The Squatter Sovereign on Big Springs

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Through their various enactments, the purged, proslavery legislature of Kansas used its ill-gotten power to protect slavery so thoroughly that it drove a fair number of Kansans not just over to the free soil cause, but all the way into alignment with the Lawrence radicals. The various acts of freelance violence in the service of slavery could only have aided in reaching that outcome, but each carried with it at least some deniability. One couldn’t plausibly put any daylight at all between the acts of the party’s elected leaders and the acts of the party. Proslavery men, from Missouri or otherwise, had chosen those people to lead them. They carried at least some moral responsibility for what their leaders did, especially given that they demonstrated no particular interest in replacing them. Thus the Big Springs Convention came down firmly in favor of ignoring the Assembly of Kansas, rejecting its laws, and ultimately setting up its own government.

After spending so much time on the antislavery side, especially in the context of its reaction to proslavery advances, it only makes sense to go back and see how the proslavery side saw recent events. I went into the Squatter Sovereign archives and found the issue immediately after Big Springs. Robert S. Kelley and John Stringfellow did not treat readers to a lengthy excoriation of the affair, but they did have something to say about the free state party’s embrace of Andrew Reeder for Congress:

We have just learned that the personage above named, has been nominated at Big Spring for Congress, and that his election is to come off in November.

Why did the date matter so much? The Kansas legislature had set the date for the delegate election to early October. John Whitfield again stood for the proslavery party. By setting a different time for the election, the free state men further rejected the authority of the legislature:

This is but a parcel of the treasonable conduct of that faction, who with Reeder at their head, have declared open hostility to the laws of the Territory.

With the exception of the notion that Reeder led the free state movement, one can’t really argue with any of that. Setting up a rival government certainly sounds like insurrection to me, even if it comes in service to a cause to which few of us would object.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Stringfellow and Kelley went on to condemn Reeder, who they would only call “the gentleman” in the article’s text, for persisting in his past “folly” and seeking more, in hopes that “there is only a step from the sublime to the rediculous”. The Squatter Sovereign averred that Reeder might “almost” reach the line. He could hardly cross it, after all. But since the Pennsylvanian had committed himself:

We advise the poor idiot to give us a “wide berth,” or he may find himself following in the wake of the hero martyr, Pardee Butler.

This from the same paper that carefully omitted reference to its editor’s role as a ringleader in the mob that took Butler all of a month before. The article doesn’t name Kelley as a perpetrator still, but he clearly intends that the reader know exactly who did what.

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