Governor Robinson and the Indians

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The new Kansas legislature, illegal to the national government and near enough to legitimate for most Kansans, got down to business on Wednesday, March 5, 1856. Said business began with a message from their new governor, Charles Robinson. The day before he had only given inaugural remarks. Now he needed to do an official message, much as Andrew Reeder did the previous July. He gravely informed the legislators that their work would require all their “learning, judgment, and prudence”. He pointed to Kansas’ diversity: people from every state and country, differing in “institutions, religion, education, habits, and tastes.”

Also in our midst are several independent nations, and on our borders, both west and east, are outside invaders.

What invaders Robinson saw to the west of Kansas, I can’t say. Given that the “several independent nations” he mentions came in the form of Indian reservations, he might mean some hostile tribes off in the future Colorado. If those nations had shown any real hostility, let alone in invasion, I haven’t seen evidence of it. Like many white Americans, Robinson may have simply assumed that any Indian he didn’t personally know wanted to take his involuntary donation to Locks of Love. That he describes adjacent reservations as simply nations whilst taking the others as invaders suggests as much. He might also have referenced a rumor that the proslavery side would make some kind of deal to receive Indian aid. While I have not read any such rumor, I have seen the reverse version where Robinson and company would enlist Indian tribes. It would stand to reason that both versions existed.

The majority of Robinson’s speech involves to mundane necessities and standard nineteenth century boilerplate. The legislature had to fill these appointed officers. It ought to see to the schools. It would need to establish taxes. It would also, of course, have to write a law to keep free blacks out of Kansas. And they simply had to do something about alcohol:

The indiscriminate sale of intoxicating drinks in a State like Kansas, where are numerous Indian tribes, is productive of much mischief. Some tribes within our borders are still uncivilized and indulge their appetites without restraint, while many of the other tribes are equally unfortunate.

To this, Kansas’ Indians could answer by pointing to how the whites conducted themselves, alcohol or no, but one can’t expect a nineteenth century white man to grant the point. Still, Robinson came closer than one might expect, declaring the use of alcohol in general an obstacle to

the health, morals, and good order and prosperity of any community, and the traffic in them is an unmitigated evil

He hasn’t convinced this teetotaler, but at least Robinson agreed in principle that white people could have serious problems with drink. The Indians simply had it worse because of their allegedly inferior civilization and race. They might, in unguarded moments, say the same about the Irish. Few whites at the time would have defending providing alcohol to Indians, whatever their position on Irishmen. Fewer still would have agreed that the Indians had extensive grievances with their vaunted white race which might drive them to drink or violence, even among those who literally stood on the land that they had personally and through their government just seized from said Indians and looked ever-poised to take still more.

Governor Robinson preaches forbearance

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Kansas had a free state government seated at Topeka. Its members, sober or otherwise, now had the task of organizing a state ahead of them. Their governor, Charles Robinson, came to a joint session of the legislature at five o’clock on March 4, 1856, and received (PDF) “three hearty cheers”. He took his oath of office and made some introductory remarks. The antislavery Kansans had a big job ahead of them, with the eyes the whole territory looking on. The people would want “wise and wholesome laws and faithful administration of the Government”. But the wildcat governor knew that his wildcat government occupied a “peculiar” position in that the President of the United States had declared it illegal and treasonable. The Kansas-Nebraska Act might have promised the Kansans and Nebraskans a free hand, but neither the Missourians nor Franklin Pierce cared to see any such thing happen:

some of the people of an adjoining State unite with the President in opposing the people of Kansas in forming and regulating their own Government, and threaten our destruction if we do not conform to their dictation. Should the course indicated by the President and the people of another State be persisted in, and our rights again be trampled in the dust by official interference or lawless invasions, the people would be justified before the civilized world in asserting their rights by revolution

Having said that, Robinson immediately pulled back. Kansas might have it very bad, but the Congress would come to their rescue. In the meantime, they ought to suffer with what dignity they could muster rather than attempt “hasty resort to extreme measures.”

