One Hundred Rifles and Two Cannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Major Blank’s adventure brought a pair of cannons into Lawrence during that city’s investment by proslavery forces. His entertaining escapade came of a piece with other arms smuggling. It forms a recurring theme in the secondary sources, but if anybody’s ever written a paper or book on running guns into Kansas, I’ve not heard of it. Likewise, the Herald of Freedom writes occasionally about Missourians obstructing the normal course of mail. This eventually required antislavery Kansans to operate their own mail route, lest their unhappy neighbors over the state line leave their letters and packages in a ditch somewhere. Major Blank’s story demonstrates that those parcels might include more than the proverbial fruitcakes and adult interest literature. The plain brown wrappers and anonymous wooden crates might conceal a small arsenal. If the Missourians came again, free state Kansans would only have more reason to appreciate their illicitly-transported guns.

The March 15 Herald of Freedom reports on such a shipment, partly by way of a piece from the Lexington, Missouri Express. The Express ran an extra to share the news that

The good steamer Arabia, Capt. John S. Shaw, arrived at our wharf about sunrise this morning. Immediately on landing, a committee was dispatched up town to inform our citizens that a person from Massachusetts was on board, having in his possession one hundred Sharp’s rifles and two cannon! destined for service in Kansas, and sent forward by the Massachusetts Aid Society.

Word got out about the crates, marked “Carpenters’ Tools,” when the man accompanying them dropped a letter. A cabin boy found it and handed it over to the captain.

The “most respectable and reliable citizens” of Lexington got together and decided that if a gaggle of Yankees wanted to send guns to Kansas, then they could do just that. They confronted “Mr. Start,” close kin to Major Blank, and convinced him to sign away the arms, “subject to requisition of Gov. Shannon or his successor in office.” If free state Kansans wanted guns shipped in for service in their territory, they could have them good and hard.

The Express would have you know that no hooliganism took place. They arrested the arms, not the man. Nobody suggested any violence against him.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

George Brown knew a few things about arms smuggling, which he shared with his own readers. Yes, a man from “some part of the country in the East” set out for Kansas with his hundred rifles and two cannons. Said “gentleman” had not just fallen off the turnip cart; he knew full well he might have trouble crossing Missouri. Anybody could use the weapons, so he risked arming his enemies if he got caught. Thus when he came to St. Louis

he divided his freight and send the slides, the most important part of the guns, by land, and the balance he shipped up the river

The absence of the slides rendered the guns inoperable, so the smuggler had given over to Lexington some fancy wood and metal clubs. The slides reached Lawrence on March 12, along with, per Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, “ammunition, rifle primers, musket percussion caps, break pins for a cannon, and cannon molds.”

Governor Shannon’s New Army

SJ Jones

Samuel Jones

When the free state legislature chose to defer enactment of any legislation it passed until it secured Kansas’ admission as a state, with the free state men in charge, they did so of a mind that the President of the United States considered them traitors. They might soon face arrest, a fact that could have hardly slipped their minds with the notorious Samuel Jones taking their names down as they swore their oaths of office. They might actually have committed treason. Legal niceties had hardly stopped Missourians from coming to steal their elections and in hopes of razing their towns, but the border ruffians did not operate under the color of law the way that the United States army would if Franklin Pierce gave the proper orders.

Pierce had already done something to that effect. The March 15, 1856 Herald of Freedom reminded its readers how all had hoped that Colonel Sumner would come from Fort Leavenworth to Lawrence’s rescue back in December. Sumner had not come, despite Wilson Shannon’s entreaties. Sumner said at the time that he lacked instructions from Washington and did not feel confident to act on his own authority. Now he had those instructions, which the paper printed news of by way of a letter that Secretary of State William Marcy wrote to Governor Shannon. He attached a copy of Sumner’s orders and Pierce’s law and order proclamation.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

Pierce, Marcy averred, did not think Shannon’s situation so dire as to require the use of federal troops. He should call upon them only as a last resort, but

if it becomes indispensably necessary to do so in order to execute the laws and preserve the peace, you are hereby authorized by the President to make requisition upon the officers commanding the United States military forces at Forts Leavenworth and Riley

Shannon would only use the power in “extraordinary emergency”, Marcy insisted, but he had it. If the immediate establishment of the free state goverment didn’t justify calling out the troops, then some future clash might. Shannon tried desperately to secure Sumner’s aid to save Lawrence and so had established precedent that he would use the military if possible. Once the Cavalry rode, where would they stop?

