The Mob and the Territorial Register, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

We left William Addison Phillips relating how the proslavery mob at Leavenworth, not content with stopping the referendum on the free state constitution or with brutalizing George Wetherell, decided to go after Mark Delahay’s Territorial Register too. Delahay supported the free state cause and they had a perfectly good mob all warmed up and ready for another run. Who, aside Wetherell and Delahay, would want to go home with the fun barely started?

With his audience wound up for another story of proslavery violence, Phillips had to let them down. The mob didn’t wreck the newspaper office, throw the press in the river, kill Delahay, or consummate any of the other traditional proslavery observances upon antislavery newspapers. Why not?

There is not the slightest doubt that putting it in the river on Saturday was part of the programme; but two things saved it. In the first place, a person who doe snot subscribe to the non-resistant creed informed the friends of the pro-slavery paper here that if the Missourians put the Register office in the river, the Herald office would be placed snugly beside it as soon as they left town. I do not endorse such a sentiment, of course, but I think it had a salutary effect.

If the antislavery contingent would not confront an armed mob out for blood, it could still take action after they left. Leavenworth’s questionable loyalty to the proslavery cause appears to have informed the lynching of the other William Phillips. It would stand to reason that they had numbers enough to toss the press in the river and popularity enough to get away with it, even if they eschewed a bitched brawl.

To those threats, Phillips added another consideration:

a hesitation on a part of a few of the more conservative of the pro-slavery men here, who, like Davy Atchison at the Wakarusa, were afraid that too much of a good thing “might injure the democratic party.”

Phillips might have had it just right. The proslavery party suffered a serious PR loss only a week earlier against Lawrence. They backed down in part because if they struck they would have attacked a peaceful community without any real cause and scarce official sanction. Their disappointment, however cruel, didn’t necessary trump their judgment. Delahay had done no worse, and probably much less overall, than anybody at Lawrence. If the mob afflicted him, then he might become a perfect antislavery martyr: the former Maryland enslaver, attacked by his own for the sake of his late righteousness.

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