The Anti-Abolition Free State Ticket

 

Cyrus Holliday

Cyrus Holliday

George Washington Brown reported that two rival tickets, in addition to the one approved by the free state convention, contended at the polls on January 15, 1856. The first of those, the Young America ticket, first tried to swap the governor and lieutenant governor positions from the candidates the free state convention used. Rebuffed in this, they put forward their own lieutenant governor, Marcus Parrott. He lost handily to Charles Robinson.

The other party of antislavery Kansans dubbed themselves the Anti-Abolition Free State ticket. Brown named “Messrs. Garvey, Holliday, Elliott, & Smith” the principals. I recognize Cyrus Holliday’s name from past efforts to unite antislavery Kansans under a single banner, which makes his participation here seem odd. He can’t have had very cold feet, given his participation not that long prior in the Kansas Legion.

According to Brown, the Anti-Abolition ticket

charged the [free state] Convention with corruption, perfidy, and abolitionism.

It also hadn’t nominated them for office, which Brown noted. Garvey, Holliday, Elliot, and Smith all put themselves forward at the convention and won defeat “by overwhelming majorities.” In the nineteenth century, every politician but one’s own comes off as a venal office-seeker, but the convention did spurn them.

The Anti-Abolition men held out that the establishment free state ticket didn’t really represent Kansans; it represented the Emigrant Aid Society. No one could deny that Charles Robinson, who ran for governor on it, acted as the society’s agent. Brown reported another wrinkle in this:

C.K. Holliday, less than a year ago, applied to that Society to be appointed its agent. We state this on the highest authority. His request was refused, and since then he has been, Stringfellow and Atchison, perhaps, excepted, the most industrious calumniator of it.

Thwarted ambition probably plays its part here, but Holliday and company knew the political landscape of Kansas. White Kansans disliked slavery, at least when Missourians demanded they have it, but they also voted overwhelmingly for a black law to bar slaves and free blacks alike from the state. Back at Big Springs, the free state movement had declared itself fundamentally not abolitionist. A powerful constituency existed that explicitly wanted slavery and black Americans of all statuses kept clear of the territory. By tarring Robinson with his Emigrant Aid Society credentials, the Anti-Abolitionists could call to mind his connections to New England radicals and his stands in favor of such wild notions as black men, and even women of all colors, voting.

But Robinson made no secret of his connections. His place on a ticket with more moderate men, and his close working relationship with conservatives like James Lane, had to help ameliorate that. Thus Holliday, editor of the Freeman, went to press with an extra edition

intended for circulation in the remote parts of the Territory, in which it is stated that Dr. Robinson had declined.

Antislavery Kansans, we know you like Charles Robinson and his dirty Emigrant Aid Society. But even if you’ve made a deep, personal commitment you can’t help it if the guy refused to run. Vote for us instead.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Brown published a letter from Robinson on the issue, where he claimed in the mode of the disinterested politician that he had not put his own name forward. The free state convention did that. At the time, everyone would have understood this as nearly irrefutable evidence that Robinson had done so. They might say in public that the office found the man, but in private everyone knew otherwise. So conscripted, Robinson felt bound to oblige:

since it [Robinson’s name] has been thus used, I have not authorized, and shall not authorize any man, or set of men, except the Convention, to withdraw it; and the above statement [Holliday’s] is without a shadow of truth, as all similar statements will be.

Not content with that dirty trickery, Holliday also published that James Lane inspired and endorsed his ticket. Lane also wrote Brown to reject the notion, insisting like Robinson that the convention governed him and he gave his “earnest support” to “the entire ticket”. He further noted that he thought the odds of admission for their free Kansas “fair” and thus

would consider any division of our party at this crisis peculiarly unfortunate, and trust it may be avoided.

