Burying Thomas Barber, Part Three

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

At Thomas Barber’s funeral, Charles Robinson laid responsibility for his death on both his murderer and the men who brought about the conflict that took his life: Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, and Franklin Pierce, the President. His recitation of the offenses against Kansas, like James Lane’s, didn’t tell anyone present anything new. They had seen Missouri, and proslavery Kansans, steal their elections, dominate their government, and then march with their destruction in mind. Grievances reiterated make for poor condolences but Barber died for a reason, not in vain:

For the dead we need not mourn. He fell a martyr to principle; and his blood will nourish the tree of liberty. An honorable death is preferable to a dishonorable and inglorious life. Such was the death of our brother, and such will ever be cherished by his companions and fellow-citizens. It is glory enough for any man that a body of men, like the Barber Guards, should adopt his name to designate and distinguish their company.

You could read similar things about any wartime death. Barber died for a noble cause, which hallowed him and sanctified the cause at the same time. Take a lesson from his martyrdom and recommit yourself to the mission. Robinson then promised that Barber would have his reward in the hereafter, piety dictating as always that the Almighty votes the same way as the speaker.

In case anybody missed the subtext, Robinson then reduced it to text. He told Lawrence that Barber’s death reached beyond his circle of friends and family. Indeed

It has shook the entire fabric of our government to its very base, and nothing but the unseen hand of the All Wise Governor of the Universe could have saved this nation from civil war and political death.

And as nineteenth century Americans nigh-universally felt obligated to do, Robinson cast the struggle in the light of their national grandfathers, “those who won our liberty.” They looked “coldly” down from some red, white, and blue heaven upon “law-shielded ruffians.”

Robinson’s and Lane’s martial tone fit the proceedings. The Herald of Freedom reports

Several military companies were on the ground with arms, among which were the Kansas Rifles No. 1, Barber Guards, Kansas Guards, Cavalry, Brigadier-General and Staff, and Commander-in-Chief and Staff of the Kansas Volunteers.

They mourners went forth with full honors, “a national flag shrouded in crape, muffled drums beating a solemn funeral dirge, the citizen-soldiery with arms reversed” to the place of burial. There they heard what must have been a more conventional burial sermon, as the paper doesn’t see fit to report it as anything more than “appropriate”. Then

three volleys were discharged over his grave, and the rattling clods upon the coffin’s lid, told that all was over.

According to George Washington Brown, the ceremony had the desired effect and “hundreds” swore again not to rest until they had a free Kansas.


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