The Remedy of Folly: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 12

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11Full text


Charles Sumner would have none of this notion of fixing Kansas by calling it all a fait accompli and castigating antislavery Kansans for protesting the illegitimacy of the government erected over them by proslavery men out of Missouri. They had sacred rights of self-government, the patrimony of all white American men freshly promised to them by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. To cede that meant knuckling under to tyranny, just as bad King George demanded of Americans.

The second solution Sumner’s foes offered, “which, indeed, is also a Remedy of Tyranny; but its Folly is so surpassing as to eclipse even its Tyranny.” This time around, perfidy came not from Franklin Pierce -he must have needed a break; few presidents have done better at doing worse- but Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Butler’s “single contribution” deserved to have his name on it, but Sumner gave it “a more suggestive synonym.” In other words: Butler, thy name is folly.

Sumner quoted the other Senator directly:

The President of the United States is under the highest and most solemn obligations to interpose; and if I were to indicate the manner in which he should interpose in Kansas, I would point out the old common law process. I would serve a warrant on Sharpe’s rifles, and if Sharpe’s rifles did not answer the summons, and come into court on a day certain, or if they resisted the sheriff, I would summon the posse comitatus, and would have Colonel Sumner’s regiment to be a part of that posse comitatus.

Butler wanted Pierce to order the seizure of antislavery arms and send the Army and militia down upon them if they refused, largely as happened in Kansas even as Sumner spoke. He proposed Wilson Shannon’s solution: disarm the antislavery side and leave them at the mercy of the proslavery party.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Per Sumner, that would deprive antislavery Kansans of their “tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest.” They had a Second Amendment right on top of that, which a former judge of many years ought to know. Had Butler forgotten his law? His past honors could not make it look any better: Andrew Butler wanted freedom’s friends in Kansas stripped of the means to defend themselves before savage foes. Sumner reiterated nineteenth century racism in putting the Native Americans among them and in the company of wild animals. He went a step further, by implication, and lumped the proslavery whites in together with the lot. Maybe Sumner didn’t view them as exactly equivalent -they had white skin, after all- but he took enough care in his writing to mean the audience to draw the inference.

How to be a white supremacist

Gentle Readers, let’s talk white supremacy. We do that almost all the time here, but usually in the context of other things. That makes it easy to let some details slip through the cracks. I think most Americans get the most basic idea: whites come first, everyone else possesses debatable humanity. I realized a few weeks back, in the course of talking with others, that I ought to pay more attention to the myriad ways that simple idea wends its way through our lives.

Most people would probably agree that an individual who expresses belief in the racial superiority of whites or the inferiority of non-whites to whites counts as white supremacist. The guy in the brown shirt with the red armband and the other guy in the white hood believe things like that. We have agreed, at least in mixed company, that this makes them monstrous. They believe in horrible things and countenance historical atrocities and present injustices which we righteously condemn. They have no fit place in polite society and we have an obligation to do what we can to contain them and limit the harm they do, so far as we can do so and remain faithful to other vital principles. If they wheel out racist pseudoscience, whether vintage nineteenth century or the more recent sort, that makes them a hard case. Sometimes they receive a kinder hearing than they should, but mostly the convention holds. We should call those people out and keep to our norms. Such clear expressions of racial hatred serve as calls to action and precursors for new horrors. People may do harm with or without our saying so, but they will understand silence as permission.

We do not, however much we may wish otherwise, live in a world where villainy so eagerly announces itself. Admitting that puts us in a bind. In making those who express open racial animus into pariahs, exiled by their deplorable ideas, we easily slip into a second corollary. Something we consider so vile, we cannot imagine occurring with any great frequency. We imagine racists as freaks, so different that we can’t imagine knowing them. We have made racism into a crime near unto murder, yet with no victims. Someone far away or long ago did horrible things, but we finished that and now we have sad, hateful remnants who don’t really warrant our attention. Racism simultaneously counts for a great deal and doesn’t matter at all. It then makes no sense for us to go looking for it.

