Antislavery Ingrates: Andrew Butler on Kansas, Part Two

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

We left Andrew Butler, David Rice Atchison’s old housemate, opining on Kansas matters to the United States Senate. He began by castigating John Hale (R-NH), for calling out the Supreme Court and Franklin Pierce. They had not, per Butler, contradicted their principles or gone whole hog for slavery. The Senator from South Carolina admitted, however, that if Roger Taney had done so then that would not warrant an objection from him. With all that throat-clearing and about three columns of the Congressional Globe under his belt, Butler moved on to discussing his old friend. Atchison’s senatorial enemies, Hale included,

attributed to him a ferocity and vulgar indifference and recklessness in relation to the affairs in Kansas, which is refuted by every confidential letter which he has written to me, and which is not in conformity to the truth.

Butler’s friend surely wouldn’t lie to him. If Atchison denied misconduct in private letters, it ought to settle things. Bourbon Dave didn’t make himself anyone’s enemy, not even Kansans who arrived courtesy of the Emigrant Aid Societies. Missouri’s former senator might have “the attributes of a conqueror of that class of people” but Butler didn’t cast Atchison as an Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. Rather he would conquer the hearts of his foes:

Let those who asperse him settle around him as neighbors, and if their houses were burned down and assistance were required, he would be the first man to render them assistance, and he would conquer them by his kindness, by his justice, by his good sense, and by generosity.

Antislavery Kansans might disagree, rightly noting that Atchison had a large role in directing the blue lodges that campaigned against them and authored many of their sufferings. What Atchison’s men didn’t bring over from Missouri, his allies in Kansas conducted on his behalf. Butler must have anticipated, or already heard, that charge because he turned it around in a passage ripe with perverse reasoning:

There was never a better illustration of his [Atchison’s] character than the conduct he displayed in the expected tragedy at Lawrence. I know the fact, and I state it on my authority, as a truth not to be disputed, (because I have his letters in my drawer,) that, when that controversy arose, General Atchison was absolutely called upon to attend General Robinson’s command, and he went, with a positive pledge on the part of those with whom he was associated that he should rather be the Mentor than the leader; and he has written to me that but for his mediatorial offices, the houses of the people of Lawrence would have been burnt and the streets drenched in blood.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Butler spoke in early March, before the sack of Lawrence. He refers here to the Wakarusa War, where Atchison did help calm the proslavery forces bent on the town’s ruin. He neglects that Atchison also acted as a leader and organizer of those forces. Nor does it matter much to him, if he knew, that Atchison defended seeking peace on the grounds that the free state leadership had outmaneuvered the proslavery side and would win the public relations war if bloodshed ensued just then. Bourbon Dave boldly stood up to his allies and told them that they had lost this round.

All of that made the latter-day calumniators of Atchison who wanted him “immolated on the altar of fanatical vengeance” into vile ingrates. The people of Lawrence and their friends in the Senate ought to thank Atchison; he saved their people and their town from the ravages of his own men. We should hope for neighbors of such quality.

A Closer Look at the Free State Hotel

The rules for guests at the Free State Hotel, May 10, 1856

We left the Free State Hotel a burned ruin, after attempts to level it with cannon fire and blow it sky-high with gunpowder failed. Before Samuel Jones and his proslavery army destroyed the place, it featured occasionally in the Kansas story. To Jones and men like him, the Emigrant Aid Company had built a fortress that might withstand any assault. To their free state enemies, it appears just as a large building. A stone building of considerable size could easily serve both roles. Before leaving the building behind, we should take a closer look. For that, I rely upon Martha B. Caldwell’s The Eldridge House, published in volume nine of the Kansas Historical Quarterly (PDF page 363).

