One Day in July with White Supremacist Jack Kelly

Seven score and ten years ago, almost the entire white South fought a war to save slavery. Only four slave states declined the crusade in the end, for the most part with significant internal divisions and a number of their white residents taking up the cause anyway. For generations thereafter, many of those white southerners mourned their dead and bitterly resented their loss. They might admire the tragic sacrifices of their friends, family, and hallowed ancestors. They might celebrate the valor of those men. They did both with the full knowledge that those same men fought to win rather than courageously lose. Like people the world over, they could cast themselves in the same place as those hallowed ancestors. Surely if they could help, then things would have gone differently.

Shelby Foote almost says it in Ken Burns documentary, in the course of quoting Faulkner:

William Faulkner, in Intruder in the Dust, says that for every Southern boy, it’s always in his reach to imagine it being 1:00 on an early July day in 1863. The guns are laid. The troops are lined up. The flags are already out of their cases and ready to be unfurled. But it hasn’t happened yet. And he can go back to the time before the war was going to be lost. And he can always have that moment for himself.

One must understand that Foote means every white Southern boy. In that moment, with all things in the balance, all things seem possible. Maybe a single time traveling boy couldn’t change the outcome. Maybe legions of them would fare no better. To put oneself there makes one part of something grand, a participant in the noble struggle. He imagines a world that could have been. If his struggle fails, then he falls as a hero. He proves his manhood, his pride, and writes his own elegy in dreamed blood -his own, someone else’s, but never a slave’s- to the tragic passing of a noble age. At least by the twentieth century, and probably before, that white Southern boy would have had some white Yankee boys for company.

Foote doesn’t say all that goes into the dream. He knew, of course, but one no longer says such things openly. Now more of us imagine ourselves in blue. We have the luxury of pretending that if we lived then we would have the same values we do now and so of course we would fight to free the slaves. If we have traded one form of cheap virtue for another, then at least we traded up.

Or we hope we have. Some of us refuse to. Probably more of us lie about it, to others and to ourselves. Take, for example, Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He declares himself, in the customary ritual of those about to prove otherwise, a proud Union partisan happy to hop in the time machine and go back to destroy slavery:

if I had to live in an earlier period, I’d want to be a soldier in the Union Army. I can think of no greater cause than to fight to eradicate America’s original sin.

Good for him. But as these things do, he goes downhill from here.

Slavery isn’t America’s original sin because it was unique, or uniquely horrible here. If prostitution is “the world’s oldest profession,” slave trading is second. Since the dawn of recorded history, slavery has been practiced in nearly every society known to man.

Kelly can only acknowledge the evil of slavery if he can share the blame around. On the heels of admission, he reaches for exculpation. We all know the horrors of slavery, or so we imagine. Few receive much education on the subject, fewer still inquire on our own. We know we will find nothing pleasing there, but decline to test the proposition. Jack Kelly certainly didn’t. He wants to acknowledge slavery, but immediately move past it as though Americans enslaved in a brief, transient, incidental way rather than building a continental order centered on the deprivation of people they declared black for the exaltation of those deemed white.

He has some superficial facts. Other cultures did practice slavery, though race-based slavery seems to have developed specifically in the context of the Early Modern Atlantic. This at least distinguishes New World slavery from ancient slavery or Arabian slavery. Slavery in the United States has other distinguishing traits. Less involved with the dangerous processing of sugar and operating largely north of the favored habitats of tropical diseases, the United States developed a self-sustaining slave population. We usually did not kill slaves faster than births could replace them. Does that make white Americans virtuous, or should recognize that this achievement only appears ostensibly benign as it renders bondage all the more durable? Enslavers would reap lives for profit either way. The source of the harvest does matter and we should acknowledge how it differently shaped the Caribbean and the United states, but I don’t know that we should pat ourselves on the backs for coming out one way or the other on it.

Even if we might make such a decision, we would praise not the determination of people but geography. If one could turn a profit growing sugarcane in Virginia, Americans would have done it just as much as the British did in the West Indies. We know from the example of the Carolina lowcountry that American enslavers had no qualms about forcing slaves to toil in areas they understood as replete with lethal diseases.

Kelly will have none of that. He spreads the blame to everyone, parceling it out so finely that not enough adheres to any particular group for us to really notice.

The words “slavery” and “benign” ought never to appear in the same sentence, but slaves in the American South and the British Caribbean (usually) were treated less harshly than in most other places where slavery has been practiced — especially in ancient times.

He says it in so many words: slaves in the United States and the United Kingdom’s Caribbean colonies had it comparably good. This might or might not withstand careful examination, but he clearly implies that we should take the mote of blame he has left we virtuous whites with and place it elsewhere. Kelly has suggestions:

Our word “slave” is derived from “Slav,” the peoples most frequently enslaved during Roman times. Throughout history, only a relatively few slaves have been black. And for every African brought to North America on (mostly British) slave ships, dozens and possibly hundreds more were taken east by Arab slave traders.

This makes for a nice distraction: those bastard Romans might have enslaved my own ancestors. I don’t know that they did. The Italians and Spaniards in particular who enslaved Slavs generally collected them from the north shore of the Black Sea, while my Polish antecedents run closer to the Baltic. I lose track of them in the 1820s, so some remote relative might have lived further south and ended up in the belly of a slave ship. Kelly thinks this deeply significant, even though his column addresses American slavery. He still has blame to spread around, so as a good American he places it on the British. They must have somehow, by dark arts known only in the perfidious heart of Albion, forced innocent white Americans to buy the slaves off the ships to grow the tobacco and cotton and thereby reap profits from reaping lives.

