The Herald of Freedom on Emigrant Aid, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The November 17 Herald of Freedom continues to provide fascinating reading. When George Washington Brown admits it burst at the seams, he didn’t exaggerate. He found room for three separate one paragraph pieces to thank various people for for sending him potatoes, a slice of venison, and honey even in the face of such noisome and far less interesting news about political killings, secret military parties, and the Kickapoo Pioneer’s despairing at Kansas future. Today, I struggle against the powerful urge to talk about the potatoes and honey. Less sensational matters beckon.

All the way back to Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil, Missourians framed their response to the threat of a free Kansas as one against mercenaries, hirelings, and paupers sent to Kansas to do the bidding of the Emigrant Aid Societies. Eli Thayer didn’t want to contest Kansas fair and square, but aimed to cheat. He and his New England money would buy Kansas for freedom, hedging out poor, decent Missouri men who had every right to the territory. One need not prefer slavery to freedom to understand that complaint. Brown answered it on the same page as a profile of Thayer, complete with an engraving of the man himself.

The paupers who so outraged Missouri had, in their destitution, spent at least million dollars. That sum, which Brown considered “a low estimate”, went entirely to western Missouri:

This money has been expended for provisions, cattle and horses, for labor with teams, &c., and has become the circulating medium along the border, and passed from hand to hand, adding wealth to every person who has had the handling of it. Whilst the commercial cities, and in fact all parts of our extended country, have felt the pressure of the money market, times have been comparatively easy in Western Missouri. Provisions have commanded double the price ever known before, and a home cash market has been found for everything produced.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Brown might have blustered his way through all that. The number could come from nothing more than the south end of a northbound newspaper man. But one can’t argue with the basic fact that merchants on the Missouri border stood to do very well from emigrants passing through. Anything going into Kansas had to go through their lands and those who reached Kansas would find themselves at least somewhat dependent on Missouri’s vendors for the near future. Stringfellow foresaw that threat:

It seemed as if Weston were about to become the head-quarters of their operations. It was feared, and subsequent events have vindicated, that our fear was not without foundation, that among our traders and merchants there where those who at heart were against us; others who loved money so much more than their country, they would, for the gain from the abolition trade, encourage them to come among us.

The love of money truly forms the root of all evils. George Brown knew and bragged about it. That million dollars didn’t fall out of the sky, so if the “intelligent” man reading his paper could “divest his mind of party prejudice, he will thank heaven for so pleasant a result.” But intelligence seemed in short supply in Missouri:

while the facts exist, and are obvious to the casual observer, and the treasures are literally rolling into the laps of our neighbors, they are stigmatizing the people of Kansas-those who have saved them from bankruptcy during the general crash-with being “paupers, and the filth and scum of the eastern cities.”

Their papers had misled them by painting Eastern emigrants to Kansas in such colors, but couldn’t the people of Missouri see the color of their gold? Did paupers go around “jingling in their pockets” such riches? The nation’s richest poor people had come to Kansas to the tune of thirty-five to forty thousand, and Brown claimed another thousand a day. The 1860 census counted 107,206 in Kansas all of five years later, so Brown might have roughly the correct number. Could Missouri afford to keep slandering so many well-off customers? If antislavery neighbors rankled and giving up the cause meant denying oneself the pleasures of slandering Yankees, then as compensation for those pains one could take full pockets.



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