The Squatter Sovereign on the Wakarusa Peace, Part Two


Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The Christmas issue of the Squatter Sovereign marked a distinct break from the jubilance with which the editors talked of wading in the blood of abolitionists and making any who dared come to Atchison dance on air whilst wearing a hemp necktie. They endured the hardships of camp in the windy December weather, ran fresh out of alcohol, and only killed one person. All that trouble, their hopes raised, Missouri come to Kansas again, brought nothing save impotent defeat. For all of this, John Stringfellow and Robert S. Kelley laid the blame on Wilson Shannon. The traitorous governor, swearing himself once to their side, had spent his entire time on the Wakarusa preventing the very violence for which they had come. What would an honest proslavery man have to do to get some mayhem in?

Kelley and Stringfellow preferred violence but might they have settled for less? If Santa didn’t bring a massacre, might they still gain something -anything- from the whole affair?

We have heard the opinion expressed by some, that the moral effect of the policy pursued will have a happier result than a more decisive and rigorous course would have had. Talk to us of “moral effect” upon a set of low-flung pharisees, who make one job of saying their prayers and picking a pocket.

The draw of alliteration might have called that turn of phrase regardless, but it bears remembering that the proslavery party considered antislavery Kansans literally thieves. Left unchecked, they would steal slaves and with them the wealth stolen from their lives by their lawful owners. If the abolitionists’ religious impulse drove them to abolition, then it made thievery and piety into the same exercise. Proslavery men would do no better to “preach morality to the devil.”

In considering what pedagogy might just edify an antislavery man, the Sovereign regained some of the accustomed vigor:

Such ingrates are only to be controled through fear of bodily injury or pecuniary loss, and not through the ordinary channels by which the better portion of humanity are governed.

The law would not restrain an abolitionist. Nor would high principles or patriotic sentiment. As people beyond the reach of ordinary governance, in a sense beyond even the enslaved, the Sovereign casts antislavery whites as dangerous animals or depraved madmen. One must do to them what one must, lest calamity ensue. They might never, just by existing, let proslavery men sleep easily.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Such people, to the limited degree they still fell into that category, understood only force. Wilson Shannon and his cronies had just made that force into an impotent threat, demonstrating to Kansas and the nation at large that the proslavery men would never deliver. Thus the friends of slavery could only take one course:

“Law and order” is our emblem, but when those selected to see the laws executed fail in their duty-through [word missing from my copy] of political damage or other sinister motives-it is then time for the squatters to adopt measures for the protection of their lives and property. they have forborn until forbearance has ceased to be a virtue, and now they are aroused, and determined to discard all further temporizing, and carry into effect a line of action the efficacy of which is more to be relied upon.

A convention of the Law and Order Party, planned to meet on December 7. Just as events of the Wakarusa War overtook it, and required the attention of less violent elements to defuse the situation around Lawrence, the Wakarusa Peace foreclosed whatever chance moderate proslavery men had of taking control. When the situation next required a stern proslavery answer, the Sovereign pledged Kansas’ proslavery men

will not be lumbered with officials alike timid as chieftains and nervous as politicians, but will be governed by their own sense of justice, a due consideration of what the law allows, and their own safety requires.




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