“Fear & excitement”

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow’s Squatter Sovereign advised that good proslavery men must somehow silence their antislavery counterparts. John Brown’s murders proved the point and he did not shy from connecting them to anyone who gave them aid and shelter, however uninvolved in the killing itself. That didn’t mean they should go out of their way to murder people in the dark of night, but then the proslavery party had the territorial government on its side. They didn’t need to skulk about quite so much as Brown and company.

They didn’t need Stringfellow’s advice or permission to get going either. A resident of Osawatomie wrote his Cousin Sidney on Wednesday, May 28,

Osawatomie is in much fear & excitement. News came tonight that a co. of Georgians and Alibamians were coming to make this their headquarters. All work is nearly suspended, the women are in constant fear.

Jefferson Burford’s Georgians and Alabamans already camped nearby. It wouldn’t take much to move them in and they had come all this way to murder abolitionists. Seeing what could come their way, the residents of Osawatomie and the vicinity got together in a public meeting which published conciliatory resolutions. (I haven’t been able to find a copy, Gentle Readers.)

Those resolutions received the unanimous acclaim of the meeting, but in person the members differed on whether Brown and his men had committed a grave offense or acted in some kind of tragic self-defense. Certainly the local proslavery men had not made for the best of neighbors, but efforts to show that Brown knew of the Shermans’ threats against Squire Morse and others have yielded no clear evidence that he did. If he had those incidents specifically in mind, he wouldn’t have hesitated to bring them up. Rather he seems to have acted from a general conviction that the free state party needed to avenge itself and terrorize their enemies. His heroic act of murder would do that open the floodgates of antislavery anger.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Brown may well have gotten the latter, though it’s hard to separate the impact of his killings from the sack of Lawrence. Later on, free state leaders like Charles Robinson said that they always had a considered position in favor of armed nonviolence. The events of the Wakarusa War and the sack of Lawrence demonstrated that not everyone agreed with that. Robinson often struggled to contain the more militant antislavery Kansans, who counted more than just Brown and his intimates among their number. They never liked all this backing down and talking things out. The fall of Lawrence and Robinson’s arrest removed the leading voice for a more diplomatic solution from the board, at least for a time.

Furthermore, even though Robinson paints himself as the consistent man of peace and had a reputation to back it, his party consistently explained their preference for diplomacy as situational. They did not want to strike the first blow, nor strike United States troops. Keeping their noses clean helped politically, at least so long as political violence in Kansas remained intermittent and small-scale. If the fate of Lawrence hadn’t changed that permanently, then Brown’s murders may well have done the trick. As long as no one on your side goes hunting the enemy, refraining feels normal. Once someone has, the question must naturally arise for men reared in nineteenth century masculinity as to why they haven’t themselves gone in? Were they cowards? Boys playing soldier? Women? Even if they had a sincere objection to the use of force before, the proslavery reaction would make Brown’s claims of self-defense more plausible to others in retrospect. Now they really did have proslavery men coming for them, so they had best stand ready.

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“There must be no night work”

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

The Squatter Sovereign advised its reader that in response to the Pottawatomie murders,

Every pro-slavery men in Atchison county ought immediately to call at Atchison, and learn the news and course determined.

They had abolitionists to hunt. It wouldn’t take a psychic to see the solution the paper had in mind, though coordinating our of Atchison made good logistical sense and would bring some paying customers by the newspaper office. However, John Stringfellow’s paper also intended to help its readers learn the news. Right after the call to arms came a report on John Brown’s massacre under the headline Civil War in Kansas:

Since the organization of the Territory the abolitionists have proposed various games by which they hoped tow in Kansas, at all of which, so far, they have been defeated. Failing to carry the elections by fraudulent voting-by packing upon us unscrupulous census takers, by which we were defrauded of our just representation-by placing abolition judges to preside over the elections-by an attempt to swindle us out of our representatives after they were elected-by attempting to defeat all our legislation after we had met in the Legislature-by attempting to defy the officers of the law in enforcing its requirements, they have commenced a new game-that of midnight murder.

