Good News and Bad News, The New England Emigrant Aid Company, Part Four

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left the New England Emigrant Aid Company in dire financial straits. J.M.S. Williams wrote to Ely Thayer, demanding he pay his fair share. He had gotten them into this whole business, but spent none of his own money on it. With the company near broke, operations in Kansas grinding to a halt for lack of funds, and the directors already out of pocket, something had to give. At the board meeting of December, 1855, Thayer opened his coffers:

I told the committee that it was very pleasing to me to hear from their own lips their confession of error in substituting the charity plan for the old business charter. Had we retained the latter and made investment in Kansas City, which our own work would have built up, we could have easily become a very formidable power against slavery, not only in the territories, but in the slave states as well.

He did tell them so. Business antislavery hadn’t raised the hoped-for funds, but it did recognize that investors wanted something for their trouble. The accounts of well-off men from Massachusetts could only go so far. Thayer then proposed to go big: the company would hire him through May. If he raised more than $20,000, then he would take 10% off the top as his fee. The Board agreed and Thayer hit the road again, focused on New York and Boston. He hoped to get $100,000, just as he had in 1854, and pick up $40,000 more in Boston.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Thayer had big dreams. He brought NEEAC into the black again at $5,287.62 on hand. He took a commission of $5,158, so Andrews calculates that he raised at least $51,580. That made for a hefty sum indeed at the time, albeit not all that Thayer had hoped. The immediate crisis had passed by the end of May, but by then 1856 had delivered a fresh set of problems. While the Company’s finances rose, the free state effort it supported with mills, loans, and guns had taken a deep plunge. A second proslavery army had gathered on Oread Heights, named after Thayer’s school. David Rice Atchison and Samuel Jones led them to sack the Company’s town, throw the presses of the Company’s paper into the river, burn its hotel, arrested Charles Robinson and George Brown for treason, and closed the Missouri river. The closure of the river meant the end of communications, so with that news Kansas went dark.

 

“You are worth $200,000!!!!” The New England Emigrant Aid Company, Part Three

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

The demise of business antislavery left Eli Thayer as a traveling promoter of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. His excessively rosy account of Kansas led to some emigrants opting to go right back home, but some stayed on in the territory and Thayer’s appearances helped keep Kansas in the public mind. The aid companies also kept themselves in the minds of white Missourians living in the plantation counties next door. NEEAC could muster dozens or a few hundred emigrants, but they had thousands of angry proslavery men with guns, knives and two cannons. After they carried two elections in a row, antislavery Kansans had quite enough.

Charles Robinson wrote Thayer to inform him

Our people have now form themselves into four military companies and will meet to drill till they have perfected themselves in their art. Also, companies are being formed in other places ans we want arms … cannot your secret society send us 200 of Sharp’s rifles as a loan till this question is settled?

The Stringfellows could go around telling everyone that the company raised legions of pauper mercenaries, but those mercenaries apparently set out for their war without sufficient arms. One would expect better of professionals. Nor did NEEAC’s directors leap at the chance to underwrite their emigrants’ military ventures. But as it soon appeared that antislavery Kansans would get no relief from Franklin Pierce, they secretly changed their minds. Robinson didn’t mean the Aid Company per se when he referred to Thayer’s “secret society”. He meant a group within it that privately raised money for arms, organized by the society’s then-current treasurer, Samuel Cabot. Amos Lawrence donated $2,700 for guns on top of what he gave to the official company funds. The Sharpe’s rifles arrived over the course of fall, 1855, often in crates labeled as books.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

As the second amendment thrived in Kansas, on both sides of the slavery question, the Aid Company did not. Amos Lawrence took over as treasurer, but quit the post in September. By April, the Company had spent $22,000. It had stock subscriptions for $26,844, but the subscribers had declined to pay their bills to the tune of almost eleven thousand dollars. It transpired that telling people their stock donation would probably not realize profit somewhat dimmed their ardor for investment. Philanthropy and patriotism only went so far. Resignation or no, Lawrence paid six thousand against the overdrafts of company agent Samuel Pomeroy. Pomeroy himself went back east on a two month tour of New England and New York that netted only $3,000.

