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.

 

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