Before we get into the murdering, remember all the other reasons the antislavery party deserves the hatred of all good proslavery men. They did the fraudulent voting. They tried to cheat honest Kansans out of fair representation. They packed the election staff with their partisans. Atchison, Kansas studiously observed Opposites Day. This level of perversity, while depressingly common, still deserves recognition. Stringfellow, like people of every era who know their own tactics can’t stand the light of day, outsourced them to the opposition.

That long sentence to outrage the reader primed them for the actually new news

armed bands of assassins are prowling about, murdering men at midnight for no offence except their political opinions.

Remember, Gentle Readers, Stringfellow’s brother Ben argued that one should murder abolitionists for abolitionism. John might say that the overt act of preaching antislavery justified the difference, but he would have undermined himself in the previous piece where he said that those who tried to sit out the slavery fight would get attacked from both sides.

The Sovereign went on to a bit of self-praising, reminding readers that the proslavery side treated the contest “in a bold, manly, open manner”. By that we should not think that they killed no one, only that they did most of their murders in broad daylight and with pride; proslavery men had standards. Stringfellow urged that their side should not sink to John Brown’s level:

There must be no night work, but in the face of day we must hunt these banded outlaws to death or out of the Territory.

The paper asked where this would end, if they let it go on? Brown’s victims, per the Sovereign’s lights, did nothing wrong. Some of them hadn’t even marched against Lawrence once. If the antislavery party would martyr such innocents, then the proslavery side must show them that they played “a losing game.” Only then would they stop. Thus:

Every man who is known to have taken any active part with these lawless traitors, should be silenced in some way.

Reckless murderers, assassins and thieves

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

 

Set on the notion that the proslavery party should obey the law, unless self-defense came into it, John Stringfellow’s Squatter Sovereign situated itself on well-trod ground. Most everyone in any era thinks that the law doesn’t bind them in a suicide pact. If you have to run a red light to get away from someone who stuck a gun in your face, no one is going to fault you for doing it. It’s not a safe choice, but neither is sticking around. Stringfellow, and his brother Benjamin, considered the mere presence of antislavery men a similar situation. John Brown proved them, at least this once, right by hauling men out of their homes at night to hack them to death with swords.

Had Stringfellow’s paper confined itself to that point, it would hardly warrant our attention. Like his brother Ben, John Stringfellow would not so constrain himself. He argued that they would hold up their end of a civil war if the Free State party saw fit to throw one and furthermore cast his net far wider than Brown’s eight men:

Hundreds of the Free State men, who have committed no overt acts, but have only given countenance to those reckless murderers, assassins and thieves, will of necessity share the same fate of their brethren. If civil war is to be the result in such a conflict, there cannot be, and will not be, any neutrals recognized. “He that is not for us, is against us” will of necessity be the motto

Stringfellow sounds like his brother here, bent on wiping out the enemy and keenly attentive to the aid that non-militant collaborators give to the militants. People who looked the other way or shared their roof with John Brown and company did involve themselves in the fray, whether they bore arms or not. By aiding the enemy, they joined the ranks. This may sound extreme, but the logic holds. People who make it easier for a murderous enemy to carry on are helping that enemy murder you. The distinction between the gunman and the person who sold them the gun and wished them well doesn’t matter much from the victim’s perspective. John Brown knew the same thing and acted on it much as either Stringfellow might have expected themselves to act if it came to a shooting war.

A good politician doesn’t finish without suggesting a course of action in these things, so Stringfellow continued:

Every pro-slavery men in Atchison county ought immediately to call at Atchison, and learn the news and course determined.

In other words, the boys had best come on in. They had abolitionists to hunt. Maybe this time they would suffer no disappointments.

Midnight murders, assassinations, burglaries and arson

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Wilson Shannon thought it best to use the military to suppress the free state movement in order to restore the proslavery order in Kansas. This, in turn, would prevent his territory sparking a general civil war. Armed bands of proslavery men might endanger that project, but nowhere near so much as the antislavery side would. Shannon believed that out of general conviction. John Brown’s murders made him, at least in the one narrow case, right. So the Governor called out the army and soldiers went about ordering anyone they found in a group under arms to go home.