George Brown put a positive spin on all of this. He insisted that Pierce’s proclamation

is not so villainous a document as the telegraph reports make it, and as for the instructions to Gov. Shannon, they are all we could expect, or even desire. While the Governor abides by the letter of those instructions, it will afford us pleasure to sustain him. Our State organization will be in no way of Gov. Shannon. Until an attempt is made to enforce the laws enacted by that body, they are harmless. If they adopt a code of laws which commend themselves to everybody’s sense of justice, and they are everywhere obeyed, how can Gov. Shannon, or anybody else, find fault?

Brown had a strong interest in painting the free state government as perfectly innocuous, but even in doing so he hedged carefully. If they adopt laws and if those laws comport to everyone’s morals, why would they give cause for objection? And if Shannon followed the letter of Franklin Pierce’s proclamation, rather than its avowedly proslavery spirit, all would work out.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

But would Shannon follow the letter of the president’s instructions? When he came to Lawrence’s rescue, Shannon had shown himself not quite the proslavery partisan everyone had feared. Maybe he had gotten right by popular sovereignty when he saw how far things had gone, but Shannon had helped save Lawrence from a private army of hooligans which he had unwittingly mustered himself. When they went to Lawrence, they went to serve warrants that Shannon had seen issued. A public army legally under his control presented a different scenario entirely. Likewise the governor can’t have loved the news of a rival government to his own, headed by men he probably thought had tricked him. His charge to, in Brown’s words,

put down insubordination on the one hand, and prevent invasion on the other

might mean no more Charles Dows, Thomas Barbers, Samuel Collinses, or Reese Browns, but it could also mean calling out the army to break up the government at Topeka. Insubordination, to Shannon, might very well mean wildcat state governments as much as proslavery violence. Even if he struck at both equally, that would leave the Kansas that stolen elections had already wrought. That Kansas had slavery baked deep into its laws.

The Business of the Topeka Legislature with Respect to “that Ninney Frank Pierce”

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

The free state men had their illegal government up and running. Every district had its representatives, every office its occupant. The might not enjoy the blessing of the national government, from Franklin Pierce on down, but the United States had accepted wildcat state governments before. California entered the Union in late 1850 after establishing a similarly unauthorized operation. But California had no great internal dispute over slavery, which in itself contributed mightily to the controversy over its admission. Nor did it have proslavery neighbors bent on controlling its future for their own security or a federally-established territorial government to disregard. Still, the free state party in Kansas could reasonably claim that the territorial government had, at best, left them to the mercy of oft-violent and occasionally murderous Missourian invasions. More often, it seemed to act as an accessory to those invasions.

With the legislature in session and much work before it, one might expect the Topeka government to get right to business. They obliged, but only in part. As Charles Robinson’s government expected statehood in short order, the legislature named two senators. James Lane and Andrew Reeder, the latter already out of the territory to take up his post as its delegate to Congress, would serve nicely. They would come to Congress with a memorial explaining just what had happened in the nation’s most troubled territory.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The March 8 Herald of Freedom told its readers, under a testy note that people ought not come and loaf about in the editor’s office while he tried to work, that new news had come from the legislature. George Brown speculated that the legislature would adjourn by the middle of the week to come, with an eye toward drafting a basic code of laws and then coming back into session to consider them. Brown credited them legislators with more a little more ambition and daring than they then possessed. Nichole Etcheson relates in Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era that the Topeka revolutionaries, while very much impressed with themselves, opted for some prudence:

The new attorney general, H. Miles Moore, recorded in his journal on March 4, 1856, “Today has a new era dawned upon us today have the new State of Kansas been ushered into existence, & now having taken upon our slaves the oath to support that constitution in the mind of that ninney Frank Pierce we have committed the overt act of treason, and in the language of another, “if we do not all hang together we shall hang separate,’ so mote it be.” Although Moore was attorney general, neither he nor anyone else seemed sure of the legality of their actions. Both houses of the Topeka legislature passed resolutions deferring any enactment of laws they passed until after Congress’s acceptance of statehood. This deferment was done to avert the charges of treason for which they expected to be arrested.