The New England Emigrant Aid Company might have had trouble with its finances, but its board knew that people they sent to Kansas would need somewhere to stay while they looked for claims and built their own houses. The plan envisioned several hotels, each capable of housing three hundred people. The board entrusted Samuel Pomeroy, the same Pomeroy who Jones spoke to on the day the hotel burned, with buying sawmills and building those hotels on August 26, 1854. The first Company party arrived in Lawrence on Septemeber 15 of that year and they built the first hotel

by setting up two rows of poles a distance apart and bringing them together at the top, then thatching the sides with prairie hay. The gable ends were built up with sod and contained the doors and windows. The floor was hard sod.

Luxury had yet to arrive in Kansas, but sod floors and walls didn’t set the hotel far apart from the general run of frontier building. Community functions, including church services, took place there until it burned. Its replacement went on the same lines, but with higher walls and cotton cloth lining the interior. Nobody intended for the sod-walled tent to remain indefinitely and the Aid Company’s trustees asked Pomeroy and Charles Robinson to get moving with a proper building. By November 2, they had managed to dig the cellar out.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Construction faced many obstacles, taking nineteen months and never quite reaching a full opening. The Company often ran out of money, with Robinson informing the board that construction stopped in part for that reason at the end of November. The mill that Pomeroy had set up couldn’t keep up with the demand of private customers, so lumber had to come up the river from St. Louis. Kansas’ turmoil can’t have sped things along either. One can forgive the difficult logistics of the Kansas frontier, but Caldwell believes the men in charge also distracted themselves with land speculation and points to the Company later refusing agents the freedom to conduct private business and revoking permission from Pomeroy.

All of that meant that the first emigrant parties to come in the spring of 1855 did not find a hotel waiting for them as planned. In January, the Herald of Freedom advised them not to expect the finest lodgings but promised that Lawrence could handle people ready to rough it. Come February, Pomeroy advertised for someone to furnish and run the hotel. Soon enough, Shalor W. Eldridge took up the lease. He already ran the company’s hotel in Kansas City, the same one where Andrew Reeder would hide the next year.

By spring, the basement had walls and waited on lumber but the shortage of that material had grown so acute that it prompted a revision of plans. The Aid Company intended a timber frame building but a perpetual lack of timber made that impossible. Instead they would build in “stone and concrete.” This argues strongly that no one envisioned the Free State Hotel as a fortification, at least until the spring of 1855, but the change of plan in the context of the deteriorating Kansas situation might well have looked like one aimed at military necessity from the outside. By this point the delays had already made the hotel infamous, with Josiah Miller of the Kansas Free State editorializing against it. People passed Lawrence by or left in disgust for lack of proper accommodations and yet the Company refused to either finish the work or sell to someone who would. Flooring, pre-fabricated in St. Louis, and doors arrived in town only on August 19.

At the beginning of October, two floors stood more or less complete, internal walls going up and windows in place. That served well enough to make the building host to social events, starting with a party thrown by the Kansas Rifles boasting elaborate invitations and a hunting contest to feed the guests. Five hundred people attended despite cold, rain, and deep much. They dined on “squirrel, rabbit, prairie chicken, wild turkey, and one roast pig, together with cakes and pastries.” Not much more than a week after, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow and the Wakarusa War began. The hotel became a barracks and headquarters, then housed Thomas Barber’s body and the peace talks. The subsequent festivities further put it to good use.

After the Wakarusa War, construction resumed. Putting up plaster and supplying furniture took place in December. By January, rumors circulated that the Free State government might quit Topeka for a more fortified spot. Surely they could get the hotel done by February 15, but that date came and went. In March, “between twenty and thirty men were constantly employed.” Their work concluded by April 12, when the papers reported the end of construction. Caldwell quotes the Herald of Freedom on the hotel’s final form:

50 feet front, 70 feet back; three stories above the basement; contains 50 separate apartments, besides a hall in each story. The basement is divided into three rooms, each 18 feet square -two to be used as pastry and meat kitchens, the other as storehouse or cellar. The first story is 11 feet from floor the ceiling, is divided into 9 rooms; the dining hall 18 feet wide and 47 feet long; hall 9 1/2 feet wide, entire length of building; Gentlemen’s parlor, 18 feet square; Ladies’ parlor, 18 x 20; Reading Room, 18 feet square; Sitting room, 16 x 18; two bed-rooms, 9 feet square; office, 6 x 14 […] stairs leading to the roof, which is flat, and affords a fine promenade and a splendid view of the surrounding scenery. There are thirty or forty port-holes in the walls, which rise above the roof, plugged up now with stones, which can be knocked out with the blow of the butt of a Sharp’s rifle.