Immediate reaction to the Pottawatomie killings outside government officials proved more mixed. Some proslavery individuals did leave the area after Brown did his bloody work, but the party didn’t give up. Actual Kansans might outnumber them, but they had plenty of men in Missouri, the Kansas militia, and territorial government to even the score. John Stringfellow’s Squatter Sovereign laid into the story with its June 10 issue, having missed the week before. A throat-clearing exercise under the headline Free State Party In Kansas got things going:

Midnight murders, assassinations, burglaries and arson seem now to be the watchwords of the so-called Free State party. While those rebellious subjects confined themselves to the resistance of the law, in their attempts to make arrests, and execute process in their hands, the pro-slavery party in the Territory was determined to stand by the law, and aid the officers in executing process, and the courts in administering justice.

Mind the past tense; Stringfellow did. “Every pro-slavery man” should stick to that, but times do change.

Self-protection -defense of one’s life, family, and property are rights guaranteed to all law abiding citizens; and the manner and mode of keeping off murderers, assassins, &c., are not confined to any very strict rules of law

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Proslavery men could, would, and should keep themselves strictly within the law. But faced with an emergency, a direct threat to their lives and property, they might color outside its lines. No one could fault them for answering to self-preservation instead of the statute book. Stringfellow couches this as a response to an emergency, and did write to answer Brown’s murders, but he could have just as easily made the claim two years prior. His brother did:

Though we fully recognise the duty of all good citizens to obey the law, to rely upon the law, where there is no law, the right of self-defence requires that we should resort to the strong hand for self-protection. We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

Benjamin Stringfellow placed the emergency point at the mere presence of antislavery men. John Stringfellow, who voted for laws that did make expression of abolitionist sentiments a crime, now had a more immediate reason to make the same argument.

 

A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison looms large in the story of Bleeding Kansas. A man of his beliefs and inclinations, living just across the line in Missouri, would have probably taken part regardless of his national prominence. Though all but forgotten today, except for the false trivia about his serving as president for a day, in his time Atchison enjoyed a national following. After Calhoun’s death, he served as one of the most high-profile spokesmen for extreme proslavery politics. He had the high esteem of his peers in the Senate, who elected him president pro tempore, unanimously, during what many consider that body’s golden age. He appears in antislavery sources as a crude drunkard, probably with some justice, but Atchison also received a fine education and served ably as a lawyer and judge before his political career. In the former capacity, he worked to defend the Mormons from their hostile Missourian neighbors. We may know far more about him, except that most of his papers went up in smoke in a house fire. Thus when William Earl Parrish took Atchison as his subject, he produced a spare monograph that remains the Senator’s lone biography. Parrish leans heavily on Atchison’s ease in making political friends to underline his abilities, while not neglecting that Bourbon Dave put them to work in the service of slavery.

Parrish traces Atchison’s involvement with filibustering Kansas from its start. He joined with the Stringfellows, close friends of his, in calling for a meeting to discuss Kansas matters and plan a response to the Emigrant Aid Company in the summer of 1854, with the ink barely dry on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That meeting formed the Platte County Self-Defense Association, which accepted B.F. Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil. as its manifesto. As soon as Atchison got home from Washington, he took up control of the Self-Defensives. They used their group as a model in establishing the blue lodges that spread across Missouri and joined with a separate group Parrish calls the Kansas League, which operated inside the territory. Then the Senator came into Kansas to speak at his namesake town, just before they began selling off lots.

Atchison’s organization did not elude national notice. Amos Lawrence wrote him in March of 1855, asking the Senator to rein in his followers. Lawrence made no bones about their conflicting purposes: Atchison wanted slavery in Kansas and Lawrence wanted it out. But he asked that the two sides have a fair fight of it and assured Atchison that his organiztion did not actually have a vast legion of militant Yankees bent on conquest. If his side failed, Lawrence promised that antislavery Kansans would accept a loss in good grace “but they will never yield to injustice.”

