What did ordinary Confederate soldiers fight for?

A Reunion of Cherokee Confederates

A Reunion of Cherokee Confederates

When speaking of the Confederacy, laypeople and those with a cripplingly narrow focus on matters military often make two related claims. First they will say that the Confederacy cared only incidentally about slavery, but really got worked up over states rights. This mangling of history remains far too common, but I think that most increasingly see it more as a declaration of the speaker’s sympathy with the Confederacy’s actual aims than a judgment earned under the sometimes cruel tutelage of facts. Furthermore, I doubt one would have to go far in any part of the country to find plenty of laypeople and military history enthusiasts who would contest it fiercely.

The second claim has more life in it, coming in at least two variations. The first insists that the Confederacy used slavery as a kind of manufactured issue, a hot button to marshal popular support for more esoteric policies that nobody would have gone to war over. Usually the speaker claims the tariff. I’ve even seen renditions that specify it down to a few cents on the tariff. While cents counted for a great deal more in the nineteenth century, this still seems to cut very close to the bone. The second variant holds that the Confederate political leadership absolutely fought for slavery, the common soldier never. He had no stake in the institution but the smooth operators in the state capitals convinced him that he did. In either case, the speaker usually trots out Robert E. Lee as proof positive that antislavery Confederates existed.

Whatever version of the argument one makes, it holds that essentially the common Confederate soldier lacked the intelligence, education, or sophistication to make sound political judgments in his own interest. In doing so on the part of the vast majority of Confederate soldiery and a large portion of the slave states’ male population of military age, the speaker condemns a large part of the South’s white population. If this takes a form slightly more polite than calling the lot of them a bunch of lack-wit fools, than it does not differ meaningfully in substance. As one would expect, many of the same people take great offense to the very unfair stereotypes which depict the South as a land of backwards, lack-wit fools.

The foolish and unsophisticated exist in every time and place, of course. One could make an argument that Southern indifference to Yankee innovations like public education played a part in giving the South more than its share, but this rarely comes up. Instead we must take it as given, even obvious, that a poor white farmer could not possibly have any interest in saving slavery and would not have allowed racism to irrationally dictate his actions. This requires that his racism, from his perspective, actually entail irrationality. Usually that works the other way around. From the perspective of the racist, racism seems entirely rational and sensible.

Leaving the question of rationality aside we do have some facts to consider. On first blush, these may seem to support the proposition that ordinary Confederate soldiers, and other pro-confederacy whites, had little personal interest in preserving slavery. Further consideration will reveal otherwise.

One must grant that a vast majority of Confederate soldiers did not themselves own slaves. Slaves cost a great deal and the average soldier hardly counted as a man of wealth and property. However, a vast majority of American soldiers who enlisted after 9/11 neither owned property threatened in New York, Virginia, or Pennsylvania, nor had loved ones injured or imperiled in the attacks that day. Did the American government manufacture a grievance for them, which they in their innocence could not see through? Must we believe that they forgot that none of their loved ones died that day? I suspect that any questioned on the point would find the argument risible. Just as they could have an interest in and commitment to the United States and its nebulously defined “way of life” independent of the immediate details of their personal lives, so could white Southerners have a commitment to the South and its own distinctive way of life. This way of life, to the degree it differed from that of other sections, largely revolved around the prosecution and maintenance of slavery.

In this light, a soldier could hope to own slaves in the future as his share of the Dixie-flavored American Dream. He might have slaveholding relatives. He probably, except in the most rugged and remote sections of the South, at least knew one slaveholder by sight. He might have, either personally or through close family, more substantial connections still. Eugene Genovese sketches out a web of such connections, a “conjecture of […] economic, political and cultural forces, incuding intense racism” between poor whites and planters which “made secession and sustained warfare possible” in his 1975 article Yeoman Farmers in a Slaveholder’s Democracy (JSTOR paywall, article accessible through a free account)taking Joshua Venable “dirt farmer of of Hinds County, Mississippi” as a case study:

Josh owned no slaves, worked forty acres of so-so land more or less competently, and struggled to keep his head above water. Fortunately for him, he was kin to Jefferson Venable, owner of the district’s finest Big House, Ole Massa to a hundred slaves, and patron to the local judge as well as the sheriff. Moreover, Josh Venable’s wife was kin to John Mercer, himself “massa” to only ten or twelve slaves but decidedly a man on the make.  […]

Now, poor Josh Venable himself rarely got invited to Cousin Jeff’s home and virtually never to the dining room table. Rather, he was usually invited to an outdoor affair-a barbecue to which many of the nonslaveholders of the neighborhood were also invited to celebrate lay-by or the Fourth of July. Josh also had to notice that he was only invited when many neighboring slaveholders were urged not only to come but to bring all their “niggers.” Still, kin was kin, and Josh got an ostentatious welcome as a member of the family. Ole Massa Jefferson, his own self, once took him by the arm to the barbecue pit to meet the new state senator, whom Ole Jeff had just bought and who might come in handy.

Here we have personal ties to planters. Joshua and Jefferson hardly seem like the best of friends, but Jefferson still had him over and treated him well on the occasion. This sort of behavior naturally creates a kind of sentimental alignment, even among the unrelated.

Josh resented his cousin-so much that he continued to hope that he would someday own even more slaves himself and maybe even reach the pinnacle of success-some day he might be able to make Cousin Jeff a low-interest loan to cover his famous gambling debts, not to mention those debts for somewhat unclear expenditures in New Orleans.

New Orleans served as the antebellum South’s Las Vegas, for those who want to read between the lines.

Josh’s resentment shades into aspiration. He doesn’t loathe Jeff for his success. He wants to become like Jeff, but better, and valuable to him. Ambition can account for plenty of that desire, but more went into it. Josh wanted to help Jeff out with money, just as Jeff helped out others:

Everyone, including Josh, knew that his cousin may have been a little stuffy, may have put on airs, but that he always had a helping hand for anyone in the neighborhood, lack or white. Josh raised some extra corn and a few hogs. What was he supposed to do, hand-carry them to Cincinatti? Wait to sell them to unreliable drovers, who specialized in hard bargains? Cousin Jeff was already ready to pay a fair price even though he could just as easily have increased the orders through his factors and not bothered with such local trivia.