One of the directors, J.M.S. Williams, blamed Thayer for all of this. Having paid out $3,000 already, with $800 more to go, and due to pay another $2,300, he felt that Thayer ought to kick in some of his own money too. The cash flow had dried up to the point of impeding the establishment of mills, where the company expected to realize its real gains. The company stood crippled by shortfalls. The directors had paid out of their own pockets to keep things going. Operations ground to a halt, Williams wrote Thayer,

yet you are worth #200,000!!!! You have done more to palce us all in this position than any other and ought to take hold in earnest and relieve us.

 

Eli Thayer Goes on the Road: The New England Emigrant Aid Company, Part Two

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

We left Eli Thayer demoted from a leader of his own invention, the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, to a promoter of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. His signature idea, to subsidize free state settlement in Kansas to keep slavery from the territory’s bound and then try to roll it back elsewhere, whilst turning a handy profit, fell by the wayside. Conservative Whigs with deep pockets took over, dropping Thayer’s business antislavery strategy for a more conventional charitable frame focused entirely on Kansas. This brings us to July 24, 1854.

By this point, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had Franklin Pierce’s signature and the expansion of white settlement had begun. The word in Missouri had it that Thayer’s operation had its five million on hand and twenty thousand impoverished Yankees ready to turn slave stealing Hessian just down the road from Missouri’s plantation belt. Proslavery Missourians organized for self-defense, with future Squatter Sovereign editor John Stringfellow telling St. Joseph

To those having qualms of conscience, as to violating of laws, state or national, the time has come when such impositions must be disregarded, as your lives and property are in danger, and I advise you one and all to enter every election district in Kansas … and vote at the point of a Bowie knife or revolver.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The endless hosts of Yankee Hessians numbered twenty-nine. They departed Boston on July 17, with Thayer escorting them to Buffalo. He admitted that he had not mustered the legions he hoped, but you had to start somewhere. At Buffalo Thayer parted company with the expedition, but Charles Robinson and Charles Branscomb joined up. They had gone out in advance to scout locations and see about group rates for transportation. That scouting mission determined the site of Lawrence, named after the Emigrant Aid Company benefactor and slayer of business antislavery, Amos Lawrence. The company fronted a newspaper there, George Brown’s Herald of Freedom. Whilst touring to solicit donations, Thayer took care to have stacks of it on hand.

While settlement got going in Kansas, Thayer started on his lecture circuit on earnest. Past efforts had focused on Massachusetts and New York, but he now traveled all over New England. Over the three years from September of 1854, Thayer traveled north of six thousand miles and gave above seven hundred speeches. He and his companions, most often Charles Brancsomb, would arrange promotion in the local papers in advance. Thayer would give his spiel to a mass meeting and set up a Kansas League. It appears the leagues did the main work of finding people willing to go, whilst Thayer focused on exhortation and fundraising.

Thayer had an ambitious pitch, to the point where NEEAC’s leadership asked him to tone it down. They had no mind to carry the fight from Kansas into the slave states, but Thayer sold the enterprise as one which would free Kansas as the first step. Then they would press on to Missouri and Virginia, whilst also pushing out to make more free states in the west. Thayer extravagantly claimed that they could free Kansas in a year and then add a new state on top each year thereafter, and the stock would pay off whatever the directors thought. This required representatives of the company to walk back their spokesman’s remarks and distinguish between his ideas and their own.

Thayer’s boosterism, combined with the usual wild claims of an earthly paradise just aching for you to go settle it, did little to please those who took the plunge. Many emigrants pronounced Kansas a humbug and went home. At the time of Thayer’s first big tour, Lawrence boasted “one log cabin, one shake house, and a conglomeration of hay houses.” All the same, little had yet transpired in Kansas to make for interesting news. Thayer’s traveling show helped keep the territory in the public mind until the real struggle kicked off.

