The Blue Lodges, Part Three

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Parts 1 and 2

W.P. Richardson stonewalled when asked about the Blue Lodges. J.C. Prince told some, including that he feared to tell all, but spent much of his testimony making a claim and then qualifying it back nearly to oblivion. Several of his statements read as denials that he hoped the Howard Committee would understand as stating the opposite. John Stringfellow, his proslavery bona fides unassailable, testified at greater length. He began by rehearsing the claim that his brother made all the way back in Negro-Slavery, No Evil that the free soilers started the whole mess by organizing the Emigrant Aid Society. Before that, thanks to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, all expected that Kansas would come into the Union as a slave state.

That proslavery men held this story as orthodox dogma does not mean that they lacked facts on their side. It had always taken affirmative legislation to bar slavery from entering territories. The absence of restriction ensured a future presence all the way back to the Southwest Ordinance that created Tennessee. If popular sovereignty meant, rhetorically, letting the people decide then those who defended it as such had very good reason to know just how the people would decide. Territorial settlement operated on the de facto principle of slavery national and freedom sectional.

Emigrant Aid meant cheating to proslavery Missourians, who then resolved that they would lose Kansas if they stood idle. With the business couched in defensive terms, Stringfellow dated the founding of the Blue Lodges to October, 1854. He might have believed all that himself, though I’ve seen references to Blue Lodges forming in the summer of 1854 and it seems likely that he knew what his brother spent the summer occupied with, but he went on to argue

The members of these societies knew each other, and in public and private pledged to use all honorable means to make Kansas a slave State. They raised no more money than for the incidental expenses of their meetings. The condition of affairs of Kansas were discussed in these meetings. We consulted and talked about the mode of carrying out our object, which was by voluntary emigration. With respect to the then approaching elections means were taken to prevent underhanded advantages, which we feared would be taken to control the elections in favor of the free State party. Part of the means taken was to come into the Territory from Missouri to prevent or counteract illegal voting on the part of hired voters from the east and other free States.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

These honorable means included carting cannons over the border, attacking polling places, shooting guns at suspected free soil voters, and hiring their own voters, facts that the Committee knew from other witnesses. One could consider paying border ruffians an incidental meeting expense, but it seems much more likely that Stringfellow intended himself understood as denying that any payment for border ruffian activities took place.

Stringfellow testified that the societies, while mostly a Missourian phenomenon, extended into Kansas “to a limited extent”

they were united associations, with officers, and they communicate with other societies through their officers. The design was to direct or advise rather than to assist persons where to settle in the Territory.

Thus the word could get around about where proslavery men had best go to find friends, or needed to go to carry precincts. So things remained until the March elections. Since then

public organizations or aid societies have been formed all through the slave States, so far as I can learn, to enable settlers favorable to the institution of slavery to reach the Territory without assuming any control over their acts after they get here. Several gentlemen have left the Territory and the border of Missouri since March election in 1855, and visited the slaveholding States and addressed the people, urging the importance pecuniarily and publicly of a proslavery emigration to Kansas Territory.

Those organizations did their work well enough, Stringfellow said. He pointed to increased southern emigration in the spring of 1856 as proof, but he put it down

more to the general belief in the importance of such emigration rather than to the societies or Missourians.

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