The Mob and the Territorial Register, Part Three

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Not content with stopping the election of December 15, 1855 and attacking one of the poll workers, the proslavery mob at Leavenworth turned their attention to the local antislavery paper. The Territorial Register must pay. As had happened at Lawrence less than a week before, they backed down when faced with a threat. Antislavery men put the word out that if the mob wrecked the Register, then as soon as they departed the proslavery Leavenworth Herald would follow. Threats alone might not have done the job, but the mob’s leaders again opted for moderation. Those leaders arranged a distraction, as reported by William Addison Phillips:

An effort was made to satisfy the victorious heroes of the ballot-box with their laurels for the day, and the disbanding of the “militia” afforded the means of diverting the current.

I’ve previously expressed my skepticism of Phillips’ claim that the mob largely came down to militia men fresh off their Lawrence disappointment and still mustered together. I still find it hard to believe that an organized company remained together away from home, in cold weather, and without clear purpose days later. Given the scare quotes, Phillips may have agreed. But it seems that treating them as such counted for something. Archibald Payne tried to maintain order at the meeting, but gave over to Lucien Eastin, a genuine general of the militia:

General Eastin congratulated them on their good and orderly conduct, on which their recent occupation was an excellent commentary. He also complimented them on their appearance, which was quite diverting.

What Phillips meant by the force’s appearance, I have no idea. I presume it involved more about their military bearing or good order than their looks or the simple fact of their presence. If singularly good-looking men figured prominently in the Missouri or Kansas militias, I haven’t heard of it.

by far the most important part of his speech was a proposition that these men should immediately enroll themselves into regular volunteer companies as soon as they were disbanded. He said there were three thousand stand of arms due the territory from the United States, and that if they took the proper steps they could get them.

Eastin’s offer here gave the mob reason to listen. They could get access to free guns and then turn those arms on antislavery Kansans. Phillips looked into things later and found

it was really the intention thus to get the arms designed for the defense of the territory into the hands of those who are to invade it. A part of the force thus to be armed would be proslavery men, residents of the territory; but the great bulk of these arms would thus find their way into the hands of the border ruffians.

One doesn’t get the impression that the proslavery party lacked for arms, but a few thousand extras wouldn’t hurt anybody. They might even relieve the irregulars of the need to pillage Missouri’s armories before crossing the border. That would put the proslavery men on firmer legal footing at home, as well as turn them into regulars with some form of lasting official sanction. If the Lawrence militias could get that kind of approval, why not their enemies?

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