The Howard Committee

The military use of the building must have come to mind more and more, even if the original plan involved none of it, but the main focus of the description remains on the hotel amenities. It had outhouses “of the neatest kind” and a partially-built stable which would hold fifty horses and keep your buggy out of the rain. Brown’s paper, which ought to know considering it drew funds from the Emigrant Aid Company too, estimated the cost of the building at over $20,000. The grand opening would take place on the first of May.

Samuel Jones

Eldridge set into furnishing the hotel to meet that date, ordering pieces from St. Louis and Boston. He spent over five thousand dollars, but most of the furniture had yet to arrive when the Howard Committee did. The people of Lawrence loaned him some of their own to spare him embarrassment. I.B. Donaldson and Samuel Jones then intervened. Jones convalesced briefly under the hotel’s roof after his shooting. With all trouble then in the offing, the grand opening did not take place as planned. The Eldridges held out hope all the same, with a set of rules for guests coming off the Herald of Freedom press on May 10. Instead Lecompton’s grand jury declared the Free State Hotel a military edifice and recommended someone do something about it. A recovered Jones lied to the proslavery mob about having an order for the building’s destruction and saw it done.

Raising the Red Flag

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

I.B. Donaldson -J.B. in some sources- and his army had come to Lawrence. They arrived not long after sunrise, marching down from Lecompton and up from Franklin to the tune of five to eight hundred men. Those in the lead took up a position on the heights of Mount Oread, above the town. They had a mixed of cavalry and infantry backed by at least four cannons. No like army of antislavery men mustered to meet them. The committee of safety made the decision not to resist and those so inclined largely left the area rather than get caught up in the fight sure to come. William Phillips describes the tension on the ground:

there were some fluttering amongst timid hearts, recollections of bloody threats, and the knowledge of the murderous wishes of their enemies. Groups began to cluster here and there in the streets, and many eyes were turned to the body of armed horsemen on the hill; but there was no demonstration of resistance.

Around seven in the morning, the posse descended from the highest point on Mount Oread to the one nearest town and seized Governor Robinson’s house to use as a headquarters.

They then planted their cannon on the end of the hill overlooking the town, and pointed towards it. This was long musket-range from the town, but good range for breech-loading rifles.

The force initially flew a white flag, but whatever faint hope Lawrence might have seen in that fled when they struck the white and raised red in its place:

the war-flag […] on this was inscribed, “Southern Rights.” Soon after, a United States flag, the “stripes and stars” floated beside it.

The policy of the United States from independence until 1860 floated there. The Lawrence memorialists claimed that the red flag would have spurred resistance, whatever the situation, except for the red, white, and blue with it. Whether they said as much to save face after the fact or meant it, ion the end they followed the same policy that their party had adopted before: Free state Kansans might fight with proslavery individuals acting privately and, in extremis, against the territorial government. They had no intention of levying war against the United States.

With the army-sized posse in place, W.P. Fain, Deputy United States Marshal, made his second call to Lawrence in less than twenty-four hours. He came with ten men, unarmed, and summoned several locals to the posse:

Dr. Jarvin, a pro-slavery resident of Lawrence, John A. Berry, C.W Topliff, Wm. Jones, S.W. Eldridge, and T.B. Eldridge.

Those same Eldridges had gone off to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furniture to the Governor. Now, bound by their previous offer to join any posse summoned, they went to work for the Marshal. He had warrants for the arrest of George Deitzler and G.W. Smith, which he managed without difficulty.