 

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The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Five

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 12, 3, 4Squatter Sovereign article

Patrick Laughlin published the constitution and rituals of the Kansas Legion, but his article included more information still. It appears that when the Grand Encampment had their first session, on February 8, 1855, they passed a resolution that offers a useful reminder that their movement did not consist entirely of twenty-first century egalitarians, but rather nineteenth century white Americans. In April, the legion’s founders wrote their constitution. In February, they had this to say:

Whereas, while we regard the Freedom of Kansas Territory as the highest of all political considerations which may now or hereafter engage our attention as a free and intelligent people, we at the same time regard it as impolitic and wrong to adopt any line of policy that may in any manner interfere with the domestic relations of our neighboring States or Territories–therefore,

Resolved, that we hold it to be just and proper in our relations with our sister States as a fundamental principle of action, and most promotive of the public good of the Territory, that laws preventing the emigration of either Slaves or Free negroes be enacted by our coming General Assembly and eventually engrafted in the constitution of the State.

Andrew Francis wanted to join the free state movement because he understood its goal as largely the same as his free white state party: no black Americans in Kansas. Missouri need not worry, as Kansas would let Missourians come and take back their absconded slaves. Kansan whites need not worry, as they would not let any black person free or slave remain long in their territory. Every black person would lose if they had their way, and therefore every white person would win.

David Wilmot

David Wilmot

Not every antislavery Kansan went along with that, as recurrent debates over Jim Lane’s black law demonstrate, but they could not carry the state on their own. For every Charles Robinson, who would make black men and women of all races into voters, the United States had at least dozens of David Wilmots bent on constraining slavery only as a way to make the continent whites only. The egalitarians could grumble about it and write protests, but without the numbers they could accomplish little else. Worse, if they insisted too forcefully they might break the tide of resentment that repeated theft of elections had engendered in white Kansans and send some of the black law men back over to the proslavery side. I don’t know that we could say which course would have led to a better outcome any easier than they could have.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Laughlin concluded his exposure of the Legion with suitable fireworks:

Now that I have shown the foul, treasonable and murderous plottings of a party in which preachers of the Gospel stand pre-eminent-it is my duty to give also to the world, in order to make my statements more perfect, the Grip, Signs, and Passwords of this modern army, made up of the chivalrous sons of darkness.

Thus Laughlin told Kansas, and anybody in Missouri who cared to read it as well, not just what he knew or the contents of documents. He also provided the means to infiltrate a meeting. They need not take his word for it, but could go see for themselves. While present they could note the faces, then return home and tell their friends.

The article concludes with a statement of Laughlin’s character. Seven men swore to having known Laughlin since he came to Kansas and

take pleasure in saying that his demeanor has been that of a gentleman, and that they consider his statements perfectly reliable in every respect.

The seven worthies included James Forman and James Lynch, both of whom took part in the Laughlin-Collins clash. I suspect we know now just how Collins came to see Lynch as his enemy. Two other Formans, John and A.P. signed as well, likely relatives of James.

 

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Four

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 12, 3Squatter Sovereign article

 

You had to swear twice to join the Kansas Legion. The first time, you swore not to reveal what you would learn of the group and its business at the meeting where they planned to induct you. Then, reeling from the stunning revelation that this secretive group of antislavery men constituted a secretive group of antislavery men, must swear a more binding oath. The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion set this down word for word and Patrick Laughlin published it with the rest of the Legion’s secrets.

The Howard Report also contains a version of the oath, as remembered by Andrew Francis. Francis uses the Kansas Regulators. He joined after Laughlin’s original publication, some time shortly after October 11. At his induction, Andrew Reeder impressed on Francis that the Regulators had nothing to do with the Kansas Legion that Laughlin exposed. Other witnesses, notably Martin F. Conway, also testify to two organizations. Given the similarity between the groups, their identical politics, the short timespan between the fall of one and the presumed rise of the next, I don’t take this claim very seriously. Francis’s testimony suggests that he tended to take people very much at their word. That considered, I see the Regulators as unlikely to differ substantially from the Legion. Most likely, the members changed their name and altered a few habits rather than founded an entirely different group.