Josh also knew any number of local farmers who raised two or three bales of cotton. If they had to spend $125 each for a cotton gin and then pay the costs of individual marketing, they could not have covered costs. Yet, there was good Ole Jefferson Venable, and the two or three other such worthies, ready to gin the cotton for a fair service charge of 9 or 10 per cent and market it with his own large crop to insure a fair price for his poorer neighors. No one ever accused Ole Jeff of trying to make a dollar off his neighbors. On the contrary, he was quick to send food and supplies to help someone down-and-out. And everyone saw how he sent a few of his hands to help a sick neighbor get in his small crop when everything hung in the balance. If it were not for Ole Jeff and a few others like him, how many of the poorer farmers could make it?

Jefferson and others like him would even hire on the sons of neighbors, giving them odd jobs that might lead to more. One could become an overseer, often a stepping stone to one’s own plantation. If a yeoman had a good year or two and found a deal, he might buy a slave. Should that slave not have immediate work, then the planter would “rent him for a year.” If a farmer ended up with a bumper crop and needed extra labor at a cash-poor time, one of the Jefferson Venables of the area would send a slave over to rent.

And everyone remembered how the local planters sent their slaves to throw up houses for new settlers and did everything possible to get them started.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Joshua Venable. The area’s Jeffersons might not make you feel like quite an equal, but they’ve gone out of their way to help you out and support you. Why would you see them as enemies? Furthermore, since so much of what they did involved using slave labor directly, or indirectly, on your behalf wouldn’t you associate their patronage closely with their slavery?

Even without the planters to serve as patrons, protectors, and role models, it made perfect sense to tie one’s aspirations to future slaveholding. White hands might decide to try somewhere else in a year. They could hare off to Texas or Arkansas. They would demand treatment that slaves could not. Should one find white labor that would not go off to greener pastures and would work as hard as a slave, then even after winning the labor lottery you still needed more hands than the local white population could supply. One would inevitably look to slavery, a fixed fact of life for as long as anyone could remember, as the way to get ahead. Thus one would stand ready, if perhaps not always eager

to ride patrol, to help discipline the slaves, and to take part in the political and police aspects of the slave regime-in short, to think and act life slaveholders even before becoming one. That many were motivated by racism, sadism, or a penchant for putting-on-dog is undeniable. But even without those pleasantries, the path of social duty emerged as the path of self-interest.

It doesn’t take false consciousness or foolishness to arrive at that conclusion and consequently stand ready to fight to save slavery. It would even, necessarily, require ubiquitous racism. The advantages of the system in itself would make converts and produce the racism to order. A poor farmer did not have precisely the same stake in the system as a great enslaver did, but their social, cultural, political, and economic interests all closely aligned.

Genovese’s example concerned poor farmers in the plantation belt. They could hold in the upcountry with fewer slaves. Raw racism may play a larger role, as the undeveloped upcountry with its mostly white populations often understood that the presence of planters meant also the presence of slaves. They’d rather have neither than both, a position not that far from that of some Kansas free state men. If the upcountry men disliked having planters, a species of outsider, dictate to them then they disliked Yankee dictation all the more and might understand further integration with the nation by internal improvements and the resulting commercial intercourse. That could bring the slaves in, and had helped bring them to former upcountry tracts in the past.

But the upcountry white belts did, ultimately, have weaker ties to the Confederate cause because of their smaller investment in and immersion with slavery. The more upcountry-style Border States did not secede. West Virginia bolted Virginia to come back. Sometimes fierce resistance erupted in Eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and elsewhere beyond slavery’s easy reach. If the South had men with little investment in the slave system, then they lived in those places. If such men fought routinely for the Confederacy, we would expect them to exhibit a high degree of loyalty to it. Yet instead we observe districts ranging from divided to actively rebellious just where we would expect the slavery-indifferent, easily fooled Confederate soldiers to appear most often.

A South Carolina artilleryman at Petersburg.

A South Carolina artilleryman at Petersburg.

I understand the desire to see one’s ancestors, personal or figurative, in only the best light, but it doesn’t make for good history. In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, it seems far more reasonable to operate under the assumption that people of a time and place act within the general norms rather than against them. This holds true even before we consider the clear fact that the Confederacy made no secret of its purpose, but rather trumpeted it loudly. That alone ought to make it clear that men who signed on knew they fought for slavery and accepted the fact, but even if the Confederate leadership managed a remarkable conspiracy of silence and dissembling, as apologists imagine, the social, economic, and political patterns one sees in Genovese and elsewhere would make a powerful, if somewhat less quotable, case that most Confederates both knew they would and chose to fight and die for slavery.

The Herald of Freedom on Patrick Laughlin, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Squatter Sovereign, as one might expect, greeted news of Patrick Laughlin’s killing of Samuel Collins with apparent glee. The death of a free state man at the hands of a proslavery man warranted celebration, even if the editors chose to give Collins twelve companions against whom Laughlin struggled almost alone. I hoped to find a proslavery paper less keen on the affair to examine for contrast, or to learn that the Sovereign’s public joy spread to other papers, but haven’t had any luck. My access to the Leavenworth Herald falls off in early September of 1855 and much thereafter has even survived, it seems the Library of Congress doesn’t know of it. The Kickapoo Pioneer does survive, but in libraries states away. We’ll survive the lack, but it does mean that the only contrast comes from George Brown’s Herald of Freedom.

The October 27 edition has nothing to say about Laughlin, Collins, or the Kansas Legion. Given that the fight happened on the 25th and some distance away, one can hardly blame Brown for not knowing or not having the time to set the type and still meet his deadline. Owing to uncertain paper supplies, Brown elected to go skip a few weeks, so the next paper did not come out until November 17. That issue includes several interesting pieces, some of which may appear in future posts, but on the Collins killing, Brown had little to say. He offered up no excited headline, only “Murder.”

We see in the St. Joseph Cycle, that a fatal rencounter [sic] occurred a few days ago at Doniphan, between Pat Laughlin, the perjurer-according to his own confession-and SAMUEL COLLINS, a Free State man, and late Delegate to the Big Springs’ Convention, growing out of Pat’s exposure of a secret organization said to exist in the Territory. The Cycle represents Pat as acting in self-defense, but nobody believes the statement. COLLINS had resided about a year in the Territory, and was a man of intelligence and much personal worth. We shall have further information as regards the facts in a few days.

