A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Two

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

 

We left David Rice Atchison, Senator from Missouri, invisible in the records. Between February second and twentieth of 1855, he drops off the map. During that time, Lewis Cass believed that Atchison toured the South soliciting support for his crusade in Kansas. Large rallies would have generated news reports, but if Atchison came to a state capital quietly and talked to fellow politicians behind closed doors, we might never know. Outside of Missouri and Washington, few people likely knew him on sight. He appears again back in Missouri, possibly in St. Louis on the twentieth and definitely in Jefferson City by the twenty-second.

Bourbon Dave arrived to disappointing news. The Missouri legislature had just voted to postpone choosing a new senator. Until that point, Atchison may have expected easy reelection. It turned out that his battle with Thomas Hart Benton had cost him the support of many Democrats, enough together with Missouri’s Whigs to deny him a clear majority. With nothing much to do in the state capital, he made for the border the next day. He had Kansas to save for slavery, after all. Elections for the legislature would take place on March 30 and he could hardly miss that. On the twenty-fifth, Atchison went into Kansas in the company of “eighty men and twenty-four wagons.” He came packing two Bowie knives and four pistols, just for himself. The proceeds of his movement, in fraud and intimidation, amounted to control of the legislature of Kansas.

Robert Morse Taliaferro Hunter (D-VA)

Atchison wrote his F Street messmate, Robert M.T. Hunter, celebrating the victory and asking for ten thousand southerners to come and consolidate their victory. If they could “take possession of and hold every acre of timber” then Kansas could never go against slavery. Missouri could swing half of the ten thousand, he believed, but the rest of the section had to do its part. If the section failed Atchison, then it would lose Missouri and, soon after, Texas and Arkansas. With them gone, the South would have to concede the territories entire to freedom.

But none of this made Atchison “a Bandit, a ruffian, an Aaron Burr.” Atchison did not, he would have his friend know, preside over a regime of violent hooliganism. Instead he saved the lives and homes of antislavery Kansans by restraining his men. Where he went, nothing violent transpired. He couldn’t claim any responsibility for other places, but he assured Hunter that only the most impudent got “the hickory.”

One must suspect Atchison of polishing up his reputation here, but the Howard Report found only violent threats where he personally went. He may, as he did when proslavery forces moved against Lawrence, have acted to restrain his followers just as he claimed. He still got the mob in position where it could do harm and we ought to understand the border ruffians as part of a movement he started, organized, and led. The two do not cancel out, but only together form a complete picture of Missouri’s senator.

Andrew Butler of South Carolina, another of Atchison’s late messamates fabulously declared

the advent of Kansas shall be to the living Atchison a Star in his varied galaxy of life.

A young friend or relation of Butler’s had just gone off to Kansas and Butler asked Atchison to look after him.

James Mason

James Mason, author of the Fugitive Slave Act, proved less effusive. He heard rumors that people in Kansas wanted Andrew Reeder deposed in favor of a more pliable governor. The proslavery side should not use their victory as an excuse to color outside the legal lines. Instead, if Reeder proved intransigent against the proslavery legislature, then they could charge him with various offenses and ask his removal. Atchison had anticipated Mason’s advice, bending Franklin Pierce’s ear on the issue through his old friend, classmate, and present Secretary of War. Jefferson Davis had his back, to the point where the papers referred to a coalition of the two men against Reeder. In the summer, Pierce fired him at the request of Kansas’ legislature.

In the mean time, Atchison’s Platte County men destroyed the Parkville Industrial Luminary for objecting to how Missouri had outright stolen Kansas’ legislature. Parrish, Atchison’s biographer, stresses that he has no evidence the man himself took part in the destruction, but also notes that the Squatter Sovereign praised the act. Given the close personal and political relationship between the brothers Stringfellow and Atchison, it seems unlikely they would have done so if Atchison objected. Instead they advised continuing the campaign against antislavery papers elsewhere in Missouri and, as they later would, in Lawrence.