Forming your own illegal government and militia didn’t count as extreme to Robinson just then. He offered up even the hope that the Missouri border ruffians might clean up their act:

good policy would still dictate that every honorable effort be made to establish and cultivate friendly relations with our oppressors, especially with the people of our adjoining sister State. Nothing should be done in a spirit of retaliation, but rather of conciliation. Although our own rights have been repeatedly invaded and wrested from us, let us show that we respect the Constitution and laws of our own country and the rights of the people of the respective States

Robinson had advised peace in the past; he might even have believed it. The odds of the scales truly falling from the Missourians’ eyes, he must have rated very low. But sudden freelance action by antislavery Kansans had brought the movement near to ruin, bringing an army over from Missouri that wanted very badly to destroy Lawrence and, at the least, run Robinson and his ilk out of the territory. More likely, they wouldn’t have left Kansas alive. Given such close calls, and real fatalities suffered by others, the Governor had reason to hope, if not necessarily a strong expectation, that tempers would calm and if Kansas could just get through a few months without another confrontation.

But still, Charles Robinson knew that everyone had a breaking point. He advised “forbearance” until it “ceases to be a virtue and becomes cowardice, and the oppression becomes insufferable”. At that point, antislavery Kansans might no longer consider themselves “loyal citizens of the government.”

Sheriff Jones Goes to Topeka With the Devil’s Eyes

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

At the end of January, the free state party had in hand a constitution for Kansas. They had elected men to serve under that constitution. If they had garnered rivals from within their movement, then they won handily at the polls all the same. Along the way, they had also come near to a pitched battle with proslavery forces, to say nothing of the many clashes between proslavery and antislavery Kansans on an individual level. They had the governor’s blessing for their militia and the president’s condemnation. Laurels like these might prompt some of us to take a break, but they knew that they remained under the gun.

That fact must have been on many minds as a result of the late elections. Come March 4, 1856, the officers of the free state government would take office. That would put the leadership in one convenient spot doing the very thing that Franklin Pierce had told them they should not do, under threat of military intervention. Someone might try something.

March 4 came on a Tuesday in 1856. Monday that week, according to the pamphlet Organization of the Free State Government in Kansas (PDF),

the “big guns” of the Free-State party were fired off with great effect in Constitution Hall-the room in which the Free-State Constitution was framed-at Franklin Pierce and other creatures of the Slave Power at Washington city. Mr. Stephen Sparks off Easton-a member of the House and leader of the fight in defence of the ballot-box there on the 15th of January-was called to the chair and presided.

The pamphlet related a very brief version of Sparks’ travail, getting the date wrong. Sketches of each principal followed. Charles Robinson, the author tells us, cut the figure of a perfectly disinterested statesman with questionable oratorical skills. James Lane, “a beau ideal of the political intriguer” cut a military figure and undercut his “fluent” speaking with “want of earnestness”. Lieutenant Governor Roberts had an “uncommonly hard, and dull” voice. He would not “set the Missouri river on fire.” The author made it clear that the intriguer Lane and flame-retardant Roberts hailed from the Democracy.

The free state men denounced Pierce and spent some time Monday discussing what they ought to do with their new government. Tuesday brought Lane, as chair of the executive committee, swearing them in. All the while, they had an audience:

The immortal bogus Sheriff Jones, a tall, muscular, athletic loafer, with a cruel Mephistophelean expression, clad in the Border Ruffian costume-blue military overcoat, large boots, a skull cap and a cigar in mouth-was present at the organization, and amused himself and the members both, by writing down the names of the Senators and Representatives as they took the oath.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

One has to account for the performance of manly bravado in these things, but everyone had to know that Jones wouldn’t arrest them then and there. In the midst of scores of free state men -more than thirty Representatives and eleven Senators alone- Jones could hardly make a credible threat. He and the new legislators might very well have cracked plenty of jokes at one another’s expense. The author had the last word. He had seen the legal legislature meet as well and, unsurprisingly, found the present gathering far superior to to that band of

drunkards, blasphemers, and gamblers […] personally as ignorant and unpolished as their “acts” demonstrated they were unprincipled and violent

Jones, with Satan as his copilot, could sit there and scribble names all he liked. Kansas had a government, however illegal, of sober and principled antislavery men now.


The First Congress and Antislavery Petitions

We left the First Congress with Josiah Parker’s bill to put a ten dollar per head tax, the constitutional maximum, on slave imports. Parker hoped that the tax would raise the price of newly-imported slaves enough to reduce the demand for them. James Jackson agreed that it just might, and so opposed it to the point of using the kind of radical language one would expect from the later antebellum. He damned Parker for aiming to crush the economy of Georgia, retard its development, and sacrifice it to fix Virginia’s surplus slave problem.  Along the way, he lamented the fashion for emancipation. That doesn’t make Jackson into Calhoun’s imitator by anticipation, but it does testify to the existence in the Lower South of at least some committed to perpetual slavery all the way back in the 1790s. The debate ended, for the moment, with Parker’s bill postponed to consideration at a later session.