By we, I must clarify, I mean myself and other white Americans. We have the luxury of these conventions written on our skin. Their costs we carve into the lives of others. I have done it myself more times than I care to remember. We have arranged our civilization to let us do it without thinking, but even when we choose thoughtlessly, we still choose. Suffer me this story to illustrate:

The worst physical injury I have yet endured came when two boys pushed me down on the playground. I landed with my left hand forward. Rather than catching myself, the radius and ulna both broke. My hand drove up between them and one of the bones lay lengthwise across the back of it. The doctors told us that I had one of the worst fractures they ever treated without operating. It still hurts when it gets cold sometimes, almost a quarter century later. I can’t imagine many people I have actually met whom I have cause to like less than those two boys, who suffered no punishment for doing it. But I have known since the day it happened that they did not come at me thinking that they would break my bones and leave me with occasional pain for decades after. They set out to shove me away, perhaps to the ground, but not to rearrange my skeleton.

Some part of that day will always be in the present tense for me. Others have suffered far worse with a grace I can’t muster; I don’t write this to ask your sympathy for childhood pains. Rather hope you can understand that what those boys meant to do on the playground didn’t matter. Their not meaning to hurt me did not preserve me from harm. No amount of good intentions saved my bones and spared me fleeting pain. Even had they simply bumped into me in the hall, not meaning to lay a hand on me, the bones got broken. I felt, and sometimes still feel, the pain of the moment. That matters. We live with the things done to us in flesh and blood far more than we ever will the intentions that drove them.

We can perform white supremacist actions without conscious intention to do so; I know I have. We can say, perhaps honestly, that we didn’t mean it. People get hurt all the same. I maintain that we do so more often than not, habitually privileging the interests, concerns, and ultimately the lives of white Americans above those of anybody else. The people of Flint have poison coming out of their faucets because white people chose to allow it. They suffer not an iota less if we meant otherwise. The government of Michigan, my state, poisoned them all. It has lately appealed a court ruling that the state must deliver that water to residents, rather than make them come to collect their daily rations. No one made the state file that appeal; they chose it, knowing that the less accessible they make drinking water the more likely they are to force the residents to use the poison flowing from their taps all the same. Flint has a majority black population. A mostly white government with a mostly white constituency prefers poisoning them to supplying them with basic necessities, even when that government has only itself to blame for the poisoning.

Say that the people of Michigan did not vote for this. (We didn’t, though when we voted as we did we could reasonably have expected a cavalier attitude toward black lives.) Say that the state government did not mean for it to happen or didn’t know it could. (They knew.) It doesn’t matter. Flint’s residents of all ages got to drink poison all the same. Pleading good intentions will not change that, though it does an admirable job of distracting us from white supremacy in grotesque operation.

Keeping on the theme of water, an oil company wants to build a pipeline through North Dakota. It would have run right by Bismarck, the state capital. The people there believed that this would put their drinking water at risk. Oil does tend to spill; pipes do fail. In response to the concerns of Bismark’s people, which we can all understand, the pipeline got rerouted through a Sioux reservation, Standing Rock. The Sioux, who know something about living on the business end of genocide for the past few centuries, objected too. They would also prefer that they and their children did not drink poison, as well as that an oil pipeline not run through their sacred lands. For some time now they have conducted a large, peaceful protest against the construction, to which the police have responded with violence. That includes spraying water on the protesters at night, in November on the high plains, which ought to count as lethal force all by itself.

I understand that many people stand to make a great deal of money off this pipeline, including the man who lost the late presidential election. But when the people of Bismarck objected to the route endangering their water, plans changed. Ninety percent of the people who live in that city can boast white skin, which goes a long way. The Sioux cannot, so they get to have their children poisoned and their holy places despoiled. Their resistance, not that of Bismarck, brought down the heavy hand of the law. Here, as in Flint and as we do in countless other times and places, people made a decision. White children don’t deserve poisoned water. No one will drive a pipeline through one of Bismarck’s churches. The Sioux have no such immunity. Their concerns, lives, and culture don’t count any more than the people of Flint do.

It may be that some of the people who made the decisions for Flint and North Dakota exulted at the thought of afflicting minorities. If I have learned anything from the research I do for this blog, I have learned to never underestimate the power of pure malice. But it doesn’t matter if they acted with depraved hearts, they did what they did. We can’t know fully the minds of others, however much we try, but they write their actions on the bodies of their victims. The rest of us must make our own choices then. Even if we can’t follow every issue and understand each controversy, we decide when they come before us. We can refuse to allow such things to happen in our name or we can turn away and tell stories about well-meaning mistakes and oversights, reducing those genuinely harmed to an irrelevant detail. A band of neo-Nazis or Klansmen might harm people by the score, but all of us standing by play our part in far greater crimes. A gang can kill dozens or hundreds; policy, silent assent, and willful blindness reach millions.

