The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Arrivals and returns have shaped much of Kansas history so far in 1856. The Buford Expedition and Howard Committee arrived in the territory to do their work. Pardee Butler and Samuel Wood came back to Kansas after time away. Just as some of Buford’s men, or a similar group, met Butler’s return to Kansas so did the Howard Committee find itself in Lawrence when Samuel Jones came to serve the warrant he had on Samuel Wood dating back to December. Jones’ subsequent arrests of six men who helped Wood escape him got him shot in the back. This naturally had an effect on the committee’s business in the town.

The Committee might not have gone to Lawrence. They received a letter from E.V. Sumner, in command at Fort Leavenworth, suggesting they meet there. He promised that

There may be no excitement if you assemble elsewhere, but there will certainly be none here.

They answered that they intended to conduct its business at various points in Kansas, but would happily take Sumner up on the offer when they came around his way. The first business in Kansas took place at Lecompton, where they ordered copies of various documents and agreed on the rules for examining witnesses. April 23 found them in Lawrence.

Decades later, John Sherman remarked on the great development of the region that had since taken place. They came to a different Lawrence, one

in embryo, nothing finished, and my wife and I were glad to have a cot in a room in the unfinished and unoccupied “Free State Hotel”

In those modest settings, the committee had a brief meeting on the twenty-third. They had previously agreed to use Andrew Reeder and John Whitfield, both claiming election as Kansas’ sole delegate to Congress, to draw up lists of witnesses for the next day. That night, Samuel Jones took a bullet in the back.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The next morning, Whitfield wrote to the committee. In light of the attack upon Jones, Whitfield pronounced himself

unable to get my witnesses to attend the sitting of the committee at this place; they refusing, and with good reason, to expose themselves and run the risk of being assassinated, whenever night shuts in, by a lawless band of conspirators.

Whitfield’s witnesses included Samuel Jones, who had more reason than most to refuse a trip to Lawrence. Others present at told the proslavery delegate they would leave Lawrence in short order. Nor would those who planned to come previously do so in light of the danger to their lives. Furthermore:

there are others here rendering me material aid in this investigation, and without whom I cannot safely proceed, whom I cannot ask to remain and imperil their lives in so doing, or at least subject themselves to insult and contumely.

One can’t blame them. Whitfield promised that he would still happily comply with the committee’s work and bring all his witnesses to bear, but they had to meet somewhere safer than Lawrence.

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“We know our rights and intend to have them” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Six

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

 

Robert S. Kelley’s lynch mob of South Carolinians did not shoot Pardee Butler, as some had wished. Nor did they hang him, as more had hoped. Their kangaroo court pronounced upon him, for daring come back to his family after having once suffered mob violence, tar, feathers, and thirty-nine lashes of the whip. On further consideration, the court struck out the whipping. This left the minister with the painful ordeal of pine pitch poured over his bare torso. In lieu of feathers, which Atchison had run out of that day, they applied cotton. Then they set Butler on his buggy and saw him on his way, with a promise that if he returned to the town again they would hang him.

The mob let Butler go at the outskirts of town, at which point he got his clothes about him as best he could and rode off into the cold April day. We might expect Butler to drop dead right there, as he had tar poured all over him. We imagine modern paving tar, which heats up to hundreds of degrees. Traditional tar and feathering used pine pitch, which could still give you burns but didn’t ordinarily get heated to the point that you may as well have lain down inside a stove. That doesn’t mean Butler felt no pain at all, but in the main you tarred and feathered someone for the humiliation value. His account doesn’t mention burns or blisters and the minister had no reason to soft pedal his ordeal. Instead he notes that he returned to his loved ones, children included, in that state.

It was a sorrowful meeting after so long a parting, still we were very thankful that, under the favor of good Providence, it had fared no worse with us all.