By the way, Arabs also traded slaves. Those slaves even often had white skin, just as the Slavs did, which renders them especially significant. They constitute, we decided, an us rather than a them. We should consequently feel their suffering most keenly in our natural solipsism. We should remember it in our discussion of slavery in the United States. We should not draw any inferences from an American abandoning our customary parochialism to discuss the misdeeds of others in a piece that concerns itself, allegedly, with our own.

Alexander Stephens

Alexander Stephens

Once Kelly declares for the Union and abolition and shines the spotlight on any slaves save those the United States military emancipated, he comes at last to a unique trait of American slavery which makes it especially egregious. Even he cannot deny that

What made slavery America’s original sin was its violent conflict with our founding principles. If “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” what gives some men the right to own others?

Kelly can only acknowledge white America’s great sin to highlight white America’s great nobility. Our white skin and our American residence made us so virtuous as to transmute slavery from lives stolen and children bought and sold, into a kind of heroic flaw. He would do to read how eighteenth and nineteenth century Americans squared the circle between whites-only freedom and slavery, but then he would have to learn how the latter shaped the former. Some Americans acknowledged the conflict, including the slave-owning, slave raping author of that famous line. Others, like the slave-owning Vice-President of the Confederacy, saw it and rejected Jefferson. Still more understood what many of the founding generation actually practiced, when not speaking idle words about universal rights: freedom flowed from slavery. By making the black man (women rarely entered into it, unless the slaveholder felt like coerced company that night) permanently and nigh-infinitely inferior to the white, the very contrast made whites feel freer. White skin established a floor on which one could sit and never sink, at least in pride. It put whites, no matter how poor, in solidarity together against blacks. We see the conflict now, with slavery gone, but the two merge easily enough again when one starts talking about the continued plunder of black America.

Robert E. Lee, Virginia aristocrat, military officer, and future confederate general

Robert E. Lee

Jack Kelly gives us a perfect illustration of just that in himself. Lest one think that I unfairly dredge up the past to damn him, consider this:

Slavery was horrible, but no black American living today has suffered from it. Most are better off than if their ancestors had remained in Africa.

Kelly wrote these words just a few days ago, in a 2015 with the internet and Civil Rights legislation, Black History Month and obscure blogs. Robert E. Lee wrote these in 1856:

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, though hardly as famous as the then-obscure Virginian, made much the same argument two years prior. Where Lee adhered to a mix of Positive Good and Necessary Evil ideas to defend slavery, reaching the same end either way, Stringfellow had no time for such solipsistic fretting:

Slavery is no evil to the negro. If we look at the condition of the negro in Africa, the land of his nativity, we find the most pitiable victim of a cruel master, the most wretched slave in America, when contrasted with a prince of his tribe in the deserts of Africa, is as a man contrasted with a beast! The mightiest of the negro race, in his native land, not only sacrifices his human victims to his Gods of stone, but is so loathsome in his filth and nakedness, that Giddings, or Gerrit Smith, would fly from his presence

Kelly doesn’t say that slavery did no wrong to black Americans, but he made the argument that they came out better for it. Break a few lives, sell some children, rape some women, but it all works out in the end. After all, slavery brought Africans to America where they could bask in the glory of white virtue and have whatever scraps we in our magnanimity deigned to concede to them.

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

Don’t take my word for it. Have the argument straight from John C. Calhoun:

Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, reviled as they have been, to its present compara­tively civilized condition. This, with the rapid increase of numbers, is conclusive proof of the general happiness of the race, in spite of all the exaggerated tales to the contrary.

We give and we give, our white nobility so staggering that it blinds even us to the fact:

It says something good about today’s white Americans that so many feel guilty for a sin neither they nor most of their ancestors ever committed. But white guilt has a pernicious effect on our politics.

We must, in fact, admit that we have become too noble for our own good. We must harden our hearts and take a good, long look at black America. There we see not the results of our plunder, but only the inherent vice of black skin:

The black community is uniquely troubled, in large part because white racism is blamed for social dysfunction that has other causes. To address those causes, white Americans must abandon an undeserved guilt, and black racists who blame all their problems on white racism must stop preying upon it.

We ended slavery and that instant everything magically became equal. It’s all done now and has been done for so long we might as well forget it, just as we forget our possibly-enslaved Slavic ancestors. No amount of difference can come down to white malice, as white skin makes you innocent. Only our great nobility leads us to think otherwise. Kelly asks us to believe that white and black Americans live on different planets, entirely devoid of interaction, so therefore any pathology exhibited by the latter cannot have come from the depredations of the former, or reasonable reaction to the same.

Samuel A. Cartwright

Samuel A. Cartwright

Kelly would have us direct our attention not at white racism, which he seems to understand as nothing more than a kind of personal dislike rather than a vast system of theft, rape, and murder, but to the fact that black Americans in their perfidy hate white Americans. They prey upon us, like the cunning slaves of old preyed on the consciences of their enslavers to escape whippings. I don’t know a word of Kelly’s piece that could not have easily come from the pen of a nineteenth century proslavery theorist, save only those that an enslaver would not know and the endorsement of the United States war effort alone. By implication, Kelly at least opposes new efforts to reduce the effects of structural racism upon black America. In referring to this predation upon the white conscience in continuous terms, Kelly further indicts not just new efforts or recent efforts at redress, but also those which white Americans have after agonizing struggle accepted with hesitance, halfheartedly and full of what he must construe as noble resentment.

I can only think of Samuel Cartwright:

When sulky and dissatisfied without cause, the experience of those on the line and elsewhere, was decidedly in favor of whipping them out of it, as a preventative measure against absconding, or other bad conduct. It was called whipping the devil out of them.