The oath that the Legion specified might not perfectly match the oath Francis recalled, even if he originally swore the same words. That could come down to actual changes, imperfect memory, or local variations in usage, but the two bear examination together all the same. The official oath begins

I, _____, in the most solemn manner, here, in the presence of Heaven and these witnesses, bind myself that I will never reveal, nor cause to be revealed, either by word, look or sign, by writing, printing, engraving, painting or in any manner whatsoever anything pertaining to this institution, save to persons duly qualified to receive the same. I will never reveal the name of this organization, the place of meeting, the fact that any person is a member of the same, or even the existence of the organization, except to persons legally qualified to receive the same.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

This substantially matches Francis’ oath. He references “the Almighty” instead of “the presence of Heaven” and phrases the obligations differently, but captures the same meaning. Francis adds that the oath required him to obey, to the cost of his own life, the commands of his superiors. The Legion’s oath has nothing like that. Instead, one must

support, maintain and abide by any honorable movement made by this organization to secure this great end [a free Kansas], which will not conflict with the laws of the country and the Constitution of the United States. I will unflinchingly vote for and support the candidates nominated by this organization, in preference to any and all others.

One could take the obedience unto death part as read, but the text doesn’t really suggest that. Someone could have added it in accord with local usage, but one wouldn’t expect local variants to have much traction in the immediate surrounds of the men who wrote down the original. A more severe version of the oath might have gone out after Laughlin put the Legion in the papers. Francis might have remembered things told to him informally as part of the oath. Or he might have resented the Legion/Regulators for letting him think Wilson Shannon supported them and added it out of spite.

Francis’ oath also bound him to commercial non-intercourse with proslavery men, to whatever degree he could manage. The Legion’s oath has no such provision. Nor does it require, as Francis claims he swore, that one must bear arms. However, the Legion’s constitution provides that encampments of thirty or more must form military companies and the prescribed rituals consistently refer to members as soldiers, so I don’t think he went far off script in reading that between the lines.

The Legion’s oath concludes

To all of this obligation I do most solemnly promise and affirm, binding myself under the penalty of being expelled from this organization, of having my name published to the several Territorial Encampments as a perjurer before Heaven and a traitor to my country-of passing through life scorned and reviled by men, frowned on by devils, forsaken by angels, and abandoned by God.

Frnacis didn’t call these lines out as such, but if they appeared in the oath he swore then they might well have discomfited him on religious grounds. He mentions such scruples in his testimony, as well as concerns about swearing to oppose the legislature’s work conflicting with his oath as a lawyer.

The induction ritual continued with a recitation of the familiar free soil grievances and the insalubrious effects of slavery upon the prosperity of the land. The Colonel would then teach the secret handshake, knocks, and passwords. The new member must not forget to whisper the latter. It wouldn’t do for every Atchison, Stringfellow, and Kelley to learn them.

 

 

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Three

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 1 and 2Squatter Sovereign article

Once a new Kansas Legionnaire swore that he would not reveal what he saw in the Legion’s meetings, his regiment’s Aid would pass him on to the Colonel for instructions. These instructions began with some flattery:

Sir, it is with joy we welcome you to this place, to these scenes and to this sacred alliance. We trust you will find in us that purity of purpose, and we will find in you such nobleness and truth, that this union may result in constantly increasing regard, confidence, and love between us. This country is yours by adoption, and as belonging to you and your children, you feel a deep interest in its prosperity, its honor, and its destiny.

But one had just petitioned to join a secret antislavery paramilitary group. If the postulant missed the significance of this, the Colonel went on to narrate the plight of an antislavery man in Kansas

where slavery intends making its next innovation; already we have had a foretaste of its contaminating touch, and knowing that strength lies in union-feeling that our country and our God demands of us in this emergency that every man should do his duty

The Quartermaster’s oath of secrecy insisted nothing learned would put a burden on a man’s conscience or come between him and his god. The Colonel’s speech suggests that failure to join would accomplish the latter. A good, Christian man had a duty to his god. The Legion would inform him of it, if necessary, and guide him in accomplishing it. This entailed that he throw together with other antislavery men, forging “solemn bonds” through which they would learn their “strength” and “act in concert throughout this whole Territory.”

