The Free State Militias, Part Seven

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6

John Gihon’s Geary and Kansas claims that

the largest and most respectable portion of the free-state party condemned “the Kansas Legion,” and took no part in its operations.

This, to Gihon’s mind, distinguishes the movement from the more integrated paramilitary activity of the proslavery side. Both parties knew how to burn a house, rob, and murder, but the free state movement wanted nothing to do with the Kansas Legion. Whatever their public statements, the free state political leadership convincingly demonstrated its disapproval through the involvement of such men as Andrew Reeder, Charles Robinson, George Washington Brown in organizing, arming, and leading the Legion. Geary wrote in 1857, long after Patrick Laughlin’s pamphlet of revelations and more than a year after he testified to the Howard Committee, published in 1856, so one wonders just how he missed the evidence otherwise. One might speculate that he knew full well to the contrary, as he certainly had the means to, but elected not to share. Suffice it to say that only Gihon himself appears to take the claim seriously.

The connection between the Kansas Legion and the political arm of the antislavery cause in the territory goes beyond shared personnel. In assigning Laughlin to establish secure mail routes, the free state party had a civilian purpose in mind. They needed to coordinate and they knew very well that the ordinary mail would come subject to search and seizure by Robert Kelley and the like. Legion communication might go through the mail too, but one can interpret the business as primarily political rather than military. Laughlin also had other partisan duties with of a less than upright and law-abiding nature:

The two sub-committees that were appointed each side of the Kansas river, were to gather all the information they could which would serve to weaken the pro-slavery party. I being appointed a member of one of these sub-committees, and living further north, I exerted myself in gathering information in the north more than any of the others did, and did all that was done in the north of Doniphan and the vicinity around it. The information they gave me was very strong against the pro-slavery party.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Someone on the Howard Committee asked Laughlin if his job included spreading false information about the proslavery party to weaken it.

I was engaged by the executive committee in procuring statements to be spread before the public for the purpose of injuring the pro-slavery party. I went from house to house int he northern part of the Territory taking the statements of free State men, among whom was Messrs. Groomes, Brown, Jamison, and several others of the St. Joseph’s bottom. C.W. Steward, Richardson, and Hummer, out of the Territory; Richard Peck, Dr. G.A. Cutter, and others, of Doniphan; all of whom generally admitted to me that they were exaggerating their statements in order to weaken the pro-slavery party. they would see two or three men, some, perhaps, who had only canes in their hands, without any visible sign of other arms. From the fact that they saw them on the day of election coming from towards Missouri, they would state to me that they saw large numbers of armed men; some of them told me that they saw companies of from five to six and from eight to ten men, who would have shot guns, some of them; they would then state that they were armed with guns. If they saw a very large number, they always give the number as covertly as they could; but when a small number, they would say a number, or a large number, as a general thing. I never chided them for making these statements, but they generally said that although the statements might be construed to mean differently from what the true facts were, they would be easy. It was not a part of my duty or instructions, as a member of the committee, to collect either false or exaggerated statements of facts.

Laughlin’s conclusion there left my scratching my head, but he then emphasizes that he does not believe any of the statements he recorded ever received publication. So he heard and passed on statements he knew at least stretched the truth, but that he considered himself in the right as they had not to his knowledge gone into general circulation.

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