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.

A Free State Fourth, Part Two

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Samuel Wood, holding a silk flag presented to him by the women of Lawrence and speaking for two militia companies, declared that if necessary he and his men would repudiate the acts of the bogus legislature that now ruled Kansas by force of arms. But even in such dire times, the free state party did not rush eagerly to that end. Levying war against the lawful government of Kansas Territory would make them traitors and might well bring the wrath of Washington down upon them.

Charles Robinson had another, complementary answer which might defuse any charges of treason. Past adventurers had led the Massachusetts-born doctor off to California, where he practiced medicine, published a newspaper, mined, and even ran a restaurant. Not exhausted by those endeavors, he also involved himself in land speculation and got shot in the chest for his troubles. Robinson survived and beat the man who shot him to death. That won him an indictment for murder, but one presumes the gunshot wound to his chest made a fair testimony in favor of self-defense. He served for a time in the California House before returning to Massachusetts to marry. He came to Kansas with his wife as an agent of Eli Thayer’s New England Emigrant Aid Society.

Robinson spoke to the Fourth of July gathering. I hoped to have his full speech, but my source lacks that page of the July 7, 1855 Herald of Freedom. Robinson wrote a history of his time in Kansas that includes apparently extensive extracts. Of necessity, and after several misadventures with my printer, I take my text from there.

While the echoes of the booming cannon are reverberating among our native hills, and the merry peals of the church-going bells are announcing to the world the rejoicings of a great and prosperous people, that their days of weakness, suffering, and thralldom are past, we are here in a remote wilderness, to found a new State, and to plant anew the institutions of our patriotic ancestors. It is a day to us of peculiar significance. While we would pay tribute of respect to that period which, in the annals of this nation, will ever be regarded as most sacred; while, with one accord and one voice, we worship in the Temple of Liberty, uncontaminated by party distinctions or sectional animosities, and unite in the endeavor to raise some fitting memento of a nation’s gratitude for the declarations of that day, the most glorious in the history of a mighty people, we should also gather lessons of instruction from the past by which to be guided in the erection of a new state in the heart of this great Republic.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

That patriotic opening comes with the usual selective attention. Robinson declares them without party distinctions, but Wood’s speech and Robinson’s own revolve around a party distinction, between the proslavery men who have taken Kansas for their own and the free state men who want to take it back from them. While the free staters had some Missourians among them, and more as time went on and the proslavery party dictated more and more to them, their cause hardly avoided sectional distinctions. The entire dispute revolved, ultimately, around what section Kansas belonged with. But in one sense, they did have bipartisanship. Democrats and Whigs united in opposing the bogus legislature, even if no shortage of more proslavery Democrats also held seats in it.

Robinson knew the these complications well enough, proceeding to sweep them up in a narrative of diverse colonies uniting together in “common cause against the indignities and outrages heaped upon a part of the country.”

No sacrifice was counted too dear to secure to the people of these United States the right to govern themselves, to choose their own rulers, to make their own laws, and worship God in their own way.

Robinson suggested the Kansas take their own E plurbus unum lesson from that. The Missourians had imposed upon them, taking up the role of latter-day redcoats serving the cause of slavery. But Robinson, an abolitionist raised by abolitionists did not demand his diverse audience

listen to arguments of abolitionists, or for abolitionism. I wish not now to wage war upon slavery or slave-holders in any State of this Union, or to interfere in any respect with our neighbors affairs, but it is for ourselves, our families, our own institutions and our prosperity-it is for Kansas I ask your attention.

Men like Robinson did have to walk that fine line. Even in Kansas, even staring down the full-bore of border ruffianism, most free staters did not consider themselves abolitionists. They cared relatively little for slavery in Missouri or anywhere else, save within Kansas. They might not even care about its fate within Kansas, but found the tactics of their proslavery neighbors abhorrent to the spirit of white republicanism.

The Assembly vs. Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The fullypurged proslavery Legislative Assembly had enough of Andrew Reeder. His constant vetoing proved that he would never work with them for any who had not already decided the governor secretly clung to abolitionism so hard that William Lloyd Garrison and Eli Thayer found it off-putting. They wrote to Franklin Pierce asking that he rid them of the troublesome Pennsylvanian. The letter doing just that had already gone into the mail, and would arrive only days later, but the legislature had no way to know that.

