The Herald of Freedom on Patrick Laughlin, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Part One

George Washington Brown had a great deal to say about Patrick Laughlin in the pages of the November 17 Herald of Freedom. He published a report of Samuel Collins’ death at Laughlin’s hands, but gave over a considerable portion of the issue to related matters. Under the headline “Pat Laughlin’s Exposure”, Brown laid into Laughlin’s original article in the St. Joseph Cycle. He introduces it as the work of “a son of Erin, calling himself Pat Laughlin”.

the pro-slavery press are nearly frightened out of their boots on account of it. Pat says, “blessings I have not enjoyed since I became connected with this secret order.” His object in making the development was that he might “have some sleep on an easy conscience.”

Brown relates how Laughlin, by his own admission, swore that if he revealed as a perjurer and traitor. Therefore, Brown writes:

Pat stands before the country, according to his own showing, as a “perjurer before heaven, a traitor to his country, subject to the scorn of all men, the frown of devils, and utter abandonment of God,” else a falsifier and libeler, and wholly unworthy of credit the best way he can fix it.

The oath did include those words, so Laughlin could hardly complain that Brown treated him unfairly. Laughlin had to either lie in exposing the Kansas Legion or have made himself a liar in swearing his oath. Either way, Brown could fairly claim that Laughlin indicted himself. Who should believe such a man?

While Brown’s offering of the perjurer now vs. perjurer then distinction, he ultimately insisted that Laughlin lied from start to finish, inventing it all:

If Pat’s statements were true, the Free State men of Kansas are thoroughly organize don a military base, and are well qualified to resist the usurpations of the “border ruffians.” If they believe the tale they will not dare, as they value their lives, to send another marauding expedition into the interior of the Territory. We give it as our private opinion that there is something on which to base the story; that it is not wholly a fabrication; though we are suspicious that much of it arises from the fertile imagination of this worthy son of Erin, else from that of his amanuensis.

Brown did a great job of having it both ways. Laughlin invented everything, he insisted. However, even if he hadn’t, Laughlin made himself a liar so he should not be trusted. But if one did trust Laughlin, then he hinted to his readers that the free state men did have an armed organization. Maybe it didn’t match Laughlin’s account, but if it did then Missouri men should stay clear for their own safety. And even if it fell short, who could say how far short? Small bands of border ruffians might just find themselves with a nasty surprise all the same.

A cartoon attacking the Catholic Church's perceived attempt to "take over" American life

A cartoon attacking the Catholic Church’s perceived attempt to “take over” American life

Brown concluded with a gratuitous dig at Laughlin. An Irish immigrant might not speak English. Many in the nineteenth century came from the western reaches of the island where the language had not quite come to dominate yet. But Laughlin had lived in the country for years and interacted successfully enough with anglophones.

Failing that, Laughlin must have had an amanuensis, who wrote under his name. Here Brown reversed the usual complaint proslavery men made of slave narratives. Some better-educated person had written, presumably inventing along the way, on behalf of the slave. Everyone knew they couldn’t produce such work on their own. It would go well beyond the facts to say that the Irish had it as bad as slaves, or that they served as slaves (PDF), but nineteenth century Americans proved versatile enough to express their prejudices similarly from time to time.


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