Atchison’s reelection campaign also got off to an odd start. A proslavery convention met at St. Louis between the twelfth and fourteenth of July. It heard a motion that Atchison and his old law partner Alexander Doniphan, leading contenders for the Senate seat, give speeches. Atchison tried to give them a pass, aiming to keep the convention a proslavery affair rather than introduce partisanship into things. Doniphan, a Whig, followed his lead. The convention wouldn’t hear of it and appointed a committee, which Atchison again refused. The usual order of such things seems to have involved such refusals, but then one reconsidered when a committee affirmed that the convention really wanted you to speak. Maybe Atchison proved himself in earnest in the hopes that it would win him popularity enough to keep his post in the Senate, but Parrish rightly points out that he didn’t give up on Kansas after realizing that he would not again serve as senator. Rebuffed, the convention turned to the favorite pastime of nineteenth century mass meetings: drawing up a set of resolutions. Over in Kansas., the free state men did the same.

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.

Proslavery Scruples and the Sack of Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

William Phillips and the Lawrence memorialists both take pains to inform their readers that not every proslavery man came to Lawrence to rape or steal. Their officers, as they had back in December, wanted an orderly mob that would only molest direct political enemies. They had court orders to suppress the free state papers. Though it appears no direct order to destroy the Free State Hotel existed, Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury had condemned it and suggested removal. Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas holds that Jones’ men only acted against it because he lied and claimed they had such an order.  Etcheson’s much more recent book of the same name doesn’t comment on the question.

As the memorialists put it:

We believe that many of the captains of the invading companies exerted themselves to the utmost for the protection of life and property. Some of them protested against these enormous outrages, and endeavored to dissuade Samuel J. Jones from their perpetration. Many used personal effort to remove such property as was possible from the Eldridge House before its destruction. Among those stood prominently Colonel Zadock Jackson, of Georgia, who did not scruple either in Lawrence or his own camp to denounce the outrages in terms such as they deserved.  Colonel Buford, of Alabama, also disclaimed having come to Kansas to destroy property, and condemned the course which had been taken. The prosecuting attorney of Douglas county, the legal adviser of the sheriff, used his influence in vain to prevent the destruction of property.

They might have included David Rice Atchison among the leaders with scruples. Phillips’ version had him direct the bombardment of the Free State Hotel, and Bourbon Dave didn’t mind a good scrap, but he had helped Wilson Shannon end the Wakarusa War. He could have understood his role there as part of the legitimate purpose of the mob and still condemned the outrages that took place once the posse had finished with the building. Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas has him active on that front, but she references unpublished correspondence and a biography of the senator dating back to the Sixties, neither of which I presently have access to.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

A proslavery account Phillips shares, published first in the Lecompton Union, expands on the point:

Before entering town our commanders instructed each member of his company of the consequences befalling the violation of any private property. As far as we can learn, they attended strictly to these instructions. One act we regret to mention – the firing of Robinson’s house. Although there is but little doubt as to the real owners of this property [They believed the Emigrant Aid Company owned Robinson’s home.] yet it was a private residence, and should have remained untouched. During the excitement, the commisary, of Col. Abell, of Atchison city, learned that it was on fire, and immediately detailed a company to suppress the flames, which was done. Once afterwards, we understand, Sheriff Jones had the flames suppressed, and the boys guilty of the act were sent immediately to camp; but with regret we saw the building on fire that night about ten o’clock.

It bears noting in all of this that the proslavery force displayed these keen scruples, albeit imperfectly, in the defense of the property of fellow white Americans. A corporation dedicated to opposing them could have its rights trampled. The Free State Hotel and the Herald of Freedom both fit that description, as Emigrant Aid Company money kept them afloat. Miller’s Free State may have fallen under the rubric of “close enough”. Private looting and personal crimes, including the most horrific, could call into question just why they had come to defend slavery in the first place. An attack on property must call into question just how seriously they took the right to human property.

