“A perfect levee” The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 23, 4

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder began his flight from Kansas, ahead of an order for his arrest and in fear for his life at the hands of his would-be captors, on May 9, 1856. He did not cross the Mississippi to Illinois until the night of May 26, landing a ways above Alton. There Reeder, no longer disguised, got a ride to Jerseyville, arranged a hotel room in the open and spent mercifully just the one night instead of the near two weeks he had hidden in a Kansas City hotel. At Brighton, he boarded a train for Chicago.

Reeder found Fogg and his baggage on the train, as planned. It turned out that luck had kept him from most of his belongings. While the ex-governor and his escort skulked through the Missouri woods the night previous,

the ruffians had broken open my trunk at Lawrence, stolen and put on my clothes, and chased Chapin, of Ohio, as he came out of the hotel, calling out that it was me, firing at him, and threatening to kill him; and there was a universal determination expressed among them to kill me.

Good for Reeder that he’d fled when he did.

At Chicago, Reeder got a hero’s welcome:

People came in crowds to look at and welcome me. In the evening, as I lay asleep on a sofa, a gentleman waked me up to say that there were a thousand people in front of the hotel calling for me. Went out on the balcony, was received with cheers upon cheers, made them a speech, and was kept all evening shaking hands. Had a perfect levee.

All of this makes Reeder sound a bit like a rock star to us, but the nineteenth century had the idea first. they called assembling where a politician you liked stayed and calling on him to come out and give a speech a serenade. Terming the ensuing reception a levee goes back at least to the Washington administration, where the first president endured them almost endlessly.

The 29th caw Reeder in Bloomington, where Illinois’ Kansas movement held a convention. There he met Sara Robinson, to his understandable surprise given her husband remained in proslavery custody, and addressed the assembly for two and a half hours. On the thirtieth and back in Chicago, Reeder went out and got his picture taken in his disguise “for my dear wife.” Reeder’s disguise, a footnote on his diary informs us, came in the original except for the hat and ax. Those he bought in Chicago.

The cause beckoned. At both Bloomington and Chicago, Reeder called for ten thousand free state men and two hundred dollars each “to equip and provision them for a year.” He hoped to see Illinois provide a thousand of them, half from Chicago and half the rest of the state. Afterwards, Reeder heard from a Major Jones that if the cash appeared, he could guarantee three hundred.

Heartened by that good news, Reeder

Slept to-night in a good bed – the first time I have done so, or had my clothes off, since the 22d.

The next day, Kansas fugitive ex-governor went to Detroit by rail and promptly got mobbed by admirers “who pressed all kinds of good offices upon me.” The Attorney General and Treasurer of Michigan called on him. Considering Reeder joined up with the antislavery cause to revive his political career and had just suffered so lengthy and trying a flight for his troubles, he must have found the reception incredibly gratifying.

2 comments on ““A perfect levee” The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Five

  1. Thank you SO much for what you do!!!!!

    My obsession (ask my significant other) is Southern newspapers, documents and speeches leading up to the Civil War, and necessarily, that is tantamount to an obsession about Kansas, particularly the role of Atchison and Stephen Douglas.

    I am still stunned, years after reading Sumner’s Crimes Against Kansas Speech, that so few (in fact zero, that I met ) people seem to know Sumner was talking about Atchison by name, his role in passing Kansas Act, then describing how Atchison went immediately to Kansas and starting his violence there.

    Sumner lists the killings, tortures, done by his men and men of like violence, many of them paid. Sadly Sumner’s manner of “flamboyant” speech can obscure the fact he was indeed talking for two days about Atchison actions, and what came from Atchison’s actions.

    Sumner also articulated what was well known then — the violence against anyone who even spoke against slavery, and woe to anyone who published anti slavery newspapers, because Atchison and his friends made it a crime to write against slavery publically.

    Am I mistaken there?

    I recall Lincoln’s letter to Speed where he mentioned Reeder. He mentioned Reeder was

    “Poor Reeder
    is the only public man who has been
    silly enough to believe that any thing
    like fairness was ever intended (by Kansas Act); and
    he has been bravely undeceived.”

    Speed was for hanging the men (like Stringfellow ,Atchison) responsible for the violence to spread slavery, but as Lincoln pointed out, that was in private conversation. In public and by voting, Democrats would support the killers they claimed to detest in private.

    Atchison’s speech, available online now, but available for 100 years in Kansas archives, was even

    I’ve got a lot to learn from your site. I also have to read and re-read the newspapers of the day, and thankfully many of Lincoln’s communications about this remain- -both public and private. In private he could be much more direct.

    I need to spend several full days — a week — just reading your stuff.

    Thanks again!!

    Mark Curran

    • Glad you’re enjoying the blog. 🙂

      I don’t think there’s much disagreement on Sumner referring to Atchison’s, and his co-conspirators’, works but the speech and resulting assault are strangely under-studied. I went digging back in the summer when I knew the blog was getting close to them and found two books. One has no citations or academic reviews, which I naturally found out after paying for a copy. The other is a very brief book with just one fairly neutral review that was clearly written to serve the supplementary reading in a survey course market. Both are recent, but largely ignored by the antebellum surveys that postdate them. What’s cited instead is a collection of sources. It’s pretty good, but not really an analytical work.

      You and Sumner are certainly right that the de facto policy in the South is freedom of speech applies only to proslavery speech. The bogus legislature outlawed, in as many words, the circulation of antislavery material. In most of the South the censorship is more informal and handled by the local postmaster at his own discretion. That’s not necessarily out of bounds by period standards, which hold to the test that speech a community deems of a bad tendency can rightly be prohibited, but antislavery Americans pounded on the point anyway. Stuff still gets, but not for lack of trying to stop it. The security of slavery is the ultimate issue in Southern politics, to which all other concerns must yield. That sometimes has the paradoxical effect that whites in less enslaved, less developed parts of the slave states are able to get concessions from the planter-dominated state governments by making threats against it.

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