Freedmen's Bureau cartoonKelly paints black Americans as sulky and dissatisfied. If they have a cause, it cannot come from white America. Therefore we must embark upon a new plan of discipline. They have taken advantage and we apparently show them what for. Black Americans have only themselves to blame, enriched in idleness by our too-keen consciences. If black American cannot feel the natural gratitude it owes to white America for the tremendous services rendered unto it, good and hard, then we can give them reminders. We can imagine they will learn no other way. Flesh, blood, and screams torn away by the lash only prove they never stop trying to turn our consciences in their favor.

I don’t know any way to say this except to say it outright: Jack Kelly is a white supremacist. If he doesn’t agree entirely with their methods of securing the power of the white race over then black, then he agrees wholeheartedly with their goals and endorses the chief thrust of their arguments. He sees African-Americans as fundamentally shiftless and conniving. Such faults somehow do not afflict white Americans, even though we speak the same language and have shared the same nation for centuries. What immunizes us, if not the same thing that afflicts them? We find virtue in whiteness by finding vice in blackness. White skin frees us because black skin enslaves them.

Jack Kelly has an editor at the Post-Gazette. He writes for them regularly, so I imagine he received pay for this column. His editor read the piece and signed off on its contents, deeming it fit to print and worthy of his readers’ attention. So have multitudes of other white Americans down the centuries. Their number has declined only through great struggle accompanied by numerous reverses as one means of plunder gives way to another, slightly more sophisticated means. We should take no pride in the fact that some people born with the same hue of skin as our own helped achieve the gains, unless we place great moral stock in our whiteness. We should remember that more took part in fighting, sabotaging, and ultimately rolling them back.

Whatever parts they cast themselves in, whatever uniforms they imagine wearing, Jack Kelly and the multitude like him put themselves into something far different from the armies of abolition. By word and deed they cloaked themselves in what passes for gray and imagine still that hot July day, a bit before one in the afternoon, when it all held in the balance. They know if they can get there, as they keep trying to do, they can make it all turn out differently this time. We make excuses, avoid the uncomfortable arguments, and let the old proslavery line go unchallenged. I’ve done it myself. But the path of least resistance does not lead to a blue uniform on top of Cemetery Ridge with Jeff Daniels for company. We have carefully arranged it so that white Americans find it easier to march across the field under fire. If our past deeds say something about us, then that one speaks most eloquently.

Wilson Shannon Goes to Leavenworth, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon, the second governor of Kansas, presented himself as a neutral man. New to the territory, he had no particular commitment to the proslavery or free state party. But he had yet to set foot on Kansan soil before declaring himself in favor of the legislature’s slave codes. Whatever defects they might possess, the legal legislature had passed them and acting governor Daniel Woodson, who replaced Andrew Reeder in the interim, had signed them into law. Irrespective of their content, the forms of law gave them a kind of legitimacy. Shannon’s scrupulously proslavery neutrality further drew him into the Leavenworth Law and Order Convention, where he would preside.

Leverett Spring generously calls this “unwise” and characterizes Shannon’s affiliation with the proslavery party as an error which he would later try to correct. I hoped to have proceedings from the convention today, but the Library of Congress historical newspapers database appears only intermittently accessible. In lieu of them, I have Spring’s account from Kansas: Prelude to the War for the Union and William Phillips’ from The Conquest of Kansas. Phillips informs us that though the Law and Order men issued their call all around Kansas and had the governor, Surveyor-General John Calhoun other territorial officials attend.

The John C. Calhoun of South Carolina died back in 1850. According to Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, John Calhoun of Kansas had lived in Illinois where he taught Abraham Lincoln to survey and befriended Stephen Douglas. I remember reading that this Calhoun had some relation to the famous one, but haven’t had luck turning up the reference.

William Phillips

William Phillips

Multiple Calhouns aside, Phillips reports that

Outside of the citizens of Leavenworth there were not more than eighty persons present, and by far the larger portion of these were from Missouri. The leading men on the Missouri border were there. The Stringfellows were officers of the convention, and several of the vice-presidents and secretaries were residents of Missouri.

The charge that Missourians dominated the proslavery movement in Kansas has some truth to it, even aside the obvious cases where Missourians intervened in numbers to decide Kansas issues. To my knowledge, Benjamin Stringfellow did not care to remove to Kansas. His brother John, however, had a medical practice in Atchison. Whether his personal habits left him more usually in Missouri or not, I can’t say. As a free state man writing while the struggle took place, Phillips had a strong interest in emphasizing the Missourian connections. However, Charles Clark’s listing of participants who held seats in the legislature at the time, thanks to Missouri votes, suggests Phillips at least correctly spotted a Missouri-minded majority in the convention’s leadership.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Phillips considered it “singular”

that Gov. Shannon should take an active part in an assemblage where the violent Missouri borderers had the sway, and where its character as a simple pro-slavery convention was so apparent. The governor, in doing this, conclusively showed that he was the tool of the Missouri borderers, and blindly obedient in their scheme of subduing Kansas to slavery.

However, Shannon wanted people to consider himself the tool of Douglas County, home of Lawrence. He claimed to sit as a delegate from the county. This seems improbable. Spring does not repeat the accusation and I lack the documents to check it at the moment. However, claiming that he sat as a delegate from somewhere unlikely to have sent one would let Shannon appear somewhat more disinterested and fit with the pose of neutrality that the Law and Order movement preferred. If he really made the claim, then he probably got a few appreciative laughs.