The Rise and Fall of Business Antislavery: The New England Emigrant Aid Company, Part One

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Between the Howard Committee and the Buford Expedition, plenty of people have lately come to Kansas Territory. Before them, Missourians went across the border. Many meant to stay, but many also meant to control Kansas’ elections or murder abolitionists and make it home for breakfast. In all this, I have largely left out the people who offered the proslavery forces their casus belli: the Emigrant Aid Company. To a great degree that comes down to the historians I have relied upon. Concerned with matters largely internal to the Kansas-Missouri border, it matters less to their narratives how antislavery Americans arrived in the territory than what they did once present. A few paragraphs suffice. But a kind friend has supplied me with Horace Andrews’ Kansas Crusade: Eli Thayer and the New England Emigrant Aid Company, the hot release of December, 1962.

Andrews points out that as the Kansas-Nebraska Act worked its way through Congress, a sense of inevitability set over certain quarters of the North. Slavery got what slavery wanted and they appeared impotent against the new advance. The Democracy had its house in order, a few dissidents aside, and would continue to do as it liked as the nation’s dominant party. Who could stop it? Eli Thayer of Worchester, Massachusetts though himself the man for the job. He ran a school for women, the Oread Collegiate Institute, for the four years prior to considerable success. In that time he supported the Free Soil party to the end and took a term in the Massachusetts legislature. All this made him prominent enough that the state legislature would grant Thayer his corporate charter, creating the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company.

Thayer advocated what he called “Business antislavery,” to separate it from the tried-and-failed methods of ordinary politics and moral suasion. If Stephen Douglas insisted that popular sovereignty would settle Kansas’ future, then Eli Thayer would take him up on that. Thayer’s business antislavery gained a significant convert in the person of Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister and advocate for settling antislavery men in Texas to turn the state around. Hale had never come up with a concrete plan for doing that, but Thayer thought he had one. Thayer expected to sell stock in his company, use the money to subsidize emigration, and make a profit in the process. Andrews doesn’t go into just how, but presumably Thayer imagined that the company would invest in or found town companies just like many similar projects.

Amos Adams Lawrence

Amos Adams Lawrence

There came the snag. Thayer and his associates could drum up plenty of interest but not much money. The organizing committee itself refused to buy the stock they proposed to sell. Nobody seems to have believed that the five million dollar capitalization authorized would appear and many looked askance at the idea Thayer had to take the crusade into the slave states after they saved Kansas for freedom. At the instigation of Amos Lawrence, from whom Lawrence, Kansas, got its name, plans changed. Lawrence preferred a charitable operation with no expectation of future profit. If the stock wouldn’t generate dividends anyway, why pretend otherwise? And what if it did? Didn’t that suggest a mercenary outlook on the part of good-hearted antislavery men bent on saving the Union?

The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company thus gave way to the New England Emigrant Aid Company on July 24, 1855, complete with a well-off board of Massachusetts luminaries for directors. Thayer got the news on his way home from a tour in New York where he raised $100,000. NEEAC, now institutionally controlled by conservative Whigs rather than New England radicals, had the form of a corporation but functioned like a charity. It took in gifts, rather than investments. Thayer himself took a demotion from leading light to a promotional speaker.

The Buford Expedition, Part Seven: Pierce Rains on the Parade

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

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

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

 

Jefferson Buford had his money and his men. He named places to gather and aimed to set out for Kansas in April, 1856. From the start, Buford planned a military expedition. In January, he informed the world that he would take no noncombants and outlined an organization which would have companies and officers. This all put him into a very awkward position come February, when Franklin Pierce issued his law and order proclamation, where he specifically called out

persons residing without the Territory, but near its borders, contemplate armed intervention in the affairs thereof; it also appearing that other persons, inhabitants of remote States, are collecting money, engaging men, and providing arms for the same purpose

Contemplating armed intervention in Kansas affairs? Collecting money? Engaging men? Providing arms? From remote states? This has as much Jefferson Buford as Ely Thayer written all over it, though given Pierce’s record he almost certainly intended only antislavery emigrant aid operations. Still, the president

call[ed] on the citizens, both of adjoining and of distant States, to abstain from unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory, admonishing them that its organic law is to be executed with impartial justice, that all individual acts of illegal interference will incur condign punishment, and that any endeavor to intervene by organized force will be firmly withstood.