He staid until after dinner; called for dinner at the hotel, where he, and the posse he brought with him, dined; he left immediately after, neither he nor his companions paying the bill.

In other words, Fain came into Lawrence unarmed and summoned the de facto proprietors of the Free State Hotel and leaders of the committee of safety to aid him. Then he arrested two free state men and hung around town until noon. He went to the Eldridge’s hotel and executed a dine and dash against two of the men he had insisted help him carry out his duties.

“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.

Sworn “to drive us to Hell”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

We left Captain Walker, a free state man, in possession of Wilson Shannon’s answer to the town of Lawrence. They had a proslavery army bearing down on them, again, and he had both the authority to call out the United States Army to defend them and a responsibility for their safety as governor of Kansas. They also asked Colonel Edwin Sumner, 1st Cavalry, first and he told them he couldn’t act without Shannon’s go ahead. The committee of safety dispatched Walker their plea for help, the same document but with Shannon’s name in the place of Sumner’s. This put them in the awkward position of acknowledging Shannon as the governor of Kansas when they had elected Charles Robinson to that office, but with lives at stake one must make sacrifices. The New York Times’ correspondent reported that Walker could not get near Lecompton to deliver the message, but secured a proslavery go between. He no sooner had Shannon’s answer than six men commenced chasing after him, firing all the way. Walker lost them in a ravine.

Samuel Lecompte ran his court and grand jury out of Lecompton, which he lent his name. He helped start this latest trouble by summoning the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason. The Times remarked that he kept issuing summons to that town, which free state men feared to answer. Lecompte himself might happily let them stew through some months of custody before a trial that ended with antislavery Kansans dangling from a rope, but someone else could arrange a fatal accident far sooner. News of that had gotten Andrew Reeder to abandon the plan to serve as the party’s political martyr and test case. Now it must have seemed that anyone foolish enough to go would risk his life attempting just to get to the court.

Thus most of those summoned

consequently stay away; the result of which is they are being subject to a new process for contempt of Court […] the highest crime recognized by law in Kansas while Judge Lecompte is arbiter. We are becoming more suspicious that these demons meditate a night attack upon us, therefore we are keeping out strong guards, and lights are kept burning at night in our principal buildings.

The dangers attached to more than locally famous antislavery men and their agents. The Times told that the proslavery men seized a Mr. Wise, four miles south of Lawrence, and kept him until ten at night. They brandished knives at him and “pricked his vest,” but wise convinced them that he stood with them and they let him go. Before parting, he learned some of their plan. They would arrest Andrew Reeder (now fled), Charles Robinson (likewise), and James Lane (now rumored back in Kansas). Two senators-elect and a governor would make for quite the prize, which they aspired to display hanging from rope by the neck. Should they fail to secure those men,

they are sworn to commence a crusade against Lawrence and “drive us to hell.”

Lights out or not, nobody could have slept soundly on that news.

More Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

As before, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

We left Marcus Parrott telling his brother, Edwin, that the second proslavery company headed for Lawrence passed by his window just as he wrote. The timing might come more from Marc’s flair for the dramatic than actual events, but Parrott lived at Leavenworth and proslavery forces had come through there often enough before. The Missouri interfered with the most direct route for many and it had only so many ferries available.

Marc feared what would come. He himself spent time as a prisoner of a proslavery army back in December. Back then, the free state party feared that Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, would summon the 1st Cavalry from Fort Leavenworth against them at Lawrence. Shannon tried at least half that, but without orders from Washington Colonel E.V. Sumner turned him down. Since then, Shannon had gotten the authority from President Franklin Pierce to summon Sumner’s men at will to preserve law and order in the territory. Concerned about all this, Marc reported that he went to the fort that morning, May 9, 1856, and informed Sumner about the proslavery movements. The Colonel told him “he would go over tomorrow”. Marc doesn’t elaborate, but it seems from further context that Sumner promised to look into things on behalf of the antislavery party:

The pro-slavery n[illegible] are now clamorous to have Sumner Removed from the Army – they charge him with being a free soiler. It is doubtless true. It is good for us that if he is. I dare not say that they may regret having him removed.