Showing cause would improve their case, so the legislature commenced with a “brief history of our territory, written and unwritten, since its organization.” They began with what they considered the almost unprecedented speed of settlement in Kansas, exceeded only by California’s progress. Debates over the future of Kansas, and by proxy the entire West, spurred tremendous numbers to come and lay their claims.

A people thus numerous, thus diversified from birth, education, previous associations, and present intention and objects, required, it seems to us, for their government, the most prompt action on the part of those called on to preside over them. From the month of May until October, there were no officers here, the governor appointed to organize the territory, under the provisions of the bill, arriving in the latter month.

A great number of people and no government at all has a way of emphasizing the need of the former for the latter. In its absence, informal and alternative power structures will develop. Unfortunately, these almost without exception involve gangs and warlords. Few people, save those who imagine that they will rise to the top of such a situation, welcome it. The legislators have their dates right. What took Reeder so long?

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Franklin Pierce, to start with. He signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law at the end of May, 1854, but neglected to appoint a governor until almost a month later. He gave Andrew Reeder the nod on June 29. Reeder, who I presume received word in Pennsylvania, took his oath on July 7. One can’t blame that first month on him, though the legislature wisely avoided telling Pierce that he caused the initial delay. Receiving instructions, packing up his household, and moving out to Kansas then took Reeder until October. One can fairly pin that time on him, though to judge by his return from Washington it seems that about at least a few weeks in transit come down to having to go by horse and steamboat.

So soon as it was ascertained by rumor that he had arrived (for he never in any way made it public), it was presumed that he would immediately order the census of the territory to be taken, an election for members of the legislative assembly to be held, and call them together at once, so that laws might be enacted for the preservation of the public peace and weal.

They go on to say that everybody received Reeder generously. Leading men of the Missouri border hosted him and introduced him around. Everybody also urged him to hurry up and get a census done so he could call together a legislature. This early legislature would, of course, come full of recent Missourians thanks to their geographic head start on anybody else interested in Kansas. The memorialists did not quite say that, but did paint a stark picture of a lawless Kansas:

the people knowing of no laws in force, an d the governor himself having no settled opinion on the subject-appointing justices of the peace in various sections of the territory, some of whom enforced the Pennsylvania, some the Ohio, and some the Missouri code, acting as a matter of course under his instructions-still, with all these various imperative necessities urging his compliance, he heeded them not, but assumed himself to act as the lawmaking power, by prescribing the various codes above, and usurping the powers of the judiciary in issuing writs, and sitting as an examining court upon the charge of “assault with intent to kill,” the prisoner being at the time incarcerated within the walls of a prison

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

I find it hard to believe that a lawyer would knowingly tell judges to use contradicting codes to decide their cases, though I suppose Reeder may have told them to use the law they knew best and so inadvertently done so. His inexperience might have come into play here as well. I have yet found nothing on the matter of the prisoner mentioned.

Given the context, and passages of the document I shall address in future posts, it wouldn’t surprise me if the memorialists stretched the truth and took a hesitance born of uncertainty and irregularities well within the norms of a newly opened territory as evidence of malfeasance. From all I have seen, Reeder came to Kansas very intent on giving popular sovereignty a fair go, with either slavery or freedom equally possible. The proslavery men arrived equally intent on otherwise, insisting popular sovereignty meant that slavery prevailed until someone forced freedom upon them. Thus even the most impartial and disinterested governor would have their enmity, since he would not at once throw in with them and prosecute their cause to its fullest.

Anarchy in Kansas

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The men of the Missouri frontier desperately wanted Kansas, some for land, some for slavery, and some for a mix of both. Congress threw open the doors and invited everybody in with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but no civilian government waited on the ground to see to an orderly settlement. This could only invite trouble, but to further complicate things no survey of the available lands yet existed. The government in Washington or a future government in Kansas couldn’t tell the land-hungry settlers from either section just what lands they could have. Some territory still belonged to the Indians, at least for a time. Some did not. Where did one end and the other begin?