Most probably, Pierce would still do nothing against Missourians. Buford’s party might warrant different treatment, particularly with how he had spread it all over the papers and talked openly about how they would go to fight. Should the proslavery president and the proslavery filibuster come into conflict, that might end awkwardly for everyone. Thus Buford sent out the word in March that his men would not go to Kansas armed.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

That settled, they got going. At Buford’s hometown, Eufaula, a hundred men departed on March 31. Buford himself led them out. They stopped at Columbus, Georgia, and collected almost as many again. Some opted to pay their own way and set off straight for Kansas via Nashville, but Buford’s party made it to Montgomery as planned, arriving on April 4.

There were now collected here about three hundred and fifty men, of whom one hundred were from South Carolina, fifty were Georgians, one was from Illinois, one from Boston, and the rest were Alabamians. The Alabama Journal of this date characterizes the emigrants collected in Montgomery as a superior class of young men, quiet, gentlemanly, temperate. Later, some members of the party seem not to have deserved this praise.

Montgomery rolled out the welcome mat for Buford and company, hosting a reception where his lieutenant Alpheus Baker gave “a stirring address” that sounds like a standard proslavery affair: ever since the Missouri Compromise, the South had suffered under “unjust” laws and abolitionist attack. The final battle of the sections would come in Kansas, where

Her chivalrous sons must come to the rescue, to uphold and maintain their constitutional rights and protect their institutions.

The Buford Expedition, Part Six: The Daughters of South Carolina

Mary Chesnut

Mary Chesnut

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

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

We left Jefferson Buford at the Alabama legislature, where he made his pitch for Kansas emigration. A visiting Massachusetts man got word of that and went straight to Ely Thayer when he got home with the news. Buford aimed to field a proslavery regiment in Kansas, all armed and ready to fight. The Emigrant Aid Society, while it had trafficked in guns at least informally, dealt more with the money end of things. Thayer and the good, antislavery people of Worcester got together and made a start on remedying that deficit to the tune of 165 guns and fifteen thousand dollars for further emigration.

Buford had not started the fight over Kansas, but Thayer and company realized that he had taken it to a new level. His plan, like the Emigrant Aid Society’s, found supporters. If Buford couldn’t shake any money loose from the state of Alabama, he could get some from Alabamans to go with the proceeds from selling forty of his Alabaman slaves. A meeting in Columbus, Georgia, resulted in a Colonel Gayle promised his county would deliver up five thousand dollars. Gayle seems to have had plenty of cash on hand, as Fleming notes that he later offered $100,000 for the execution of Abraham Lincoln. In less conventional fundraising,

A daughter of South Carolina sent to the editor of a newspaper a gold chain which would realize enough to furnish one man, and she begged him to let the ladies of her neighborhood know when more money was needed. “We will give up our personal embellishments and expose them for sale.”

Floride Calhoun

Floride Calhoun

That makes for a cute detail, but it speaks to an important reality. Nineteenth century America permitted political action by women in only tightly constrained venues. As the mothers of future citizens, they had a legitimate place in seeking to improve the moral condition of the country. They could do that through the action of various benevolent societies. We remember mostly the suffrage, temperance, and antislavery movements but nineteenth century women also practiced politics through church groups and exerting informal influence on their male relations. The women of South Carolina might have made a sentimental gesture in selling their jewelry, and most men probably read it that way, but they also took a political stand. They too lived in the Palmetto State and understood themselves as a slaveholding people, in solidarity with the slaveholders of Missouri and imperiled by antislavery activism in all its forms.

Should things worked out as they expected and antislavery agitation inspired slaves to revolt, the murderous hordes would come for the Mary Chesnuts as much as the James Chesnuts, the Floride Calhouns along with the John C. Calhouns. We know that no massacres came, but we have the benefit of hindsight they lacked. So far as they knew, the slaves told the truth when the menfolk tortured plans to kill all the whites out of them. Denmark Vesey, at least in their minds, really wanted to go on a killing spree in Charleston before sailing off to Haiti. That whites, then and now, proved far more prone to such things didn’t enter into it.

