The Blue Lodges, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3

W.P. Richardson would only tell the Howard Committee that he would not tell them about the Blue Lodges that plotted to control the future of Kansas. J.C. Prince told some, but admitted he would not tell all he knew because he had sworn otherwise and feared retaliation. John Stringfellow, clearly proud of the lodges’ work, told the committee all manner of things that everybody who lived in Kansas or Missouri could have seen for themselves. He went on, however, to deny much logistical coordination between the lodges. The committee’s remaining witness on the issue continued in much the same vein.

Jordan Davidson testified that

There is a secret society in the State of Missouri, for the purpose of introducing slavery into Kansas Territory. The proper name of the society, as recognized by its own members, is “Social Band,” “Friend’s Society,” and by some the “Blue Lodge” and “The Sons of the South.”

Davidson had never seen any written bylaws of the group to say that it had a single official name. Nor, he admitted, did he often attend meetings. He had too much work to do in the day and wanted rest too much at night to put on regular appearances. But he felt confident to speak to the group’s general nature, goals, and activities. Specifically:

The order compelled no man to come into this Territory and vote.

But the order did go over and vote. When asked directly of the Blue Lodge served as a way to organize men for election stealing, Davidson agreed almost without qualifier:

The greatest weight it had was in this way, for protection when we did get here; that when we got into a scrape we should not fall foul of each other. The friends of the society were friends to slavery in the south, and to extend it here if we could do it by lawful means.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Lawful means concern Davidson repeatedly in his testimony. He declares the lodges “governed by law,” indulging in “no compulsion beyond the law” and saw “nothing in it contrary to the law”. Davidson

never heard any of the leaders of the invasion of the 30th of March say it was illegal to come over here and vote. I heard an investigation of that matter in the lodge. One of the members asked how they could come here and vote lawfully, if they were objected to as not citizens of the Territory. The answer was to squeeze it in somehow, and if we could not get to vote, there was no violence to be used.

All of that sounds like protesting a bit too much. Davidson declares that he himself viewed voting in Kansas as right by the law, but even if we take that at face value then others in his lodge had their doubts. Otherwise, why would they require a discussion? Why admit that if challenged, they should find some way to “squeeze” the votes regardless? Some of that can come down to an assertion that Kansan voting scruples simply must yield to Missourian. Then a Missourian need not accept the legitimacy of examining his credentials. He might even feel free to simply lie.

Davidson further testified

Some of the wisest of our party, I suppose, did not fully believe that voting here was lawful, but they contended that it was right as there were a good many others coming here to vote; I considered it right myself, and came here of my own accord.

What we consider right often differs from what we find lawful. In such cases, we generally think it right to ignore the law. The border ruffians did the same. Davidson agreed with them and came of his own free will. But his invocation of right here, in light of his repeated insistence on the lawfulness of election stealing, suggests that he meant more than that he came to Kansas and did what he thought right. One must remember that Davidson testified under oath before a committee of the House of Representatives. The “here” to which he came meant Kansas, but not just on the occasion of the election. He came back to testify, apparently without a summons, and with a clear conscience. His testimony thus has an air of defiance to it: He came and told what he knew, as he liked, with pride. By implication, Davidson dared them to do something about it.

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