In the absence of the land survey and clear boundaries to the remaining reservations, not an inch of Kansas stood open to legal purchase. The way things ought to work, those surveys would find their way to a federal land office somewhere in the territory. People would go out and look around, decide what land they wanted, and either file a claim for it via preemption or buy it outright. Preemption worked a bit like homesteading. One went to the land and improved it, increasing its value and the value of adjacent land. If a citizen or somewhere in the process of becoming one, the settler thus earned the right to buy the land at a set minimum price. Poorer settlers could thus establish their claims and then work the land to help meet the subsidized price.

With no legal means to resolve their disputes over prized land, settlers would naturally resort to deciding things by who had the most friends or shot the straightest. No other means existed until the land office received the first surveys in January, 1855. Even without slavery inflaming sectional tensions and inspiring partisan bands to contend over the territory, this just asked for trouble. Land disputes invited settlers to court powerful friends, whether well-heeled Yankees or a United States Senator.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

The United States Senator in question, David Rice Atchison, saw himself as just the man to resolve matters. He had helped make Kansas open for slavery. He and his cohorts founded the Platte County Self-Defense Associationof late embarrassments. If anybody could take charge and serve at least as the figurehead for proslavery settlers and slavery-indifferent but anti-Yankee settlers alike, he could.

Anyone in Kansas who got on the wrong side of one of Atchison’s clients would naturally incline toward the Emigrant Aid Society’s patronage, whether they cared much for Eli Thayer’s antislavery politics or not. If one can’t blame the Missouri men for feeling a bit betrayed and overwhelmed by conniving outsiders with their deep pockets, then one can hardly blame their opposites for increasingly aligning otherwise. Atchison gave them plenty of reasons. His lieutenant, B.F. Stringfellow threatened violence and lawlessness. One might think a senator above such things, especially if he intended to participate himself, but Atchison had no such scruples. According to the testimony of Dr. G. A. Cutler to the House committee appointed to investigate Kansas affairs, Atchison appeared in Kansas in March of 1855. He came with eighty well-armed men and gave a brief speech including these words:

We came to vote, and we are going to vote, or kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.

“I am for resistance-I care not to what extent.”


Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Eli Thayer’s abolitionist army descended on Kansas, but men from Missouri had every advantage. They lived right next door to Kansas. They’d slipped over the border long before any law permitted them to do so. They had all the warning they needed that free soil settlers would come and used that warning to form groups devoted to keeping them out of Kansas, like Atchison and Stringfellow’s Platte County Self-Defense Association. Missourians crossing the border might not all care for slavery, in Missouri or elsewhere, but enough of them saw Kansas as theirs to readily ally with the proslavery men. If the natural advantages did not prove sufficient, then threats of violence might. If threats of violence did not suffice, actual violence could follow.

How could Thayer’s and other free soil settlers expect to claim Kansas as their own against all this? They appreciated their predicament keenly, both in the cities of the East Coast and out on the frontier. In his June 29, 1854 edition, Horace Greeley printed a letter from Abelard Guthrie, a Benton Democrat wrote to detail some of the preliminary skulduggery:

So it seems the foul deed has been consummated, and this beautiful Territory, for whose benefit I have spent so much time and money, is surrendered up to the full power of Slavery. But the outrage is not to stop here. It is but one link in the chain of insult and injury offered to the people of the free states.

Before the Missouri Compromise repeal hit Congress, the body considered a bill to buy up some land from the Indians living in the area. Congress appropriated fifty thousand dollars for the job and then the matter hung in abeyance. Only after the repeal became part of the Kansas-Nebraska Act did things move on that front.

and then, instead of a Commissioner being sent to treat with the Indians in the ordinary way, delegations from each tribe have been hurried off to Washington, and the treaties there made, so that neither the tribes at large nor the public know anything of the conditions of these treaties.  The Indian Agents, the Senate, and the particular friends of the Administration alone know what is going on. These individuals circulated the story that no citizen would be allowed to take claims or settle on the lands ceded by the Indians to the Government, until the full surveys were made and the lands offered at public sale.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

All of that might sound irregular and worrisome, but not much to generate outrage. However:

In the meantime, Senator ——– sent a private telegraphic dispatch to his friends to go and take possession of the most desirable locations. This information was circulated secretly, and thousands of the pro-slavery party swarmed over the country before those not in the secret were apprised of what was doing. These men, I understand, have banded together to prevent the settlement of anti-slavery men in the country. Several meetings of these “clubs” have been held in Missouri, and anti-slavery men have been denounced with fierce threats.