Thoughts on the Photograph of Andrew and Silas Chandler

Andrew Chandler signed up for the Confederate Army in 1861. His mother sent along one of her thirty-six slaves, Silas, with him. Sometime thereafter, Andrew and Silas sat down for a photograph. A century and a half later, it became famous among those who would have us believe that veritable legions of black Americans signed up and willingly fought alongside their white neighbors for the cause of Southern independence. These same people believe this evidence that the South fought for something, anything at all, except slavery. The conclusion came before the evidence, but looking at the photograph in isolation and not knowing about Silas status as legal property, you could come away with the idea that two buddies sat down with their guns and we need not inquire further.

As property, Silas didn’t really choose to go along. While he and other enslaved people might have shaved off some small portion of self-determination at the margins of their condition, that same status precluded their making major life decisions for themselves. A slave who just decided to leave the camp could expect challenge by patrols and might face violent seizure by any white man who noticed. Resistance would mean risking assault. Whatever the personal relationship between Andrew and Silas, their condition separated them.

Kevin Levin, working on a book about actual black camp followers and personal slaves in the Confederate military, posted the photograph with some context. He notes that few pictures of Confederate soldiers with their slaves exist and most have the slave standing and somewhat behind. Does the Chandler picture indicate a more equitable arrangement between Andrew and Silas? One must note that he and Silas pose similarly, both armed and brandishing knives. The barrel of Silas’ rifle rests on Andrew’s knees. That makes for a superficially plausible reading and fits with American folk ideas about how armed people hardly make good slaves.

However, Kevin points out that Andrew and Silas display a comical amount of weaponry. Andrew has a pistol in his belt and another in hand. His other hand has a big knife. Siolas has a rifle, a knife, and a pepperbox pistol stuffed in his jacket. When you add it all up they sound like they belong in the pages of a deplorably stereotypical early Nineties comic book. They have guns and guns for their guns. Kevin suggests that they bear mostly studio props:

We would do well to remember that Andrew was only 17 years of age in 1861. Silas was about 24 years of age. Andrew must have been anxious to capture those feelings of youthful exuberance and the anticipation of martial valor for his family. One can imagine a wide-eyed Andrew as he spotted the props and quickly found a way to include as many as possible. Perhaps that is why Silas is seated. Observing the image from this perspective, it’s hard not to chuckle.

He asks what Silas must have thought of all this. We can’t know, but what do we see? Any answer must speak as much about us as for the image, but I’ve considered it. Given Silas’ age, he might have shared some of the excitement that Andrew had. If he sat there idly thinking about using the knife on Andrew, it doesn’t show. I doubt he did not because he felt content with his lot in life, but because few people idly consider doing bloody murder. Either way, a slave would probably know by his age not to betray any too-visible sign of irritation in these circumstances.

I see the same slouch as Kevin does. Silas faces the camera, but with more casual pose. I read him as seasoned enough from a lifetime of slavery to know when he has to play a part. The slouch could serve that purpose, emphasizing as he must for his own safety that he did not fancy himself Andrew’s equal. More than that, he looks resigned to the business. Andrew’s going to have his photograph and Silas just has to sit there and do it, just like he might have to do Andrew’s laundry.

I don’t see deference. The fact that Silas has a slouching, resigned attitude strikes me as a kind of subtle resistance. He could have put on a more conspicuously dutiful face, or arranged himself somewhat more subserviently. That might make for an odd tableau with all the arms, but he could have. Maybe he did, but Andrew or the photographer “corrected” him to get better show the weapons. I see two young men next to each other, touching or close to it, but with a vast gulf between them. Andrew might not see it, taking this all as perfectly natural, but Silas could not afford to miss the distance. The two might share memories, laugh at the same jokes, eat together, and otherwise do all the things friends might, but Andrew had the power to change it all at any moment. Silas could not. Nor could he forget all the other tasks which Andrew surely assigned him every day. Ultimately, the two did what Andrew dictated, when he dictated it.

Taking the image as a whole, I see a boy and his toys. In another century, Andrew would pose with his bike or his car. He might still have the guns, but might instead wield a guitar or beer bottle. Silas, while a person every bit as much as Andrew, serves as a prop twice over: with his body he displays more arms and so signals further manly virtue. But whatever else Andrew might feel toward Silas, he owns the enslaved man’s body. Displaying it shows his family’s wealth and his own ability to master another. Giving Silas the weapons and sitting next to him without fear shows that Andrew does not fear his human property. Brave Andrew can control him, even armed to the teeth. He could cloak Silas in the garb of a man and then unman him at a whim.

Every slave knew that. For a moment, Silas and Andrew might look like equals. They might seem as together as the photograph suggests, close as their two bodies. But Silas had to know that holding the prop guns and knives did not make it so. With that in mind, I see a young man thinking that he has one more damned thing to do, then one more, with no end in sight. He will do what he must to get by, taking the rare moments of satisfaction and relief when they come but knowing that they too will end when Andrew’s whims turn.

All of this requires reading a general narrative of slavery into Silas’ relationship with Andrew. Every generalization will have its exceptions. They might, in whatever way and slave and owner could, have gotten on well. People who share company for a long time find ways to get along. An enslaved person had, if anything, far stronger reason to manage than most. But ultimately he faced the same realities as the rest of the nation’s four million slaves. Whatever else Andrew and Silas felt toward one another, the law of the land and the dictates of Andrew’s culture made Silas also an object which existed for his betterment.

Update: Andy Hall points out in the comments that the misuse of the Chandler photograph fits in snugly with similar uses of reunion photographs:

Late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century images of African American men at Confederate reunions are tossed out all the time, cited as photographic proof of their former positions as soldiers. The actual written accounts of these events tell a more complex story, in which the old black men are welcomed and encouraged to adhere to antebellum stereotypes — living, breathing affirmation of the “faithful Negro,” cheerful, obsequious, and loyal. They performed exactly the role H. K. Edgerton does now.

