Patrick Laughlin, proslavery man turned free soil man turned proslavery man again, began his testimony like that of many who came before the Howard Committee. He told them that he came from Kentucky to Kansas in May of 1855. June found him settled in Doniphan. He insisted that when first he came to Kansas
I was a pro-slavery man. I heard a great deal of complaint by free-soilers of the laws being violated and people coming over from Missouri to the election; sympathized very strongly with them, and endeavored as far as I could to vindicate their cause. I became notorious in the neighborhood for vindicating their cause, and I avowed myself a free-soiler about the middle of August, 1855.
Many people in Kansas could tell the same story. One could accept, perhaps even prefer, living in a slave state and still think that the proslavery party had gone too far in its violent suppression of white republicanism. If one truly believed that slavery made all white men equal, then seeing white men trample the rights of other white men in its name had to raise some doubts. Perhaps in South Carolina, or even Missouri, such things just happened in the natural order and one conceived of them more as defenses of white equality against dangerous subversives. The perceived threat of thousands of slaves about, outnumbering whites, must have made such a calculation easy. Kansas had no thousands of slaves, but rather around two hundred. Though William Phillips and others held that Laughlin came into their movement with ulterior motives, always intent on betrayal, his account sounds too much like that of H. Miles Moore, Joseph Potter, and many other Kansans who came lately from slave states to take them entirely seriously on the count.
Laughlin dates his formal conversion to free soil around the middle of August, 1855. This would come roughly when the legislature completed its work and adjourned and just slightly before the latest convention at Lawrence. He marked the date from a meeting to choose delegates for the Big Springs Convention. His fellow free soil men about Doniphan trusted Laughlin enough to employ him as the meeting’s secretary and then name him one of their delegates. They even asked that he head out a few days early so he could arrange some printing and get an idea of the strength of the party. On his way
I stopped at Oceana, a place about ten miles from Atchison and fifteen from Doniphan. I went into the store of Messrs. Crosty; I had been told before getting there that these men were Yankees and abolitionists. I went into his house and made known to him my business; he then made me acquainted with a secret military organization, by which he said the free State party was strengthened and enabled to carry out their designs more effectually.
Crosty then handed over two sealed books and a letter of introduction before sending Laughlin on his way to Grasshopper to deliver those books to a man called Whitney
who was to gather a company together, and in the presence of this company I was to open the seal around these books. the company was gathered the next morning, about fourteen in number, and I broke the seal and administered according to the directions of Mr. Crosty. I not having time to remain among them, left them to elect their own officers, and organize their company.
Laughlin says more, which shall come in future posts, but this already speaks volumes about how much the free soilers trusted him. He took their side deep in proslavery country, the same section of the territory that saw Pardee Butler’s mobbing, and made himself notorious for it. The men who knew him best sent him to Big Springs as their delegate. Along the way they arranged for his induction into the Kansas Legion and then trusted him to facilitate the founding of a local branch. None of this sounds like what one would do for a person one had doubts about. Rather Laughlin seems to have had their utmost confidence.