As a person who answers to “Pat”, I find Brown’s use of it as a kind of slur deeply amusing. I suspect that he intended to play on anti-Irish sentiment by stressing it, given the frequent overlap of antislavery and nativist sentiment.

Brown confesses to lacking the necessary facts for a larger piece, which seems unlikely weeks after Collins died. From context, Brown means that he lacked trustworthy antislavery witnesses to tell him what “really” happened. We suffer the same lack today, though I suspect we would find more of actual events by comparing those missing accounts with the proslavery version than by taking either at face value. His defense of Collins involves recourse to Collins’ reputation. This suggests to me that Brown knew they stood together for a free Kansas and little else about Collins. I’ve read him vouch personally for men he knew in the past, but he makes only a token and decidedly impersonal effort here. Most likely Brown only knew Collins by reputation and politics, but took the latter as sufficient to guarantee the former. A good man opposed slavery and a good man would not go spoiling for a fight. Therefore Laughlin, who he knew as a bad man for breaking his oath of secrecy, could not possibly have acted in self-defense.

The Squatter Sovereign on Patrick Laughlin

Patrick Laughlin killed Samuel Collins in a dispute over his published revelations on the Kansas Legion, which I’ve taken some time to examine. I found them reprinted in the Squatter Sovereign for November 6, 1855. The killing itself justified the printing, which consumed most of the Sovereign’s second page. The Sovereign customarily used its first page for short fiction and poetry, this amounted to front page news in the estimation of John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley. After the usual endorsement of David Rice Atchison for President, the Sovereign printed a paragraph on the turning season and then progressed to the matter at hand.

It transpired that not every proslavery paper in Kansas much cared for Laughlin. The Sovereign reports

The “Kickapoo Pioneer,” a Know-Nothing paper published in this Territory is the only pro-slavery (?) Journal that has had the temerity to question the veracity of Mr. Laughlin’s exposition of the midnight order of abolitionists in this Territory. It should be remembered that its editors are Know-Nothings, and that Mr. Laughlin is an Irishman, and therefore in the opinions of these scape-graces, his statements are “not worth much.”

The Know-Nothings dreamed that their anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant movement could save the Union by uniting the sections against the fruit of Rome, Ireland, and Germany. Knowing how things went at the end of the decade, we can easily forget that for a brief time they formed a significant force in American politics. Here we have both a reminder of that and at least a point of tension within the proslavery party. I’d very much like to see what the Pioneer said in its own words, but no one seems to have digitized it.

After dismissing the Pioneer’s editors a bunch of anti-Irish bigots and casting aspersions on their commitment to slavery, Stringfellow and Kelley pressed on to the main event:



I couldn’t do the glee with which the Sovereign reported the killing justice without including the headline. The news so pleased them that their grammar fell over. For the most part, the paper tells the same story as the witnesses did. Collins confronted Laughlin and demanded a retraction. However:

In accordance with this determination, he and some TWELVE brother Abolitionists proceeded Wednesday last to seek out Mr. Laughlin, and demand an unqualified retraction of his recent confession

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Collins had relatives with him and they did involve themselves, but nothing in the witness testimony suggests a band of thirteen abolitionists chasing after Laughlin. Accurate news probably had time to reach the Sovereign before printing, but word of these things can grow in the retelling. Or John Stringfellow could have lied to paint the antislavery party in a darker light. He could say to the South that his party had done so much on their behalf in Kansas but now they had monstrous legions arrayed against them. They desperately needed all the help they could get to hold the line. Should that help not arrive, then Kansas’ proslavery men could go down overwhelmed by numbers or prevail against all odds, valiant specimens of white manhood either way.

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Five

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 12, 3, 4Squatter Sovereign article

Patrick Laughlin published the constitution and rituals of the Kansas Legion, but his article included more information still. It appears that when the Grand Encampment had their first session, on February 8, 1855, they passed a resolution that offers a useful reminder that their movement did not consist entirely of twenty-first century egalitarians, but rather nineteenth century white Americans. In April, the legion’s founders wrote their constitution. In February, they had this to say:

Whereas, while we regard the Freedom of Kansas Territory as the highest of all political considerations which may now or hereafter engage our attention as a free and intelligent people, we at the same time regard it as impolitic and wrong to adopt any line of policy that may in any manner interfere with the domestic relations of our neighboring States or Territories–therefore,

Resolved, that we hold it to be just and proper in our relations with our sister States as a fundamental principle of action, and most promotive of the public good of the Territory, that laws preventing the emigration of either Slaves or Free negroes be enacted by our coming General Assembly and eventually engrafted in the constitution of the State.

Andrew Francis wanted to join the free state movement because he understood its goal as largely the same as his free white state party: no black Americans in Kansas. Missouri need not worry, as Kansas would let Missourians come and take back their absconded slaves. Kansan whites need not worry, as they would not let any black person free or slave remain long in their territory. Every black person would lose if they had their way, and therefore every white person would win.

David Wilmot

David Wilmot

Not every antislavery Kansan went along with that, as recurrent debates over Jim Lane’s black law demonstrate, but they could not carry the state on their own. For every Charles Robinson, who would make black men and women of all races into voters, the United States had at least dozens of David Wilmots bent on constraining slavery only as a way to make the continent whites only. The egalitarians could grumble about it and write protests, but without the numbers they could accomplish little else. Worse, if they insisted too forcefully they might break the tide of resentment that repeated theft of elections had engendered in white Kansans and send some of the black law men back over to the proslavery side. I don’t know that we could say which course would have led to a better outcome any easier than they could have.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Laughlin concluded his exposure of the Legion with suitable fireworks:

Now that I have shown the foul, treasonable and murderous plottings of a party in which preachers of the Gospel stand pre-eminent-it is my duty to give also to the world, in order to make my statements more perfect, the Grip, Signs, and Passwords of this modern army, made up of the chivalrous sons of darkness.

Thus Laughlin told Kansas, and anybody in Missouri who cared to read it as well, not just what he knew or the contents of documents. He also provided the means to infiltrate a meeting. They need not take his word for it, but could go see for themselves. While present they could note the faces, then return home and tell their friends.

The article concludes with a statement of Laughlin’s character. Seven men swore to having known Laughlin since he came to Kansas and

take pleasure in saying that his demeanor has been that of a gentleman, and that they consider his statements perfectly reliable in every respect.