The Buford Expedition, Part Ten: A Letter to the Wyandotte

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

We left Jefferson Buford’s men in Mobile, where they got the Bibles that Montgomery proved too impious to have on hand in sufficient numbers. Armed with books, if possibly not guns, Buford’s men embarked on the Florida for New Orleans. They picked up a few more men there and divided themselves between the America and Oceana to steam up the Mississippi for St. Louis. They arrived on April 23, 1856. According to Fleming,

The people of St. Louis rated Buford’s enterprise very highly, and regarded him as the best friend of Kansas in the whole South.

St. Louis leaned slightly antislavery, but that didn’t make them abolitionists. They stuck by Thomas Hart Benton through his preaching silence and compromise on slavery, combined with quite a bit of carping at antislavery agitators. St. Louis could very well understand Buford as a legitimate counter to antislavery radicals who had set up their own government in Kansas.

While in St. Louis, Buford wrote ahead to a Colonel William Walker, who Fleming describes as the governor of “Nebraska Territory”, a Wyandotte Indian establishment predating white settlement. He doesn’t use the word, but this sounds like a reservation. Buford refers to it as “the Wyandotte reserve.” Eufaula, Alabama’s favorite son wanted to settle on Wyandotte land “provided that the tribe will freely consent to my doing so, but not otherwise.” That sounds terribly broad-minded of Buford. He promised to place

only orderly, good citizens, -among them blacksmiths, carpenters, brick and stone masons, physicians, school teachers, agricultural laborers, etc., etc., and any who becomes obnoxious to the Indians I wold have removed.

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

Previously whites could not settle on Indian country at all unless they had a license as an Indian agent or worked as missionaries. I don’t know that the organization of a territorial government ended those restrictions; Andrew Reeder got in hot water, officially, in part for speculating in Indian lands. In advance of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the United States negotiated cessions from Indian reservations but some continued in Kansas at least up through statehood in 1861. If Indians could not sell to Reeder, then I don’t know how they could grant Buford’s men permission to settle. The law may have changed or settlement might matter less than sale to it. Buford could also have just not done his homework, as he found that land preemption didn’t work quite like he thought previously. Or he might have expected that once his men had occupation of the land, their very whiteness would extinguish Wyandotte rights.

Regardless, Buford predicted

both parties would be benefited, and especially would it aid your views in building up your city of Wyandotte, which, by the way, seems the place endowed by nature for the great town of the Territory.

He closed with his hope that they would soon meet in person.

Jefferson Buford’s stay in St. Louis featured more than warm welcomes and letters to Indian chiefs. Someone broke into one of his trunks and made off with $5000. Buford never saw it again.


Governor Robinson’s Army

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I erred in scheduling it.

Charles Robinson, Kansas’ new Republican governor illegally and legitimately elected, had harsh words for the legally appointedillegally elected, illegitimate territorial government. Beyond words, he did not encourage Kansas’ newly-seated free state legislature to take radical steps. Rather they should endure what slings and arrows may come, waiting for Congress to come to the territory’s rescue by admitting them as a state. But forbearance only reached so far. The Governor preached both the standard points of a man in his position and something far more radical.

Kansas, Robinson told the legislature (PDF), had an Indian problem. At the very least, they needed to ensure no one plied the Indians with alcohol. Really, they ought to do more:

Exposed as our citizens are to the scalping-knife of the savage on the west, and to the revolver and hatchet of the assassin on the east, a thorough and early organization of the militia is urgently called for. By the Constitution, this duty devolves upon the General Assembly. Measures should at once be taken to encourage the organization of volunteer companies, and to procure the arms to which the State is entitled.

Robinson said something that most Americans would have found nigh-unthinkable. Kansas’ problem with proslavery Missourian invaders warranted more than ad hoc, informal, or private armed bands to repel. It deserved answering precisely the same way as the depredations of presumed savages. He specified that to the east, in Missouri, Kansas faced “assassins” rather than “savages” but he proscribed the same cure for both.