 

The Buford Expedition, Part Five: A Response from Eli Thayer

William Lowndes Yancey

William Lowndes Yancey

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

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

Jefferson Buford had requested donations to help fund his plan to colonize proslavery men in Kansas. The forty slaves he sold, which Fleming reports went for seven hundred dollars each, would only go so far. He really wanted money from Alabama, but he would take it from private hands and named William Lowndes Yancey the man to collect the cash. Over the course of February, he and others undertook a speaking tour to promote the effort. They cast their net, as one might expect from where Buford named his rendezvous points, across South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Buford’s speaking tour took him to Montgomery, where he made his case to the Alabama legislature in person. A representative from Wilcox County introduced a bill to give Buford $25,000, but the legislature in general proved less keen on the business. The bill died in committee. A Massachusetts man, William T. Merrifield of Worcester, had come to Montgomery just the day before. According to Eli Thayer’s A History of the Kansas Crusadehe got his news directly from legislators who saw the speech.

Mr. Merrifield came home immediately, fully impressed with the belief that we ought to protect our men from this section and send men enough there to counteract the designs of the pro-slavery raiders. He was thoroughly convinced, from what he had seen, that we could and ought to do it. Having in his mind the suggestion of steps to be taken, the next morning, after he arrived home, the first man he met on the street was Mr. Eli Thayer.

That sounds a little too neat, but Thayer also lived in Worcester and would have had frequent cause to come to the post office where the meeting took place. Merrifield told Thayer his idea and Thayer, already in the business of sending men and probably off-the-books guns to Kansas, decided to get right on it. Thayer went off to Boston at once, where he learned that he would have the cash he needed.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

On the ninth of February, 1856, a meeting convened at the city hall. Thayer and S.C. Pomeroy gave speeches, which went over well enough that

before the audience left the hall twenty-three rifles, equivalent to the sum of $575 were subscribed for

Thayer himself pledged ten rifles, $25 each, provided that Worcester could get together the funds for another seventy-five within the week. They did better, outfitting 165 men with guns and ammunition. Two further meetings brought the cash total to north of fifteen thousand.

The Herald of Freedom on Emigrant Aid, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The November 17 Herald of Freedom continues to provide fascinating reading. When George Washington Brown admits it burst at the seams, he didn’t exaggerate. He found room for three separate one paragraph pieces to thank various people for for sending him potatoes, a slice of venison, and honey even in the face of such noisome and far less interesting news about political killings, secret military parties, and the Kickapoo Pioneer’s despairing at Kansas future. Today, I struggle against the powerful urge to talk about the potatoes and honey. Less sensational matters beckon.

All the way back to Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil, Missourians framed their response to the threat of a free Kansas as one against mercenaries, hirelings, and paupers sent to Kansas to do the bidding of the Emigrant Aid Societies. Eli Thayer didn’t want to contest Kansas fair and square, but aimed to cheat. He and his New England money would buy Kansas for freedom, hedging out poor, decent Missouri men who had every right to the territory. One need not prefer slavery to freedom to understand that complaint. Brown answered it on the same page as a profile of Thayer, complete with an engraving of the man himself.

The paupers who so outraged Missouri had, in their destitution, spent at least million dollars. That sum, which Brown considered “a low estimate”, went entirely to western Missouri:

This money has been expended for provisions, cattle and horses, for labor with teams, &c., and has become the circulating medium along the border, and passed from hand to hand, adding wealth to every person who has had the handling of it. Whilst the commercial cities, and in fact all parts of our extended country, have felt the pressure of the money market, times have been comparatively easy in Western Missouri. Provisions have commanded double the price ever known before, and a home cash market has been found for everything produced.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Brown might have blustered his way through all that. The number could come from nothing more than the south end of a northbound newspaper man. But one can’t argue with the basic fact that merchants on the Missouri border stood to do very well from emigrants passing through. Anything going into Kansas had to go through their lands and those who reached Kansas would find themselves at least somewhat dependent on Missouri’s vendors for the near future. Stringfellow foresaw that threat:

It seemed as if Weston were about to become the head-quarters of their operations. It was feared, and subsequent events have vindicated, that our fear was not without foundation, that among our traders and merchants there where those who at heart were against us; others who loved money so much more than their country, they would, for the gain from the abolition trade, encourage them to come among us.