The seven worthies included James Forman and James Lynch, both of whom took part in the Laughlin-Collins clash. I suspect we know now just how Collins came to see Lynch as his enemy. Two other Formans, John and A.P. signed as well, likely relatives of James.


The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Four

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 12, 3Squatter Sovereign article


You had to swear twice to join the Kansas Legion. The first time, you swore not to reveal what you would learn of the group and its business at the meeting where they planned to induct you. Then, reeling from the stunning revelation that this secretive group of antislavery men constituted a secretive group of antislavery men, must swear a more binding oath. The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion set this down word for word and Patrick Laughlin published it with the rest of the Legion’s secrets.

The Howard Report also contains a version of the oath, as remembered by Andrew Francis. Francis uses the Kansas Regulators. He joined after Laughlin’s original publication, some time shortly after October 11. At his induction, Andrew Reeder impressed on Francis that the Regulators had nothing to do with the Kansas Legion that Laughlin exposed. Other witnesses, notably Martin F. Conway, also testify to two organizations. Given the similarity between the groups, their identical politics, the short timespan between the fall of one and the presumed rise of the next, I don’t take this claim very seriously. Francis’s testimony suggests that he tended to take people very much at their word. That considered, I see the Regulators as unlikely to differ substantially from the Legion. Most likely, the members changed their name and altered a few habits rather than founded an entirely different group.

The oath that the Legion specified might not perfectly match the oath Francis recalled, even if he originally swore the same words. That could come down to actual changes, imperfect memory, or local variations in usage, but the two bear examination together all the same. The official oath begins

I, _____, in the most solemn manner, here, in the presence of Heaven and these witnesses, bind myself that I will never reveal, nor cause to be revealed, either by word, look or sign, by writing, printing, engraving, painting or in any manner whatsoever anything pertaining to this institution, save to persons duly qualified to receive the same. I will never reveal the name of this organization, the place of meeting, the fact that any person is a member of the same, or even the existence of the organization, except to persons legally qualified to receive the same.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

This substantially matches Francis’ oath. He references “the Almighty” instead of “the presence of Heaven” and phrases the obligations differently, but captures the same meaning. Francis adds that the oath required him to obey, to the cost of his own life, the commands of his superiors. The Legion’s oath has nothing like that. Instead, one must

support, maintain and abide by any honorable movement made by this organization to secure this great end [a free Kansas], which will not conflict with the laws of the country and the Constitution of the United States. I will unflinchingly vote for and support the candidates nominated by this organization, in preference to any and all others.

One could take the obedience unto death part as read, but the text doesn’t really suggest that. Someone could have added it in accord with local usage, but one wouldn’t expect local variants to have much traction in the immediate surrounds of the men who wrote down the original. A more severe version of the oath might have gone out after Laughlin put the Legion in the papers. Francis might have remembered things told to him informally as part of the oath. Or he might have resented the Legion/Regulators for letting him think Wilson Shannon supported them and added it out of spite.

Francis’ oath also bound him to commercial non-intercourse with proslavery men, to whatever degree he could manage. The Legion’s oath has no such provision. Nor does it require, as Francis claims he swore, that one must bear arms. However, the Legion’s constitution provides that encampments of thirty or more must form military companies and the prescribed rituals consistently refer to members as soldiers, so I don’t think he went far off script in reading that between the lines.

The Legion’s oath concludes

To all of this obligation I do most solemnly promise and affirm, binding myself under the penalty of being expelled from this organization, of having my name published to the several Territorial Encampments as a perjurer before Heaven and a traitor to my country-of passing through life scorned and reviled by men, frowned on by devils, forsaken by angels, and abandoned by God.

Frnacis didn’t call these lines out as such, but if they appeared in the oath he swore then they might well have discomfited him on religious grounds. He mentions such scruples in his testimony, as well as concerns about swearing to oppose the legislature’s work conflicting with his oath as a lawyer.

The induction ritual continued with a recitation of the familiar free soil grievances and the insalubrious effects of slavery upon the prosperity of the land. The Colonel would then teach the secret handshake, knocks, and passwords. The new member must not forget to whisper the latter. It wouldn’t do for every Atchison, Stringfellow, and Kelley to learn them.



Jim Crow Restored in Florida

The Warren Court in 1953

The Warren Court in 1953

If a man burst into your house, seized your belongings, and carried them off for his own enjoyment, you would call him a thief. He not only took things you had from you, but denied you the future enjoyment of them. We have laws against this sort of thing. Everyone would expect some kind of punishment to ensue. If a man seized your child and beat him or her so severely that it caused brain damage, so the child might never be the same again and never able to do all the things that we once dreamed, we would call the perpetrator more than a thief. He stole not just things, not just future pleasures, but a life. The child might live and there may still be happy times and sad times. I will not argue that a life fully ended beats a life disabled; people must make those choices for themselves. But if not for that beating, the child could have grown into a healthier, more successful adult. A monstrous crime like this should make the news. We should hear about the man’s history of mental illness, real or imagined. We should look forward to hearing that he will spend decades in prison. Someone would make a joke about rape. Others would argue that through his crime he had exited the species and concerns about human rights no longer applied. Whatever the guards and fellow prisoners wanted to do, we should look on with delight. We should cheer the execution of righteous violence against the embodiment of evil.

Perhaps the small crime of stealing one life cannot excite. I have known people for whom that sufficed, but people known to a history blogger do not constitute a representative sample of Americans. Imagine that a group of people broke the skulls and wounded the brains of hundreds of children. Imagine they did this for years on end, putting their victims in the thousands. Coming up on fourteen years ago, Americans responded to this scale of misdeed with enthusiastic vengeance against not merely the guilty, but against anybody who so much as looked like them. We accomplished even the remarkable feat of attacking an unrelated country in response. Patriotic commercials hit the airwaves. On the internet, everyone posted cartoons of an eagle calmly sharpening its talons. A general told us that we had no responsibility to reconcile the guilty to their god, only to arrange the meeting. A decade later, we did.

I don’t think we should admire the lust for vengeance, but I can understand it as well as anybody. When pricked, we bleed. When wronged, we revenge. Few things unfetter the more vicious side of our nature than the heady drug of righteousness. This does not make us a singularly evil people any more than it makes us singularly virtuous. Humans of all nations feel the same impulses and struggle to contain them or release them as much as we do. But if Americans have not earned a reputation as a singularly forgiving, restrained people, then the world has judged us unfairly.

