William Addison Phillips in Leavenworth, Part Three

William Phillips

William Addison Phillips


The December 15, 1855 attack on the polls at Leavenworth began with a demand for the ballot box. Charles Dunn, Archibald Payne, and mob wanted it and would have it by force if need be. The box left my narrative when George Wetherell tossed it under a counter and fled, but not that of the witnesses. George H. Keller, who had presided over the box’s filling as a judge of the election, caught sight of it once more after Wetherell’s ordeal:

I saw some of the crowd going up the street afterwards holding up the ballot-box, with exultive shouts, and I do not know what became of it.

William Addison Phillips told just a bit more. He didn’t say how the mob came to the ballot box or the poll book along with it, and the crowd probably prevented him from seeing, but he agreed that the mob found their quarry and paraded down the streets with it. Many “shrieks and yells” ensued, proving “that the half-tipsy invaders were ripe for further mischief.”

All of this made an impression. Per Phillips

A panic had seized the free-state men, or rather they wanted some bold and active leaders. The polls had been violated while most of the people were at dinner; but the border ruffians kept possession of the quarter of the town where the voting had been held, and but few free-state men were to be seen venturing among them. Perhaps the apology for this timid spirit lay in the fact that the men of Leavenworth were unarmed, or but indifferently armed, and that they had no volunteer military organization, the known members and officers of which could be relied on. It was with a feeling of shame and bitterness that I saw these invading, lawless villains thus violate the dearest and most sacred rights of American freemen.

For all his lamenting that Leavenworth lacked its version of James Lane or Charles Robinson, and its own military company under a John Brown or Samuel Wood, he doesn’t seem to have seen fit to step into the breech himself. One can’t fault him too badly for his unwillingness to stand up to an angry, armed mob. Leavenworth might not have taken to the leadership of an outsider even if he offered it. But all that considered, he comes down a bit hard on the town. Reading between the lines, maybe Leavenworth didn’t have a free state military organization because not enough people in Leavenworth cared to involve themselves. Some of the citizens might come to free state polls, but with Missouri just across the river they may have had very good reason to otherwise keep a low profile. Nobody would volunteer for the other William Phillips’ treatment.


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