Amos Adams Lawrence

Atchison answered in April, two weeks after the legislative elections where he and his conducted one of the largest and most flagrant frauds in American electoral history. He had no regrets:

You are right in your conjecture that I and my friends wish to make Kansas in all respects like Missouri. Our interests require it. Our peace through all time demands it, and we intend to leave nothing undone that will conduce to that end and can with honor be performed. If we fail, ten we will surrender to your care and control the State of Missouri. We have all to lose in the contest; you and your friends have nothing at stake. You propose to vote or to drive us away from Kansas. We do not propose to drive you and your friends from that Territory; but we do not intend either to be voted or driven our of Kansas, if we can help it; for we are foolish enough to believe we have as much right to inhabit that country as men from New England. Neither do we intend to be driven from Missouri, or suffer ourselves to be harassed in our property or our peace, if we can help it. At least we will try and make you and your friends share some of our anxieties.

At the time of the first delegate election, Atchison stumped across western Missouri. He told the people of Weston in to do their duty, anticipating what he would write to Lawrence in the spring:

When you reside within one day’s journey of the territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property depend upon your action, you can, without an exertion, send 500 of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions.

That day or shortly thereafter, Atchison ran a convention of the various blue lodges in Weston which nominated John Wilkins Whitfield as delegate.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Bourbon Dave didn’t leave things sit with that, of course. He skipped the first few weeks of the new term of Congress that began in December of 1854. Instead of Washington, Atchison went to Independence where he presided over a meeting to choose blue lodge emissaries to fan out across the South and replicate his work. Some would send men, but Atchison would take money and propaganda too. B.F. Stringfellow drew Virginia (his home state) and Maryland as his assignment. Platte and Buchanan counties would pay his travel expenses. He traveled back east with the Senator.

At Atchison’s request the Senate had elected Jesse D. Bright, a friend of Atchison’s from university days and who represented Indiana whilst owning slaves and a plantation in Kentucky, as his replacement. Bright offered to resign in Atchison’s favor, but the Missourian turned him down. He did little in the Senate, and missed sessions entirely toward the end of January. Parrish couldn’t find proof of it, but suspected that Atchison went with Stringfellow to lobby Virginia and Maryland. The Senator likely last served in his official capacity in Washington on February 2, 1855. Afterwards, he drops off the radar for about twenty days again. The papers, national and Missourian, took no note of him except for the latter complaining that he had vanished.

The absence drew some attention after the fact. Gideon Welles confided to his diary (in a volume I can’t find online) that he asked Lewis Cass after Atchison in that time. A mutual friend told Cass that Atchison had gone

on a tour through the Southern States, concocting measures with the Governors and leading men at the South to make Kansas a slave state.

“There was no peace”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Proslavery movements against Lawrence began again in earnest on May 11, 1856. On that day, US Marshal Donaldson issued a proclamation calling for a large posse to help him serve his process in the town. He wanted one as big as Kansas and Missouri could manage. Proslavery men, including some from Jefferson Buford’s expedition, happily obliged him. As they gathered, harassing people moving about Lawrence and killing two antislavery men, Donaldson remained at Lecompton. There the majority of the force assembled, as he had asked it to, and he and Governor Shannon heard desperate pleas from Lawrence for aid. Much of the free state leadership had fled, leaving the town with a committee of safety caught between internal divisions and a marked lack of realistic options. On the twentieth, his deputy entered Lawrence and had a few conversations. He left unmolested, thus demonstrating how much Donaldson required overwhelming force to carry out his duties.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Not that it mattered. Donaldson had between five and eight hundred men bent on doing something to Lawrence, whatever excuse they could get. They included David Rice Atchison, who had done so much to inaugurate Kansas’ troubles. Atchison’s Senate term had expired the year before, but he still hoped he might get another out of Missouri’s legislature. Divided, they instead left the seat open until 1857. The former Senator came into Kansas in the company of the Platte County Self-Defensives and two field pieces. The Kickapoo Rangers, who had killed Reese Brown, joined in as well. To them, William Phillips added

all the loafers and wild pro-slavery men from Leavenworth and Weston […] General Stringfellow had crossed from Missouri to Atchison, and reinforced by his brother , the doctor (who is the more eminent of the two), and the infamous Bob Kelly, Stringfellow’s law partner Abell, and several other pro-slavery men there, had gone to Lecompton. Colonel Boone, from Westport, with several other pro-slavery leaders from that place, and also from Liberty and Independence, at the head of bodies of armed men, or to take command of companies that had preceded them