Consider that in 2007, the Pinellas County School Board voted to re-segregate its schools. As various Supreme Court decisions have left Brown vs. Board of Ed. with only slightly more weight as precedent than Dred Scott, they could do this. John Roberts told the nation that year that integration schools constituted a racist offense as great as segregating them. When the Pinellas Board voted to re-segregate, it knew precisely what would happen. It promised that all manner of aid would go to predominantly black schools so that they could remain equal while becoming separate. It would all work out.

The aid never arrived. Instead, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

In just eight years, Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.


Then — as black children started failing at outrageous rates, as overstressed teachers walked off the job, as middle class families fled en masse — the board stood by and did nothing.

Today thousands of children are paying the price, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

They are trapped at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — five neighborhood elementary schools that the board has transformed into failure factories.

Every year, they turn out a staggering number of children who don’t know the basics.

Eight in 10 fail reading, according to state standardized test scores. Nine in 10 fail math.

Ranked by the state Department of Education, Melrose is the worst elementary school in Florida. Fairmount Park is No. 2. Maximo is No. 10. Lakewood is No. 12. Campbell Park is No. 15.

The victims of the Birmingham Church Bombing

The victims of the Birmingham Church Bombing

The board turned average, middle of the road high schools into conspicuous failure. It took from the children consigned to them whatever futures they might have enjoyed with better conditions, conditions entirely within the Board’s reach to deliver, and made failures of them. The Board took from them education, the ability to improve themselves, chances for a better life. It took these just as surely as if it had gone around with a van to every home in the district, rounded up all the black children, and dispensed lobotomies. Pinellas might not have had the of best schools before, but it had at least average ones. The Board chose to make them worse. The bureaucrat’s pen can do the work of the billy club, bomb, and gun far more efficiently and no less destructively.

The reporters spent years investigating, reading thousands of documents. They checked Pinellas against other districts and learned that the Board had manufactured literally the worst place in Florida to commit the egregious crime of attending public school while black. They found:

Ninety-five percent of black students tested at the schools are failing reading or math, making the black neighborhoods in southern Pinellas County the most concentrated site of academic failure in all of Florida.

The usual excuses come at this point. People who insist they are not white supremacists will say that black Americans have a culture problem, the fashionable way to say that they’re just inferior to whites. Or they have a poverty problem, which somehow adheres to their skin color through means beyond our understanding. Who knows how these things work? Not the school board:

“This is a nationwide thing, not just us. You hear school districts everywhere talking about this,” said Peggy O’Shea, who also voted for the plan in 2007. “It’s an issue that’s everywhere, unfortunately.”

“We only talk about it in black schools,” she added, “but we resegregated white schools as well.”

It all sounds plausible enough if one cannot bear the burden of thought. Just how do cause and effect work? By what strange alchemy could one connect isolating black children and depriving them of the resources necessary for them to get an adequate education lead to their failure to do so? The white kids left and the test scores went into the sewer. We can’t explain it. Nor can we explain why the white schools do better. These things just happen. Then comes the meaningful silence that we must fill with the unspoken truth: the black kids can’t do better because their nature makes them into the inferiors of whites.
But the Times burdened itself with facts and committed an act of journalism:

All of this is a recent phenomenon. By December 2007, when the board ended integration, black students at the schools had posted gains on standardized tests in three of the four previous years. None of the schools was ranked lower than a C. Today, all the schools have F ratings.

School districts everywhere don’t manage worst in state performance. That takes a rarefied gift. One has to work hard at it. Fortunately, the Pinellas Board had that kind of effort in them. Animated by the best American can-do spirit

After reshaping the schools, the district funded four of them erratically. Some years they got less money per student than other schools, including those in more affluent parts of the county. In 2009, the year after resegregation, at least 50 elementary schools got more money per student than Campbell Park.

One can’t say that they did not know how to do well, since the Board did better until 2007. Nor can one say that they lacked examples of how to do well elsewhere from which they could have learned, had they curiously forgotten the art:

Other districts with higher passing rates are doing far more to aid black students, including creating special offices to target minority achievement, tracking black students’ progress in real time and offering big bonuses to attract quality teachers to high-minority schools. Pinellas does none of those things.

This does not happen accidentally. This does not arise from ignorance or indifference. The Board knew precisely what course they chose, what it would accomplish, and have stood in the way of all attempts to undo it. As Board member Carol Cook had it:

“We’ve looked at just about everything we can and put things in place,” said Carol Cook, who also voted for resegregation in 2007. “I think we’re on the right track.”

Roof's victims, via the BBC

Dylann Roof’s victims, via the BBC

She means every word of that. They set out to plunder the lives of black children and have had a rousing success at it. They have not made mistakes; they have achieved goals. It would not do to admit that, just as it doesn’t do to hoist the Confederate battle flag, don the white hood, and go off a-lynching. Nobody wants to look like Dylann Roof when one can reach his ends without such gauche accoutrements. Better to play ignorant:

Linda Lerner, who voted for the plan that resegregated the district in 2007, blamed the schools’ problems on “the cycle of poverty,” not on actions by the School Board.

Lerner has may not have learned that the connection between poverty and skin color did not arise naturally, but rather people like her created it deliberately. We could blame her schools for that. Or she could have learned the connection, correctly understood her traditions, and carried them on happily. Florida has places where poverty, however constructed, and violence, however encouraged, impede education. But those places do better than Pinellas. Once more, the Times had facts:

In St. Petersburg, the crime rate is 12 percent lower than in Orlando, 15 percent lower than in Daytona Beach and 21 percent lower than in Panama City.

The poverty rate among blacks in Pinellas is 32 percent, compared to 33 percent in Escambia County, 35 percent in Alachua County and 36 percent in Volusia County.

Yet the black neighborhoods in Pinellas are home to schools that are doing far worse than schools in any of those places.

At West Jacksonville Elementary — in a neighborhood so violent it’s nicknamed Lil’ Baghdad — black students are passing reading at twice the rate as at Fairmount Park.

In Palm Beach County, at Belle Glade Elementary — in one of Florida’s poorest places — black children are passing reading at three times the rate as at Melrose.


