The Blue Lodges, Part Five

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Jordan Davidson told the Howard Committee, with a bit of pride, that the members of the proslavery Blue Lodges had done right and, they believed, lawfully in coming over and voting in Kansas’ elections. He further had a rather different view of the organizations than did either people in Kansas or other members. Davidson insisted that the men of the lodges swore an oath against the use of violence. This might come down to his lack of scrupulous attendance. If he missed as many meetings as he suggested, then Davidson saw very little of his fellow proslavery men in action. Alternatively, the lodge members could have sworn that oath and broken it. They might have claimed the same kind of abstract self-defense that justified defiance of law in Benjamin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil:

The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin. To induce a slave to escape, involves not merely to the master the loss of that slave, of that amount of property; but it brings in its train far more serious consequences. Other slaves are thereby induced to make like attempts; a hatred for their masters, whom they begin to regard as their oppressors, is thus begotten; and this, too, often is followed by arson and murder.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

While we can’t say that Stringfellow spoke for Davidson’s Pleasant Hill lodge officially, as he had for the Platte County Self-Defense Association, both the similarity of the two groups in politics and the general tenor of the proslavery movement argue that they had similar ideas. With that in mind, Davidson and others could swear themselves to obedience to the law and restraint from violence but then defy the law and resort to violence. They could, in words they would not have much appreciated, have cited a Higher Law.

That higher law might have come into play within the group as well. J.C. Prince testified that he feared for his safety if he told the Howard Committee all he knew about the Blue Lodges. Davidson testified to an oath against telling the group’s secrets:

The penalty for violating the rules and secrets of the order was all the honor a man had. A man, by violating the secrets and rules of the order, was liable to stand in society beneath the dignity of a gentleman, but to no personal injury, except as they might take a notion to inflict it. There was nothing said in the oath or forms of the society about inflicting personal harm upon delinquent members.

One can read that either as further to the effect that the lodges demanded no violence of their members or that they demanded no violence officially. Davidson says only that the oath and forms did not require violent retaliation, not that it never happened or that the group’s bylaws forbade them. He carefully outsourced any violence that might come to the unspecified, general society rather than to the particular society in question. This distinction might have cleared his conscience or proved useful in a court of law, but could end in broken bodies and stolen lives all the same.

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