Butler had escaped worse, no doubt. He made it home to his family without a whipping, hanging, or shooting. But the first time they saw him in months, he came to them the victim of a public shaming and fresh off a near-fatal ordeal. That had to frighten and pain everyone in the house. The minister would not let his readers forget how he and his earned all this:

The head and front of my offending hath this extent, no more: I had spoken among my neighbors favorably to making Kansas a free State, and said in the office of the Squatter Sovereign, “I am a Free-soiler, and intend to vote for Kansas to be a free State.”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Of course, Butler knew he did not suffer alone. He linked his prior travail to the rising of the free state movement in Kansas, which back then didn’t even have a formal political party. He and his neighbors had chosen to leave it for the proslavery side to strike first, from religious scruples and probably in light of just how many proslavery men lived in the vicinity. Yet

There are many Free-soilers in this country-brave men-who have no conscientious scruples to hinder them from arming themselves and preparing to repel force with force. The Border Ruffians sought by a system of terrorism so to intimidate the Free-soilers as to prevent them from organizing a Free-soil party, or even discussing the subject of freedom and slavery in Kansas.

Butler respected scruples against arms, but also the choice to bear them. His group “deprecated violence” and preferred “peaceful discussion.” Butler’s calling required no less of him, and made him see it as “most fitting” that such a person

should put to the test of actual experiment whether an American citizen of blameless life could be permitted to enjoy the right of free speech […] such views being uttered without anything of angry, abusive, or insulting language.

That kind of thing “was worth as much as a man’s life” in Atchison. This, to his mind, put the situation well beyond that of ordinary carping. He hadn’t lost a street brawl or some trifle, but suffered attack for exercise of his sacred rights as an American. Thus he told the world that this terrorism would not prevail:

we know our rights and intend to have them.

 

Three-Fifths: A Capitulation Revisited

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry

Gentle Readers, I’ve previously written a mixed assessment of the three-fifth’s compromise. It did not work out as an extremely moderate antislavery measure, but I thought it had that potential when written. I have since learned from Paul Finkelman’s Slavery and the Founders that I have that wrong. On closer examination, it doesn’t even much deserve the label of compromise.

The story I believed works out like this: The South wanted to count 5/5 of its slaves for purposes of representation, but 0/5 of those same slaves toward any tax obligations that the national government levied on the states. The freer states objected, instead avowing just the opposite. The South deserved no reward for enslaving black Americans, but rather ought to undertake additional obligations because it had done so and the North would be called upon to suppress slave revolts should they come. The South would hardly have occasion to return the favor. Thus they split the difference at 3/5 for both and everyone goes home in possession of a settlement their white constituents can live with.

Finkelman looked at the dates and came out with something different. The Constitutional Convention debated the basis for representation at length, as we all learn in school. They eventually agree that representation should flow from population, rather than wealth or land values. Having decided that, they must grapple with who to count. Slaves constitute a substantial part of the Southern population, near half in some states. A great deal hangs on whether they get counted or ignored. The initial plan calls for a count based on free individuals, so no slaves at all.

As soon as this reaches the floor, South Carolina rises to object. Their delegation insists upon counting all the slaves along with the free inhabitants. They do not offer to undertake additional tax liability in exchange, but simply demand that their slave property count as people. The familiar ratio comes out of this, apparently in the hopes of getting ahead of both proslavery and antislavery opinion. In the North, delegates could sell the Constitution on how they prevented full slave representation. In the South, they could argue that they had secured most of what they wanted.

The vote over the ratio occasions little debate, save Elbridge Gerry’s objection:

Blacks are property, and are used to the southward as horses and cattle to the northward; and why should their representation be increased to the southward on account of the number of slaves, than horses or oxen to the north?

One must look at this in context. No slave state counted slaves for representation in their legislatures at the time. The southern delegates didn’t ask for something they already did at home, but a specific and additional security for their human property through disproportionate presence in the Congress, which then carries over into the Electoral College and elsewhere. Those extra votes prove instrumental in every sectional crisis resolved by legislation. As Finkelman puts it

Thus, with little debate, the Convention initially accepted the three-fifths clause as a basis for representation. The clause, giving the South an enormous political leverage in the nation, was accepted without any quid pro quo from the North. Application of the clause to taxation would not come until later in the Convention. Indeed, there was no reason in mid-June to believe it would ever be applied to taxation.

We have something different indeed from a compromise. Instead the framers did just as they and their descendants would spend the next eighty years doing: making capitulations to the South in order to help the section preserve slavery. Only later does the tax liability come into things and it direct taxation of the states falls out of favor right about the time Southerners achieve full control of the government. This restored the original 3/5 compromise: extra power for the South and slavery with nothing granted in exchange. The slave states got, as they usually did, license to put their thumb on the scale of law whilst demanding everyone else abide by the fair weight.