Ninny or not, no one wanted to pick a fight with Frank Pierce’s army.

Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, and Dallas

I don’t know what to tell you, Gentle Readers. The people among us who think black Americans inherently death worthy, deserving of nothing more than the faintest pretense to justify their execution by anybody who happens by, had a great weekend. Police officers previously investigated for excessive use of force executed Alton Sterling. They had him on the ground, freshly tasered, and decided that he’d gone for his gun. Other officers, who don’t appear to have had problematic records, stopped Philandro Castile on the road. He told them that he had a legal firearm in his possession. One opened fire and Castile died of his wounds. We will probably never know everything that happened in either exchange, but selling CDs and broken tail lights don’t make for capital crimes in any sane system except one looking for excuses to kill.

Not that long ago, these incidents would have gone unmarked outside the communities involved. The internet, smartphones, and a markedly less white America have done much to change that. To some degree, we could argue that the fact that the police don’t murder black Americans, or other minorities, as cavalierly as they have in the past makes the exceptions more notable. That these things now generate nationwide protests speaks to the progress, however tenuous, we have made in the past few decades. We still suffer no dearth of people happy to admire the murders, more who will justify and excuse them, and still more who stand by and watch. None of them pulled the trigger, but each in a small way acted as a co-conspirator.

Those people, like the shooters, come from somewhere. We produce them and encourage them to continue on. We feed them on myths of black criminality stretching all the way back to slavery. James Jackson believed in the 1790s that freedpeople would inevitably turn to crime. His and subsequent generations of enslavers believed that every slave, however declared happy, plotted to overthrow slavery and murder all the white people from newborn children to doddering senior citizens. A black person managed the remarkable feat, through some strange property of skin color, of simultaneous complete incapacity and peerless destructive power. If we have put slavery behind us, for the most part, then we have not put away the enslavers’ stories.

A nation that defined itself on violent opposition to tyranny could find many heroes in how the enslaved resisted their enslavement. We could put up a Nat Turner monument between Lincoln’s and Washington’s. We could put up a statue of Gabriel in Richmond. If we truly believe that the cause of freedom sometimes justifies great violence, Nat and Gabriel deserve monuments more than George Washington. He won his nation’s everlasting gratitude by killing a large number of British people, as well as some German mercenaries and American loyalists who we like to pretend didn’t exist. If we insist on keeping famous monuments strictly a whites only affair, then we could do better by John Brown than the impressive mural in Kansas. Washington’s example shows that we don’t take intramural violence between whites as cause to disqualify someone. Should we decide that watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants makes for the best sort of American, how can we exclude them?

As a nation, we don’t take the slave’s cause as just. We don’t see ourselves in them or their history as part of our own. We traditionally reserve that privilege to white men. As such, we take our side with the tyrants and despots. If we did otherwise, we might have to take a harder look at how we’ve arranged our society.

Which brings me to Dallas, where the end of a peaceful protest of Sterling’s and Castile’s murders ended with a black man murdering five, and injuring still more, the police officers then protecting the protesters. The news reports tell me that he did it in response to the killings. Should we mourn him as a martyr for freedom’s cause?

I have spent some time thinking about that. I don’t know if I have the right answer, or even a marginally good one, but I don’t think so. While a pacifist, I don’t see it as remotely my place to play the part of white man telling someone from a marginalized group how he should or should not behave. White men do that quite enough without my help. Murdering police will prove decidedly counterproductive, feeding into the very fears of the whites already already sympathetic to the idea that black people just need killing. But having heard often enough as a gay man that I ought to keep quiet and not do anything to arouse the hatreds of people who already wish me ill, I don’t think that makes for a good argument either. Hatred will always find a way, requiring mere existence alone to justify it. I do believe that we simply ought not to kill each other, period, but I know that argument will only persuade fellow pacifists.

What then distinguishes a slave uprising from violence directed at white supremacy today? Police officers represent all of us. We grant to them vast powers, in all likelihood more than we ought to, and defer to them much more than we should about how those powers get used. But they are the agents of a democratic state and free society. A violent attack upon the police as a class is thus an attack on free government itself, seeking to replace it with the rule of brute force. As countless examples attest, everyone but the especially brutal and malicious loses out in that scenario. We ought not do things which will empower the worst among us.