The Pillage of Lawrence

Gentle readers, this post discusses sexual violence in the context that my sources present it. They gave me few details and treat the matter in a way that reads now as almost completely dismissive. I don’t mean to replicate that, but I have no more information than they gave me: a few sentences admit a catalog of other offenses. I’m sorry. If reading either that presentation or the fact itself will upset you, please take a pass on today’s post. I’ve put the relevant portion at the very end, where I hope it will not come up in any reader’s summary text to be read accidentally along with this warning.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

A combination of cannon fire, two of four gunpowder kegs exploding, and finally firing the building, Samuel Jones proslavery army disposed of the Free State Hotel. Neither William Phillips nor the memorial to Franklin Pierce put a firm time on it, but the destruction must have started after quarter after three and probably before five on the evening of May 21, 1856. The end of the hated symbol of the Emigrant Aid Company prompted jubilation from the mob. Sheriff Jones might sit on his horse and exult in his glory, but his men had a whole abolition town to vent themselves upon.

“Wild and reckless pillage,” in Phillips’ words, began at once. Where a door would not open, and not everyone had a lock or bolt, a window give way easily enough.

All the money and jewelry that could be found was taken, and also clothing. In fact, they took everything they wanted, or could carry away. Much of what they could not take, they destroyed.

Phillips, to a degree (and the memorialists somewhat more so) stressed the efforts of the mob’s officers to control them. Not all the officers scrupled so. A deputy marshal, one of many, took surgical tools. One of the Stringfellows -Phillips doesn’t say which- helped himself to two boxes of cigars, right off the shelf.

Ex-Vice-President Atchison was also seen with one of these, or another box. With such bright examples it would be needless to enter into a detail of the brilliant exploits of the rank and file.

Phillips estimates the losses near to $150,000. In addition to simple looting, the proslavery men took the papers of free state leaders and destroyed letters and family pictures. They tried to burn the Herald of Freedom building, but failed for already taking out most of what would have burned. What remained, a few brave sorts went in and doused. For the grand finale, the mob returned to Charles Robinson’s house on Mount Oread and burned it.

The discussion of sexual violence follows on from here, Gentle Readers.

According to the memorialists:

The work of pillage spread through the whole town, and continued until after dark. Every house and store which cold be entered was ransacked; trunks broken open and money and property taken at will. Where women had not fled, they were in some cases insulted, and even robbed of their clothing.

The insults to women included the everyday sort of insult which simply violated nineteenth century social mores. The proslavery men failed to confine themselves to rudeness and theft, as William Phillips writes:

There were also frightful stories of outrages, and of women being ravished. Such cases there may have been, but rare. There were villains in that posse who were certainly none too good for it.

Phillips probably knew more than he let on. What he reports as likely true stories, the Lawrence memorial takes as fact. Its closing passages refer to “women ravished in their homes.” To name a woman raped would have disgraced her and Phillips, expecting his book to have a longer shelf life and wider circulation than a petition, may have demurred to avoid further compounding their suffering. The victims of sexual violence suffer an unjust, and vile stigma in our time. They would not have had it easier in his. The last thing I want to do is treat this as, one horror amid many, but Phillips only makes it clear what happened paragraphs after, immediately following an estimate of the number of horses taken. The memorial states the fact and leaves it without elaboration.

The Razing of the Free State Hotel

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

For almost as long as the proslavery party in Kansas and Missouri had known of Lawrence, they complained about the Free State Hotel. The accursed Emigrant Aid Company, that gaggle of fanatical Yankees, owned the building and had made it into a fortress. Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury had recommended its reduction and now that the proslavery mob had come to Lawrence unopposed, they intended to get the job done. They would waste the trip if they went home with only two printing presses destroyed and a few books stolen.

Once again, William Phillips sets the scene:

The enemy planted their artillery in front of the hotel, one hundred and fifty feet distant from it, across Massachusetts-street. The hotel was a very large building, three full stories high besides the basement; it seemed almost impossible that they could miss it.