“It was a cold, bleak day.” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Five

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

We left Pardee Butler having a bad day. He came back to Atchison, months after his previous near-murder, hoping to make a quick stop and get on to his claim and his family. The mob which had taken him proposed shooting and hanging, the ringleader had other plans. Robert S. Kelley, now on his second proslavery, anti-Butler mob, preferred to humiliate and torture Butler. He had taken the same route previously and Butler believed, reasonably enough, that Kelley preferred to keep his hands clean once things had proceeded to a proper fake trial instead of a spontaneous mobbing. Kelley’s name ran right under John Stringfellow’s on the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead, so attaching it to a murder might complicate the paper’s appeal to slavery’s friends outside the Kansas-Missouri border.

Kelley did not preside over Butler’s show trial, but the man who did recognized his motion

by saying, “It is moved that Butler be tarred and feathered and receive thirty-nine lashes.” A majority said “Aye,” though a number of voices said “No.”

Butler recalled that he wondered “how that sort of thing of thing would work as far north as the latitude of Kansas, which sounds like one of those incongruous thoughts one has in trying times.

The mob consulted amongst themselves, whispering and exhibiting “dark, threatening, and ominous looks.” When their judge came out again, he declared that they would strike the whipping. That made it a less apt punishment for a man who earned Kelley’s wrath in part for refusal to endorse the whipping of another. Butler didn’t know what inspired the change, however welcome. He then had other things to think about, as the court remanded him to the unhappy South Carolinians.

They muttered and growled at this issue of the matter. They said, “If we had known it would come out this way, we would have let —- —- shoot Butler at the first. he would have done it quicker than a flash.” One sharp-visaged, dark-featured South Carolinian, who seemed to be the leader of the gang, was particularly displeased. With bitter curses he said, “I am not come all the way from South Carolina, spending so much money to do things up in such a milk-and-water style as this.”

Cruel disappointment all around. They abided by the rituals the Kansans and Missourians liked in their lynch mobs and got no lynching for their trouble. All the same,

They stripped me naked to my waist, covered my body with tar, and for the want of feathers applied cotton. Having appointed a committee of seven to certainly hang me the next time I should come into Atchison, they tossed my clothes into my buggy, put me therein, accompanied me to the outskirts of the town, and set me naked out upon the prairie. It was a cold, bleak day.

“We will tar and feather you” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Four

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Pardee Butler, freshly returned to Atchison, in the hands of a mob led by Robert S. Kelley for the second time in less than a year. They hauled him into a saloon and one of the mob tried to convince the minister to try for a duel. Others wanted to hang him then and there. A Virginia-born Missourian slaveholder, Judge Tutt, stood up in Butler’s defense. He argued that simply murdering an enemy would discredit the good name of proslavery. This moved enough hearts and minds to get Butler a trial, of sorts. The mob took him to another building and convened a kangaroo court.

Kelley served as the prosecution, laying out his story of how Butler opposed slavery in Kansas. Butler then rose in his own defense,

but I was jerked to my seat and so roughly handled that I was compelled to desist.

Judge Tutt tried to step in once more, but Kelley would have none of his ruining the fun. He demanded to know if Tutt “belong[ed] to Kansas.” That must have seemed rich, coming from a longtime ally of border ruffians like Kelley. Tutt answered back that he did not hail from Kansas, but meant to settle in Atchison come the fall. By the ordinary proslavery standard for such things, this made Tutt into a perfectly good Kansan. Even if it did not, Tutt argued that Missouri and Kansas had “identical” interests in the case. Atchison natives Chester Lamb and Samuel Dickson, a lawyer and merchant respectively, took up the same line.

While these gentlemen were speaking, I heard my keepers mutter, “—-. If you don’t hush up, we will tar and feather you.” But when Kelley saw how matters stood, he came forward and said he “did not take Butler to have him hung, but only tarred and feathered”

Thus, for the second time, Robert Kelley plays the part of both Butler’s destroyer and savior. Back in August he got up the mob, but allegedly miscounted its votes to spare Butler. Now he would do it all again. Butler didn’t buy it. He told the Herald of Freedom

Yet in the saloon he had said to the mob: “You shall do as you please.” He dared not take the responsibility of taking my life, but when these unfortunate men, whose one-idea-ism on the subject of slavery and Southern rights has become insanity-when these irresponsible South Carolinians, sent out to be bull dogs and blood hounds for Atchison and Stringfellow-when they could be used as tools to take my life, he was ready to do it.