This all bent toward the end of a free Kansas, of course, but the Colonel impressed upon the postulant that matters political and matters personal came together. The Legion would work to free Kansas, but also to

exert an influence, possess an efficiency, and enjoy personal and civil protection, which as mere individuals we could not obtain.

Here we find reference to personal danger, just as George Brown had described. That Kansas did not erupt in quite the advertised level of bloodshed did not make it entirely safe. Back in April, when the founders of the Legion set down the constitution and ritual, no white men had yet died. But they had the threats and violence, however non-lethal, that had attended the March polls to consider. If men could burst into a polling place and demand the election judges give over at gunpoint, then they could do more in the future.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Brown and others may have exaggerated the danger, but the extent of his fear came out in a private letter that he did not appreciate seeing published. If he had reason to exaggerate for the public, he had less reason to do so in personal correspondence. I don’t have that letter, but Brown admitted writing it and, at least by implication, that it encouraged someone not to come to Kansas. This runs against the grain of his publications and contrary to his political interests, so we should take it as less burdened by a desire to keep up appearances and more indicative of his honest beliefs at the time of writing.

Furthermore, we should keep in mind that even if Brown and others knew they exaggerated proslavery violence then did not know, as we do, just how far the proslavery men would and would not go. What appear exaggerations to us might have seemed to them quite reasonable projections of the way Kansas would progress even if they fell short of perfectly accurate reporting.

With all these things to consider, the Colonel then offered up a second oath. The first only promised secrecy enough for a man to learn what the Kansas Legion entailed. It took another to make him into a proper member. More on that Tuesday.

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Two

CK Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

We left off with a high-level view of the Kansas Legion’s organization, as exposed by the turncoat Patrick Laughlin. That exposure outraged Samuel Collins, who he implicated as a member, and in short order led to Collins’ death at Laughlin’s hand. Collins had instigated the confrontation gave Laughlin a serious stabbing wound, but Laughlin finished him in trade. On the occasion of the fight between the men, the Squatter Sovereign reprinted Laughlin’s piece.

The Grand Encampment of the Kansas Legion ran the militia as a whole, but its day-to-day workings took place in subordinate regiments. They could claim the title with as few as five men, but the legion expected actual military service out of groups that boasted thirty or more. Even, perhaps especially, with genuine danger to their persons and property, a nineteenth century boy’s club needed its rituals. Laughlin’s document laid them down, starting with the opening of meetings. The Colonel of the regiment would address his men:

Fellow Soldie[r]s in the Free State Army, the hour has arrived when we must resume the duties devolving upon us. Let us each with a heart devoted to Justice, Patriotism and Liberty, attend closely to all the regulations laid down for our government and action, each laboring to make this review pleasant and profitable to ourselves, and a blessing to our Country. Aid, are the sentinels at their posts with closed doors?

The Aid would then declare that the sentinels had their places, one inside the doors and one without. The Colonel would then give leave for the Aid to ,make the rounds, quizzing men on the Legion passwords. Given everyone closeted together and no instructions to draw the examined apart from those waiting, this probably served more to catch the forgetful and the napping than any who somehow infiltrated.

When everyone remembered their passwords, a typical meeting would go on to review applicants for membership. The Aid would present nominees one by one to the Quartermaster. That officer had the job of fully explaining the Legion to new recruits. However, as a secret society they couldn’t just tell all. In order to know the details, one had to swear an oath on one’s “honor as a man” to reveal nothing he learned of the Legion or its members. Only so preapproved could a postulant legionnaire learn these startling revelations:

This institution is temporary and local in its character and nature. it is designed for the Territory of Kansas, and is to continue at least until the vote shall have settled the question as to whether Kansas shall be a FREE or SLAVE State. The requirements of this institution will not interfere with rights of conscience, or the duties you owe yourselves, your families, your country, or your God. They will conflict with no law of the land. We seek, in a noble, honorable and just manner, to accomplish two things. First: To secure to Kansas the blessing and prosperity of being a Free State; and, second, to protect the ballot box from the leprous touch of unprincipled men. Such are our principles. Do you still desire admission?