The love of money truly forms the root of all evils. George Brown knew and bragged about it. That million dollars didn’t fall out of the sky, so if the “intelligent” man reading his paper could “divest his mind of party prejudice, he will thank heaven for so pleasant a result.” But intelligence seemed in short supply in Missouri:

while the facts exist, and are obvious to the casual observer, and the treasures are literally rolling into the laps of our neighbors, they are stigmatizing the people of Kansas-those who have saved them from bankruptcy during the general crash-with being “paupers, and the filth and scum of the eastern cities.”

Their papers had misled them by painting Eastern emigrants to Kansas in such colors, but couldn’t the people of Missouri see the color of their gold? Did paupers go around “jingling in their pockets” such riches? The nation’s richest poor people had come to Kansas to the tune of thirty-five to forty thousand, and Brown claimed another thousand a day. The 1860 census counted 107,206 in Kansas all of five years later, so Brown might have roughly the correct number. Could Missouri afford to keep slandering so many well-off customers? If antislavery neighbors rankled and giving up the cause meant denying oneself the pleasures of slandering Yankees, then as compensation for those pains one could take full pockets.

 

The Kickapoo Pioneer Calls for Help, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Part One

The Kickapoo Pioneer sounded desperate. Faced with a rising antislavery movement that had a provisional government for Kansas already in operation, a constitution written and soon up for ratification, a secret military order revealed, and well-heeled Yankees footing their bills, its pages called the situation a crisis. The abolitionists threatened to undo all the proslavery good that Kansans and Missourians had managed. The South had the men and boldness to step up and save things, but proslavery Kansas could not do it alone.

George Brown reported all of this in the November 17 Herald of Freedom, adding in his own commentary:

the editor brays piteously for help. Power is departing. The handwriting is seen upon the wall. Pro-slavery men, do come immediately to Kansas, and rally around the black flag, else all your hope will perish, and all your money will be lost which you have expended in sending enemies into Kansas to wrest from the “abolitionists” their liberties. The fertile plains of Kansas are literally black with opponents of slavery. They come in wagons, they come by steamboats, they throng our public thoroughfares, they are seen in every department of life, and something must be done to stay the tide-this avalanche of Freedom, else all, all is lost.

Brown knew how to gloat, even if all the antislavery party had done in Kansas rested on the weakest legal foundations. No Congress authorized the free state movement. So far as the law cared, Wilson Shannon and the legislature stolen fair and square back in March governed the territory. But he could turn the Pioneer’s distress to his own purposes. Antislavery whites beyond Kansas’ borders could read from his piece that whatever they had heard, Kansas had a clear future as a free state. Thus the more cautious might hazard it instead of Nebraska.

Twice Brown invokes blackness and both times he does it on multiple levels. To nineteenth century Americans, the black flag meant no quarter and war to extinction. Pirates, the enemies of all mankind, flew the black flag. So did guerrilla bands. By tying the flag to proslavery men, Brown named them as similarly enemies to all and asserted that they would not have any scruples about any atrocity that would secure their goals.

The black flag bore the imagined color of the slave and Brown painted Kansas that hue with antislavery people as well. In the nineteenth century, you called your opponents black to associate them with evil. They used negro as a neutral term for African-Americans. Calling opponents of slavery black thus constituted a kind of double slur, first tying them to evil and then proclaiming them like unto both in a way inferior to enslaved people. Therefore, proslavery Americans could twice damn the emerging antislavery party as “Black Republicans”. By turning the insult back on them, Brown essentially said that not only did freedom prevail but also imply that it lived up to all the fears that it augured to the proslavery mind. The white South could rush to Kansas if they liked, but they would find a territory already lost to them.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

This confidence opens Brown to the charge that he, like the Pioneer, wrote to solicit for aid from abroad. Brown’s piece accompanies a profile, with a picture, of Ely Thayer. It carries with it a confidence that Brown probably did not feel as fully as he let on, given the late exposure of the Kansas Legion. If the free state movement had made progress, then it remained an illegal group that had essentially declared itself legal and asked Kansas to agree. That Kansans did agree in large numbers did not erase those Kansans who did not, nor their allies in Missouri. If Brown did not nightly expect that a proslavery posse would ride to his doorstep and arrest him for his antislavery publications, then he had to know that it could happen. Should it come to pass, then he would either go quietly or unpredictable violence might ensue. Maybe he had ice water for veins, or sufficient confidence to laugh off the real threats, but his gloating carries at least a hint of trying too hard.