That’s all interesting in itself, but what happened next undermines a popular myth or two about the founding era much-beloved by the Confederacy’s fans and, on occasion, by the Confederates themselves. The first session of the first Congress ended September 29, 1789. The second began on January 4, 1790. In the interim, the Quakers got busy. They petitioned Congress to do something about the slave trade. Don Fehrenbacher’s The Slaveholding Republic, from which I have this story, quotes them terming it a “licentious wickedness.” Some Southern representatives objected so strenuously that the House tabled the petition rather than refer it to a committee.

So much for that petition. The next day, Congress had a new one. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society did the Quakers one better. The petitioners

earnestly entreat your [Congress’] serious attention to the Subject of Slavery, that you will be pleased to countenance the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy men, who alone, in this land of Freedom, are degraded into perpetual Bondage, and who, amidst the general Joy of surrounding Freemen, are groaning in Servile Subjection, that you will devise means for removing this Inconsistency from the Character of the American People, that you will promote Mercy and Justice towards this distressed Race, & that you will Step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the Persons of our fellow Men.

Franklin's signature on the petition

Franklin’s signature on the petition

The petition ran over the signature of the Society’s president, Benjamin Franklin. Later generations, and some of the then-present generation, would tell you that the founders to a man believed in strictly limited powers for the general government. Alexander Hamilton might think otherwise, but that made him a singularly wicked man. No person should dream to follow the example of such a miscreant. The consensus, everywhere and in everything, was that Congress had limited powers and could not ever stretch beyond them lest tyranny ensue.

And then Ben Franklin writes asking that Congress at the very least read its powers as broadly as it could in order to restrict the slave trade and consequently undermine slavery. His advocacy of broad -maximally broad, in fact- construction in a time allegedly innocent of such things (again excepting Hamilton) deserves noting. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society didn’t just want Congress to do something. They asked Congress to throw the book at the slave trade, possibly invent some new ones to toss along with it. And, explosively, they proposed “the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage.” In other words, Congress had the power to free slaves. It might only reach to those brought into the country illegally, but the federal government would directly emancipate.

Thomas Tudor Tucker

Thomas Tudor Tucker

This could not go unmarked. Thomas Tudor Tucker, of South Carolina, spoke first. He expressed his amazement at Franklin, “a man who ought to have known the Constitution better.” Tucker

thought it a mischievous attempt, as it respected the persons in whose favor it was intended. It would buoy them up with hopes, without foundation, and as they could not reason on the subject, as more enlightened men would, they might be led to do what they would be punished for, and the owners of them, in their own defence, would be compelled to exercise over them a severity they were not accustomed to.

Franklin would give the slaves crazy ideas and so require the planters to reach new heights of cruelty to keep them subjugated. Did he care nothing for the tender consciences of the men with the whips? Or the slaves, who he proposed to help, who must suffer under them? Think of the slaves, Ben.

Aedanus Burke

Aedanus Burke

Did all of that point toward a general emancipation? Tucker thought it might. The South would never accept that “without a civil war.” Tucker’s impressively named fellow South Carolinian, Aedanus Burke, declared the whole idea unconstitutional. If the House did so much as referred the petition to a committee, it would exceed its powers. Such a thing

would sound an alarm, and blow the trumpet of sedition in the Southern States.

The House listened to all the fiery speeches and voted 43-14 to send the Franklin and Quaker petitions to a select committee appointed by the Speaker, a Pennsylvanian. He declined to name a single Lower South member to that body.

This may not show later-era sectionalism, but we certainly have from the first Congress a profound division over slavery. It might not burn so brightly or split the nation so neatly, but the happy story that the founding generation all agreed that slavery not only would end, but also ought to, takes a well-deserved beating. All the way back then, one could find southerners who wouldn’t even go for vague, indirect, and future schemes of emancipation right there alongside northerners who at least considered measures designed, if indirectly, to attack slavery where it then existed.

