“No man has a right to hold a slave in Kansas.” John Junior Breaks the Law

John Brown

With John Brown now in Kansas, we should take a look quick look at the wider picture. Brown discovered his family’s miserable state on October 7, 1855. By then the free state movement had already gotten going in earnest, following the dismissal of Andrew Reeder and his replacement by the more reliably proslavery Wilson Shannon. That and the bogus legislature’s draconian slave code about did it for most Kansans, even many who otherwise cared little about slavery either way. They came together at Lawrence and Big Springs to reject their illegitimate government and form a new one.

The Lawrence conventions, two which happened simultaneously, gathered in mid-August. John Junior turned up for the more radical one, news which his father must have both expected and taken some satisfaction in. He had enough pull to score a post on the business committee that recommended the call for a constitutional convention at Topeka. Big Springs made him a member of the territorial executive committee that oversaw free state elections.

Coming home with a head of steam from there, Junior decided he really ought to break some laws. Happening on a proslavery man at Pottawatomie, he uttered the words: “no man has a right to hold a slave in Kansas.”

The law of Kansas, duly passed by the bogus legislature, said

If any free person, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that persons have not the right to hold slaves in this territory, or shall introduce into this Territory print, publish, write, circulate, or cause to be introduced into this Territory, written, printed, published, or circulated in this Territory, any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet, or circular, obtaining any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this Territory, such person shall be deemed guilty of felony, and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than two years.

Junior spoke it and promised that he would keep on speaking it. He further declared that

If any officer should attempt to arrest me for a violation of the law, and should put his villainous hands on me, I would surely kill him, so help me god.

He wrote this to his stepmother. His wife added to it her expectation that they would all get shot for breaking the laws but given the choice between freezing to death and a quick bullet for a good cause, she preferred the latter. All that happened in mid-September, before the storms and sickness that must have considerably dampened the Browns’ political enthusiasm. On his arrival and learning all this, John Brown the elder resolved that none of his sons would catch a bullet for breaking those laws. Nor would any proslavery man meddle in the free state elections.

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