Friends of Law and Order in Doniphan, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

We left the October 30, 1855 Squatter Sovereign reporting on the local meeting in Doniphan to select representatives for the Law and Order Convention to meet at Leavenworth. The gathering chose its delegates and further published a series of resolutions deeply informed by the late revelations from Patrick Laughlin regarding the Kansas Legion. With Laughlin then nursing a would acquired in his fight with Samuel Collins and at least two other participants in that brawl present, both of whom took part in drawing up the resolutions, they had a great deal on their minds. For once, the claim that abolitionists meant to personally murder proslavery men, women, and children in their beds seems like something they might genuinely believe in the offing.

While the committee worked, the general body of the meeting had Laughlin’s story read to them. When they came back with their resolutions, the statement of purposes cited the threat of armed abolitionists directly. Of six resolutions, only two did not reference Laughlin or the Legion in some way. One endorsed the law and order meeting and the last instructed the Squatter Sovereign to print the Doniphan proceedings.

Almost every public meeting seems to have a resolution about printing and the Leavenworth endorsement serves as little more than a procedural matter, we can fairly take the Donpihan resolutions as all about Laughlin’s news. One called on Wilson Shannon to suppress the antislavery militia, another demanded that the attorney-general arrest the Kansas Legion’s ringleaders. But all of this didn’t seem quite clear enough, so the group also resolved

That we place most implicit confidence in the statement of P. Laughlin, Esq., in exposing the murderous designs of the secret organization of the Free-Soil-Abolition party […] and that he is a gentleman of good character and high respectability, and will receive the thanks of the people of Kansas and the Nation at large, for exposing to view the treasonable designs of a secret organization, who seek to plunder the country in civil war and drench the Nation in human gore.

They believed in Laughin so deeply, in fact, that they named him one of their delegates to the convention.

This all fits very comfortably with normal proslavery polemics, but we should not let ourselves forget that the people of Doniphan had a real out break of violence in their streets less than a week prior that ended with one man dead and another wounded. We have only proslavery versions of events, but we can take it for granted that that rendering circulated freely in the town. There, Collins seems to have violently accosted Laughlin on multiple occasions. At least in the story, and possibly in reality, he lived up to the stereotype of the madman abolitionist bent on destroying whites. Thus the meeting further resolved

we most cordially invite every law abiding citizen, without distinction of party, to join us in upholding the Laws of our Territory and the Constitution of the Nation, that the horrors of a bloody civil war may be averted, and our country preserved.

Just as the group in Leavenworth which called the meeting tried to sound moderate by appealing to universal concerns about order and independent of party, so too did the Doniphan group. There they soon faced the same problem as their antecedent did. To endorse the laws of Kansas hardly made one into a moderate acceptable to all parties.

Friends of Law and Order in Doniphan, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Back at the start of October, before Patrick Laughlin told all the Kansas Legion’s secrets to the newspapers, Samuel Collins called on him to recant, the two got into a fight that left Collins dead and Laughlin stabbed, generating a flurry of editorialscounter-editorials, and related writing, a group of proslavery men got together in Leavenworth and called for a somewhat more moderate course. They focused their criticism on the free state movement’s blatantly illegal and potentially treasonous program of setting up a wildcat state government. They would stand for law and order, albeit the kind that abetted slavery. With the law and order convention scheduled for November 14, 1855, local groups around Kansas had to get together and select men to go if they wanted representation. The Squatter Sovereign for October 30 covered such a meeting in Doniphan, held hot on the heels of Samuel Collins’ death.

Per the Sovereign, “a large number” of the county’s citizens gathered at Dr. O. Brown’s office. Unless two doctors named O. Brown lived in Doniphan at the time, which could have happened, that office also saw Laughlin and Collins’ preliminary scuffle the night before their fatal confrontation. The Laughlin connection did not end there, as the meeting named James Lunch and James F. Forman among the county’s representatives. Lynch fired a shot during the Laughlin-Collins fight. Forman knocked Collins’ gun away.

As one did at these things, the meeting appointed a committee to draw up resolutions to take along. While they did their work elsewhere, the meeting’s Secretary, John A. Vanarsdale,

read the disclosure of P. Laughlin, relative to the Free-Soil-Abolition party, which had a thrilling effect on the attentive audience.

With Collins’ death and Laughlin’s injury so recent, everyone must have heard something about it already. But not everyone read the papers, or read them in a timely fashion, so they must have attended the news eagerly. It would certainly set them in the proper mindset for battling antislavery Kansans. If the Law and Order men at Leavenworth said that the free state movement threatened anarchy, then the men at Doniphan could take their late experience as proof of the danger.

If anyone missed the connection, then the committee made it clear when they introduced their resolutions:

Information has come to light from a reliable source, that there is in our midst a secret organization of what is called the Free-Soil-Abolition party, having for its object the overthrow and subversion of the liberties of the people of Kansas; and whereas, arms and munitions of war have been sent into the Territory by the people of Boston, for the purpose of butchering our wives and children, one hundred thousand dollars have already been collected and sent here to their friends to prosecute their hellish designs; and whereas, secret agents are stationed in some parts of the Territory to give the signal of war and to commence the bloody work of butchering our families, burning our houses and destroying our property

One wonders how much of that they meant literally. Usually proslavery Americans invoked this kind of destruction as the result of a slave revolt, but Kansas had precious few slaves to launch one. However, given the late revelations of an armed secret society it seems more credible than usual that the authors understood the Kansas Legion as aimed at just that goal. “Abolitionists” might not wait for slaves to do their dirty work as a consequence of emancipation, but rather pursue emancipation through the murder of proslavery whites.

