Steve King and the Maltreatment of Reverend William C. Clark

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

In looking over the officers at the meeting which established the Kansas Pioneer Association, George Brown’s Herald of Freedom found names he recognized from the Wakarusa War. Among them he spotted a Colonel Chiles, who had more recent adventures. He had somehow “maltreated” a Reverend William C. Clark.

Who did what now? I make a special effort to highlight occasions of actual and credibly threatened violence as signposts for how far things have gone in Kansas. Doing otherwise would make the whole affair sound like no more than the overexcited outbursts of politicians arguing over constitutional arcana, very much detached from the experience of people living at the time. They had real fears based on real events; what happened to others could very well happen to them. But I missed Clark’s travail. Let’s back up to the twentieth of September, 1855, and see what happened.

Clark had come to Lawrence, but gone back East for New England in September. Since then, he had tried four times to get in touch with George Brown about his travail

with the Algerines of America on the Polar Star. I [Clark] wrote and sent you [Brown] a long and full account the first thing I did after I was able to sit up. I should write more, but the hope of this ever reaching you seems so small that I am almost discouraged in trying.

Clark means the Barbary pirates when he says Algerines, who would abduct and enslave Europeans. They constituted a menace to maritime travel in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean for centuries, their exploits generating a whole genre of captivity narrative which he readers would have known well.

The Reverend knew that the papers had hold of his story, but travel and illness prevented him at first from setting the record straight. Clark told the reader that he traveled seven weeks in Kansas, finding its soil rich, its water pure, its scenery beautiful, and generally the best place in America. He then went home. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Clark went specifically to learn about and then promote Kansas to emigrants. On September 18, he took passage at Kansas City. The Polar Star would take him down to St. Louis.

In short order, Clark found that the other passengers had much to say about the Kansas question. Generally from the slave states, they had precisely the opinions one would expect. Clark let several untrue statements about the Free State party pass unremarked, “not wishing to have a controversy.”

On the second day of the Polar Star’s voyage, the topic of conversation turned to theology. I imagine Clark’s eyes lit up at the opportunity, much as mine do when someone wants to talk history. The discussion covered “modes of baptism, next the perseverance of the saints, &c.” People had murdered each other over such questions, but that happened long ago and far away. Nearer to home

one gentleman present objected to the divine authenticity of the Bible, on the ground that the five races of men never could have had one common parentage, objecting especially to the Indian and Negro races.

This made Clark’s objector quite the radical. Few antebellum Americans believed in separate origins for the races of humanity they imagined existing. The occasional proslavery theorist, particularly Josiah Nott, would make the argument but most thought the idea solidly unBiblical and consequently false.

Clark wouldn’t sit down and let that one pass:

Feeling an interest when I hear the Scriptures assailed, I took the liberty to reply to him, giving my views of the origin of the Indians found on this continent by Columbus, which seemed to be satisfactory to those present. His objection to the common origin of the Negro race was, that their minds had not a capacity for cultivation, and by nature were almost destitute of intelligence; and hence he thought they must have had another and inferior origin.

You can’t go very far in the United States today without hearing that theory of blackness. We don’t often phrase it in quite that way, but express the same meaning in more careful words. In noting that the Republican Party today has racial demographics not far out of line with the Ku Klux Klan, Representative Steve King asked

I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

“Than, than Western civilization itself,” King replied. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

In other words, non-whites don’t deserve a place in a political party. Inferior by nature, their lacks proven by history, they could jolly well bugger off. Only whites count.

With the exception of Monday posts, and not all of those, I don’t try too orient this blog around contemporary America. But sometimes contemporary America comes on its own.

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