Greeley helpfully makes it clear to anybody who missed the obvious inference that David Rice Atchison sent the telegram.

Guthrie asked if the outrages would ever end. A Senator actively conspiring to deny land to free state men? Arranging misinformation so they think the lands ceded by the Indian tribes had to wait on survey before claims, while telling his proslavery friends to rush in and take them up? Guthrie wouldn’t stand for it:

Will the people of the free states quietly submit to these wrongs and insults-to be mere vassals of the slave power? I am for resistance-I care not to what extent.

Italics in the original.

With violent threats already on the table, Guthrie had to know full well that others would read in his commitment to resist a commitment to violence. If proslavery men imagined that antislavery men wronged them, so antislavery men imagined the same thing of proslavery men. If proslavery men would fight for Kansas, so would antislavery men.

Update: The previous version of this post gave the wrong date for the issue of the Tribune.

The Invasion of Kansas

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Into lawless Kansas came lawless men of Missouri, squatting and staking claims well ahead of official sanction. Many just wanted the land, but others cared less for the land and more for consolidating Missouri slavery. The two groups could make common cause against outside interlopers floating into Kansas on the five million dollars raised by Eli Thayer’s Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society. Both sides declared war. Kansas would have its popular sovereignty, just as soon as the right thumbs pressed down on the right scales.

The men of the Missouri hinterlands had reason to fear Yankees taking up what they considered their rightful futures. Eli Thayer and his counterparts in other states really had gathered funds to send men from other states into Kansas. If Thayer never had his five million dollars of capital, he made it up in rhetorical heft by refounding his society as the New England Emigrant Aid Society. They did not have the cash then and there, but Thayer’s first group arrived at the future Lawrence, Kansas. That tiny army of thirty pitched their tents and acted for all the world like they intended to stay, more than one could say for certain Missouri men with an intense interest in the future of slavery in Kansas.

The thirty person revolutionary vanguard of freedom, or pauper mercenaries, or ordinary Americans who would take the help to get the land and accept some antislavery politics that came with it if they must, left Boston with the blessing of a cheering crowd. They received similar accolades along their way. Even if not for the very heightened defensiveness that Missouri’s slaveholders possessed, they couldn’t have helped but see something like the whole North marshaled against them. Four other parties followed, bringing seven hundred and fifty antislavery settlers into Kansas. More would surely come.

The view from the North formed a mirror image of all that. They saw false Missouri settlers rush over the line, stake out claims, and make dire threats about running every antislavery man out of the territory. Many did that without bothering with such niceties as actually settling there. They laid claim to lands they did not propose to use, entirely to spite decent northerners. Those threats could come up close and very personal, as they did when some proslavery men walked into Lawrence, armed, and tendered an invitation for the residents to quit the territory at once.

They might have gone. They lived just over the edge of the world, in a hard land with few possessions, few homes, and only the hope of doing well for themselves. If a gang of armed men walked up to most of us and told us to depart in that situation, I doubt most of us would resolutely stay. But white Yankees had as much right to the nation’s commonwealth as white sons of Dixie. Neither cared much for sharing their futures with black Americans, of course. Keeping slavery out of Kansas usually also meant keeping blacks out.

The alleged abolitionists with their alleged racial egalitarianism stayed, the leading edge of a flood of humanity from both sections that picked up as the summer wore on. They filled the steamers running from St. Louis. Ferry owners got rich carrying them across the river. By September, enough had arrived to set up and operate two newspapers. They predictably aligned themselves over the question of the territory’s future. The Herald of Freedom came with its owner, his printing press, and his subscriptions.

G.W. Brown’s first issue commenced with a description of the trip up the Kansas river, which says something about his intended audience. Did people who just arrived in Kansas need a travelogue? Probably not. They could just go for a walk. Subscribers back in the North, however, might consume it with interest and decide that they themselves ought to come. But we needn’t judge the paper’s politics by its name, its section of origin, or where its subscribers lived. The first page of the first issue includes three selections of poetry, the first declaring that

No crouching slave shall ever curse our consecrated ground.