The committee called on Wilson Shannon to prevent all of this by placing Kansas “in a state of defensive warfare.” They then named names, taking them straight from Laughlin, and

most respectfully call upon the Attorney-General of this Territory to commence, by legal process, a suit against the above named persons, and bring them to a fair and speedy trial

Decapitating the Kansas Legion would certainly make a sounder night’s sleep for those who really did believe its members aimed to embark on a campaign of murder. They all at least arguably stood in violation of various Kansas laws, to say nothing of the general laws against murderous conspiracy. Even an impartial party could make a fair case against them on the latter grounds.

The Herald of Freedom on Emigrant Aid, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We left the pages of the Herald of Freedom dismantling proslavery Missourian understandings of the Emigrant Aid Company. If the company sent paupers to Missouri, they came with a curious amount of money. A million dollars flowing into the Missouri frontier, preserving its economy against a general slump, hardly seemed the work of the destitute. This realized one of the Platte County Self-Defense Association’s great fears: that the lure of profit would break white orthodoxy and lead to the tolerance of dissent from slavery. This would undo their whole social system. Against that fear, George Brown offered just those profits. Would Missourians rather stand sound on the goose or line their pockets?

The men of the border had to decide soon, as these paupers had the means to establish their own businesses and

be independent of those thus disposed to slander them. Many of them have grown good corps of corn and potatoes during the last year; and it is estimated that enough of the former has been raised to meet the home demand the present season. If such has been the case the past season, with the innumerable difficulties surrounding them, what will be the case the ensuing year, when thousands of acres have been fitted for cultivation?

Kansas corn meant less demand for Missouri surplus. Worse, it meant competition with Missouri’s small farmers. The previous May, Brown said, Kansas boasted hardly a plowed acre or rod of fence. If Kansas could produce this fast, then a smart Missourian would have to get in on the boom while it lasted.

Or the Missouri frontier could decide that the pleasure of “abusive epithets” would keep them warm in the winter. Should they so decide, then Kansas would soon pluck from them ripe markets with its own surplus:

the rich harvest which they have reaped by furnishing government supplies, for overland trains to Utah and California, and to the pioneers to the Territory, will be supplied by the paupers whom they have been so liberal in stigmatizing.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Should Kansas produce as Brown expected, then basic economics dictated all of that. Vendors nearer to Kansas would take over supplying its white settlers for just the same reason as western Missouri had done. Shorter distances to travel meant cheaper goods for the consumer. Kansas would stand nearer to the far west, and so take over that trade as well as its domestic commerce. Why stock up and haul one’s goods in Weston when one could do so in Lawrence?

Brown took it further than that, though. He insisted that Missourians

may seek St. Louis, new Orleans, or any other part of the world for a market, and learn that their own insulting treatment of the people of Kansas has had a powerful effect in bringing about the result which cooler headed men in their own State most deprecate.

Missourians worked themselves into a frenzy over a free Kansas for the fear that it would lead to a free Missouri. By highlighting white dissent within the Show Me State, Brown had to strike an especially raw nerve. That said, the threat that Missouri would lose, or even face serious challenge from Kansas, the markets of St. Louis or New Orleans seems rather remote. The same geography that would prefer Kansas as the far west’s supply depot placed Missouri’s farms nearer St. Louis, just down the state’s eponymous river, and New Orleans down the Mississippi.

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.

 

Monuments and the Civil War Trust

The Confederate memorial on the grounds of the Alabama capitol

The Confederate memorial on the grounds of the Alabama capitol

A few times a year, ever since I subscribed to the Civil War Monitor, I get mail from the Civil War Trust. They raise money to acquire battlefield land for preservation. Ideally they then hand it over to the National Park Service or some other dependable group to manage. As one might gather from the name, they focus on Civil War battlefields, but they’ve lately branched out into the Revolution and War of 1812. About as often as I get mail from them, I think about sending them money. (I haven’t yet, but may still in the future.) I hear good things about their work from people I trust.

The Civil War Trust also did a piece of less than good work. It stood to reason that they would have something to say eventually about the growing challenge to Confederate monuments in the wake of the Charleston murders. They came out with a petition defending the monuments, about which Kevin Levin and Al Mackey have already written. I think it deserves examination, even if I tread over some of the same ground that they have.

After briefly laying out the circumstances, as these things do, the Trust tells its readers

It is our privilege as a free people to debate our history. However, we must remember that such freedoms come at a tremendous cost, paid for in the blood of brave Americans in uniform who sacrificed all to forge the country we are today. We owe these men and women a debt that can never be repaid.

I don’t care for talk about debts owed to soldiers as I think it easily shades over into glorification of the military and warfare in itself, if it ever meant anything else. But I know that most people feel differently. Accepting the premise for the sake of argument, we come to an immediate problem. The monuments to the Confederate military and leadership could only commemorate the bloody price paid for freedom and to forge the modern United States if those Confederates paid the blood dues out of the bodies of members of the United States military. This reading, however perverse, has the apparently esoteric virtue of comporting with history. I say esoteric because having identified the monuments under threat by implication, the Trust’s petition then tries to distract us from them:

Recognizing this debt, generations of Americans up to this day have built memorials honoring those who served in the military and have fallen in battle. These monuments are silent sentinels recognizing the soldiers who crossed the frozen Delaware River with Washington, fought amid the boulder-strewn hillsides of Gettysburg, served in the trenches of Vicksburg and Petersburg, landed on the beaches of Normandy and the islands of the Pacific, and most recently served in the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Leaving aside my pacifism, I understand the debt that people feel to those who died fighting the good fight. Surely this debt arises from their participation under the banner of a just cause and in service to noble aims. Those aims might not fit with a clear understanding of preserving American freedoms, of course. My grandfather fought on islands in the Pacific against an enemy that did not in any meaningful sense threaten American freedoms. Neither the Japanese, nor the Germans, nor the Italians, proposed to launch grand invasions of American soil, conquer it, overthrow the American government, and replace it with one created in their own image. But we all know the monstrous crimes of Nazi Germany. The Japanese did similarly horrific, if less industrialized, things in China and the Pacific. Defeating them served the cause of freedom generally.