This would square with John Speer’s account that the garrison generally leaned antislavery. Marc wouldn’t put sacking Sumner past Pierce, who had dismissed Andrew Reeder at the request of Kansas’ proslavery men.

Rumors also flew about that someone had shot Wilson Shannon, which Marc didn’t believe. He did think

Reeder & Robinson are probably at this time under arrest. […] Their arrest is equivalent to their death.

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

At the time of Parrott’s letter, Robinson had probably left Lawrence. Reeder waited until well into the night. Both men had good cause to fear for their lives in proslavery custody, though ultimately only Robinson got captured and he survived. Bringing things closer to home, Marc informed Edd that, “One or two attempts have been made to waylay me at night, but failed.”

Proibably Marc couldn’t count them because he had seen men he suspected of tailing him or setting an ambush, but managed to get away. He may have succumbed to ordinary paranoia, but proslavery Kansans and Missourians really did want to get antislavery militia leaders like Marcus Parrott. Consequently, he armed himself and holed up in his office.

Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

It wold take an especially obtuse reader of the May 10, 1856 Herald of Freedom to miss the point: the cause of freedom in Kansas stood on a precipice. Its leaders, facing arrest, had fled. Its semi-official organ, the paper itself, had a grand jury judgment for its suppression. Ordinary Kansans, like Pardee Butler, and low-level free state operatives, like J.N. Mace faced mortal peril. Proslavery men roamed the countryside, harassing travelers and trying to settle old scoresJefferson Buford’s army, a few hundred strong, had come to destroy the free state party. In response to the shooting of Samuel Jones, a new invasion from Missouri seemed in the offing.

That new invasion appears to have turned from fear to reality in the few days prior to the Herald’s edition. The night Andrew Reeder fled Lawrence, he remarked on

Picket guards posted a mile on the road to Lecompton. Reports that they have 300 men assembled.

That number would about match the size of Buford’s expedition. During his flight and long sojourn hiding in a Kansas City hotel, Reeder noted several groups passing through on their way to Kansas. Marcus Parrott, living in Leavenworth, saw more. A lawyer and free state militia leader, Parrott appeared previously as the man that Patrick Laughlin accused of telling him to engage in election trickery. He had also stood for governor against Charles Robinson, on the more conservative Young America ticket.

Gentle Readers, you may also remember Parrott as the author of a letter that I lacked the ability to read a few weeks ago. I got some help from a fellow flair over at Reddit’s AskHistorians, Caffarelli. She kindly donated some of her lunch time to the task and between the two of us (mostly her) I have a fair transcription. Some best guesses remain; I’ll mark them in the quotes with brackets.

Parrott put pen to paper on May 9, writing his brother Edwin. In the customary manner of nineteenth century correspondents, he opened by saying he had just received the latest from “Edd”, complete with $200, but

We are again unfathomably deep in the matter of territorial trouble.

During the last [two] days, arrived men, have been [horsing] toward Lawrence. The town is again investe[d]. Before this reaches you, the telegraph will relieve your suspense. To me, the moment looks big with fate. A Company reached from here at day light this morning, unarmed, or it is said by Shannon who having found the regulars unmanageable, has turned again to his favorite militia.

Wilson Shannon had tried and failed to get the 1st Cavalry to move from Fort Leavenworth to suppress a proslavery invasion in the past, but he could have just as easily used them to suppress the free state movement. That fear didn’t pass when he brokered a tense peace back in December. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed the Army officially at Shannon’s disposal for the preservation of law and order.

Moreover, at the very moment Parrott wrote, “a company -the second- marched past my window for the scene of strife.”