That sounds like the Robert S. Kelley who appears in Butler’s previous travail. Hindsight might have made the sequel especially apparent to Butler, but he can’t have known that he would end up in the same situation months later when he wrote the paper of his original ordeal. Nor does it strain the imagination to think of Kelley as the sort who wants people killed, but prefers others do the killing. No era has suffered any dearth of such people.

“They were going to hang me” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Three

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

 

Parts 1, 2

At the end of April, 1856, Pardee Butler returned to Kansas. He still had a claim and family in the territory and had promised on the occasion of his near-lynching that he would come back. A brief visit in November had the minister pass through Atchison, the sight of his previous travail, with no difficulty. This time around, a contingent of newly-arrived South Carolinian militants led by Robert S. Kelley seized Butler almost on arrival. They hauled him out of his buggy and into a saloon, demanding his execution. For the second time in less than a year, Butler faced a proslavery mob in Atchison headed by Kelley. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

In the saloon, a man quizzed Butler. He wanted to know if the minister had come to Atchison with a gun. Butler had not.

He handed me a pistol and said, “There, take that, and stand off ten steps; and —-, I will blow you through in an instant.”

The Reverend Butler did not consider it any part of his Christian duty to oblige, telling them he had no use for their guns. He reports that this exchange pleased the mob, as it satisfied their sense of honor. His questioner didn’t take it so well

but his companions dissuaded him from shooting me, saying they were going to hang me.

That distinction mattered. Duels took place between equals, so to challenge Butler recognized him as a gentleman. To simply seize and hang the minister instead would show his inferiority as well as his mortality. You hanged criminals and, per the law, living while antislavery in Kansas did constitute something near to a crime all in itself.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The mob didn’t need to explain this, to Butler or themselves. They just proceeded with the plan, pinning the minister’s arms behind his back and getting a rope. Then a Missourian, Judge Tutt of St. Joseph, stepped in. He introduced himself as a good southerner and an elder who deserved their attention. From Virginia originally, he had long lived in Missouri and owned slaves there. He wanted Kansas as a slave state. He agreed with the mobs ends completely, but

you will destroy the cause you are seeking to build up. You have taken this man, who was peaceably passing through your streets and along the public highway, and doing no person any harm. We profess to be ‘Law and Order’ men, and ought to be the last to commit violence.

If Butler had broken some law, then the mob should see him tried properly. Otherwise they would discredit their cause and so betray Kansas and Missouri alike. The invocation of law and order didn’t convince anyone to do something crazy like hand Butler over to a sheriff, but it seems to have persuaded some that they had more work to do before fitting the minister with a hemp necklace:

They dragged me into another building, and appointed a moderator, and got up a kind of lynch law trial.

 

“Kill him! Kill him!” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Two

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

We have the election today, Gentle Readers. I hope you will cast your ballots, however you cast them, untroubled by any forceful echoes of the history we deal with here.

Into the presently brewing Kansas strife returned Pardee Butler. He had followed the news out of Kansas since departing the territory in the fall of 1855, but come April he returned all the same. The minister had a money and time invested in a claim On that claim, Butler had built a house where his wife, their children, and her brother lived in his absence. Samuel Wood slept there the night after he escaped from Jones’ custody.

What befell Pardee Butler next, we have from his Personal Recollections by a circuitous route. Butler wrote it all down in a letter to the Herald of Freedom, just as he had the story of his previous mistreatment. He presents it as the original letter, but Butler’s daughter finished the book and adds a note that the minister had not retained a copy of the letter he sent. Due to events we will soon come to, Butler didn’t get a full copy of that edition of the Herald, but rather “only a mutilated copy of it.” Another paper reprinted the letter in part and Butler reassembled the original from the two.

Butler told the Herald that he had first come back to Kansas in November, where he visited Atchison in the full light of day, declared himself, and went about his business without trouble. Tempers seem to have cooled since his near-lynching in August. Despite the dire news, he seems to have thought he would have the same reception again. On April 30, he crossed the Missouri river and called at Atchison again. This time, Butler didn’t do much to draw notice to himself. He touched base with two businessmen who he had dealt with previously.