If all of that holds true, then how must we read the references to Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Petersburg? The Trust doesn’t go into specifics; it means for us to take the dead of those battles indiscriminately, the United States Colored Troops who died in the Crater as much martyrs to freedom as the men in gray who killed them. Somehow, both slavery’s soldiers and the solders who ultimately fought to destroy slavery had equally noble causes. We owe this debt alike to both parties. Only one freedom concerned the Confederacy and the Confederates: the freedom to enslave. If this counts as a nobility, then I propose we cultivate meaner virtues.

The Trust tells us

It is important to remember that many of these memorials are historic in their own right some more than 200 years old. In countless instances, these monuments were erected by the veterans themselves, who wanted to remember their leaders, their units and their fallen comrades. Many of these memorials were also paid for not with public money but through small dollar donations made by survivors and local citizens, determined to give of their limited means to honor the military.

No Civil War monument has yet had its two hundredth birthday. Once again the Trust considers every monument alike, as if all faced the same criticism. It rightly sees the monuments as artifacts in their own right, but then flees from considering anything but the most superficial reading of them. The authors do not, beside appeal to bad math, consider when the monuments went up or under what circumstances. Nor does it look to their content. The Trust doesn’t care if they lie about the Confederacy’s cause or if veterans put them up to celebrate the defeat of Reconstruction. It chooses not to inquire about monuments erected as protests against the civil rights, nor how many of these monuments served as rallying points for the resistance of the same. It even lumps together Confederate monuments built with public money on public land and those elsewhere, as though no difference existed between a kitsch statue of Lee in one’s backyard and one bearing the unquestionable imprimatur of the state.

The Trust asks for understanding and nuance while systematically eschewing the same. They say it outright:

we have a sacred duty to protect these war memorials, from all of America’s conflicts, whether they rest on the battlefield, in national cemeteries, or on town squares.

The Trust then calls on Congress to preserve and protect the lot, presumably even including those on private property that the owner would want removed and those on public property that the community wants gone.

Given my past iconoclasm, I can surprise no one by declaring myself unpersuaded. I remain convinced that the worst outcome involves the monuments, as a whole, remaining as they now stand. Simple battlefield markers noting where a unit stood and what it did can remain untroubled, of course. They serve a perfectly good educational purpose, provided their inscriptions get the facts right. Nor do I propose removing individual grave markers in cemeteries, though I do think the nation should get out of the business of erecting tombstones for dead Confederates. Memorials celebrating the Confederacy and/or lying about its cause present a different problem, especially when on public land and far from battlefields. Leaving them as-is continues the endorsement of their message, informing any who see them of untruths and exhorting them to mourn slavery’s end.

These monuments require correction or removal. If the Trust wants to have them as museum pieces, then I’d be happy to see them relocated somewhere and presented as ways the memory of the Civil War served, and still serves, the cause of white supremacy. Removal without that presentation comes next. If some private group wants to have the things and no corrective seems likely, then best have them out from under the smiling gaze of state buildings. If the owners simply wish to destroy the monuments, I consider that a missed opportunity for education but still superior to leaving them undisturbed.

If the monuments must remain in their present locations, then I think correctives must go beyond a simple plaque or a contrary monument elsewhere on the grounds. At the very least any companion monument should stand in a position of similar or greater prominence, easily visible from the original, and accompanied by interpretative materials that situation the two together. Though the best outcome, this one seems the least likely to me. Just as the original monuments had a clear, unambiguous message, so must any new pieces clearly counter it. I don’t foresee many plaques appearing with words like “the people who erected this other monument lied, and here’s how” with illustrative quotations and statistics. This would risk turning heritage sites designed to give one a bland, patriotic feeling of a sanitized past with all the messiness and conflict of actual history. Someone could learn something.

I have come down hard on the Civil War Trust today, but I think no harder than the petition deserves. I still think they do good work. They have among their officers competent historians. They produce good educational content, some of which I’ve highlighted before. But with this petition they fell prey to the inherent tension between their real estate business, and the fact that Lost Cause cash spends as well as the rest, and the educational mission which informs that business. They did this bad thing, but it does not undo the good they have done and I trust will continue to do.

The Kickapoo Pioneer Calls for Help, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Part One

The Kickapoo Pioneer sounded desperate. Faced with a rising antislavery movement that had a provisional government for Kansas already in operation, a constitution written and soon up for ratification, a secret military order revealed, and well-heeled Yankees footing their bills, its pages called the situation a crisis. The abolitionists threatened to undo all the proslavery good that Kansans and Missourians had managed. The South had the men and boldness to step up and save things, but proslavery Kansas could not do it alone.

George Brown reported all of this in the November 17 Herald of Freedom, adding in his own commentary:

the editor brays piteously for help. Power is departing. The handwriting is seen upon the wall. Pro-slavery men, do come immediately to Kansas, and rally around the black flag, else all your hope will perish, and all your money will be lost which you have expended in sending enemies into Kansas to wrest from the “abolitionists” their liberties. The fertile plains of Kansas are literally black with opponents of slavery. They come in wagons, they come by steamboats, they throng our public thoroughfares, they are seen in every department of life, and something must be done to stay the tide-this avalanche of Freedom, else all, all is lost.

