The Transformation of Kansans, Part Two

 

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

We left George Brown’s Herald of Freedom worried about the state of things in Kansas. He painted a nightmarish picture of women in arms and traumatized children who would want revenge against the Slave Power for what it had done or might soon do to their fathers. Brown’s piece drips with nineteenth century domestic sentimentality, but that doesn’t make the feelings behind it less real. He may have exaggerated the number of women and children learning to shoot and keeping guns on hand, but men of the time really did believe that to drive their dependent loved ones to war represented an invasion of the home and a breach of the natural order. We might not express it in such gendered terms, but how many of us want our loved ones to live in a war zone?

Yet Kansas had come to that. A cynical reader might argue that Brown could have made that argument at any point in Kansas’ history. He came to the territory to make it free and so has a vested interest in making things sound dire as possible to shake loose donations for his cause. Maybe so, but Brown told his readers that he did not come to a Kansas so far gone as this:

One year ago the majority of the people of Kansas were decidedly friendly to slaveholders, or indifferent to their claims. Not one in twenty could be found here, who was reputed an abolitionist in the place from which he came. The people were nearly unanimous in condemning a man who was reputed as an abolitionist. The general aim seemed to be to make Kansas a free, white, American State, and no sentiment was expressed against slave holders, slave States, or slave holding where it was legal. Now behold the change!

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Brown wants to have it both ways. He tells us here by implication, and explicitly in context, that the enslavers drove Kansans into the antislavery ranks. Few historians would disagree, but one can quarrel with his version of early Kansas. Most Kansans hailed from Missouri. While some moved probably moved west to be quit of slavery, they had experience living with it and more likely harbored indifferent to positive attitudes toward the peculiar institution. H. Miles Moore, who became the free state Attorney General, stood firm on that point. Joseph Potter told of a similar transformation. In both cases, proslavery men who had some sympathy with the border ruffians changed their colors on seeing just how little respect they had for even the self-determination of their friends.

That Brown dates the shift in Kansan opinion to less than a year ago also tells an interesting story. As of May, 1855, he tacitly admits that most white Kansans did not consider themselves part of his movement. It seems that the fraud and violence at the territorial elections in March didn’t change the minds of as many as one might think. Taking that as given, the much smaller scale trouble in the May special elections to remedy some of that likely didn’t prompt realignments either. But we know by the time of the delegate elections in October that a majority of voting Kansans chose to attend the free state polls and ignore the territorial government’s canvass. The change must have happened over the summer and early fall. If Brown has the right of it, then the purge of antislavery men from the legislature, the ouster of Andrew Reeder, and the passage of the Kansas slave code drove most Kansans into the antislavery camp.

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