At this point, the mob hit a snag. I.B. Donaldson, Wilson Shannon, and their own captains had made assurances that the Eldridges, who had furnished the hotel out of their own pocket, would have their belongings protected. Samuel Jones, riding high, made an effort to keep those promises. According to the memorial Lawrence wrote to Franklin Pierce the next day, the sheriff told the Eldridges at quarter after three that they could have until five. The Eldridges protested that they could not remove all their furniture in so short a time. Some of Jones’ men agreed to go help with the moving, but according to Phillips they soon diverted themselves to more urgent matters:

They discovered the wins and liquors, a good stock of which was on hand, and, helping themselves freely to these and to eatables and cigars, the heroes of this gallant campaign were soon in an interesting condition.

The Eldridges got out what the memorial tactfully calls their “most necessary effects” whilst the artillery crews made their final preparations. The mob set them in carriages and escorted them away. Outside the hotel their other possessions remained in the sights of David Rice Atchison, literally. Phillips has him personally aiming the first gun to fire, or rather playing the part of drunken backseat artillerist. Under the ex-Senator’s helpful direction, the crew “let her rip!”

the ball missing the hotel altogether, going clear over it.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Phillips probably embroidered that moment, but an inexperienced gunner at a distance of more than a hundred feet probably could miss a three story building even without the aid of alcohol. The second shot found the building, albeit on a corner.

Some fifty rounds were fired, when, finding it slow business, the hotel looking, externally, little the worse for it, they undertook to blow it up. Four kegs of gunpowder were placed in it, but only two of them exploded, and they made little report, and still less impression on the walls; but fire was communicated to the building in several places, and it was soon magnificent a sea of flame.

In other words, the proslavery men tried to blow the hotel away. Failing at that, they opted to blow it up. Failing once more, some brave, frustrated souls torched it. One imagines they spared some thoughts for those two unexploded kegs of gunpowder when they went up with their burning brands.

As the flames hissed and crackled, Jones leaned upon his horse and contemplated the spectacle. His eyes glistened with a wild delight, and he said, “This is the happiest moment of my life.”

That day, all Samuel Jones’ dreams had come true.

Honor, Pride, and Free Books at the Free State

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison gave a speech outside Lawrence, interrupted by cheers as Samuel Jones came back with the town’s cannons. Then the proslavery mob, after waiting so long, finally moved in with flags waving. Rumors of mined streets delayed them only briefly. Many of the women and children exited, some of the former looking back over their shoulders and telling the proslavery mob just what they thought of affairs.

They had come to do more than visit. Early in the month, Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury declared the antislavery papers and free state hotels public menaces in need of suppression. The mob got to that straightaway, starting with Josiah Miller’s Free State. Miller operated out of the second story of what William Phillips calls “a concrete building”. I think he means cemented stone, not a modern poured concrete structure. A store occupied the first floor and the border ruffians went there first.

One of the ruffian officers entered the store and demanded of the proprietor if there was a mine under the building to blow it up. The merchant assured him there was not, when the interrogator told him that they were going up into the printing office, and that if anything happened he would hold him responsible.

A keg of gunpowder wouldn’t blow up a building quite like a modern artillery shell, but expecting to survive the experience still sounds awfully hopeful. Satisfied, the proslavery men entered the Free State office.

The press and other articles were first broken, so as to be rendered perfectly useless, and then thrown into the Kansas river. As this was some distance to carry the articles, they got tired of it, and began throwing the remainder in the street. Books and papers were thrown in the street.

If the Free State had machinery anything like the Herald of Freedom did, which seems likely, then the proslavery men had to lug a lot of metal around just in the steam press. The lead type would only add to the fun. Since this meant free books, some of the mob helped themselves. Some officers intervened to stop that, claiming that the antislavery men would use the theft against them. William Phillips, just the antislavery man who did, must have related that with particular relish.