If the Assembly acted, then no longer would free state militias have to shelter under the paper he pushed on Wilson Shannon a few months back. This would both clean up the difficulty of militias drawing their legitimacy from a government they rejected and align the free state government officially with them. Few people could have taken past denials of militia involvement by the movement’s political arm seriously before now, but Robinson suggested that his new government needed a proper army. In an era when the United States had a tiny army, augmented greatly in time of war by state militias and other volunteers, this pushed very close to claiming the prerogatives of a nation as well as a state. Furthermore, by officially linking themselves to these militias Robinson and his administration made themselves clearly responsible.

Under ordinary circumstances, none of that would amount to much. Few more extraordinary circumstances have existed for an American government than Robinson’s. If his militia clashed with Missourians come over to help secure slavery in Kansas, then his government would exceed Missouri’s own. Given that the President of the United States had declared thoroughly for Kansas’ legal, proslavery government, this raised the serious specter that the Kansas free state militia might clash with militias in the national service. That, by any reasonable definition then or now, would make him a traitor.

Governor Robinson and the Indians

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The new Kansas legislature, illegal to the national government and near enough to legitimate for most Kansans, got down to business on Wednesday, March 5, 1856. Said business began with a message from their new governor, Charles Robinson. The day before he had only given inaugural remarks. Now he needed to do an official message, much as Andrew Reeder did the previous July. He gravely informed the legislators that their work would require all their “learning, judgment, and prudence”. He pointed to Kansas’ diversity: people from every state and country, differing in “institutions, religion, education, habits, and tastes.”

Also in our midst are several independent nations, and on our borders, both west and east, are outside invaders.

What invaders Robinson saw to the west of Kansas, I can’t say. Given that the “several independent nations” he mentions came in the form of Indian reservations, he might mean some hostile tribes off in the future Colorado. If those nations had shown any real hostility, let alone in invasion, I haven’t seen evidence of it. Like many white Americans, Robinson may have simply assumed that any Indian he didn’t personally know wanted to take his involuntary donation to Locks of Love. That he describes adjacent reservations as simply nations whilst taking the others as invaders suggests as much. He might also have referenced a rumor that the proslavery side would make some kind of deal to receive Indian aid. While I have not read any such rumor, I have seen the reverse version where Robinson and company would enlist Indian tribes. It would stand to reason that both versions existed.

The majority of Robinson’s speech involves to mundane necessities and standard nineteenth century boilerplate. The legislature had to fill these appointed officers. It ought to see to the schools. It would need to establish taxes. It would also, of course, have to write a law to keep free blacks out of Kansas. And they simply had to do something about alcohol:

The indiscriminate sale of intoxicating drinks in a State like Kansas, where are numerous Indian tribes, is productive of much mischief. Some tribes within our borders are still uncivilized and indulge their appetites without restraint, while many of the other tribes are equally unfortunate.

To this, Kansas’ Indians could answer by pointing to how the whites conducted themselves, alcohol or no, but one can’t expect a nineteenth century white man to grant the point. Still, Robinson came closer than one might expect, declaring the use of alcohol in general an obstacle to

the health, morals, and good order and prosperity of any community, and the traffic in them is an unmitigated evil

He hasn’t convinced this teetotaler, but at least Robinson agreed in principle that white people could have serious problems with drink. The Indians simply had it worse because of their allegedly inferior civilization and race. They might, in unguarded moments, say the same about the Irish. Few whites at the time would have defending providing alcohol to Indians, whatever their position on Irishmen. Fewer still would have agreed that the Indians had extensive grievances with their vaunted white race which might drive them to drink or violence, even among those who literally stood on the land that they had personally and through their government just seized from said Indians and looked ever-poised to take still more.

Politics at Topeka, Part Four

William Phillips

William Phillips

Parts 1, 2, 3

With the issue of restricting suffrage to only white men and Indians who adopted their habits resolved, the Topeka Convention got into more serious matters still. Back at Big Springs at the start of September, almost the entire convention voted in favor of a black law for Kansas. This law would exclude free blacks from the territory. As the free state men wrote their constitution, the black law naturally came up again. William Phillips reports that

The article relative to the exclusion of free negroes, called the “black-law,” created considerable discussion. Many wished to include it in the constitution. This resolution was one of the humbugs, or tests, which decide nothing, while they create a party. In deciding upon its merits neither Legislature nor people took a true or comprehensive view of the question.

