The Squatter Sovereign on Butler, Part Two

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley’s Squatter Sovereign would not tell its readers that the editor served as ringleader for the mobbing of Pardee Butler, but took great pride in the act all the same. More such treatment awaited any antislavery man who showed his face and spoke up in Atchison and, if they had their way, everywhere in Kansas and Missouri. Missouri would supply rope and Kansas the manpower to go further than Butler got, decorating every tree if the need arose.

But it takes a village to sustain a reign of terror. If the paper’s readers beyond the Atchison area took only a smile away from the story of Butler’s ordeal, then Kelley had not done his job. Thus he reached out to remind them of their duty as white, southern men:

With confidence we appeal to the Squatter Sovereigns of Kansas, to know if our slaves shall be tampered with? Will they allow the Greelys and Sewards of the Northern States, to inundate our broad territory with the scurf and scum, collected from their prisons, brothels, and sink-holes of iniquity? Is society, composed of such ingredients as these, a proper school for the morals of your children? Are such men fit companions for your daughters? Such women fit wives for your sons?

Sarah Grimké

Sarah Grimké

Do you want a man like William Lloyd Garrison to marry your daughter? Do you want your son saddled with a wife like one of the Grimké sisters? Why, those two turned against their own father’s politics! If you didn’t want your daughters at risk or your sons emasculated, Robert Kelley knew what you needed to do. With the world watching

Your brethren of the slave holding states, have placed their case in your hands. they have declared Kansas the Thermopylae of the South, and YOU the Spartan band, that must defend it from the foul invasion of Northern fanatics. They have crossed the Rubicon, broken through all restraint, and forced us to the final issue.

Having given his readers the nickel tour of classical history, before the United States stamped its first nickel coin, Kelley proceeded to familiar themes: Proslavery men fought for nothing less than survival itself. They could claim no shelter from the Constitution. The North had broken every sectional accord. Now they must choose between compromise with the faithless Yankees and their vast majority

or we must rise, unanimously, and drive the foe from our midst. In order to accomplish this end, no mercy can be shewn, and none is needed.

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

This all endorses Butler’s treatment, and that of others like him, but the appeal to unanimity speaks volumes. No matter what they had to do, they must rid themselves of dissenters. Kelley told his readers that they must not hesitate, possibly mindful of how the attack on Butler lost steam at the river’s edge and certainly well aware that not every Southern man stood firm on his side:

If your self esteem is insufficient, your interests are enough to decide you. If you hesitate now, you are lost. Your brethren of Atchison have taken a bold, manly and decided stand. Unassisted they pledge themselves to purge their town, and its vicinity, from the polluted presence of Abolitionism. — Without your aid, more they cannot do. Give it us, and Kansas shall soon claim her proper place among her sister States, in a Southern Republic.

If the Abolitionists seek war, it shall come, and sooner than they wish; and if you are good men, and true, it shall be “war to the knife, and knife to the hilt.”

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2 comments on “The Squatter Sovereign on Butler, Part Two

  1. hawker40 says:

    And here is a declaration of war. A war fought not for State’s Rights, but for slavery.

    • States’ rights is always a method of achieving ends, never an end into itself. Except on the subject of slavery, antebellum southerners could hardly get excited about them. Even on that subject, they proved quite hostile to states’ rights asserted by the Northern states to keep slavery out of their bounds.

      I was just reading a bit in Ed Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told on this subject last night. He pointed out that Mr. States’ Rights himself, John C. Calhoun, crafted his final position on states’ rights in such a way that it at best rendered the emancipations that northern states had chosen for themselves legally moot…since property rights derived from the federal Constitution.

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