A Contentious Public Meeting at Osawatomie

John Brown

We left Brown’s Station, the Brown boys’ adjoining claims near Osawatomie, with the news that the proslavery courts would soon begin operation. The Browns might then face arrest and trial, before a proslavery judge and jury, for breaking territorial law by insisting no one had the right to own people in Kansas. Other news came to them around the same time, as John Brown, Junior, wrote to the Herald of Freedom at the end of April:

Some time in March last, a person calling himself an assessor, sent a verbal notice to the settlers of Osawatomie that he would soon call on them in that capacity, and would, before calling to assess their property under the enactments of the so-called Kansas Territorial Legislature, send them written notice of the time he would meet them.

The taxman declared himself on the way, always the most welcome of news. This prompted a public meeting in the area to discuss what they ought to do about paying tax to the proslavery government which many of them had sworn to ignore. Citing that government’s illegitimacy, they opted to again “utterly repudiate the authority” of the legislature and all its acts. Its officers, they resolved, “have no legal power to act.”

One can’t fight the state all alone, so the men of Osawatomie further resolved

That we pledge to one another mutual support and aid in forcible resistance to any attempt to compel us into obedience to these enactments, let that attempt come from whatever source it may

If anyone tested them, they pledged that all the officers of the state would “do so at peril of such consequences as shall be necessary.” To let them know of the threat, the meeting voted a committee to deliver copies of their resolutions to anyone who might try and also to put them in the papers, hence Brown’s letter to the Herald. 

John Junior tells a tidy story of a united community. He left out that a contingent present that day, men who favored a free white state, preached submission to the laws. That brought an angry response and drew Junior’s father to the floor. He declared that he would rather drown the land in blood than pay tax to a proslavery government, even though he personally owed no taxes because he lacked a claim in Kansas.

The conservative, free white state men then walked out. Their leader eventually joined the proslavery party, which seemed to have an attitude toward black Americans more in line with his own. That wouldn’t look good in a letter intended for public consumption. The image of a united front would do more to hearten the paper’s readers abroad and possibly deter the taxman from coming after all.


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