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

A separate force had established itself at Franklin, under Buford. Phillips puts United States arms in their hands, given out by “federal appointees of Kansas.” That probably meant Donaldson, though Phillips doesn’t name him. Buford’s men had two cannons of their own.

The Lecompton force broke camp in the predawn hours of May 21, on the move at last. They arrived “shortly after sunrise” and occupied the heights of Mount Oread overlooking Lawrence, near Charles Robinson’s house.

The town was perfectly quiet. Its inhabitants were shaking off their slumbers; those already astir were going quietly about their avocations. No guns were planted upon the embankments. No lines of riflemen were drawn up. The cry was, “Peace! peace! when there was no peace.

The Plantation at the Polls

Gentle Readers, if you go around the right parts of the internet you will very quickly learn that the Democratic Party today is a thoroughgoing anti-black organization. As a large, old American institution traditionally dominated by white Americans, the probability of that may approach one more closely than mathematics can describe. This could make for a great opportunity to look into the ubiquity of white supremacy in American life. If that happened with any regularity, I would have to write about something else. Rather one sees the accusation levied as part of a decidedly odd line of partisan attack. Black Americans have voted Democratic in presidential elections in very large numbers for as far back as I can find polling data.

That data counts all “Nonwhite” Americans together for some time and so we should keep in mind that it doesn’t cover only black Americans, but it certainly includes them. They gave Adlai Stephenson 79% of their vote back in 1952. They preferred Kennedy to Nixon 68-32% in 1960. They turned out to the tune of 94% for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Eight-four percent of non-whites supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968. George McGovern won 87% of them over in 1972. The pattern continues. Come 2000, Gallup breaks the category down better and we learn that 95% of African-Americans supported Al Gore. Everybody who follows American politics at all knows this. It begs for an explanation.

It stands to reason that people of all colors and creeds don’t neatly settle in with one major party or the other. One would expect to find liberals, conservatives, and moderates in similar proportions in every demographic. Likewise, it would stand to reason that for historical reasons you may see some clustering one way or another. But cultural inertia seems very inadequate to explain why such vast majorities of African-Americans in particular and non-whites in general prefer Democratic presidents. Nor would it account for how black Americans voted quite enthusiastically for Republican candidates for as long as they could vote back in the later nineteenth century. How can we explain these numbers?

Call me reductive, but I operate under the theory that voters know their own business. They consult their knowledge, their personal experience, and their values. These lead them to make the choices they do in the voting booth. They might not make the same choices we think we would make in their position, but we make those judgments out of our own values, not theirs. We should not go about assuming the world full of nothing more than confused clones of ourselves that need setting right, unless we aspire to a singularly pathological species of narcissism. Thus I believe that people who vote differently from myself have made conscious decisions, to the best of an ability equal to my own, in accord with their genuine and most important interests. If we disagree, then we do so out of real difference.

This does not paint a very pretty picture of the voting public. For American minorities to vote so heavily Democratic means they understand the party at at least the lesser of two evils, the one likely to mistreat them less and do more of the things they would like to see done. I know this sounds partisan of me. I vote Democrat, so of course I want to believe awful things about the Republicans. But I know how the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, lost my vote. If I tell people that I disagree profoundly with their policies, then few people will doubt it. I have that privilege written right on my skin. I, a white man, deserve serious consideration as a thinker. I can consult my own interest and make informed decisions. My alignment doesn’t require a special explanation.