There were 1,664 regular elementary schools tested in Florida in 2014. Students at 1,650 of those schools passed reading at higher rates than children in Pinellas County’s five most segregated schools.

Poverty doesn’t explain Pinellas’ problems. One hundred eighty-four elementary schools are as poor or poorer than Pinellas’ worst schools. All but seven outperformed the Pinellas schools in reading and math.

If Pinellas managed typical performance for a Florida school in similar circumstances, then the Board might evade some of the blame. They could paint themselves plausibly as victims of larger trends outside their control. But Pinellas’ achievements in excellence beat those of places that have it worse.

The rate of failure in the five elementary schools is unlike anything that occurs elsewhere in Florida.

The Board could see a light at the end of the tunnel if they wanted to. They could undo all they have done. They need only want to. But why should they? Carol Cook said she thought the district on the right track. She knew the numbers when she said it. She heard the complaints from parents. She could see how other districts did. None of those things mattered to her, or the rest of the board, because they had the opposite goals from other districts. They wanted not to help black students improve, but rather to ensure their failure. The designed a program to achieve that and it has worked. Where we see defeat, they celebrate victory. They have stolen the futures available to black children and put them in the hands of white children in accord with the American Dream:

“They won’t even consider what other school boards have done,” said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. “They refuse to accept that there are people who are doing things better.”

In the Board’s eyes, other districts have not done better but rather worse. No one can beat Pinellas’ performance. For this, for pillaging the youth of their county, we do not damn the Board. We do not have cartoons of the eagle sharpening its talons for them, no matter how many lives they destroyed. We forgive them the children taken away from all they could have achieved. No angry mobs gather at their doorsteps. No burning crosses adorn their lawns. The nation does not cry out for vengeance. We do not speak of scheduling meetings with their god. It takes a remarkably broad-minded nation to suffer such crimes.

This magnanimity ought to serve as a beacon in a dark world. Americans forgive. We have a great nation and when it does wrong, we forgive it. We always forgive it because we consider it ourselves. The Pinellas School Board, like the other segregationists and like the slaveholders before them, we see as part of ourselves. Forgiveness always comes easy in such cases. When the people do our actual bidding, instead of what we tell ourselves we have bid them to do, we don’t even feel it necessary to consider such things. Why forgive the absence of a wrong?

Peter from Louisiana

Peter from Louisiana

If black Americans suffer, then why would we deem that wrong? We belong to Club White, from which we have forever excluded them. Therefore the most horrific wrongs done unto them at best amount to an idle curiosity. We might feel a pang of conscience here or there, like we do for the victims of a natural disaster somewhere across an ocean. More often we know, even if we do not admit it, that we have not heard the miseries of the victims of hurricanes and floods, but the victims of our own designs. We have black America right where we want it. If we call ourselves innocent, then we mean not that we have not done these things but rather that we count them no crimes. They express what we honestly understand as our virtues, not our vices. Vices belong to other people, warmed in the light of different suns. Those children of lesser gods cannot help themselves, so we must subject them to discipline. If a few, a few hundred, a few thousand, or a few million suffer for it, so much the better. They serve as an example to others. These creatures, which we begrudgingly call people, simply must learn their place.

As a slaveholder told Frederick Law Olmstead a century and a half ago:

After “strokes had ceased” and “choking, sobbing, spasmodic groans only were heard,” Olmstead asked if it was “necessary to punish her so severely.’ … ‘O yes sir,” answered the lasher, laughing at the Yankee’s innocence. Northerners ‘have no idea how lazy these niggers are …”They’d never do any work at all if they were not afraid of being whipped.”

We tell ourselves that we have consigned these things to the past. America, born perfect, became better still. We made slavery past tense, even if half the country fought a bloody war to save it, fought another to undo its abolition, and then fought again to preserve its newer forms of subjugation. We keep telling ourselves that even as those new forms shift ever so slightly and continue along, almost unimpeded. We continue on, free from the burden of any facts, pretending that we have won one battle even we we pop the corks on the champagne to celebrate victory in another. We have only ourselves to congratulate.

I do not propose that we should turn the panoply of racial violence against the members of the Panellas School Board. No one should steal their property or their children. No one should terrorize them. No one should take from them the basics that human decency insists we grant to everyone. We need not end them to end this. But so long as we let it continue, we make ourselves accessories in their crimes. When we learn of things like this, everyone declares them not of America. We live in some different country. If our mail still reaches us at addresses in this one, if we vote in its elections, if we insist on using the same name as that strange place where all the virtues we pretend to count as vices live, then civility demands no one call the assertion into question. We have another, better country and we keep it that way by keeping the wrong sorts of people out. We made black and white so we would know which people deserved admission and which had to live in rude shacks down the hill.

We did not have to do this; no law of nature demanded it. Nor did we start this way. We chose our path beside the Chesapeake long ago and we have made ourselves its faithful inheritors. The brute facts dictate we could do otherwise. We could do it tomorrow just as we could have done it today and all the yesterdays sailing upstream on whip-cut rivers of blood and screams of agony across a continent, over the ocean, and through the centuries. We could do it, but confessing that means confessing also the harder truth: We have for all that time in a multitude of ways chosen to stay our course. We have chosen to call plunder right and justice wrong. We have not made a nation that celebrates civil rights martyrs and cherishes their legacy, but rather the nation that killed them.

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Three

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 1 and 2Squatter Sovereign article

Once a new Kansas Legionnaire swore that he would not reveal what he saw in the Legion’s meetings, his regiment’s Aid would pass him on to the Colonel for instructions. These instructions began with some flattery:

Sir, it is with joy we welcome you to this place, to these scenes and to this sacred alliance. We trust you will find in us that purity of purpose, and we will find in you such nobleness and truth, that this union may result in constantly increasing regard, confidence, and love between us. This country is yours by adoption, and as belonging to you and your children, you feel a deep interest in its prosperity, its honor, and its destiny.