Having remained only a few moments, I went to my buggy to resume my journey, when I was assaulted by Robert S. Kelley, co-editor of the Squatter Sovereign, and others, was dragged into a saloon, and there surrounded by a company of South Carolinians, who are reported to have been sent out by a Southern Emigrant Aid Society. In this last mob I recognized only two that were citizens of Atchison or engaged in the former mob.

The speed of Butler’s seizure suggests that Kelley had advance word of his arrival. He doesn’t say it in as many words, but he seems to intend us to understand the man who passed him on the road as carrying the news ahead.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Butler stressed the novelty of most of his attackers. The Squatter Sovereign speaks of the same group in other contexts, so we have good reason to believe Butler didn’t change the facts to further dramatize the story or spare himself the enmity of anyone still in Atchison. He understood them as another species of border ruffian, not interested in claims or making new homes for themselves, eschewing legitimate business in favor of proslavery militancy. That also roughly matches the Sovereign’s description.

These worthies

yelled, “Kill him! Kill him! Hang the —- Abolitionist.”

 

Was Lincoln A Third Party Candidate?

LincolnGentle Readers, I don’t intend today’s post as a commentary on the election come Tuesday. Anybody who reads me for any length of time can figure out who I think you should also support. But I do hope you vote, even if you vote differently. Refraining from exercising your franchise does not make you innocent of any consequences, upon yourself or others. When one doesn’t act to stop something, one has acquiesced in its happening. That’s true no matter how you would cast your ballot.

That said, you often hear that Lincoln ran as a third party candidate or that the Republicans constitute the nation’s only successful third party. These two claims rely on largely the same facts, so I shall treat them together.

When we refer to a third party, we mean a party beyond the big two of the Democrats and Republicans. Every other party counts as a third and just which of the big two holds the top spot can vary from cycle to cycle. The same definition would hold for the nineteenth century, which had its own plethora of small political movements. Lincoln and his generation came of age during the Second Party System, which pitted the Democrats against the Whigs. Most of the time, the Democrats had the upper hand and the Whigs had a remarkably poor run of luck with their presidential candidates. They elected two presidents, both of whom died in office and thus gave way to a vice-president of rather different ideological cast.

Knowing about the Democrats and the Whigs, and knowing Lincoln and many other Republicans as former Whigs, we might assume we have found a third party movement. A closer look reveals something different. The Whig coalition collapses over the course of the early 1850s. They elected a president, Zachary Taylor, in 1848. They tried to elect another, Winfield Scott, in 1852. Come 1856, no one runs for the White House on the Whig ticket.

The end of a movement always involves endless complexities and we can find old school Whigs holding on or trying to revive conservative Whiggery (by no means the only form) in various ways up through 1860. The Republicans themselves thought they had a chance at it during Reconstruction. But as a practical matter, the national party dies at some point between 1854 and 1856. Slavery in the territories killed it. The prolonged crisis over slavery in the Mexican Cession demonstrated to the Lower South that Southern Whigs could not control or restrain their antislavery counterparts in the North, gravely wounding a party that already had a northward tilt. The Kansas-Nebraska Act extended the process to the Upper South, if not quite so completely, and produced the nation’s first lasting and avowedly antislavery party: the Republicans.

The process by which that party came together involves quite a bit more than old Whigs just changing names. Former Democrats came over into the party, as did many supporters of the much more fringe Liberty Party. Together with northern Whigs, generally but not always those more to the left than the rest, they created a party which had plenty of Whiggery in it but also important infusions of Democratic antislavery thought. In the South, most ex-Whigs either quit politics or went into the Democracy, Alexander Stephens’ path, or joined with more conservative Whigs in the Know-Nothing movement in the middle years of the decade. Northern Know-Nothings usually ended up Republicans a bit further down the line. During the transition, a confusing morass of political labels abounded and it seemed for a time that the Know-Nothings might take the Whigs’ place as the nation’s second party. In the end, antislavery proved a more potent platform than nativism.

