“We shall have a bloody time out here”

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce called the free state movement revolutionary, tending toward insurrection, and ordered its members to disperse. In the certain event that they would refuse, he placed the Army at the disposal of Kansas’ proslavery government to suppress them. Forget the local militia, or even the Missouri militia, the actual United States Army would ride out of its forts and put an end to Kansans’ experiment in self-government. To oppose them by force would make the free state movement traitors in the eyes of large numbers of Americans. That very fear had helped curb proslavery militancy, if just barely, back in December. Charles Robinson had similar apprehensions, which the presidential proclamation could only rouse from whatever abeyance they might have settled into since the middle of December.

Free state Kansans did not miss Pierce’s meaning. Edward Payson Fitch, a Massachusetts native, had come to Kansas in the third group of New England Emigrant Aid Society settlers. Transcriptions of his letters (PDF) made it into the Spring, 1989 issue of Kansas History, along with an account of his life. Fitch wanted Kansas kept clear of slavery and if he could set up a prosperous farm and get rich on real estate speculations too, so much the better. He came to Lawrence and taught school for a time, invested in land, and partnered with Charles Stearns in the Republican House. That establishment constituted a sod hut with canvas for a roof. You could sleep there for ten cents a day, but it cost fifty more if you wished to eat too.

On February 24, Fitch wrote his parents back in Massachusetts. He had good news to report:

I have been to meeting twice to-day. It is growing warmer and we have meetings more regularly and shall continue to if we are not all killed.

They might all die tomorrow, but at least he got to church. His failure to attend, sometimes for lack of meetings at all and sometimes otherwise, features into prior letters. Fitch looked forward to the meeting of the free state legislature come March, which would put Pierce’s threats to the test. Fitch would turn twenty-three on March 8 and one can read a young man’s bravado into this. But he had put himself in harm’s way to defend Lawrence and the President of the United States really had threatened military force against his party, a fact which he reminded his parents of:

Pierce says we are traitors so of course the Missourians are to put us down but if they try it we shall have a bloody time out here. God Grant that it may be avoided.

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