Friends of the Free State Militia, Part Two

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Francis and the Regulators: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Friends of the Free State Militia: part 1

G.P. Lowery told the Howard Committee that he had joined the Kansas Regulators, but that Andrew Francis and Patrick Laughlin had the gravely exaggerated the organization’s activities and ambitions. They existed only to defend free soil Kansans against attack by proslavery Kansans and Missourians who meant them harm. They did not extend across all Kansas, but confined themselves to the Lawrence area. They had no intention of subverting the territorial government. He might have meant the last point, but doing so would have required a very fine distinction between the physical protection of members of the free state movement and the same movement’s political aims.

Martin F. Conway, who we met resigning his seat in the legislature, added more to the record. He admitted to joining the Kansas Legion to

protect the rights of the people against the encroachments of the people of Missouri. It was formed in consequence the invasion at the previous March election, and the recent outrages in Leavenworth.

Conway puts the date of founding at the middle of June, which makes sense for a reaction to Missourian election stealing back in March, as well as the special election stolen in Leavenworth in late May. Given he refers to outrages in the plural and the date fits, he probably also had in mind the lynching of William Phillips. Conway identified the group as the one that Patrick Laughlin exposed in the fall. In stating that its activities aimed to protect the rights of Kansans, Conway casts it as an explicitly political group. That group boasted a written constitution and divisions all around Kansas. That would conflict with Lowery’s story, but Conway went on to explain

it was found to be cumbersome and unwieldy, and it fell into disuse, and I do not know as it ever accomplished anything.

[…]

Another secret society was afterwards formed, the proceedings of which were intended to be secret, but the existence of which was intended should be known to the public. It was instituted about the middle of September, 1855. The object of this society was to protect the movement of the people of Kansas for a free State organization against those attempts which it was expected the Missourians would make to defeat the movement.

This second group included Andrew Francis. It remained a political group, even if Conway couched its mission in terms of self-defense. The Kansas Regulators would defend the persons of free state Kansans, but Conway explicitly includes their political activities under its aegis:

In proceeding to accomplish the object we had in view it was necessary for us to have meetings, conventions, elections, and various other gatherings of the people, and knowing ourselves liable at such times to be attacked by pro-slavery men in the Territory, as well as by invaders from Missouri, we resolved upon this secret organization as a means of defence of ourselves and resistance to them.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

So they organized into regiments with appointed officers. Did they plan to subvert the government? G.P. Lowery said they did not. Martin Conway insisted that the Regulators operated “purely” defensively. But then he went on to say

the position we took in forming this secret society and in perfecting a State organization was, that as soon as the State government should be put in operation it would supersede the Territorial government, and the laws made under that territorial government, not by any violent method, but in the regular order of things as had been the case in other territories; that even if the Territorial laws had been valid and of full force, they would have been superseded by the State government as soon as Congress should recognize us as a State.

They would not subvert the territorial government, but rather supplant it. Other states had gone and declared themselves, then asked for admission to the Union. Kansas could do the same and have precedents to support its case. I don’t know that any of those efforts came in open defiance of the legally established territorial government, though. Conway envisions the State movement as “preliminary” and thus not technically subversive. They didn’t call themselves a state, but rather a movement organizing to make one.

The territorial government could, one supposes, see all of this and congratulate them on their fine civic spirit. John Stringfellow, Robert Kelley, and all the rest might line up to praise the free state men for their initiative. They might also sprout wings and fly.

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