My fellow white Americans don’t seem near so eager to accept that premise when someone else asserts it. Go back to those aforesaid corners of the internet and you will learn that the Democrats have duped black Americans in particular, and minority Americans in general. The party hates them and has it out for them, but has so brainwashed them that they refuse to leave “the plantation.” This only makes sense two ways. Firstly, the Democrats have a peerless propaganda operation that can control the minds of literally millions of people at a time and get them all to act against what they understand as their best interests, year after year for decades on end. Does that sound like any Democratic party you’ve ever heard of? If it wielded that kind of power, then how have those donkey-headed wizards managed to lose so many elections?

This leaves us with door number two: minorities are too stupid to know what to do with themselves. They, as profound inferiors, require the guiding hand of a white man to set them right. They can’t possibly possess agency of their own.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

I wrote “the plantation” two paragraphs back because I’ve seen the metaphor used exactly that way more times than I care to count. It tells us more about the speaker than that they’ve heard of the nineteenth century. The idea that black Americans in particular just don’t know and can’t know how to govern themselves, but remain content to let whites govern them right down to whipping, rape, and innumerable mutilations of body, family, and life, has the best of nineteenth century pedigrees; it comes right out of proslavery literature. There the enslavers tell us, chapter and verse, that no slave would run or resist, save from madness, unless “enticed” or “corrupted” by meddling whites. Take it from Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil:

There were among us, too, a large number of free negroes, most of them, as usual, of bad character; their houses, the natural places of resort for abolitionists, at which to meet, and tamper with slaves, corrupt them, entice them to run away, and furnish them with facilities for escape.

I submit that black Americans and other minorities do not require liberation from the plantation the way that these sorts would have us believe. The only people who require corruption and enticement to depart it invented the metaphor. They, not the ancestors of slaves, refuse to depart the nineteenth century. But I grant them the courtesy they deny to others. I do not consider them dupes or fools. They know their interests, as whites, and vote to prosecute them to the fullest extent every time they go to the polls. If that comes at the cost of lives ruined and futures lost, then we shouldn’t view that as an accident any more than we should when we look at programs cherished by American leftists and see how they have systematically left black Americans out, or left them with mere scraps of what whites profited from. These things don’t just happen; we choose to make them happen.

Acutally, George Brown did Threaten Davy Atchison

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Gentle Readers, yesterday I concluded that George Washington Brown probably did not print a threat against David Rice Atchison. John Stringfellow over at the Squatter Sovereign probably invented the line, or recast someone Brown had said of border ruffians in general as a threat on Missouri’s latest ex-Senator. Nineteenth century papers do invent dialog often enough. Go into the archives and you’ll find quite a few letters written under obvious pseudonyms, often in eye dialect, that look a mite too convenient for the paper’s editorial line. Letters from friendly correspondents generally use standard English, which makes both all the more suspicious for the contrast. A certain degree of prevarication inevitably happens in the editorials too. One must also consider that even politically aligned newspapers liked to pick fights with one another and eagerly sling the kind of mud that we would expect to find on Twitter today. Politically hostile papers had little reason to restrain themselves.

Stringfellow’s paper said that Brown promised abolitionists in Kansas would shoot Atchison dead if ever they found him in the territory with arms in hand. I ran a searches on permutations of the phrase “if ever Gen. Atchison is found in this Territory with arms in his hands, they (the abolitionists) will have him shot.” The Sovereign put it in quotation marks and attributes it to Brown. They all came up dry. I also skimmed Herald of Freedom issues for the two months prior looking for Atchison references. I found a fair number, but he rarely came up except as a villain alongside both Stringfellows and other prominent proslavery men or in conjunction with his role in the Wakarusa War.

The search and my skimming missed the piece to which Stringfellow must have referred. The January 12 Herald of Freedom has some praise of the Cleveland Plaindealer. The author, George Brown informs us,

talks like a man. We thought him always wrong, but we are glad to make a correction in his favor.