I don’t know how one could get so far and miss the details revealed, but they might have constituted the first time a postulant had the Legion’s purpose from the horse’s mouth rather than rumor and vague explanations from his sponsor. The emphasis that the Legion’s dictates would not interfere with one’s conscience, religious, or family duties reads a bit defensive, but probably reassured men who wondered just what all the ceremony really meant. The postulant would then agree and the Aid would convey him on to the Colonel “for instructions.”

The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part One

CK Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday

Sorry for the delay on this post, Gentle Readers. I had everything done properly, but WordPress declined to publish as scheduled.

With Dale Watts’ article and the Laughlin-Collins fight fresh in mind, I went into the papers to see what I could find reporting both Laughlin’s exposure of the Kansas Legion and the altercation that ended in Collins’ death. I hoped to compare accounts in the Squatter Sovereign, Herald of Freedom, and Leavenworth Herald. Along the way, I unexpectedly found Laughlin’s original article exposing the Legion. It went out in the St. Joseph Gazette, to which I lack access, but the November 6, 1855 Squatter Sovereign helpfully reprinted it

Laughlin began with an introductory note, explaining his pure motives and progressive disillusionment with the free state movement. All of this runs substantially the same as his testimony in the Howard Report, closely enough that I suspect Laughlin either referred to the text then or had memorized it. Laughlin then goes on to share the “Constitution and Ritual Of the Grand Encampment, and Regiments of the Kansas Legion, of Kansas Territory. Adopted April 4th, 1855.”

The constitution provided for the governance of the legion by a Grand Encampment, drawn from representatives of each regiment of fifty or more. They would meet “on the third Wednesday of January and July, at such hour and places as shall be selected by the Encampment at the previous semi-annual session.” The Grand Encampment would have an equally grand General, Vice General, Quartermaster, Pay-master, Aid, and Chaplain. Two Sentinels did not warrant the grand style. The constitution of the Grand Encampment dealt mostly with administrative details, but ended by naming names. I only recognized Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice General, founder of Topeka and frequent delegate to antislavery conventions.

The Constitution of Subordinate Encampments had more everyday details. To join, a man twenty-one or older had to prove loyal to the free state cause. Those as young as eighteen could join, but only if three members vouched for them. Three negative votes of the regiment would reject any member. Once in, one who wanted out had to receive a certificate “signed by the Colonel and countersigned by the Quarter-master, upon the payment of 10 cents for such certificate.” The same applied if one wished to transfer between regiments. This would keep the quartermaster in the loop as to personnel changes, and probably also keep some men from resigning to avoid the trouble.

Subordinate encampments had the same officers, with largely the same duties, as the grand encampment save that they had to settle for the title of Colonel. The constitution charged the Aid

to examine the members, at the opening of the Regiment, and report any who are incorrect to the Colonel

I don’t know if we should read that in a strictly military light or as an injunction to scrutinize members’ politics, but I suspect both. Members could face “reprimand, suspension or expulsion” if two-thirds of a meeting agreed to it. Cause expulsion included “revealing the secrets of the Order or militating against the interests of the future freedom of Kansas.” Word of such an expulsion would be sent around so everyone would know the expelled “as a man destitute of the principles of truth, honor, and integrity.”

A regiment might not form much of a paramilitary band. The constitution contemplates groups too small to make much of a militia still counting as regiments. A quorum required only five. Given this provision:

As soon as each and every regiment shall number thirty members upon its muster roll it shall proceed forthwith to organize an efficient regular Military Company.

You could join a group of fewer people and have a club, with the right to send delegates to the semiannual meetings, but once the roster topped thirty one had to get serious. Then the Grand Encampment expected soldiering, at least now and then, as well as talking.