One can argue, rightly, that this government has a human rights record nearly sui generis in its horrors. It may not deserve all the respect we grant it. Its agents, police included, have very often served to frustrate and destroy the ends to which they have notionally pledged themselves. Many of these abuses continue today and fall disproportionately on people who I do not know and who do not look like me. In dismissing them, I have the privilege that white skin grants.

But the same government that stole lives and land, which protected slavery until the last possible instant, which stood by and cheered as white lynched blacks and white terror took back from the freedpeople almost all the gains they achieved, then did much of it all over again a century thereafter, is also the government that ended slavery and struck back against Jim Crow, against lynching, and now has a black man at its head. We congratulate ourselves far too easily about the progress we have made, often with the clear purpose of reversing it. I am no patriot; patriots and I get on poorly. I will not say that enough has been done to right past or present wrongs, or even that we have exerted ourselves consistently or in good faith toward those ends. But we no longer have a state which declares white power its ultimate objective and defends it to the point of absolute omnipotence over black lives and bodies. Its peaceable means of redress are often feeble, always slow, and frequently fail. But they do exist and have been used successfully. We have gotten better before; we can keep getting better. If we accept violence only as a last resort then we fall far short of requiring it now.

I write this from one of the most staggeringly privileged positions in all human history. My life is not at stake. I hope in writing this, in thinking these things, I haven’t simply turned a mirror on myself and found in it the glorious permission to dictate to the rest of humanity. I don’t think I have, but we always fool ourselves the best.

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.

One Resolution from Tecumseh

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

While the free state men got their government together, the proslavery men hadn’t sat on their hands. They too got news of Franklin Pierce’s special proclamation on Kansas’ troubles. The Squatter Sovereign and Herald of Freedom both reported on a “spontaneous” meeting at Tecumseh Court House on February 13, 1856. According to the Sovereign, that meeting constituted

the largest and most enthusiastic gathering of the inhabitants of central Kansas that had ever been held in the Territory. Pursuant to a spontaneous call that had been issued upon receipt of the President[‘]s Special Message, the settlers assembled, irrespective of party to manifest their devotion to the Union and confidence in Republican Government.

Republican in form, not party.

If you read the Herald of Freedom, you learned instead that Pierce’s proclamation had “a favorable effect” on proslavery men. At Tecumseh, “the few pro-slavery people who reside in that vicinity” got together to have speeches made at them and resolutions “very moderate in tone compared with the past, albeit eulogistic of the President.”

However many people showed up, they published their resolutions. George Washington Brown printed one of them:

we consider the present as a most auspicious time for the true patriots, bona fide settlers and conservative men of all classes to come to a perfect understanding and unite upon one Platform. The supremacy of the Laws-sovereignty of the People of the Territory, and Non-intervention with or from the people of the States.”

According to Brown, this was near to capitulation. Chastened by Pierce’s pretend neutrality, proslavery Kansans had come around to the free state cause. He editorialized in the finest grace, commencing with “Better late than never.” They ought to have gotten religion on Kansas two years prior. Instead

While you and your confederate scoundrels in Missouri have ignored the Democratic rule of Popular sovereignty, and reckless of the consequences substituted the savage law of Might, the Free State party, embracing nine-tenths of the actual settlers, have adhered to that principle steadfastly-keeping it before them as their guide […] You espouse the cause of popular rule too late in the day. We haven’t much faith in the honesty of your professions; but there is some hope if you prove true in the future.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Gentle Readers, if you remember Franklin Pierce’s decidedly hostile attitude toward the free state movement, as expressed in the very message that prompted the meeting at Tecumseh, you might wonder just of which sort of tobacco the people there had partaken. The discrepancy in the size of the meeting between the two papers, one can attribute to partisanship. It did not suit George Washington Brown’s purpose to tell the world that a large group of proslavery men lived in Kansas. But it did not suit John Stringfellow’s purpose to suggest the numbers went against his side either. They can’t both be right and in giving the same date, place, and naming the same officers for the meeting establishes that both papers had the same event in mind. Someone lied.

