Kelley vs. the Herald of Freedom, Part One

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

John Stringfellow, his brother Benjamin, and his partner at the Squatter Sovereign, Robert S. Kelley of terrorizing Pardee Butler fame, all had reason to smile in the late summer and early fall of 1856. The legislature of Kansas, elected by frauds they enthusiastically supported, where John served as Speaker of the House, had purged itself of the few antislavery men who managed election against all odds. They and their movement of proslavery Kansans and Missouri border ruffians had rid themselves of Andrew Reeder and got Wilson Shannon in his place. On every front the proslavery party seemed in ascendance. If they still had a few antislavery Americans to terrorize into exile, silence, or just murder, then they could still look back on their achievements in Kansas to date with great pride. Mopping up the remainder of the white man’s democracy would come all the easier, with the sweeping laws that the Assembly enacted against speaking, working, accessing the courts, or even living while Kansan and antislavery.

Benjamin bragged, as related by Alice Nichols in Bleeding Kansas, that

They now have laws more efficient to protect slavery property than any State in the Union. These laws have just taken effect, and have already silenced the Abolitionists; for, in spite of their heretofore boasting, they know they will be enforced to the very letter and with utmost vigor. Not only is it profitable for slave holders to go to Kansas, but politically it is all-important.

Wilson Shannon promised the vigorous enforcement that Stringfellow expected. Thus with its very platform outlawed by the legally, if not morally, legitimate government of the territory, the free state movement had an impressively uphill struggle ahead of it. But would reality make the dreams of the Stringfellows come true?

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Less than a month after floating Pardee Butler down the Missouri, Robert S. Kelley bent himself again to that task with the aid of not mob law, for a change, but rather acts of the Assembly of Kansas law. The Herald of Freedom reported on his latest exploit in the September 22, 1855 edition:

Mr. G.W. Brown, Publisher of the Herald of Freedom-Sir:-By this mail I return to you five copies of your paper without any inscription thereon. As there is a law now in force in this territory prohibiting the circulation of incendiary publications, I most respectfully decline giving them a circulation. Will will confer a favor by keeping your rotten and corrupt effusions from tainting the pure air of this portion of the Territory.

Two numbers of the Herald of Freedom are taken at this office, and I have distributed them in their respective boxes, and shall continue to do so until I get “legal advice.”

In other words, Kelley kept two as evidence of the crime. George Washington Brown should expect a visit from the constabulary in due course, but in the meantime best keep his papers to himself.

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