Talking like a man sounds like something you do while crushing beer cans on your forehead, bragging about your sexual prowess, or threatening violence to me. Sixteen decades’ distance have put me off on the first two points, but the Plaindealer’s Gray nailed the third. Brown quotes him, in reference to David Rice Atchison:

He, with all other residents of Missouri who have crossed the borders of that State either to vote or fight in Kansas, should be shot, if no other means can be used to prevent their intrusions.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

While not quite the kill on sight statement that Stringfellow implied, this is otherwise quite close. But Stringfellow quoted Brown by name, not some fellow named Gray back in Ohio. Brown signed off in the next lines:

We may be allowed to say that we coincide in opinion with Mr. Gray, and that Atchison will be shot like a dog, traitor as he is, if he shall be found in Kansas with arms in his hands in case of a similar outbreak to the last. The people of Kansas hold him, and his colleague-B.F. Stringfellow-responsible for all the difficulties on the border; and in due time they will compel those men to pay the penalty for their violence, if continued.

Brown’s actual statement had a few more qualifiers than Stringfellow admitted, and doesn’t exactly match Stringfellow’s quote, but the differences don’t change the gist of it. If Atchison came back to Kansas with a party of armed border ruffians, then Brown thought him adequately qualified to play unwilling host to some hot lead. Morever, Brown expressed his firm belief “hundreds” would take the Plaindealer’s suggestion when the time came.

Given the number who turned out to defend Lawrence only the month before, he might have had it exactly right.

Kansas, Boston, and Treason in the Nineteenth Century, Part One

Reading sources hostile to the free state movement, and antislavery in general, one often comes across mention of their treasonable nature. With regard to the wildcat state government that came to operate in Kansas in late 1855 and early 1856, the connection doesn’t require much explanation. They really did aim to set up an illegal government within the territory of the United States, in opposition to the legally-constituted government placed in charge of that same territory. When the guilty parties work only to obstruct the fugitive slave law, to the point of violence, the accusations seem more strained. Strained, however, does not mean insincere, hysterical, or inaccurate. I have previously tried to understand accusations of treason in the context of those making them and the situation at hand. I lacked a grounding in nineteenth century jurisprudence necessary to say more. Thanks to Al Mackey’s research (PDF), I can do better now.

On October 15, 1851, your author’s negative one hundred twenty-ninth birthday, Justice Samuel Curtis of the United States Circuit Court in Boston issued instructions to a grand jury. It doesn’t seem that Curtis had a specific case in mind when he gave these instructions, but rather made them in anticipation of cases likely to come before the jurors during their term. We know that Boston didn’t have another fugitive rescue until Anthony Burns, but he didn’t.

Curtis opens by explaining why we must take treason so seriously, noting that it alone receives a precise definition in the Constitution.

It is there made to consist in levying war against the United States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. This language is borrowed from an ancient English statute, enacted in the year 1352 (25 Edw. III.), mainly for the purpose of restraining the power of the crown to oppress the subject by arbitrary constructions of the law of treason.

That all sounds very high school civics. The Founders, understanding that accusations of treason could lead to serious oppression, precisely defined the crime. Themselves a band of traitors against the crown of Great Britain, they had experience on both sides of the law. To argue that either small bands rescuing fugitive slaves or a protest movement oriented towards achieving legitimacy with the United States government levied war against it may seem quite the stretch to us.

Curtis didn’t think so. According to “settled interpretation”

the words “levying war,” include not only the act of making war for the purpose of entirely overturning the government, but also any combination forcibly to oppose the execution of any public law of the United States, if accompanied or followed by an act of forcible opposition to such law in pursuance of such combination.

Curtis couldn’t read the free state movement into this back in 1851, but surely would have recognized it later just as he recognized treason in fugitive slave rescues. He provided the jury a helpful checklist for diagnosing traitors:

(1) A combination, or conspiracy, by which different individuals are united in one common purpose.

Whether the Boston vigilance committee or the free state party, we have that. The Blue Lodges gave the border ruffians much the same. But anybody could unite in common purpose. If you go out with friends to see a movie, you’ve done as much.

(2) This purpose being to prevent the execution of some public law of the United States by force.