“Martyrdom on the scaffold or the stake”

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Robinson concluded his first message (PDF) to Kansas’ new legislature with some further remarks on their situation. Everyone had seen Sheriff Jones taking names down as men came forward and swore their oaths of office. They might have exchanged some jokes or tossed a few insults his way, but everybody knew Jones meant business. Robinson didn’t name him, but none could have had to guess for long just who he meant when the new governor said

It is understood that the Deputy Marshal has private instructions to arrest the members of the Legislature and the State officers for treason as soon as this address is received by you. In such an event of course, no resistance will be offered to the officer.

The last time someone, Samuel Newitt Wood, offered resistance to Jones it ended with an army outside Lawrence. For all the bellicose language common in such times, the free state movement had barely gotten clear of that without a battle they might well have lost or, failing that, won at the expense of bringing the United States Army down on their heads.

The standards of manly performance would not allow Robinson to admit to that in so many words, but nineteenth century discourse permitted him other avenues:

Men who are ready to defend their own and their country’s honor with their lives, can never object to a legal investigation into their action, nor to suffer any punishment their conduct may merit. We should be unworthy the constituency we represent did we shrink from martyrdom on the scaffold or at the stake should duty require it. Should the blood of Collins and Dow, of Barber and Brown, be insufficient to quench the thirst of the President and his accomplices in the hollow mockery of “Squatter Sovereignty” they are practising upon the people of Kansas, then more victims must be furnished. Let what will come not a finger should be raised against the Federal authority until there shall be no hope of relief but in revolution.

If the vampiric president descended upon them, Robinson told the free state men to stand ready. Should Pierce throw a war, they ought to come. Should he martyr them, they died for righteousness’ sake and could claim whatever patriotic and heavenly blessings such an office would convey. Kansas had hard times yet ahead, Robinson averred, but together and putting their faith in the Almighty, “His wisdom who makes ‘the wrath of men praise him'” they would make their Kansas into the Kansas, a state of the Union free twice over. Their Kansas would have no slaves and no black Americans alike, preserving it for them and their posterity. To that cause, the Governor need not add, they would commit their lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor.

Nathaniel Banks

Nathaniel Banks

It must have made for a rousing read, thick with the patriotic and religious sentiments most potent to Robinson’s audience. But the bold words had to come with more than a hint of desperation. Jones would probably try nothing then and there, but what would happen down the road? The free state men had stuck their necks out, then stuck them out still further, in the hope that Congress would come to their rescue. That same Congress finally agreed on who ought to serve as Speaker of the House after a solid two months of debate, finally settling on a Know-Nothing antislavery man called Nathaniel Banks. They elected him on a plurality, not a majority, and it took one hundred and thirty-three ballots. The question of the free state government’s legitimacy could not hope to be any less explosive than that.

Governor Robinson’s Army

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I erred in scheduling it.

Charles Robinson, Kansas’ new Republican governor illegally and legitimately elected, had harsh words for the legally appointedillegally elected, illegitimate territorial government. Beyond words, he did not encourage Kansas’ newly-seated free state legislature to take radical steps. Rather they should endure what slings and arrows may come, waiting for Congress to come to the territory’s rescue by admitting them as a state. But forbearance only reached so far. The Governor preached both the standard points of a man in his position and something far more radical.

Kansas, Robinson told the legislature (PDF), had an Indian problem. At the very least, they needed to ensure no one plied the Indians with alcohol. Really, they ought to do more:

Exposed as our citizens are to the scalping-knife of the savage on the west, and to the revolver and hatchet of the assassin on the east, a thorough and early organization of the militia is urgently called for. By the Constitution, this duty devolves upon the General Assembly. Measures should at once be taken to encourage the organization of volunteer companies, and to procure the arms to which the State is entitled.

Robinson said something that most Americans would have found nigh-unthinkable. Kansas’ problem with proslavery Missourian invaders warranted more than ad hoc, informal, or private armed bands to repel. It deserved answering precisely the same way as the depredations of presumed savages. He specified that to the east, in Missouri, Kansas faced “assassins” rather than “savages” but he proscribed the same cure for both.