Brown knew how to gloat, even if all the antislavery party had done in Kansas rested on the weakest legal foundations. No Congress authorized the free state movement. So far as the law cared, Wilson Shannon and the legislature stolen fair and square back in March governed the territory. But he could turn the Pioneer’s distress to his own purposes. Antislavery whites beyond Kansas’ borders could read from his piece that whatever they had heard, Kansas had a clear future as a free state. Thus the more cautious might hazard it instead of Nebraska.

Twice Brown invokes blackness and both times he does it on multiple levels. To nineteenth century Americans, the black flag meant no quarter and war to extinction. Pirates, the enemies of all mankind, flew the black flag. So did guerrilla bands. By tying the flag to proslavery men, Brown named them as similarly enemies to all and asserted that they would not have any scruples about any atrocity that would secure their goals.

The black flag bore the imagined color of the slave and Brown painted Kansas that hue with antislavery people as well. In the nineteenth century, you called your opponents black to associate them with evil. They used negro as a neutral term for African-Americans. Calling opponents of slavery black thus constituted a kind of double slur, first tying them to evil and then proclaiming them like unto both in a way inferior to enslaved people. Therefore, proslavery Americans could twice damn the emerging antislavery party as “Black Republicans”. By turning the insult back on them, Brown essentially said that not only did freedom prevail but also imply that it lived up to all the fears that it augured to the proslavery mind. The white South could rush to Kansas if they liked, but they would find a territory already lost to them.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

This confidence opens Brown to the charge that he, like the Pioneer, wrote to solicit for aid from abroad. Brown’s piece accompanies a profile, with a picture, of Ely Thayer. It carries with it a confidence that Brown probably did not feel as fully as he let on, given the late exposure of the Kansas Legion. If the free state movement had made progress, then it remained an illegal group that had essentially declared itself legal and asked Kansas to agree. That Kansans did agree in large numbers did not erase those Kansans who did not, nor their allies in Missouri. If Brown did not nightly expect that a proslavery posse would ride to his doorstep and arrest him for his antislavery publications, then he had to know that it could happen. Should it come to pass, then he would either go quietly or unpredictable violence might ensue. Maybe he had ice water for veins, or sufficient confidence to laugh off the real threats, but his gloating carries at least a hint of trying too hard.

The Kickapoo Pioneer Calls for Help, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom on Patrick Laughlin, parts 1, 2, 3

 

The November 17 Herald of Freedom had two pieces directly about Patrick Laughlin and his exposure of the Kansas Legion. One called him a perjurer, but insisted that if Laughlin had it right then proslavery men should shake in their boots because the free state movement had a virtual army. The second reported his killing of Samuel Collins in a dispute arising from the Legion’s exposure. George Brown further included two pieces reacting to items from the Kickapoo Pioneer. The first dismissed the story that a proslavery man caused a panic in Lawrence by putting out word that the law had come to seize Brown for illegal antislavery printing, but had another promise that Lawrence had plenty of well-armed men ready to defend the community. The second took a rather different approach. Under the heading “Signs of Distress” he included this from the Pioneer

THE CRISIS HAS ARRIVED.-The time has come when it behooves every proslavery man to be up and doing. If Southerners wish to see Kansas enter the Confederation as a slave State, they must no longer hesitate about taking up their line of march; they must come thicker and faster than ever before. Our enemies (the abolitionists,) are making every exertion to populate this Territory with hordes of their followers.

Those dastardly abolitionists raised $100,000 in the East to send along to Lawrence, used to form

a secret, midnight organization, where they meet and concoct ways and means to accomplish every kind of rascality and dishonesty to thwart the influence and strength of the pro-slavery party

Some of the cash even went to pay the passage of abolitionists to Kansas. I can’t vouch for the precise sum, but the Pioneer had basic facts right. The Massachusetts and then New England Emigrant Aid Societies had raised money to send antislavery men to Kansas. While the principals denied it at the time, it seems that the Society at least looked the other way if some of its funds went to weaponry and some of its shipments included rifles. Here every proslavery man’s nightmare had come true: not only did antislavery whites threaten to spark a slave revolt, they actively stockpiled arms for the purpose.

Thus, the Pioneer held, the South must get its act together and beat the antislavery men at their own game. The section must raise funds “”to meet every emergency” and fill Kansas with men sound on the goose. Otherwise

the glorious achievements that have been so valiantly won at the ballot-box in past elections will amount to nothing

The South, “gallant and glorious,” had the money and the men, the Pioneer said. Surely they would not abandon their fellows. Now they must act or lose the Territory. Proslavery Kansans would welcome help “in the noble cause”. Together they would defend the section’s rights and put down the “abolitionists and fanatics” who “have already been allowed too much sway, and are consequently becoming more impudent every day.” Together, proslavery Kansas of all vintages would

Strike terror to their black hearts and make them repent of past transgressions with a solemn promise never to darken the peace, happiness, and perpetuity of our glorious Republic by lifting an arm or raising a voice to proclaim negro freedom in our Territory, which soil by right belongs to the South and must be owned by the South at the sacrifice, if need be, of her best and bravest men.

I don’t think the piece requires Brown’s title to communicate distress. The Pioneer’s editor sounds desperate. They could see the free state movement organizing and news of its secret military order had to keep them up at night. With a shadow government now operating and an alternative state organization in the offing, it had to look like the early gains for slavery might come to nothing. The Pioneer may have exaggerated to get more sympathy, but the proslavery party had at least a potentially serious threat on its hands all the same.