That leaves us with the Republicans, arguably as of 1856 and definitely by 1860, at least the nation’s second party. That they formed out of fragments of prior coalitions doesn’t materially change that. The GOP contended with the Democrats for control of the nation’s course, possessing as they did sufficient influence to shoulder aside and consign other competitors to marginal status, precisely as the principals in a two-party system do.

Of course, none of those means we should overlook the complexity of the 1860 election. Four men won electoral votes in that race, or rather two each won votes in two parallel races. In the free states, Lincoln faced off against Stephen Douglas of the northern Democracy. In the slave states, where for the most part Lincoln didn’t even appear on the ballot, John C. Breckinridge competed against John Bell of the Constitutional Union party. If one wants to find third party candidates in the race, then all three of Lincoln’s opponents have a case for them.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas went to the Democratic National Convention at Charleston, South Carolina as the favorite for the nomination. However, he had turned against the proslavery government in Kansas and split from the national party over the issue. In order to prove his bona fides, southern delegates wanted Douglas to sign on to a slave code for the territories. Douglas refused and they walked out. Attempts to get the southerners back into the room failed, which eventually left a rump to nominate Douglas as arguably the regular Democratic candidate. His supporters didn’t walk out, after all. Douglas came in dead last in the electoral vote, winning only Missouri and part of New Jersey’s slate, a decidedly third party sort of performance. But Douglas did represent the ordinary Democracy and garnered second in the popular vote.

John C. Breckinridge

John C. Breckinridge

The Democrats who seceded from the party, most of them soon to secede from the Union too, nominated John C. Breckinridge. As a splinter of a still-extant party, Breckinridge’s looks like a third party movement. He came in third in the popular vote, but second in the electoral college. However, Breckinridge also represents the long-dominant constituency within the Democracy. If Douglas came to the polls at the head of the institutionally regular Democracy, then Breckinridge represented the beating heart of the coalition: Southerners committed to slavery’s perpetuation and expansion.

John Bell (Whig-TN)

John Bell

Which leaves us with John Bell. Bell, like Lincoln, hailed from the Whig Party back in the day. His Constitutional Union party aimed to revitalize conservative Whiggery and its platform as an alternative to the slavery question, containing and frustrating agitation on, and functionally against, the issue through a kind of revitalized Second Party System. Bell won his own Tennessee, as well as Virginia and Kentucky. Both of the latter had long Whiggish associations. While Bell would surely have liked to see a president in the mirror come March of 1861, the realistic hope of his movement involved denying both Lincoln and Breckinridge an electoral college majority. That would have thrown the presidency into the House, where his candidacy might seem like the best compromise to keep the Union together by the skin of its teeth rather than burst it asunder. If we consider third parties oriented around disruption of the dominant political system and aimed at reorienting it from its dominant issues, Bell makes the best third party candidate in the race.

Abraham Lincoln ran as and considered himself a Whig until the Whigs expired. He then made himself a Republican and remained with the party until Ford’s Theater. In both cases, he consciously chose a position as a regular, loyal party man for one of the two dominant parties of the era. Of all the men who sought the nation’s highest office in 1860, Lincoln deserves the third party title least of all. If a third party designation means anything useful at all and we care about understanding the past through it, then it must mean the opposite of Lincoln.

The Return of Pardee Butler, Part One

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

According to the Squatter Sovereign, the news of Samuel Jones’ shooting by an antislavery man in Lawrence had set Atchison’s proslavery men to readying their arms. Some new arrivals from South Carolina formed a military company, one of two then extant. The paper itself, believing Jones dead, demanded bloody revenge. One of their own, a trusty, violent proslavery man had caught a bullet. They preferred to reserve that undertaking to their enemies. One might dismiss the violent language as so much bluster, but proslavery men had killed or threatened to kill before for less provocation. Slavery’s partisans in Kansas had even turned the murder of an antislavery man by one of their own into cause for an invasion that came close to ruining Lawrence.

Closer to home, the same community had turned on Pardee Butler when he refused to endorse the whipping of an antislavery man. Robert S. Kelley, the junior editor of the Sovereign, led the mob that seized the minister, hauled him down to the Missouri River, and nearly killed him there. After a “trial” of two hours’ length, the mob put him into the Missouri on a raft with a flag declaring him an abolitionist. They didn’t kill him themselves, but anybody on the river might have seen the flag and tried their aim. Butler left an Atchison quite happy to see the back of him, but when he departed he promised that he would return to see to his claim.