Where does genuine racism end and party interest begin? The black law certainly had partisan aspects. Many westerners demanded it as the price of their cooperation with the more egalitarian New England contingent. However, political interest rarely comes entirely independent of genuine belief.

To have a community of white people only is certainly desirable; but, instead of discussing this in connection with its comparative justice and humanity, the whole issue turned thus. An advocate of the measure would get a man by the button-hole, and say:

“Look here,-this black-law is a great thing. They accuse us Kansas folks of being abolitionists. Now we an’t abolitionists, are we?”

“No SIR!”

“No, sir-ee-I know we an’t; so the thing is to vote for the ‘black-law,’ and that will prove we an’t ‘abolitionists’.”

So Kansas voted for the “black-law” to demonstrate that she was not an “abolitionist.”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Phillips’ invented dialog eschewing abolition reflects political interests. Disclaiming any abolitionism went on at Big Springs as well. We can understand that as party-building and a demonstration of the relative strength of the more western, more intensely racist contingent. It also might serve their purposes when the free state constitutions reached Kansas. A black law could shield them against some Southern fears that they would come into the Union as another Massachusetts. But by his own admission he finds an all-white Kansas preferable. Such laws had passed in western states in recent memory. In Race & Politics: Bleeding Kansas and the Coming of the Civil War, James Rawley has a New York Times reporter observe that westerners

are terribly frightened at the idea of being overrun by negroes. They hold to the idea that negroes are dangerous to the State and a nuisance, and measures have to be taken to prevent them from migrating to the territory.

If one swapped “property values” for “territory” the sentiment could come from the quiet admission of a modern realtor. Politics play their part here, but they came from a genuine, deep fear and loathing of black Americans. The James Lane and his westerners felt it more keenly than Charles Robinson and his New Englanders. They had the numbers so they prevailed.


Politics at Topeka, Part Three

William Phillips

William Phillips

Parts 1, 2

At Topeka, the free state constitutional convention decided that only white men should have the vote, if over the objections of the more radical among them. In ruling out suffrage for black men or women of any color, the majority probably understood themselves as defending the republic just as much as they did when they put in place a hefty residence requirement as a hedge against future invasions from Missouri. But amid those restrictions came a qualified, relative expansions of the franchise worth noting. First the constitution mandated

The payment of a tax shall not be a qualification for exercising the right of suffrage.

The proslavery legislature of Kansas had gone just the opposite way, requiring payment of a tax to vote. Going the other way on an issue like this cast the free state men as friends of the common white man, who might find the poll tax onerous as well as offensive, and delivered a rebuke to the bogus legislature.

Despite the convention’s insistence on white male, and only white male, suffrage, they found it in themselves to make provisions for a kind of honorary white man by allowing “every civilized male Indian who has adopted the habits of the white man” the vote. If one acted sufficiently white, then one could gain the privileges. This reminds us that while the whites of Kansas generally restricted political to themselves, they still lived on land that had rightly belonged to the Native Americans all of a year earlier. Some of it, in the form of various reservations, still did. There some had adopted white styles of agriculture and tried to do their best to get by in the world that white Americans made. If the promise of full integration existed more in theory than fact, invited white meddling in one’s life, and always came with hard limits, then some judged that it still beat the grinding cycle of of deprivation and removal with which white Americans marched across the continent. A white America that saw them as a mix of dangerous animals and frustrating impediments to progress offered Indians few choices.

According to William Phillips,

An amusing discussion occurred on this measure, relative to the words in the report, when drafted, “shall conform to the habits of the whites;” it being believed that some of the “habits of the whites” would make a rather singular basis for the elective franchise, or political power generally. It was suggested that the capacity to drink a pint of raw whiskey be deemed an evidence of “conforming to the habits of the whites.”

Kansas’ earlier inhabitants, some of whom had seen two or more past removals in their lives, certainly did not have to conform to the habits of whites to the point of depriving said whites of their lands. Nineteenth century Americans might believe in assimilating and so “taming” the people who occupied their land before they arrived, but they had their limits. One supposes they might look more kindly on a “civilized” Indian who chose to afflict Indians, but in all things the white man must ultimately come out on top. That, above all else, constituted progress.

