Francis and the Regulators: part 1
Andrew Francis had his awkward meeting with Andrew Reeder and came out with no injuries save bruised pride. The next morning, James Lane spirited him off to a law office so Francis could join the Kansas Regulators. Like all good secret societies, the Regulators had an oath for Francis to swear. He still remembered the substance of it, which the oath asked he memorize, on June 4, 1856 when he gave the Howard Committee his testimony.
I, of my own free will and accord, in the presence of Almighty God and these witnesses, do solemnly swear that I will always forever conceal, and never reveal any of the secrets of this organization to any person in the known world, except it be to a member of the order, or within the body of a just and legal council. I further make promise and swear that I will not write, print, stain, or indite them on anything moveable or immoveable, whereby the least figure or character may become intelligible to myself or any person.
We could read Francis’ testimony to the committee as falling under “a just and legal council”. They had a commission from the House of Representatives, after all. But when Francis comes to the matter of keeping his oaths he makes no such excuse.
Secrecy ensured, or so the authors imagined, the oath moved on to practical undertakings.
I furthermore promise and swear that I will at all times, and under circumstances, hold myself in readiness to obey, even to death, the orders of my superior officers.
Here we go straight from private club secrecy promises to a paramilitary obedience in the service of making Kansas “a free white State”. But the oath comprehended less violent means as well:
all things else being equal, I will employ a free State man in preference to a Missourian or a pro-slavery man. […] all business that I may transact, so far as in my power, shall be transacted with free State men.
This kind of commercial non-intercourse goes back at least to the colonial’s dispute with Britain. Stringfellow’s Platte County Self-Defense Association advocated, and for a time practiced, the same thing against suspected antislavery men in Missouri.
The oath then returned to military matters. Francis swore to wear a badge of his allegiance and rank, which seems an odd way to keep a secret but could serve very well in knowing who one should help when unexpected violence arose. Another promise included coming to the aid of those who made an arranged signal of distress, “even where there is a greater probability of saving his life than losing my own.” One must also “repair to the place where the danger is” when one “heard the words of danger.”
I will at all times and under all circumstances hold myself in readiness to take up arms in defence of free State principles, even though it should subvert the government.
If you wanted to sign up with the free state militia, you had to accept the free state party’s politics. This inherently put one at odds with Kansas legal government.
To all of this I solemnly swear, without equivocation or self-evasion, binding myself under the penalty of being declared a perjurer before Heaven, and a traitor to my country.
All of these undertakings rather thoroughly bound one to the free state party. Francis agreed to take orders, risk his life, take up arms, come to the aid of others, wear a badge that enemies could note, and of course to keep it all secret. While the oaths may sound a bit silly to us, nineteenth century Americans could take this sort of thing very seriously. For Francis to break it would at least damage his reputation. As a religious man, he would also have taken the witness of Heaven as rather more than a ceremonial flourish.