“For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

William Addison Phillips did not like Samuel Pomeroy, of the Emigrant Aid Society, or Lieutenant Governor Roberts one bit. To hear him tell it, the people of Lawrence had gone to the trouble of burying their five cannons under the foundation of a house. No one would find them there. When Samuel Jones came into town at the head of a posse of twenty men, with a few hundred friends not far off, they could have let him ransack Lawrence all day and he would have left empty handed. Pomeroy, Roberts, and the rest of the committee of safety, didn’t care to risk that and gave up the artillery. They even did some of the digging themselves.

That put Jones in possession of the free state cannons and still in Lawrence, perhaps not the ideal place for a man recently ventilated by a resident to linger with his spoils. He thus ordered the cannons delivered to the camp outside town,

and free-state men were called on to do this ignominious service. Numbers of those whom Jones thus asked haughtily refused. Some of the men with Jones threatened to use their arms, and rode at some of the young men who refused, and threatened them with their bayonets, but did not intimidate them into compliance. A few, less resolute, aided the ruffians to remove the guns.

Phillips anger burns off the page here. At the moment of decision, his neighbors folded like cowards. They even did the border ruffians’ dirty work for them, though only a minority went so far. Perhaps more did at the time and Phillips counted for convenience in his appeal to outraged antislavery people back East. Either way, Lawrence lost its heavy weapons and a few of the Sharpe’s rifles.

While Jones and his posse secured the cannons, the larger body of the posse originally gathered by I.B. Donaldson advanced on Lawrence. The Lawrence memorial, written the next day, has

several hundred men, with United States muskets and fixed bayonets […] taking position in the town.

Phillips names their leaders, Atchison, Buford, Stringfellow, and Colonel Titus, and puts them at the south end of town, “dragging their cannon with them.” They arrayed themselves in formation and Atchison gave a speech.

That great border ruffian, ex-Senator, ex-Vice President of the United States, was not remarkably sober on this important occasion. For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch, in which, perhaps, they strove to drown their knowledge of better things.

Proslavery men tend toward drunkenness in the accounts of abstemious antislavery types. When you don’t drink at all, any drinking becomes more noticeable. But even friendly sources, and the man himself, have cracked jokes about Bourbon Dave’s habit. A version of this speech floats around the internet in various places, but I’m given to understand much of it was invented after the fact. Phillips himself refers to the issue:

Various reports of this wild speech have been published, but all more or less incorrect.

William Phillips, naturally had the true version.

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