping a slave free himself or herself could result in death, but for the first time the legislature gave sentencing judges an option: they could pick ten years’ hard labor instead. Even unknowingly helping a slave who simply might have absconded would get you five years breaking the proverbial rocks. The penalties for helping slaves who stole themselves further extended to slaves who came into Kansas from another state. The majority would sanction no safe haven for the victims of its Missouri neighbors.

The proslavery men could read their newspapers. They knew that black and white abolitionists had freed Shadrach Minkins and, more recently, Anthony Burns in Boston. They knew that armed force had repelled Gorush from Christiana and took from him his life along with his slave. They resolved to ensure that, unlike those Yankee fanatics, they would not let such deeds go unpunished:

If any person shall resist any officer while attempting to arrest any slave that may have escaped from the service of his master or owner, or shall rescue such slave when in the custody of any officer or other person who may have such slave in custody, whether such slave have escaped from the service of his master or owner in this Territory or in any other State or Territory, the person so offending shall be guilty of felony and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than two years.

Anthony Burns

Anthony Burns

You might rescue a slave in Kansas, but if you did you would end up behind bars for it.

Still looking northward, the legislature pressed on. Its dictates might have legal force all on their own, but they required officers of the state carrying them out to have practical force. Someone had to arrest offenders. What if they, as some northerners did, refused to do their duty? If they refused to arrest slaves or aid in their capture, they faced a fine of between one and five hundred dollars.

One struggles to think of some way to punish the abettors of fugitive slaves that the Assembly did not think of and find a way to punish. Entice a slave to flee and die. Knowingly help a refugee from slavery and die or, at very least, enjoy your ten years’ hard labor. Doing so unwittingly still earned you five years. Resist men seizing a slave and take two years. If an officer of the law refused to arrest or aid in the capture of a slave, he faced a large fine. From start to finish, they completely criminalized aiding slaves who dared steal their lives away from their rightful owners.

And the legislature had yet to finish.

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