Republicanism in Kansas, and in Jim Lane

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Charles Stearns wanted everybody to know that they should disregard the supposed Anti-Abolition free state ticket in the January elections. Its advocates used to be for abolition, but changed their minds and swung right. He left it to implication that they did so for base and venal reasons. But in swinging right to oppose the main free state slate, the Anti-Abolition men went further. Their opposition, after all, included a heterodox collection of National Democrats, Whigs, Republicans, National Sovereignty, and Squatter Sovereignty types. They hailed from states North and South. They had voted to keep free blacks as well as slaves out of Kansas. Little united them save their opposition to slavery in Kansas, and even that common cause rested on a tangle of meaningful contradictions. Most notably, while many free state men opposed slavery itself, others would have accepted it if only Kansans had the chance to settle the issue for themselves and only crossed over after repeated Missouri-based interventions.

The platform of the other dissenting free state ticket, Young America, appear even more opaque. They wanted the same men to hold the same offices as the free state convention had agreed to, but with two revisions. While both tickets insisted that some men they aimed to replace had withdrawn fro the election, the Young Americans particularly stressed it. Their name suggests a strong Democratic alignment, which their contemporaries could not have missed. Young America, in the middle nineteenth century, stood for an aggressive, expansionist United States. The nation might spread through wars or the exploits of filibusters like William Walker and John A. Quitman, but it would expand and so bring freedom to a waiting world.

If the Young Americans had a point beyond that their men wanted offices badly enough to split from the free state party to do it, then they might have seen the groundwork laid for a development unfolding very before after the January 15, 1856 election that rejected their nominees. George Brown’s Herald of Freedom for January 19, reports that on Saturday last (January 12, the date of his previous edition)

The great Republican party of the North, whose battle cry is “No more Slave States,” with whose political success the material welfare of Kansas and all our hopes for an immediate admission are inseparably united, was organized in this city […] at a large and enthusiastic mass meeting

This did represent a change from past the past strategy of claiming no party but antislavery for Kansas, but it can’t have surprised many. Prominent free state leaders had identified with the Republicans for some time, if by no means all of them, and the GOP had taken in dissenting Democrats. That didn’t mean they forgot their old politics on issues aside slavery, but by the start of 1856 they had to know that a place existed for them in the new coalition. The party of no new slave states and the party of no slave state of Kansas would naturally run together.

Brown notes the platform emphatically endorsed Congress’ power over slavery in the territories. James Lane, among others, endorsed it. These men

all National democrats-endorsed the platform as reported, and thus repudiated Squatter Sovereignty the cardinal doctrine of the “National” Democracy! -Kansas evidently is a healthy climate for the mind as well as body!

Brown used the occasion to remind his readers of Lane’s dubious history. He came to Kansas after having voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Once there, he tried to set up a Kansas Democracy. By accepting the creed of congressional power to decided slavery for the territories, he had come a long way indeed.


An Endorsement from Charles Stearns

The Stearns home in Lawrence

The Stearns home in Lawrence

When the free state party threw elections to seat their new government, they also chose a ticket. One might expect that ticket to run uncontested, considering that the obvious opposition refused to recognize the elections except to disrupt one. But two groups broke from the free state ranks and ran their own tickets: under the banners of Young America and Anti-Abolition. George Brown ran news of both with evidence that both had made false statements to justify their entry to the race. He concluded his piece by instructing readers to make their reply to such chicanery at the polls, but Brown also referred them to a letter he ran on the same page, from one C. Stearns.

Longtime readers might recall Stearns as that puzzling fellow who appeared sincerely antislavery but tied himself into knots over free state strategy. At the time, I knew nothing about Stearns save the content of his letter and thus could only speculate on what drove him. I know a little more now.

According to the editor of Edward Fritch’s letters (PDF), John Peterson, Charles (who I have also seen called Clark) Stearns

an abolitionist and free-state crusader who loved controversy, was continually at odds with the Emigrant Aid Company. After parting with Edward toward the end of march, stearns and a new partner, Geoerge C. Willard, opened the Robinson House, which was the Republican House [Stearn’s prior hotel] under a new name and with higher prices. In advertising their new venture, Stearns and Willard expressed the hope that past patronage would continue but did not promise “to hold their tongues about the sins of the Emigrant Aid Company.”

Stearns wrote to the Herald of Freedom declaring his innocence of all things political, as they did not concern vital matters like the contents of Scripture. He thus needed information: Should he consider the ticket nominated at the free state Convention “an abolition ticket” and did the Anti-Abolition ticket really oppose abolitionism?