“Worthy only of barbarians” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On April 29, 1856, J.N. Mace, a free soil Kansan, finished his testimony before the Howard Committee and went home. That night, his dog raised an alarm and Mace went outside. Two proslavery men shot him in the leg. Mace survived, but it took him a few hours to get back indoors. Mace lived near to Lawrence, so the town got together for another mass meeting. Charles Robinson, G.P. Lowery, James Legate, and others addressed the crowd. A Mr. Smith, probably George W. Smith, offered the customary resolutions. The crowd at Faxon’s Hall adopted them unanimously. The first condemned the attacks upon both Mace and Samuel Jones as

disgraceful to any community, and worthy only of barbarians destitute of the first principles of honor or common humanity

An honorable man would have challenged Mace or Jones to come out and have a fair duel, but in both cases would-be assassins struck under the cover of darkness and fled. Everyone, whatever their party, should condemn such behavior “as highly destructive of the peace and best interests” of Kansas. Maybe everyone but a few malcontents could manage those condemnations, but the meeting’s ecumenical spirit quickly fell away. Its members hailed from Lawrence and considered themselves free soilers, after all. They thus noted that under the present government of Kansas,

the people can have no laws, executive or judicial officers of their own, and since those that have been attempted to be imposed upon the people are partial, unjust and oppressive, not recognized or approved by the bona fide residents of the State, it is the duty of Congress at once to remove every vestige of the Territorial Government, and to admit the State into the Union under her present Constitution.

They wouldn’t let an opportunity to make that call go to waste, but one of their own had just taken a bullet from a proslavery assassin. They could expect no justice for him from a government made of border ruffians and their supporters. Thus, the resolutions speak to their genuine concerns for Kansas. Until they got their redress from Congress, the resolved concluded that attempts to enforce the laws could only come to naught. Why should they respect the lawful authority of men imposed upon them? Free state Kansans had not merely lost an election fair and square; they lost their elections to violence and intimidation by Missourians intent on prosecuting their gain to the fullest extent.

The meeting concluded:

until such laws [by Kansans for Kansans] can be made and executed, every man should be a “law unto himself,” and brand with infamy any man who would brutally assault his fellow-man, or in any way disturb the peace and good order of the community.

This sent a mixed message. On one hand, the people of Lawrence asked for a legitimate government to protect them and secure their peace and prosperity. The men who shot Mace and Jones demonstrated the need for just that government, as the present state brought bouts of anarchy and proslavery oppression. Frequently the two worked together, with oppression from the government and anarchy from proslavery bands allied to that government’s program. On the other hand, until they got satisfaction Lawrence endorsed individuals taking law into their own hands. A brand of infamy might constitute only public scorn, but in context it hints at more. Someone -anyone- should do something.

“There is more abolition wolf-bait.” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left off with a retrospective on how the proslavery border ruffians had pushed indifferent and even sympathetic Kansans into the free state camp by their heavy-handed, sometimes deadly, actions to force slavery upon the territory. George Brown, or rather his associate editor J.H. Greene as Brown had left Kansas on business, published it in the Herald of Freedom as part of a general appeal for help from the East. He and his fellow free state men expected a new invasion in short order and feared that this time, Wilson Shannon would send the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth after them as well. They came to those dire straits courtesy of proslavery sheriff Samuel Jones, who came to Lawrence to arrest Samuel Wood. Wood had rescued his fellow free state militia leader, Jacob Branson, from Jones’ custody back in December. As soon as Wood got back to Kansas, Jones went to take him in. Wood refused to oblige, leading to Jones coming back with some of the cavalry as bodyguards. Wood and his accomplices fled Lawrence in advance of that, but someone shot Jones in the back while he camped in town.