If the Assembly acted, then no longer would free state militias have to shelter under the paper he pushed on Wilson Shannon a few months back. This would both clean up the difficulty of militias drawing their legitimacy from a government they rejected and align the free state government officially with them. Few people could have taken past denials of militia involvement by the movement’s political arm seriously before now, but Robinson suggested that his new government needed a proper army. In an era when the United States had a tiny army, augmented greatly in time of war by state militias and other volunteers, this pushed very close to claiming the prerogatives of a nation as well as a state. Furthermore, by officially linking themselves to these militias Robinson and his administration made themselves clearly responsible.

Under ordinary circumstances, none of that would amount to much. Few more extraordinary circumstances have existed for an American government than Robinson’s. If his militia clashed with Missourians come over to help secure slavery in Kansas, then his government would exceed Missouri’s own. Given that the President of the United States had declared thoroughly for Kansas’ legal, proslavery government, this raised the serious specter that the Kansas free state militia might clash with militias in the national service. That, by any reasonable definition then or now, would make him a traitor.

The Plantation at the Polls

Gentle Readers, if you go around the right parts of the internet you will very quickly learn that the Democratic Party today is a thoroughgoing anti-black organization. As a large, old American institution traditionally dominated by white Americans, the probability of that may approach one more closely than mathematics can describe. This could make for a great opportunity to look into the ubiquity of white supremacy in American life. If that happened with any regularity, I would have to write about something else. Rather one sees the accusation levied as part of a decidedly odd line of partisan attack. Black Americans have voted Democratic in presidential elections in very large numbers for as far back as I can find polling data.

That data counts all “Nonwhite” Americans together for some time and so we should keep in mind that it doesn’t cover only black Americans, but it certainly includes them. They gave Adlai Stephenson 79% of their vote back in 1952. They preferred Kennedy to Nixon 68-32% in 1960. They turned out to the tune of 94% for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Eight-four percent of non-whites supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968. George McGovern won 87% of them over in 1972. The pattern continues. Come 2000, Gallup breaks the category down better and we learn that 95% of African-Americans supported Al Gore. Everybody who follows American politics at all knows this. It begs for an explanation.

It stands to reason that people of all colors and creeds don’t neatly settle in with one major party or the other. One would expect to find liberals, conservatives, and moderates in similar proportions in every demographic. Likewise, it would stand to reason that for historical reasons you may see some clustering one way or another. But cultural inertia seems very inadequate to explain why such vast majorities of African-Americans in particular and non-whites in general prefer Democratic presidents. Nor would it account for how black Americans voted quite enthusiastically for Republican candidates for as long as they could vote back in the later nineteenth century. How can we explain these numbers?

Call me reductive, but I operate under the theory that voters know their own business. They consult their knowledge, their personal experience, and their values. These lead them to make the choices they do in the voting booth. They might not make the same choices we think we would make in their position, but we make those judgments out of our own values, not theirs. We should not go about assuming the world full of nothing more than confused clones of ourselves that need setting right, unless we aspire to a singularly pathological species of narcissism. Thus I believe that people who vote differently from myself have made conscious decisions, to the best of an ability equal to my own, in accord with their genuine and most important interests. If we disagree, then we do so out of real difference.

This does not paint a very pretty picture of the voting public. For American minorities to vote so heavily Democratic means they understand the party at at least the lesser of two evils, the one likely to mistreat them less and do more of the things they would like to see done. I know this sounds partisan of me. I vote Democrat, so of course I want to believe awful things about the Republicans. But I know how the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, lost my vote. If I tell people that I disagree profoundly with their policies, then few people will doubt it. I have that privilege written right on my skin. I, a white man, deserve serious consideration as a thinker. I can consult my own interest and make informed decisions. My alignment doesn’t require a special explanation.

My fellow white Americans don’t seem near so eager to accept that premise when someone else asserts it. Go back to those aforesaid corners of the internet and you will learn that the Democrats have duped black Americans in particular, and minority Americans in general. The party hates them and has it out for them, but has so brainwashed them that they refuse to leave “the plantation.” This only makes sense two ways. Firstly, the Democrats have a peerless propaganda operation that can control the minds of literally millions of people at a time and get them all to act against what they understand as their best interests, year after year for decades on end. Does that sound like any Democratic party you’ve ever heard of? If it wielded that kind of power, then how have those donkey-headed wizards managed to lose so many elections?