But one had just petitioned to join a secret antislavery paramilitary group. If the postulant missed the significance of this, the Colonel went on to narrate the plight of an antislavery man in Kansas

where slavery intends making its next innovation; already we have had a foretaste of its contaminating touch, and knowing that strength lies in union-feeling that our country and our God demands of us in this emergency that every man should do his duty

The Quartermaster’s oath of secrecy insisted nothing learned would put a burden on a man’s conscience or come between him and his god. The Colonel’s speech suggests that failure to join would accomplish the latter. A good, Christian man had a duty to his god. The Legion would inform him of it, if necessary, and guide him in accomplishing it. This entailed that he throw together with other antislavery men, forging “solemn bonds” through which they would learn their “strength” and “act in concert throughout this whole Territory.”

This all bent toward the end of a free Kansas, of course, but the Colonel impressed upon the postulant that matters political and matters personal came together. The Legion would work to free Kansas, but also to

exert an influence, possess an efficiency, and enjoy personal and civil protection, which as mere individuals we could not obtain.

Here we find reference to personal danger, just as George Brown had described. That Kansas did not erupt in quite the advertised level of bloodshed did not make it entirely safe. Back in April, when the founders of the Legion set down the constitution and ritual, no white men had yet died. But they had the threats and violence, however non-lethal, that had attended the March polls to consider. If men could burst into a polling place and demand the election judges give over at gunpoint, then they could do more in the future.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Brown and others may have exaggerated the danger, but the extent of his fear came out in a private letter that he did not appreciate seeing published. If he had reason to exaggerate for the public, he had less reason to do so in personal correspondence. I don’t have that letter, but Brown admitted writing it and, at least by implication, that it encouraged someone not to come to Kansas. This runs against the grain of his publications and contrary to his political interests, so we should take it as less burdened by a desire to keep up appearances and more indicative of his honest beliefs at the time of writing.

Furthermore, we should keep in mind that even if Brown and others knew they exaggerated proslavery violence then did not know, as we do, just how far the proslavery men would and would not go. What appear exaggerations to us might have seemed to them quite reasonable projections of the way Kansas would progress even if they fell short of perfectly accurate reporting.

With all these things to consider, the Colonel then offered up a second oath. The first only promised secrecy enough for a man to learn what the Kansas Legion entailed. It took another to make him into a proper member. More on that Tuesday.

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Two

CK Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

We left off with a high-level view of the Kansas Legion’s organization, as exposed by the turncoat Patrick Laughlin. That exposure outraged Samuel Collins, who he implicated as a member, and in short order led to Collins’ death at Laughlin’s hand. Collins had instigated the confrontation gave Laughlin a serious stabbing wound, but Laughlin finished him in trade. On the occasion of the fight between the men, the Squatter Sovereign reprinted Laughlin’s piece.

The Grand Encampment of the Kansas Legion ran the militia as a whole, but its day-to-day workings took place in subordinate regiments. They could claim the title with as few as five men, but the legion expected actual military service out of groups that boasted thirty or more. Even, perhaps especially, with genuine danger to their persons and property, a nineteenth century boy’s club needed its rituals. Laughlin’s document laid them down, starting with the opening of meetings. The Colonel of the regiment would address his men:

Fellow Soldie[r]s in the Free State Army, the hour has arrived when we must resume the duties devolving upon us. Let us each with a heart devoted to Justice, Patriotism and Liberty, attend closely to all the regulations laid down for our government and action, each laboring to make this review pleasant and profitable to ourselves, and a blessing to our Country. Aid, are the sentinels at their posts with closed doors?

The Aid would then declare that the sentinels had their places, one inside the doors and one without. The Colonel would then give leave for the Aid to ,make the rounds, quizzing men on the Legion passwords. Given everyone closeted together and no instructions to draw the examined apart from those waiting, this probably served more to catch the forgetful and the napping than any who somehow infiltrated.

When everyone remembered their passwords, a typical meeting would go on to review applicants for membership. The Aid would present nominees one by one to the Quartermaster. That officer had the job of fully explaining the Legion to new recruits. However, as a secret society they couldn’t just tell all. In order to know the details, one had to swear an oath on one’s “honor as a man” to reveal nothing he learned of the Legion or its members. Only so preapproved could a postulant legionnaire learn these startling revelations:

This institution is temporary and local in its character and nature. it is designed for the Territory of Kansas, and is to continue at least until the vote shall have settled the question as to whether Kansas shall be a FREE or SLAVE State. The requirements of this institution will not interfere with rights of conscience, or the duties you owe yourselves, your families, your country, or your God. They will conflict with no law of the land. We seek, in a noble, honorable and just manner, to accomplish two things. First: To secure to Kansas the blessing and prosperity of being a Free State; and, second, to protect the ballot box from the leprous touch of unprincipled men. Such are our principles. Do you still desire admission?

I don’t know how one could get so far and miss the details revealed, but they might have constituted the first time a postulant had the Legion’s purpose from the horse’s mouth rather than rumor and vague explanations from his sponsor. The emphasis that the Legion’s dictates would not interfere with one’s conscience, religious, or family duties reads a bit defensive, but probably reassured men who wondered just what all the ceremony really meant. The postulant would then agree and the Aid would convey him on to the Colonel “for instructions.”

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part One

CK Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday

Sorry for the delay on this post, Gentle Readers. I had everything done properly, but WordPress declined to publish as scheduled.

With Dale Watts’ article and the Laughlin-Collins fight fresh in mind, I went into the papers to see what I could find reporting both Laughlin’s exposure of the Kansas Legion and the altercation that ended in Collins’ death. I hoped to compare accounts in the Squatter Sovereign, Herald of Freedom, and Leavenworth Herald. Along the way, I unexpectedly found Laughlin’s original article exposing the Legion. It went out in the St. Joseph Gazette, to which I lack access, but the November 6, 1855 Squatter Sovereign helpfully reprinted it

Laughlin began with an introductory note, explaining his pure motives and progressive disillusionment with the free state movement. All of this runs substantially the same as his testimony in the Howard Report, closely enough that I suspect Laughlin either referred to the text then or had memorized it. Laughlin then goes on to share the “Constitution and Ritual Of the Grand Encampment, and Regiments of the Kansas Legion, of Kansas Territory. Adopted April 4th, 1855.”

The constitution provided for the governance of the legion by a Grand Encampment, drawn from representatives of each regiment of fifty or more. They would meet “on the third Wednesday of January and July, at such hour and places as shall be selected by the Encampment at the previous semi-annual session.” The Grand Encampment would have an equally grand General, Vice General, Quartermaster, Pay-master, Aid, and Chaplain. Two Sentinels did not warrant the grand style. The constitution of the Grand Encampment dealt mostly with administrative details, but ended by naming names. I only recognized Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice General, founder of Topeka and frequent delegate to antislavery conventions.