Colonel Zadoc Jackson, of Georgia, exerted himself to prevent the plunder, as did several others; they were prepared for the most desperate war against Freedom and American rights, but they had too much honor, or too much pride, to wish to occupy the position of highwaymen. Unfortunately, these officers were unable to prevent these outrages, or restrain the villains they had gathered up to do their lawless work.

Honor and pride had their pleasures, but free books offered still greater joys.

For “supremacy of the white race”

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

I.B. Donaldson’s overgrown posse, now handed over to Samuel Jones and still bent on delivering some long-awaited punishment to the antislavery town of Lawrence, cheered when Jones and twenty of their number came out of Lawrence with the town’s cannons in tow. David Rice Atchison, Missouri’s just-former Senator, resumed his speech after. The Senator wanted the mob to behave themselves. Gentlemen should treat women well, even women of the enemy, unless they fought back. Then those gentlemen should kill those women without hesitation. At “the least appearance of resistance,” they could cast all restraint aside. Good order would last as long as no one got in the way.

Then the posse marched in a line, straight to Lawrence. William Phillips made much of how some wore red; the redcoats (or red flannel shirts) had come again to

trample under foot the rights of American freemen. As motley an assortment of banners floated over them. The flag of South Carolina, with a crimson star in the centre, and the motto “Southern rights.” Another flag resembled the American flag, being striped like it; but there were no stars, and in their stead a rampant tiger, -fit emblem of the men it floated over, and the cause it vindicated. Another had white and black alternate stripes, which truly represented the cursed amalgamation of races which is ruining the slave states, and which these nullifying filibusters meant to introduce into Kansas, and to nationalize. One banner bore the inscription, “South Carolina;” another, “Supremacy of the white race,” on the one side, and “Kansas, the outpost,” on the other.

Phillips shared his fear of racial amalgamation with most white Americans, whatever their politics. By implication he repeated the standard abolitionist attack that slavery turned the whole South into a brothel, which had some truth to it, but his fear of race mixing also stands on its own. The notion that the proslavery force would have boasted their intent via a flag doesn’t bear scrutiny, though. Most likely Phillips invented the flag or gave it his own meaning.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The proslavery men came despite Donaldson’s promise not to bring his posse into town. By handing them off to Jones, he made them Jones’ posse and no one had pledged anything about that body of men. They advanced past an earthwork at the end of Massachusetts Street, which dated back to the Wakarusa War. There they stopped and brought up their own cannons, aiming them down the street. Phillips reports that they stopped there for fear that Lawrence had mined the street. Some pressed on despite orders, but Jefferson Buford called them back. The delay didn’t last long. Two “spies” came forward and told Buford the mines existed only in rumor. Soon the force “was in possession of the town.”

Phillips credits Jones with advising the women and children to get out of town before the army arrived, which speaks volumes. We can attribute some of the impetus to custom, but it also repeats the undercurrent often seen among proslavery leaders that once their boys got going they might not stop for, or at, anything. All the same, few had gone until then.

It was a trying and sorrowful scene to see the people of Lawrence leave their homes and fly from the place. Some of the women were moved to tears, and others would look back, like Lot’s wife, and freely vent their indignation. They had not time to move their effects; and, had they been seen taking them off, they would probably have been stopped.

“Blow them to h-ll with a chunk of cold lead!”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison, one of the principle architects of Kansas’ woes, had probably had a few. He may or may not have had the multi-day “debauch” that William Phillips credited him with, but he earned his reputation as a hard drinking man fair and square. As Sheriff Jones hauled Lawrence’s cannons out of town, Missouri’s former senator probably still hoped his Kansas antics would get him his seat back. He gave a speech.

Phillips referred to false versions of Atchison’s words circulating. He probably didn’t hear the speech himself -it sounds like he remained in Lawrence through the full affair- but may have had it fresh from those who did hear Bourbon Dave sound off. Atchison commenced,

“Boys, to-day I’m a Kickapoo Ranger, by G-d! This day we have entered Lawrence, and the abolitionists have not dared to fire a gun.”

