The Free State Militias, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left off Patrick Laughlin’s testimony to the Howard Committee with him joining the Kansas Legion. There he had facilitated the founding of two local branches of the organization by delivering sealed books to their leaders. Laughlin did not have time to stay and oversee the choosing of officers, as the business of the free soil party awaited him at Big Springs. He came away with a letter introducing him to George Washington Brown, who he met at Lawrence. Laughlin presented his credentials and

was then shown a good number of Sharp’s rifles by Mr. Brown, who told me they were sent out by the Emigrant Aid Company.

Whether the Emigrant Aid Companies had intended from the start to arm militias in Kansas or not, that day Laughlin looked on Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s nightmare come to life. The eastern corporation raised military companies in Kansas to fight against the advance of slavery. Stringfellow preferred to reserve that privilege to proslavery militias, whether organized in Missouri’s Blue Lodges and Self-Defense Associations or underwritten by the wider South from whom he solicited funds. That free soil men got in on the trick must have seemed downright unfair. Secret oaths and paramilitary politics belonged to slavery’s friends, not its foes.

All the same, Laughlin spent his time at Big Springs and came away with a new charge:

I was also made a member of the executive committee, and was appointed it in company with two Atkins, to act as a kind of governing committee, for the north side of Kansas river. It was the duty of this governing committee to see that all mails belonging to free state men of Kansas were to be carried through with safety, and in order to do this it was necessary to appoint mail carrier and other facilities. It was also their duty to appoint men in the district of the county to be designated by them, whose duty it would be to arbitrate all difficulties arising between people. It was also the duty of this subcommittee to have speakers appointed to go through the Territory to canvass if for a free State. They were also to attend to the election returns and see that they were forwarded to the executive committee of Lawrence

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Laughlin, by the time of his testimony a proslavery man again, may have had reason to exaggerate his import. However, every duty he describes seems like one that the free state movement would assign to somebody as part of the necessary infrastructure of building a party. They couldn’t trust the mails, so they needed to make their own arrangements. They needed their own judges of election and deliverers of returns. They certainly needed men to go about speaking for the cause.

In addition to his moire public duties, Laughlin came away with four more sealed books:

These books contained the constitution and ritual of the grand encampment of the Kansas Legion. I received them from G.W. Brown, editor of the “Herald of Freedom,” with instructions that I was not to break the seals until I had organized two subordinate encampments, when I was to break the seals, and deliver one package to the colonel of each encampment. I was to organize one at Doniphan, and one in the Territory north of Doniphan, at any place I might think to be a suitable point.

Laughlin organized the first encampment on the day he arrived home, breaking the seals and handing over books as instructed. On the way to establish the second group, his third overall, plans would change.

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