Another Resolution from Tecumseh

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

On February 13, 1856, in response to Franklin Pierce’s special proclamation on Kansas, a mass meeting gathered at TecumsehThe Herald of Freedom and Squatter Sovereign agreed that the Tecumseh meeting had a firm proslavery constituency. They also spoke with one voice on how the assembly represented a good step forward for their antagonistic causes. For George Brown’s Herald, that meant standing up for Kansas for the Kansans. For John Stringfellow’s Sovereign, it meant confusion to and suppression of the abolitionists. Kansan could be run by any combination of Kansans and “Kansans” who went home to Missouri after each election. To judge from the lone resolution of the meeting that Brown printed, he had the right of it. That resolution constituted one of the seven the meeting voted.

The Squatter Sovereign printed the whole slate. Most of them do no more than express hearty agreement with the President. This already slants things heavily to the proslavery side, as Pierce outright accused the free state movement of plotting treason. He had nothing of near so grave a magnitude to say for Kansas’ regular invaders. But in the event that anyone missed that point, the Tecumseh meeting made it clear even to the least astute:

we consider with the President in his view that “showed a [professed] movement, revolutionary in its aim and motives reach[ing] the length of organized resistance by force” to the legitimate authorities of the Territory, it must then be regarded as “treasonable insurrection” and as such be dealt with according to law.

The presiding officer then informed the meeting that, for his money, one crossed the line into treason when you took an oath of office under the Topeka Constitution.

A full reading of the story does not permit one to honestly say that Tecumseh hosted an antislavery meet, or even a meeting of chastened and discouraged proslavery men, on that day. Brown’s piece indicates that he knows of multiple resolutions and chose to print only the one, so we can’t chalk this up to incomplete information. He had the full document and chose to print at best a misleading editorial painting his enemies as in disarray and on the verge of giving up.

The editorial commentary with the resolution drips with sarcasm. From that, one could take it that Brown intended no one to take him seriously. He might further have tipped his hand by declaring that he had little “faith in the honesty” of the Tecumseh meeting’s declaration. For people living in or near Kansas, I suspect that this reading would prevail. They would have first hand knowledge, or near enough, as to the relative strength of the proslavery party around Tecumseh and ready access to the Squatter Sovereign and other local papers to get the full story. Brown couldn’t have lied to many of them about something so large and public as a mass meeting with published resolutions if he tried.

But neither Brown’s nor Stringfellow’s papers served an entirely local audience. Each paper operated in the context of a national movement, from which they frequently solicited direct support. What Brown wrote in Kansas as sarcasm, he could know full well that people back East would take nearer to face value. Furthermore, Brown writes in the same somewhat contemptuous voice he has used when reporting genuine defeats for the proslavery side rather than with the gravity he has often reported real threats. This can only be a judgment call on my part, but I think that Brown set out to mislead. Given the radical step that the free state movement had just taken in seating its government, his cause needed the legitimacy of a united Kansas might grant more urgently than ever.

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