The Constitution of Subordinate Encampments had more everyday details. To join, a man twenty-one or older had to prove loyal to the free state cause. Those as young as eighteen could join, but only if three members vouched for them. Three negative votes of the regiment would reject any member. Once in, one who wanted out had to receive a certificate “signed by the Colonel and countersigned by the Quarter-master, upon the payment of 10 cents for such certificate.” The same applied if one wished to transfer between regiments. This would keep the quartermaster in the loop as to personnel changes, and probably also keep some men from resigning to avoid the trouble.

Subordinate encampments had the same officers, with largely the same duties, as the grand encampment save that they had to settle for the title of Colonel. The constitution charged the Aid

to examine the members, at the opening of the Regiment, and report any who are incorrect to the Colonel

I don’t know if we should read that in a strictly military light or as an injunction to scrutinize members’ politics, but I suspect both. Members could face “reprimand, suspension or expulsion” if two-thirds of a meeting agreed to it. Cause expulsion included “revealing the secrets of the Order or militating against the interests of the future freedom of Kansas.” Word of such an expulsion would be sent around so everyone would know the expelled “as a man destitute of the principles of truth, honor, and integrity.”

A regiment might not form much of a paramilitary band. The constitution contemplates groups too small to make much of a militia still counting as regiments. A quorum required only five. Given this provision:

As soon as each and every regiment shall number thirty members upon its muster roll it shall proceed forthwith to organize an efficient regular Military Company.

You could join a group of fewer people and have a club, with the right to send delegates to the semiannual meetings, but once the roster topped thirty one had to get serious. Then the Grand Encampment expected soldiering, at least now and then, as well as talking.


How Much Blood for Kansas?

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Bleeding Kansas, at least into November of 1855, has turned out less sanguine than advertised. Its first election, back in November of 1854, produced only violent threats.  The second, to populate the Assembly, managed rather better but still passed without fatalities. Many of the fistfights might have shed some blood and the attacks on William Phillips and Pardee Butler could have turned into deadly altercations, but neither did. Cole McRea, a free soiler, killed proslavery man Malcolm Clark back in the spring but their dispute involved competing property claims at least as much as political differences. Disputes over land that resolved themselves through the death of one party left the person just as dead as any fight over slavery, but they also happened all across the frontier. They speak more to Kansas’ unsettled state and weak governance than to its specific political turmoil.

We should not discount the impact of non-fatal attacks upon one’s peace of mind, and certainly not upon the general increase of tensions that they both indicate and facilitate. People who know themselves liable to attack take precautions. They go about more often with friends. They arm themselves more heavily. They develop an interest in having a violent reputation to deter attackers. All of this comes with a great deal of fear and paranoia, adding a constant psychological strain. All these facts press toward further escalation. If the other party has friends, you need friends. If you don’t have any, then the best way to get them might involve declaring for a cause. They have knives; you need knives. If they have guns, then you must as well. The other side can see the same. Defensive decisions become new provocations. Something must give.

The tension finally boiled over while the free state men convened at Topeka to write their constitution. On October 25, Samuel Collins fell to the ground on the streets of Doniphan in the first clear case of political murder in Kansas. Depending on who one asks, he had as many as two hundred or as few as fifty fellows. This past weekend I read Dale E. Watts 1995 article (PDF) on the body count, which discusses the difficulty of arriving at a precise number. He offers fifty-six clear cases. This is rather less than contemporaries on either side would have us believe, but he rightly points out that both sides had every reason to exaggerate:

Both sides tended to overestimate the level of carnage, sometimes to gain sympathy because of their losses, sometimes to convince themselves and the world that they were destroying their enemies in great numbers and thus were winning the contest. One proslavery Atchison newspaper reported that fifteen proslavery men had been killed at the Battle of Black Jack in Douglas County in June 1856. In reality no one on either side was killed during the battle. The antislavery papers were not any more accurate in their reporting. The Lawrence Herald of Freedom took the proslavery newspapers to task for exaggerating free-state losses at the Battle of Osawatomie in Lykins (Miami) county in August 1856, but in the same article the Herald made the wild claim that thirty or forty dead proslavery men were hauled from the battlefield. Only two of these proslavery casualties can be documented.

Even if one could get around the exaggerations, and the incomplete record in general, what motivated a killing comes down to a question of interpretation. People can do things for multiple reasons, so when we have evidence of multiple motives we must weigh them and decide which ultimately prevailed. With the Collins-Laughlin fray, we have witnesses who told us clearly that the men worked together until Laughlin betrayed the Kansas Legion. Collins confronted Laughlin and demanded he recant what he had published about the group. Laughlin refused and the guns came out. The Clark-McCrea killing doesn’t provide such a clear record, though Watts considers it the second documented political killing in the territory. He counts the first as the killing of an unidentified black man stealing himself from slavery.

Where does one draw the line, though? Until I saw Malcolm Clark in Watts’ roster, I had written his death off as only incidentally political and more about land. I had missed reference to the absconding slave entirely. Thus I considered Collins the first confirmed political death, which I have cause to now reconsider.

If we have trouble including slavery as a causative factor, then we can have similar trouble excluding it. Must agitation over slavery form the dominant reason for violence in order for us to consider the violence an extension of politics or can we also consider it as a necessary, but possibly not alone sufficient, cause for violence? Watts explores this tension in the case of a later murder, allowing that the parties did differ over slavery as well as land claims. He places slavery in a secondary role, while allowing that it may have made peaceful resolution more difficult. In that situation, I would take politics as an especially relevant contributing factor to the death. Would the men have come to blows without politics separating them? We can’t know.

Ultimately, Watts says

A careful search of representative sources reveals a total of 157 violent deaths during the territorial period. Of these, fifty-six may be attributed with some confidence to the political conflict or the slavery issue. The remaining 101 killings i fifty-two resulting from personal conflicts such as fights or brawls, seventeen stemming directly from land disputes, eleven from lynchings, and five occurring during robberies. In sixteen cases information is insufficient to determine a primary motivation. Of these 101 slayings, twenty-five may have had politics or slavery as a significant contributing cause, but primarily they were the result of other factors.