Free State Men Coming Together

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

The convention-goers at Lawrence could not decide if they went too far or not too far enough. Jim Lane pressed them not to anger other states and find some middle road in a struggle against proslavery men who wanted them silenced, imprisoned, excluded from politics, or driven from the state. A Mr. Holliday insisted that they had gone down the same impotent path as the free state movement had before by meeting, having speeches, and resolutions. None of that had accomplished anything. They must instead organize military companies. Martin F. Conway considered their gathering a party affair and didn’t think it proper that they go on to write a constitution.

The discussions continued on Wednesday, August 15. After notes about the opening prayer and reading of the minutes, the Herald of Freedom reports that the convention took up Charles Robinson’s second proposed resolution. This one declared the acts of the proslavery legislature illegitimate and thus not binding. As James Lane first rose to object to just such a resolution, he rose and submitted an amendment to it that the convention referred to committee. Then Mr. Holliday had his say again:

Mr. Holliday spoke briefly, but to the point, upon the resolution, and said he was glad that during the night the conflicting elements of the day previous had been harmonized, that he believed all parties would united in adopting the Majority report.

Sounds like some combination of back room politics and horse trading carried the day. The paper recounts several others declaring their support, if with some cavils about wording. A Reverend Gilpatrick struck a note of sympathy with moderates by reiterating the theme Charles Robinson took up back on the Fourth of July:

The question is not whether we will have slaves in Kansas; but whether we will be slaves ourselves. A worse than Vandal horde are riveting chains upon us. For myself, I will not consent they shall do it. I would rather go to a southern plantation and labor by the side of the meanest slave, and be compelled to toil for life, than submit to the degradation and kind of enslavement proposed to be heaped upon us.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Robinson himself, who came with all his Massachusetts abolitionist baggage, struck a similarly conciliatory, coalition-building note in taking up Conway’s scruples. The Herald of Freedom reported:

He could not consent that a movement for framing a State Constitution should originate in this Convention. He would be happy to meet with a Convention of the PEOPLE at large at another time

So everyone got along now. Over the night they talked through their differences and came to a meeting of the minds. But there remained a bone of controversy between them. That matter deserves its own post, which will come Monday.

Eager and Reluctant Revolutionaries

Paschal & Eudora Fish, courtesy of Wikipedia user Bhall87

Paschal & Eudora Fish, courtesy of Wikipedia user Bhall87

Parts 1, 2, 3

The adoption of the first of Charles Robinson’s committee’s resolutions by the Lawrence convention did not signal an end to dissent among the free state ranks. It did, however, win the approval of a party often forgotten in popular history. The Herald of Freedom reports that Paschal Fish, a Shawnee man, rose to speak:

I am glad to see all of you here; I am glad you are laboring to make good laws as your fathers did before you. I am well pleased, very well pleased all day long, with what you have done. I said I was in favor of a free State, and I am not backward to say it.

One can’t miss the distinctions here. Fish might share the politics of the white convention, but he knows all too well that they’ve come to decide their fate in Kansas rather than his. In his five decades, Fish had seen his tribe moved from Ohio to Kansas. Their settlement had to yield to white settlement. It might easily do so again. Indians, according to white Americans, simply had to give way. Such backward folk could not impede the inevitable progress of a more advanced race.

Fish’s statement rejects that idea both at its most literal level, declaring himself no more backward than anyone else, and politically. In adopting antislavery politics and participating in the white man’s convention, he acted as a progressive, forward-looking white man would. Fish had apparently long adopted that strategy. He operated a hotel , a ferry, and had worked for the Army at Fort Leavenworth. If anybody lived up to the nineteenth century humanitarian vision of Indians taking up white culture and integrating into white America, he did. So did many of his fellow Shawnee, who operated farms and otherwise acted just like white settlers. Contemporaries considered them barely Indians at all and credited the white blood in their veins.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Not everyone had quite Fish’s enthusiasm, though. The same Mr. Holliday that wanted Robinson’s resolutions referred to a new committee for revision had a good point about the convention’s activity to date:

Mr. Holliday says the action contemplated is not efficient enough. It is doing over and over again what has been done before. I endorse every sentiment embraced in those resolutions, and I go further, and am in favor of some which were suppressed in the committee recommending the formation of military companies for self-protection.