That Atchison would connect himself with the proslavery militia that killed Reese Brown seems entirely in character. He associated openly with the Platte County Self-Defense Association, so Kickapoo didn’t make much of a stretch. Through “an odd mixture of drunken enthusiasm, restraining forbearance, partisan ferocity, and profanity,” Atchison affirmed they ought to destroy the Free State Hotel and the printing presses, per Judge Lecompte’s order, but must behave as “gallant” gentlemen who “respect[ed] ladies.”

Even restraint required restraint, though:

“if you find a woman armed as a soldier, and thus putting off the garb of her sex, trample her under foot as you would a snake.”

Lawrence appeared resigned to submission, but should that change and the face “the least appearance of resistance, no quarter should be shown.” Those Southern gentlemen had come a long way to kill abolitionists. If they needed an excuse, then Davy Atchison gave it to them. Over the course of his speech he dismounted, went over to one of the proslavery army’s cannons, and mounted it. One could not miss the symbolism.

Speaking of cannons, as Atchison spoke Jones arrived with the field pieces taken from Lawrence. Jones informed the mob of his own orders against the hotel and papers, courtesy of Lecompte, and reminded them of their duty to “loud and enthusiastic cheers.” Atchison took the stump again:

“And now we will go in with our highly honorable Jones, and test the strength of that d—-d Free-State Hotel!” He said something more, urging them to bravery and good order, and finished by saying, “If any man or woman stand in your way, blow them to h-ll with a chunk of cold lead!”

“For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

William Addison Phillips did not like Samuel Pomeroy, of the Emigrant Aid Society, or Lieutenant Governor Roberts one bit. To hear him tell it, the people of Lawrence had gone to the trouble of burying their five cannons under the foundation of a house. No one would find them there. When Samuel Jones came into town at the head of a posse of twenty men, with a few hundred friends not far off, they could have let him ransack Lawrence all day and he would have left empty handed. Pomeroy, Roberts, and the rest of the committee of safety, didn’t care to risk that and gave up the artillery. They even did some of the digging themselves.

That put Jones in possession of the free state cannons and still in Lawrence, perhaps not the ideal place for a man recently ventilated by a resident to linger with his spoils. He thus ordered the cannons delivered to the camp outside town,

and free-state men were called on to do this ignominious service. Numbers of those whom Jones thus asked haughtily refused. Some of the men with Jones threatened to use their arms, and rode at some of the young men who refused, and threatened them with their bayonets, but did not intimidate them into compliance. A few, less resolute, aided the ruffians to remove the guns.

Phillips anger burns off the page here. At the moment of decision, his neighbors folded like cowards. They even did the border ruffians’ dirty work for them, though only a minority went so far. Perhaps more did at the time and Phillips counted for convenience in his appeal to outraged antislavery people back East. Either way, Lawrence lost its heavy weapons and a few of the Sharpe’s rifles.

While Jones and his posse secured the cannons, the larger body of the posse originally gathered by I.B. Donaldson advanced on Lawrence. The Lawrence memorial, written the next day, has

several hundred men, with United States muskets and fixed bayonets […] taking position in the town.

Phillips names their leaders, Atchison, Buford, Stringfellow, and Colonel Titus, and puts them at the south end of town, “dragging their cannon with them.” They arrayed themselves in formation and Atchison gave a speech.

That great border ruffian, ex-Senator, ex-Vice President of the United States, was not remarkably sober on this important occasion. For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch, in which, perhaps, they strove to drown their knowledge of better things.

Proslavery men tend toward drunkenness in the accounts of abstemious antislavery types. When you don’t drink at all, any drinking becomes more noticeable. But even friendly sources, and the man himself, have cracked jokes about Bourbon Dave’s habit. A version of this speech floats around the internet in various places, but I’m given to understand much of it was invented after the fact. Phillips himself refers to the issue:

Various reports of this wild speech have been published, but all more or less incorrect.

William Phillips, naturally had the true version.

“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.