John Brown and President Pierce

John Brown

We left John Brown in the wake of the Wakarusa War, which brought with it a peace settlement he distrusted as much as he liked the outcome of the proslavery Missourians going home. He thought Kansas’ troubles might soon come to an end, a hope that must have tracked closely with ratification of the Topeka Constitution in December of 1855. The winter brought bitter cold and deep snow down upon Kansas. Still, Brown forged on. He wrote home that things went tolerably well. That included frequent trips to Westport, where Brown challenged the locals with the declaration that he opposed slavery and lived in Kansas. They ignored him and took his money, which ran out despite receiving a fair sum from his aged father. Consequently, the food ran low too.

Two of Brown’s sons suffered frozen toes that winter and a third, Frederick, had another attack of the mysterious ailment that brought terrible headaches and left him near mad with pain. The conditions got to Brown, who again considered taking his own claim in Kansas and again abandoned the plan. He still wanted to end his days in North Elba. He suffered through a miserable bout of homesickness for the Adirondacks, which he declared almost enough to “unMan” him. I don’t have access to the original letter for context, if Brown provided any, but clearly he felt near to breaking. Whether that meant just an emotional collapse or drawing near to quitting Kansas completely, I can’t say.

Franklin Pierce

Still, Brown kept busy. The ratification of the Topeka Constitution meant that the free state government had a full slate of officers and legislators to fill. He presided over the meeting that Osawattomie that nominated men for the new legislature. John Junior got the nod, which pleased Brown greatly. On January 15, the polls opened and Brown trooped down to Pottawatomie with a basket full of guns and knives again; you never knew when a Missourian might show up. Junior won his seat, which had to please the elder Brown more still. He’d gone around the area as a tough-talking antislavery man, a chip off the old block, and the voters approved.

Then word arrived that cowardice had not kept Missouri at bay, only the cold. As soon as it warmed up and some of the snow melted away, the proslavery men meant to come again into Kansas and work some ruin. That news received swift confirmation in word out of Leavenworth, where the Missourians came to trouble the polls after all. Reese Brown (no relation) caught the worst of it for the free state side, hacked nearly to pieces and left dying on his own doorstep by the Kickapoo Rangers. Almost at the same time, Franklin Pierce declared that all Kansas’ troubles lay at the feet of antislavery men. He deemed the free staters revolutionaries and insisted that their continued activity constituted an insurrection. In other words, John Brown now had an enemy in the White House.

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