The End of the Leavenworth Territorial Register, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We left George Washington Brown, the only source I’ve found on the destruction of the Territorial Register, commenting on how Mark Delahay’s paper had so little to do with abolitionism that it had endorsed one of the men leading the mob that destroyed it. He told his readers that the Register had the approval of the administration’s Washington Union all of a month before its destruction, a stamp of orthodoxy that counted for a great deal at the time. By all the conventional measures of nineteenth century politics, one might expect the mob to understand Delahay as at least moderate. The more generous might even count him on the proslavery side. He certainly didn’t make for a reasonable substitute for Brown himself.

But Mark Delahay sinned all the same. His paper

disapproved of David R. Atchison leading an armed force of Missourians into Kansas during the descent of the Border Ruffians on Lawrence. It ironically stated that it regretted that “certain duties, both of a public and private nature” had prevented Mr. Atchison from returning to Missouri by way of Leavenworth City.

This was the sum total of its offence. For daring to allude ironically to the arch-demagogue of Missouri, the Territorial Register, a “National Democratic” journal, published in Kansas, was destroyed and thrown into the river by a gang of ruffians, chiefly residents of Missouri, and followers, every one of them, of a “National Democratic” politician.

Brown stretched things here. If the Register’s disapproval of Atchison and the Wakarusa War served as a causus belli, then it made only for the final straw. Delahay had attended the Topeka Constitution back in October and November, which put him pretty firmly on the antislavery side. That he occupied the right wing of the free state movement did not, however much Brown might like it otherwise, make him into a proslavery man. It could, however, have put him within the mainstream of the national Democracy. They didn’t all have cause to run off to Kansas and join in opposing the territorial government, but other Democrats of a national stripe who had come to Kansas, like James Lane, did so. When the legitimacy of Kansas’ warring governments came before Congress, plenty of Democrats showed sympathy for the free state movement.

Thus Brown highlights an important point: the border ruffians and their Kansas auxiliaries had taken steps that, while not unprecedented in the rough world of antebellum politics, well exceeded its norms in terms of scale. You might have some violence at your own election and so ensure the outcome, but one did not customarily organize bands and invade a neighboring polity in large numbers to do the same there.

The trampling of the white man’s democracy in the name of slavery rankled more than just abolitionists. If it could happen in Kansas, it might elsewhere. Antislavery Americans had made that claim often enough. The slave power, with its doughfaced northern lackeys like Frnaklin Pierce and James Buchanan, secretly conspired to destroy white freedom. The slavocrats, left unopposed, would soon enslave all.

Those accusations always had a whiff of paranoia about them, and gave the white South more organizational credit than it deserved, but proslavery Missourians and Kansans seemed absolutely bent on making them into realities.

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