This leaves us with door number two: minorities are too stupid to know what to do with themselves. They, as profound inferiors, require the guiding hand of a white man to set them right. They can’t possibly possess agency of their own.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

I wrote “the plantation” two paragraphs back because I’ve seen the metaphor used exactly that way more times than I care to count. It tells us more about the speaker than that they’ve heard of the nineteenth century. The idea that black Americans in particular just don’t know and can’t know how to govern themselves, but remain content to let whites govern them right down to whipping, rape, and innumerable mutilations of body, family, and life, has the best of nineteenth century pedigrees; it comes right out of proslavery literature. There the enslavers tell us, chapter and verse, that no slave would run or resist, save from madness, unless “enticed” or “corrupted” by meddling whites. Take it from Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil:

There were among us, too, a large number of free negroes, most of them, as usual, of bad character; their houses, the natural places of resort for abolitionists, at which to meet, and tamper with slaves, corrupt them, entice them to run away, and furnish them with facilities for escape.

I submit that black Americans and other minorities do not require liberation from the plantation the way that these sorts would have us believe. The only people who require corruption and enticement to depart it invented the metaphor. They, not the ancestors of slaves, refuse to depart the nineteenth century. But I grant them the courtesy they deny to others. I do not consider them dupes or fools. They know their interests, as whites, and vote to prosecute them to the fullest extent every time they go to the polls. If that comes at the cost of lives ruined and futures lost, then we shouldn’t view that as an accident any more than we should when we look at programs cherished by American leftists and see how they have systematically left black Americans out, or left them with mere scraps of what whites profited from. These things don’t just happen; we choose to make them happen.

Governor Robinson and Kansas’ Other Governments

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Robinson continued his message (PDF) to the free state legislature, leaving the American Indians behind in favor of the problems of white men. The territorial government came in for the usual castigation as a tool of Missourians accountable to them and to distant Washington, but not to actual Kansans. Then he moved on to a less abstracted and philosophical objection to the territory’s legal administration:

The Territorial Government should be withdrawn because it is inoperative. The officers of the law permit all manner of outrages and crime to be perpetrated by the invaders and their friends with impunity, while the citizens proper are naturally law-abiding and order-loving, disposed rather to suffer than do wrong. Several most aggravated murders on record have been committed, but as long as the murders are on the side of the oppressors no notice is taken of them. Not one of the whole number has been brought to justice, and not one will be by the Territorial officers.

If the government will not protect you from murder, why have it? Why respect its edicts when it does not respect your life? What legitimacy could a government made up of your attackers and those who stood by and let them rampage possibly have? Robinson told the legislators that Americans would suffer death, but not the dishonor of submitting to such a state. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, the Governor cast himself and his fellow white men in the role of slaves: expected to obey without consent, to respect that very state which seeks to destroy their lives.

And what hope could free state Kansans have for legal redress? Franklin Pierce declared against them. The ballot box? Between laws restricting the franchise to those willing to ‘bow the knee to the dark image of Slavery” and the President’s avowal of his own perfect impotence to protect the polls, they could forget it. In such a situation, Kansans had the right to create their own vehicle for self-government. Pierce could threaten them with the Army and the militias of other states

Undoubtedly one-half of this force will be all-sufficient to enable him to enforce any process, or to chop, shoot, and hang all the inhabitants. But all the armies and navies in the world could not make the people believe he had a right to do it.

If popular sovereignty meant that Washington could not intervene in the affairs of Kansas to decide on slavery, then why would it permit the marching of an army to settle other domestic political questions? By the official doctrine of the Democracy, the nation ought to let the free state government alone except so far as necessary to at once admit it to the Union.

Nor would Robinson hear any of Pierce’s complaints about his movement arising out of a single party, not representative of all Kansans like past territories had done when drafting their constitutions.:

If the people, or any portion of them, failed to participate, it was their own fault, and not the fault of those who were active. Democrats, Hards and Softs, Whigs, Hunkers and Liberals, Republicans, Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery men of all shades participated in the formation of the State Government, and if it be a party movement at all, it certainly cannot be a movement of one party alone.

Just who Robinson meant to call a proslavery man, I suspect few then knew. But everyone else had a say and if the proslavery men hadn’t voted then why should the antislavery men bear the burden of their refusal? The rule in the United States, and of Republics in general, demanded that the few yield to the wishes of the many. If they did not, why even have an election?