A Free State Fourth, Part Three

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Parts 1, 2

Charles Robinson, a genuine Massachusetts-born abolitionist working for Eli Thayer, spoke to the free staters assembled at Lawrence for the Fourth of July festivities about how they could resist the imposition of slavery by the legal government of the state, casting disobedience to the established authorities not as a species of treason but rather as fidelity to American principles. In a country founded by a bunch of successful traitors, that made sense enough.

One could not miss some obvious parallels. An outside power really did seek to dictate how Kansans should govern themselves, imposing slavery on them by cross-border election stealing, by force and threat of violence. That they had local Kansans on their side as well complicated things, just as similar complications and similar violence marked the same situation during the Revolution. The construction of “Kansan” identity, like “American” before it, required ideological gerrymandering. A Loyalist simply did not count as an American and could be deposed from office and deprived of property by force. Many got just that treatment in the 1770s, a bit of dirty laundry that made for a much tidier revolutionary narrative.

The free state party hadn’t done anything like that, so far, but the proslavery party had forced people out of office and had used violence at the polls. They had their own version of Kansas to create, after all. Robinson and the rest of the opposition had noticed:

the people of Kansas Territory are to-day the subjects of a foreign State, as laws are now being imposed upon us by citizens of Missouri, for the sole purpose of forcing upon this Territory the institution of slavery

[…]

Is it politic, is it for our moral, intellectual, or pecuniary advancement to submit to the dictation of a foreign power in regard to our laws and institutions. This the question that deeply interests us all, and for the consideration of which this day is most appropriate.

Just as Washington fought British tyranny, so must they fight slavery’s tyranny. Robinson, his disclaimers about not preaching general abolition aside, took aim at the institution itself. He spoke for the right of free state Kansans to set their own course, without Missourian impositions, but wouldn’t let the audience forget that the enemy’s cause and enemy’s methods came from the same poisoned tree:

The foregoing are but a few paragraphs of the volumes that might be quoted to prove the blessings of liberty and the evils of slavery. Liberty, the goddess to whom this day is dedicated, showers upon her votaries peace and prosperity, intelligence and enterprise, morality and religion. The inspirer and guide of Washington and the patriotic fathers, may she become the presiding genius of our own beautiful Kansas! Slavery-the opposite and antagonist of Liberty, the ruin of nations, the impoverisher of States, the demoralizer of communities, the curse of the world, and child of hell-may she go to her own place.

If Missouri or Mississippi or any other state wanted to turn itself into an impoverished, miserable, accursed hell, they could knock themselves out. That the South boasted many of the nation’s richest men did not enter into things. Their capitalist acumen simply did not come up. Antislavery men could not acknowledge such things, unless they also wished to make a moral case against slavery itself. Then one could talk about ill-gotten riches, but in so doing look dangerously concerned with the well-being of people of the wrong color. Abolitionists might do that kind of thing.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Robinson played it a bit safe there, but in all fairness most abolitionists did believe slavery brought poverty. If any at Lawrence disagreed, then what did they mean by coming to town to begin with?

On this day and this occasion we may speak freely, assured that no offense can be given by the strongest expression in favor of freedom, or in opposition to slavery, as no one who is in favor of the latter can join in the celebration of this day. No person who does not ‘hold these truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ can consistently participate in the festivities of this day. Nay, should we fail to speak in utter detestation of slavery, and to hurl defiance at the monster on this anniversary of freedom’s natal day, especially when the tyrant has already placed his foot upon our necks, why, the very stones would cry out.

Take it from the words of a slaveholder, if an occasionally and very quietly apologetic one, himself. If you believe in America, you must oppose slavery. Invoking Jefferson to defend freedom in Kansas brings a further special irony in that the man superannuated safe of Monticello strongly opposed the Missouri Compromise that the free staters aimed to revive in fact after the Kansas-Nebraska Act abolished it in law.