Presuming the answer to both questions a firm yes, Stearns proceeded to dissect the tickets:

On reading the two tickets [Convention and Anti-Abolition] I perceive the names of five individuals upon both of them. Now as this is nearly one-half of all the names, it occurred to me that if the former ticket was abolition, the latter could hardly be a tee-total anti-abolition ticket; unless the old saying , “a man is known by the company he keeps,” is so far changed as to mean “a man is really in character what his comrades are.” In other words, five men, who are abolitionists when nominated on one ticket, become strong anti-abolitionists, when placed upon another.

Stearns credited the “sudden transformation” as coming through a proslavery tint rubbed off on them by “passing through the hands of the getters up of the new ticket.” But the changes did not end with proslavery boosters leaving greasy fingerprints on their new candidates.

Mr. Elliott, one of the principal supporters of the new ticket, must be a strong anti-abolitionist. Well, “the times change” and men change with them, I suppose; but this same Mr. Elliott, together with myself and a few others, one year ago, strongly condemned the leading nominee, of what Mr. Elliott now terms the “abolition ticket,” because he was not abolition enough.

Elliott might have been young and prone to experimentation, of course. Antislavery politics could be a phase, like those lamentable episodes from our own youth. Denied by his time of birth rock music or dramatic hairstyles, bar the nineteenth century’s fascination with novel facial hair, he might have only had opposing slavery left to him.

Stearns, his proclaimed innocence aside, did not buy all of this for a second:

For my part, I shall not support the first ticket [Convention free state] for the reason that it is not an abolition ticket, and of course not the second, because it carries a lie on the face of it, as I have above explained.

This all made for a backhanded endorsement, but a well-aimed and credible one. Stearns had a reputation for opposing the free state establishment, which he repeated here. But in the course of doing it he undermined the very grounds on which the Anti-Abolition ticket contended. You don’t want abolitionism? Vote for Charles Robinson and company. They’re no abolitionists, and Charles Stearns should know.

The Anti-Abolition Free State Ticket


Cyrus Holliday

Cyrus Holliday

George Washington Brown reported that two rival tickets, in addition to the one approved by the free state convention, contended at the polls on January 15, 1856. The first of those, the Young America ticket, first tried to swap the governor and lieutenant governor positions from the candidates the free state convention used. Rebuffed in this, they put forward their own lieutenant governor, Marcus Parrott. He lost handily to Charles Robinson.

The other party of antislavery Kansans dubbed themselves the Anti-Abolition Free State ticket. Brown named “Messrs. Garvey, Holliday, Elliott, & Smith” the principals. I recognize Cyrus Holliday’s name from past efforts to unite antislavery Kansans under a single banner, which makes his participation here seem odd. He can’t have had very cold feet, given his participation not that long prior in the Kansas Legion.

According to Brown, the Anti-Abolition ticket

charged the [free state] Convention with corruption, perfidy, and abolitionism.

It also hadn’t nominated them for office, which Brown noted. Garvey, Holliday, Elliot, and Smith all put themselves forward at the convention and won defeat “by overwhelming majorities.” In the nineteenth century, every politician but one’s own comes off as a venal office-seeker, but the convention did spurn them.

The Anti-Abolition men held out that the establishment free state ticket didn’t really represent Kansans; it represented the Emigrant Aid Society. No one could deny that Charles Robinson, who ran for governor on it, acted as the society’s agent. Brown reported another wrinkle in this:

C.K. Holliday, less than a year ago, applied to that Society to be appointed its agent. We state this on the highest authority. His request was refused, and since then he has been, Stringfellow and Atchison, perhaps, excepted, the most industrious calumniator of it.

Thwarted ambition probably plays its part here, but Holliday and company knew the political landscape of Kansas. White Kansans disliked slavery, at least when Missourians demanded they have it, but they also voted overwhelmingly for a black law to bar slaves and free blacks alike from the state. Back at Big Springs, the free state movement had declared itself fundamentally not abolitionist. A powerful constituency existed that explicitly wanted slavery and black Americans of all statuses kept clear of the territory. By tarring Robinson with his Emigrant Aid Society credentials, the Anti-Abolitionists could call to mind his connections to New England radicals and his stands in favor of such wild notions as black men, and even women of all colors, voting.

But Robinson made no secret of his connections. His place on a ticket with more moderate men, and his close working relationship with conservatives like James Lane, had to help ameliorate that. Thus Holliday, editor of the Freeman, went to press with an extra edition

intended for circulation in the remote parts of the Territory, in which it is stated that Dr. Robinson had declined.