Understandably, Butler didn’t rush right back to Atchison. He spent the winter of 1855-6 in Illinois, following the news out of Kansas. This convinced him that he would best wait before trying to evangelize the territory again. But return he did, first for a brief visit in November and then again, arriving in Atchison on April 30. Butler’s return doesn’t receive a mention in Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas, as more weighty matters transpire at the same time. I include it here, drawing from his Personal Recollections, because it clarifies a few issues and serves as a more material illustration of Atchison’s present state of discontent.

On the first point, Butler reports

The news of the coming of the South Carolinians had not reached Illinois when I started for Kansas, but when I had reached Western Missouri the country was alive with excitement. Maj. Jefferson Buford had arrived with 350 soldiers, and a part of them were quartered in Atchison.

The records I have of Buford’s movements place their arrival slightly later. Butler did write thirty years after the fact and might have confused things, but with him and the contemporary paper both identifying an existing group of South Carolinians who came with military intentions, I feel less inclined to chalk it up to a mistake. Most likely, some of Buford’s men had gone on ahead. Maybe those in Atchison come from the first “deserters” who had expected Buford to provide for them until they could find and settle claims.

Butler still had friends in Kansas. They told him to stay away, but the minister persisted in his course. His last night in Missouri, a fellow staying at the same hotel chatted Butler up. They didn’t bring up the slavery question, which Butler remarks that everyone else talked about. The next morning, they met again on the road to Atchison. The gentleman rode up beside Butler’s buggy and they talked some more, before he rode on ahead.

Butler told his readers that they would, “recognize this gentleman again in Atchison.”

Proslavery Men Standing Ready

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

The Squatter Sovereign declared its editors insurrectionists-in-waiting. They had enough of Wilson Shannon and Franklin Pierce telling them they couldn’t march out and destroy Lawrence. The abolitionists, who had shot the brave Samuel Jones, must face the music and they aimed to play it. This time, no governor would get in their way and no presence of US Dragoons would change their minds. If the abolitionists could shoot a man with a military guard, why couldn’t they? A body can only bear so many cruel disappointments.

John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley had more than bluster and a personal willingness to kill in their arsenal. A separate item on the same page of the paper informs readers

Since the rumor of an outbreak at Lawrence, there have been two companies, containing about seventy men each, under arms in this city and ready to start at a moment’s warning, to the next of war. From information received, we are inclined to think that the law and order party will be again compromised and another treaty made with the lawless scamps. “It is entirely too humiliating,” Governor Shannon thinks, “to require these traitors to give up their arms,” but they can, with perfect impunity, resist the laws of the Territory, and shoot down officers of the law […] and then are recognized as equals with the Government party and peace made with them on favorable terms.

They tried that, against the proslavery party’s will, back in December. April had come and brought this result. Proslavery men needed not just to take matters into their own hands, but keep them or Shannon would surely frustrate them once more. The governor, proslavery or not, aimed to prevent the effusions of blood to which Stringfellow and Kelley aspired.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

To tell readers more about those two companies, the Sovereign printed this item:

Our young friends from South Carolina, who have settled in this city, wishing to be in a situation when called upon, to render the best service possible to the officers of the law who might need their assistance in punishing abolitionists and other offenders, have wisely formed themselves into a Rifle Company, and elected as their Captain, a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy. A finer body of men, we have never seen together, and if they do not prove efficient soldiers, we are no judge of the ability of men. Should this Company ever be called out against the traitors at Lawrence, terrible, indeed, will be the effect.

These men sound like members of Jefferson Buford’s expedition. According to Walter Fleming (PDF), Buford’s group didn’t arrive in Kansas until May 2, but he puts them in Kansas City and Westport before that. This would place the four hundred or so proslavery men right on the border around the time of the article, but rather farther to the south than Atchison. Some of Buford’s men might have gotten out ahead of him, but given he paid their passage that seems unlikely. More probably, the paper refers to some men from South Carolina and possibly elsewhere who united under a Carolinian leader.

This company held a meeting and placed itself as the disposal of William C. Richardson, general in the Kansas militia,and organized themselves for military action. Had they come with Buford’s party, they would have already had organization.