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.

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