Antislavery Kansans, we know you like Charles Robinson and his dirty Emigrant Aid Society. But even if you’ve made a deep, personal commitment you can’t help it if the guy refused to run. Vote for us instead.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Brown published a letter from Robinson on the issue, where he claimed in the mode of the disinterested politician that he had not put his own name forward. The free state convention did that. At the time, everyone would have understood this as nearly irrefutable evidence that Robinson had done so. They might say in public that the office found the man, but in private everyone knew otherwise. So conscripted, Robinson felt bound to oblige:

since it [Robinson’s name] has been thus used, I have not authorized, and shall not authorize any man, or set of men, except the Convention, to withdraw it; and the above statement [Holliday’s] is without a shadow of truth, as all similar statements will be.

Not content with that dirty trickery, Holliday also published that James Lane inspired and endorsed his ticket. Lane also wrote Brown to reject the notion, insisting like Robinson that the convention governed him and he gave his “earnest support” to “the entire ticket”. He further noted that he thought the odds of admission for their free Kansas “fair” and thus

would consider any division of our party at this crisis peculiarly unfortunate, and trust it may be avoided.


The Young America Ticket

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Given both the predominance of orthodox free state sources and the natural focus on them by historians, as well as the plain evidence of very lopsided votes for their policies and tickets, one can get the idea the free state Kansans spoke with one voice. Their own publications reveal otherwise. When he introduced the free state ticket to his readers in the December 29 Herald of Freedom, George Brown admitted

Some gentlemen have been nominated for whom we would not vote if Kansas was a state, and admitted to the Union […] The Free State Party of Kansas is a political alliance, formed for the purpose of excluding the blighting curse of slavery from our soil. We all agree in desiring to see Kansas a Free State; but this is the only political issue in which our aspirations or opinions harmonize.

As such, the ticket reflected the diversity of thought within the antislavery ranks. National Democrats and Republicans share space with those shying away from either title in favor of euphemisms like “National Sovereignty” and “Squatter Sovereignty”. The former meant affirming that the Congress had the power to decide on slavery for Kansas, while the latter declared that Kansans ought to do the same, but both agreed that slavery ought not prevail.

That diversity didn’t satisfy everyone. Proslavery Kansans might sit out the free state elections then-upcoming under the Topeka Constitution, but Charles Robinson (Governor), W.Y. Roberts (Lieutenant Governor), P.C. Schuler (Secretary of State, J.A. Wakefield (Treasurer), Mark Delahay (congressional representative) and the others didn’t run unopposed. Rather two rival groups contended for state office, as Brown relates in the January 12 Herald of Freedom: The Young America ticket and the Anti-Abolition ticket.

“Young America” has substituted the name of M.J. Parrott, as Lieut. Governor […] and Scott Anthony, of Leavenworth, instead of Mr. Floyd, as Clerk of the Supreme Court. The other nominations of the Convention remain unaltered.

What did that mean? Brown reported the Young America set advanced Parrott on the grounds that Roberts had withdrawn from consideration, then cited letters he printed in his previous issue. There three men, W.M. McClure, E.R. Zimmerman, and G.P. Lowry, wrote to Roberts that they’d heard about the withdrawal put forward as entirely above-board and done with the assent of the free state establishment. Roberts answered:

I have heard the report to which you refer, and that I have no connection or sympathy therewith; but, on the other hand, have opposed the movement from beginning to end, as disorganizing and opposed to the interests of the Free State party of Kansas, and shall continue to discountenance the movement should it be persisted in.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

That ought to have settled things, but Parrott and company changed their story. Roberts, they said, meant only that he would not stand for a ticket that swapped his and Charles Robinson’s places to make Roberts the governor and Robinson the lieutenant governor. When McClure, et al, wrote to Roberts they did specifically mention the position swap. That makes the claim halfway plausible, but given Roberts’ broad rejection of disorganization it sounds like a stretch.

Given that Young America didn’t field a full ticket, but rather changed only a few names, it sounds suspiciously like the work of either a few disgruntled types who hewed to the hallowed principle that they deserved public office, not those other people. Roberts suggests the darker motive that Young America’s boosters wanted to sabotage the free state movement as an end unto itself. Either, or both, explanations withstand scrutiny. The business of swapping positions reads very much like something designed to cause confusion and inspire jealousy. But we could point to ideology too. Parrott has played the role of conservative, aligned with James Lane’s faction, on previous occasions and might have taken the free state ticket as entirely too radical when headed by Robinson.

