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.”

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