Our night at the movies slips the net here. The free state movement, for all its rhetoric of resistance, also wrapped itself in the flag and declared specifically for a public law of the United States: the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Though one sees occasional reference to the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s sanctity from proslavery men, they generally defended their activities in terms of counteracting efforts by Emigrant Aid Societies. They concerned themselves, on paper, with tit for tat rather than the sanctity of the law, except for the Kansas slave code.

The free state party, whatever occasional disavowals its leaders made, did have active military companies enlisted for its cause. Prior to fooling Wilson Shannon into authorizing them, those forces occupied a deeply ambiguous role. However, they did not meaningfully satisfy Curtis’ third criterion:

(3) The actual use of force, by such combination, to prevent the execution of that law.

Nobody attacked the United States Army, revenue officers, or federal marshals. Andrew Reeder faced armed threats in regard to the execution of his duties, but the proslavery men declined to consummate them. Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow attacked the governor and the matter ended with pistols drawn, but he had a personal grievance against Reeder for calling him a border ruffian.

By a very strict reading Curtis, it seems no one in Kansas had committed treason. The judge, however, intended a more expansive reading and offered it up to his jurors.

The End of the Leavenworth Territorial Register, Part One

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

I must begin with a minor correction, Gentle Readers. I previously put Mark Delahay’s nomination by the free state party for delegate to Congress at December 15, the day that the mob at Leavenworth seized the polls and menaced his newspaper. The nominating convention actually took place on December 22.

Speaking of that convention, Delahay attended it as he had previous free state conventions. That put him in Lawrence on the twenty-second. The proslavery men took notice, as George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom reported on December 29. Threats spared the Register once, but

the Platte County Regulators had determined that it should go the way of the Luminary ere long.

B.F. Stringfellow and company earned themselves a checkered past already by this point and they did live just across the river from Leavenworth. More likely than not, members of the organization played a part in the mob action on the fifteenth. With Delahay and other “leading Free State men of Leavenworth” away they saw their opportunity:

an armed and regularly organized company of fifty men, chiefly from Missouri, led by G.W. Perkins, Dr. Royall, Capt. Dunn and James Lyle marched down from Kickapoo, broke open the Register office, destroyed the press and threw it, with all type, into the Missouri river.

Dunn and Lyle have appeared in the narrative before. Lyle participated in the lynching of the less famous William Phillips. Dunn, of course, stormed the polls. I don’t recognize Perkins or Royall, but Brown helpfully identifies them as, like Dunn and Lyle, late of the army that besieged Lawrence. They had further distinctions as well:

Perkins was the candidate of the “National Democracy” for Congress; and the Territorial Register advocated his election. “Oh! shame! where is thy blush?” Dr. Royall was a delegate to the pro-slavery “law and order” Convention. Dunn is an Irish renegade. Sprung from a class and race who are opposed and despised at home, he was endowed with all the glorious rights of American citizenship, only to aid in undermining the principles on which our republican government is founded. Lyle was the clerk of the House of Representatives of the bogus Kansas Legislature […] Such are the leaders of the pro-slavery “law and order” party.

One just can’t imagine how the Whigs and Republicans lost the Irish vote so badly. Brown sounds at least as scandalized by Dunn’s Irish background as by his proslavery violence.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Register’s endorsement of Perkins makes for rich irony. Brown must have relished the chance to strike at proslavery violence and the right wing of his own movement, which Delahay represented. His clear satisfaction shouldn’t obscure the broader picture, though. Proslavery men didn’t attack just a radical paper like the Herald of Freedom, but even a very moderate antislavery organ:

It certainly could not be charged with “Abolitionism” as attachment to Northern ideas is styled; for it advocated the principles of the Nebraska bill; it lauded the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; it was the organ and defender of Stephen A. Douglas; it advised, from first to last, the obedience to the laws of the barons of Kansas; it was in favor of the execution of the fugitive slave bill and abhorred the higher law; its editor repeatedly and publicly declared “he had as lief buy a negro as a mule;” and regarded the question of slavery or freedom merely as “a question of dollars and cents.”

All of this held true until “within the last month,” to the point that the Register had the approval of the Democracy’s national newspaper, the Washington Union.