Almost simultaneously, proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte got a grand jury to summon the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason, usurpation of office, and other charges. The jury also declared Brown’s paper a public menace which deserved suppression. Free state governor Charles Robinson left on the 9th. The free state’s senator-elect/delegate to Congress, Andrew Reeder took off shortly thereafter on learning that the previous plan for him to serve as a test case would likely end in his death.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

Before he left, Brown made sure everyone got the point. After his item recapping Kansas shift into the antislavery camp, he detailed the first attempted arrest of Reeder. Then came an item on Pardee Butler’s late travails. Butler had nothing to do with the free state government except preferring it as a private individual. Brown identifies J.N. Mace as a free state man like Butler, but calls him a captain. That implies militia leadership, which might have made him a larger target. Mace came into Lawrence on April 29, 1856, to testify before the Howard Committee. That night he sat at home until his dog raised a ruckus. Mace went to see what had happened, and

walked but a short distance from the door, when several shots were fired at him, one taking effect in his leg, near the top of his boot. The shot paralyzed his leg, and so stunned him that he fell to the ground. Two persons, who were concealed in a gully close at hand, hereupon made good their escape, one of them remarking, “there is more abolition wolf-bait.”

Unlike Brown’s story of highway robbery, this has a sound ring of truth to it. Mace did testify before the Committee and by naming him Brown invites people to check his facts. Mace suffered for “several hours” before he could get back indoors. Brown called the wound “severe” but not life-threatening, so in theory anybody nearby could go see for themselves.

“Kill them! kill them!”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, Gentle Readers. Rather than write history, I spent mine putting together Lego and playing Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I intended to write after the Lego, but the game consumed the remainder of the productive portion of the day. I have no regrets.

That said, the nineteenth century hasn’t gone away. We left George Washington Brown telling the world the state of affairs in Kansas. Proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte had gotten a grand jury to summon the free state government leadership on grounds of treason. Charles Robinson, the governor, and Andrew Reeder, delegate to Congress and senator-elect, made a run for it. Robinson traveled openly and got caught at Lexington, Missouri. Reeder disguised himself and skulked about at night. He got clear of Missouri, though not without a few close calls and much delay. Brown informed his readers that, whatever happened with the antislavery leadership, ordinary Kansans remained in peril. The territorial government still stood against them, to the point of outlawing their platform. Beyond that, antislavery Kansans faced the threat of individual or mob violence for expressing their opposition to slavery in their territory.

From the general, Brown proceeded to the specific:

The hue and cry is now raised against Gov. Robinson and Senator Reeder. “Kill them! kill them!” is in the throats of every brawler who goes unhung in Kansas. Their movements are watched-their goings out and comings in carefully noted-and they are forced to seek a place of safety in the Free States.

Most of us probably read “hue and cry” as a stock phrase, but it originates in a literal call to apprehend wrongdoers. Brown has Robinson and Reeder’s situation dead to rights: orders existed for their arrest and posses had assembled to take them. If they should die while resisting, or “resisting” arrest, the proslavery party might well experience such remorse as to leave them hung over for a week. Both men feared their death if taken. Reeder fled Kansas, rather than stay behind as a test case, specifically because he had information that he would never live long enough to face trial.

Brown, like the free state leadership, saw the situation as dire. They had taken pains to avoid initiating major violence and, some hotheads aside, feared the results of an armed class of any scale. Proslavery and antislavery Kansans did kill one another over politics, but heretofore the murders happened on a personal scale or between small bands of men. Even a frontier government might contain that sort of thing without undue strain. But now, the free state men feared,

no earthly power can prevent a bloody collision. If it must come, the sooner we have whipped our enemies, the sooner will quiet be restored to the country. Human patience cannot long endure this system of terrorism and persecution. If we can secure quietude in no other way than by fighting for it, surely ’twere infinitely better that we pass through a sanguinary struggle than be made slaves!

Brown could have written all of that on almost any occasion; he had feared for his own life before. But until the grand jury acted, the official reaction to the free state movement had come to little more than rhetorical condemnation and largely unenforced laws. The violence they faced had come irregularly, in response to specific circumstances. While that had come under the color of law when a proslavery army invested Lawrence back in December, the town narrowly avoided destruction. No campaign had grown from that proslavery defeat; the Missourians went home on the instructions of their own leaders. Now a force within Kansas and with the power of the territorial government and its federal imprimatur had moved against them, a force which might call on the United States Army to destroy their movement.