I’d like to talk about my flair

Gentle Readers, I have another, happier note today. For a few years now, one of my favorite internet places has been Reddit’s AskHistorians board. It’s essentially a running question-and-answer session where anyone can take part. High standards and tight moderation, including a requirement to cite sources if asked, keep it from descending into the customary internet slapfights. Posters include amateur enthusiasts, graduate students, and people working professionally in the field. Users can petition the mods for flair, a colored banner next to the user name, which indicates

Expertise in an area of history, typically from either degree-level academic experience or an equivalent amount of self-study.

After being gently prodded, twice, I went and did it. The inducement of a student of British and American slavery proved decisive. This morning I woke up to find this waiting for me:


So that happened. It would not have, but for the study I’ve undertaken to feed this blog. You are all my co-conspirators. Thank you.

Some Thoughts Inspired by the Orlando Mass Shooting

I write about history; readers come for history. We have a social contract there. Today, I’m breaking it. My name is Pat; I’m gay and I need to say a few things.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay, but have chosen not to make an issue of it. If the WordPress search works as it should, the word ‘gay’ has appeared on this blog exactly once. The history I study doesn’t frequently present occasions where my gayness might be relevant. I have told myself that everybody has parts of their life that don’t come up in the context of other parts. I don’t know the favorite foods of the bloggers I read. I have a vague awareness via Twitter that some on my blogroll follow sports, but I honestly don’t know which ones. Very occasionally someone mentions a family member.

That’s all fine, right? I’m five to ten years too young to have gotten comfortable with the idea of putting your entire life up online, moment by moment. Even if I were of an age more inclined to such things, my life is boring. Do you really want to hear that I got a good deal on a book? Or that this one came signed? How my Minecraft project has gone? That’s what I tell myself.

It’s not true. Nobody, or at least very few people, get shot over a used book that’s clearly never been opened or one that the author signed. I doubt anyone has ever been shot over a favorite food. They certainly don’t get shot and killed fifty at a time. People do get murdered, sometimes that many at once, for being LGBT+. It happens right here in the United States. It happened last week; it happens all the time.

I can only speak for myself here. I think that some of my experiences are fairly common, but I’m keenly aware that white, cisgender gay men have a long history of writing everyone else out of the story. I fail often, probably far more than I know, but I try to be better.

The first thing I remember learning about actual gay people was that people murdered them. I didn’t know that I was gay yet, but I knew that being gay could get you beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. The first two important things I figured out about being gay personally, rather than in the abstract, were that I was not a monster and that other people would consider me a monster and might kill me because of it.

I figured these things out over a few months in 1999 and 2000. The Supreme Court legalized my sex life in 2002. I was twenty-one. It gave me the right to legally marry in 2015. I was thirty-four. I’m glad for those things. I can look at them on a good day and say it really does get better. The kids growing up today? They’ll be fine. People my age had these things to deal with, but that was then.

It wasn’t then; it’s now. It shouldn’t surprise me that the letter of the law changed before the killing stopped, but it did anyway. I don’t want thoughts and prayers, particularly not from politicians running on the notion that they’ll turn back the clock further still and who wouldn’t soil themselves by saying who was killed or why. I don’t want endless navel-gazing about how something like this could happen; we know exactly how it happens. Teach people that something is evil and they ought to wipe it out, then supply them with the necessary tools to easily do the job and you can’t claim any surprise when they put those tools to use.

I don’t want to hear that people have it worse in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else because they actually kill LGBT+ people there. We do that just fine in America, thanks. Nor do I want to hear about how Islam is a primitive, medieval faith practiced by savage brutes who can’t help themselves. American Christians have been a driving force behind Uganda’s draconian laws. Orthodox Christians have played the same part in Russia. The Communist Party before them decided homosexuality was a bourgeois vice fit for eradication too. I don’t see vast gulfs between the faiths, or the lack of a faith. The same people end up deprived, imprisoned, tortured, and dead.

And I especially don’t want to hear another tired rendition of how we’re all the same. We’re so different even on the other side of the imaginary line we’ve drawn that I’ve been using all those letters to refer to us. The lives of LGBT+ people should not rest on our ability to make others forget we exist.

There’s no good reason that it took this mass murder make me write all these things; the facts have been apparent for a long time. It’s not a bold stand against the world to declare my gayness under my first name on a blog. It’s just something that I can do to make my tiny corner of the internet a little more like I think it ought to be.

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