The had had resolutions before. They had had a convention before. This did not suit Holliday, who could point to just how little success the free state men had so far enjoyed. Couldn’t they see that the time for mere words had passed? But setting up formal military companies seemed still a bridge too far for most.

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Even less provoked some qualms from Martin F. Conway, the free state man who quit his seat in the Assembly before it even met. His “brief remarks” argued

the impropriety of a movement for a State Constitution originating in a Party meeting; and maintaining that such an enterprise should be the work of the people at large.

Would they ever get anything done, save talking? One doesn’t lightly contemplate armed strife and the antislavery party deserve some credit for not rushing to it, occasional bursts of martial rhetoric aside, but in times like theirs attachment to procedural formalities and moderation can lead to utter paralysis. Holliday must have seen that among his fellows. With the record they had assembled, one struggles to argue otherwise.

Fairness demands, however, that we note the diverse and fragile coalition that the free state movement had. They might have benefited from haste, as Holliday suggested, but it might also have split the movement.

The Sixteenth District, Part Six

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 12, 3, 4, 5

Matt France, Andrew Reeder’s other free state judge of the election in the Sixteenth District, lasted a bit longer than David Brown. Like Brown, he had someone approach him and suggest he resign. In this case, France had a brother who stood for election and the conflict of interest raises obvious concerns. But to judge from his testimony, France’s brother seems peripheral. The real issue remained whether or not France would accept the fraudulent votes of Missourian border ruffians, though his brother’s involvement may have stiffened France’s resolve. The proslavery judge, Lewis N. Rees, also had a brother in the election.

The night before the election, Rees floated the idea that the whole panel should resign.

The idea he expressed was that we could have to let them vote or they would use violence. I concluded not to resign, and Rees said he would not resign unless I did.

So far, so good. Then the judges had to swear one another in. Rees, as other proslavery judges had in other districts, refused to take Andrew Reeder’s oath. Nor did David Brown’s replacement judge. They invented their own and the election proceeded:

I think I challenged the third vote offered that day, on the ground that I did not think him a resident. I asked him where he resided, he replied that his family resided in Saline county, Missouri, that he came into the Territory the day before, and intended to go back home immediately after the election.

France didn’t insist on refusing to let him vote, but did want that Missourian to swear an oath. The other judges overruled him.

The other judges decided that we had no right to swear any man, that every person on the ground was a legal voter. They would not administer the oath, and received the vote. I objected, and told them that I should insist upon every man being sworn whom we did not know. They objected to it, and continued to take votes over my head. Everybody who applied to vote that day voted, except some Delaware Indians. The Wyandotts voted.

Andrew Reeder’s instructions to the judges and qualifications for voters explicitly prohibited any Indian or mixed-blooded person from voting. I hope most of us find that disgusting, but to most nineteenth century Americans letting an Indian vote in an election made as much sense as letting a black man or a woman vote. To France, this clearly demonstrated just how the judges cast aside almost every standard he could think of to admit the Missourians to the polls.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

I went into the index of Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era hoping to find some clues as to why the judges let the Wyandotte vote. She doesn’t appear to address what set the Wyandotte apart from the Delaware directly, but offers a few interesting facts in discussing the origins of the KansasNebraska Act:

Wyandot Indians took the first steps by repeatedly petitioning Congress to organize a territory. In October 1852, the Wyandot elected Abelard Guthire, a white man with a Wyandot wife, as territorial delegate. Guthrie lobbied congressmen on territorial status for the area west of Missouri.

The index includes no reference to the Delaware. From this I get the sense that the Wyandotte may have endeared themselves to the Missourians by their early pressing for territorial organization. But it also might come down to something as prosaic as the judges recognizing the particular Wyandotte men who came to vote as reliably proslavery.

Back at the election, Matt France sat there through the day, overruled two to one again and again:

I did not consider anything legal about it, but remained to see the thing through. I signed the return after scratching out the words “lawful resident voters.” After some discussion between the judges, we all signed the return in the same way.

That sent quite a message back to Andrew Reeder: They, the judges of the election charged with ensuring that only lawful voters voted, would not sign off on their polls accepting only lawful voters. When someone brave enough to risk it contested the election, Reeder ordered a new one for the district.