And there alone free labor in humble trust shall kneel.

Italics in original.

The second, the Freemen’s Song, tells us still more:

From our mountains in the North,

Freedom’s legions sally forth.

Shouting o’er the trembling Earth

Death to Slavery!


Ere a score of years be past,

Slavery shall breathe her last;

Spike the colors to the mast,

Hurrrah for Liberty!

One can see why Stringfellow, Atchison, and company got so worked up but it would do to keep in mind that the prospect of a free Kansas had them spitting nails and breathing fire well before any of this. That Brown had close financial ties with Thayer’s enterprise only proved their point.

Back to Kansas

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Some time has passed since I plunged down into the horrors of Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil. It would do to revisit the field on which he and his compatriots, and their antislavery opposites coming with Emigrant Aid Society funding, intended to wage some sort of war for the future of Kansas. William H. Seward and Stephen Douglas said as much. Out on the frontier, local white Missourians had ample reason to side with their slaveholding neighbors. They also had every advantage geography offered and only a line on the map separating them from Kansas. Why not filibuster it?

The Kansas-Nebraska Act got Franklin Pierce’s signature in the last days of May, 1854. From that point on, white men could rush in and stake their claims. They entered a land that had government only on paper. Pierce did not choose the first governor for the Kansas Territory until the end of June. That governor, Andrew Horatio Reeder of Easton, Pennsylvania, would not arrive in Kansas to exercise the duties of his first ever federal office until October 7. Until then, the law in Kansas could very well depend entirely on how straight and eagerly one shot. 

David Rice Atchison, who had done so much to ensure that he and others like him could take slavery into Kansas, came out and said as much, telling his audiences

you know how to protect your own interests; your rifles will free you from such neighbors. … You will go there, if necessary with the bayonet and with blood.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Stringfellow’s law partner pledged to personally hang any antislavery settler he could lay hands on. The rhetorical fireworks in Washington had their equivalents on the frontier in the person of men on hand and willing to make the war of words a war of bullets.

Why not? Law might restrain them, but Stringfellow deprecated it:

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

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

He did not do so alone. Missouri men had gone over the border and staked their claims to the best land well before any law authorized them to do so. They had no one on the ground in Kansas ready to stop them. Nineteenth century Americans understood only the third of Kansas nearest Missouri as worth much to settle, and that even there the worth of the land depended very highly on a few convenient rivers to push back the great American desert. They had every reason to think they could steal the good land out from under any abolitionists and other outside interlopers before they arrived.

Then when Anthony Reeder appeared, the proslavery settlers could hand him a Kansas with its future already decided. Given his stated impartiality leaned far to the South, Reeder would only have to use his broad powers to consolidate the fait accompli. Eli Thayer’s aided emigrants could take their aid and go home or, failing that, accept that they’d come to a slave territory and change their tune appropriately.

“Negro-Slavery, No Evil.” Part Seven

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Full text. Parts 12345, 6

The Platte County Self-Defense Association, committed to preserving slavery in Missouri, naturally had a low opinion of antislavery settlers. The group existed to keep them out of Missouri and run them out of Kansas. They worried about a racial revolution, the loss of their valuable human property, and of course the profits they reaped through the theft of lives and labor to grow their hemp. To that end, abolitionists of any stripe looked much like terrorists would to us.

But an abolitionist, to the minds of people of the time, looked like a rich man from New England. Such people would not rush to start new lives on the wild frontier. They had their money and their success. Poor people and people of middling success would take that chance. They might, however, take it with some of the funds that Eli Thayer’s and other Emigrant Aid Societies would offer. The slaveholders on the Missouri frontier knew that very well. It thus bears looking a bit more closely at how Stringfellow and his compatriots viewed the people they expected to actually chase from Kansas.

But to that other class, hired slaves of corrupt masters, who are sent for the purpose of driving our brothers from Kansas, of stealing our property, driving us from our homes, we offer no argument, but that of the strong hand.

The Platte County men would not restrict themselves to sternly worded letters and Stringfellow’s pamphleteering.

We have not, it is true, done that, which natural right would have justified us in doing. There is no law to bind them to keep the peace — there can be none, until it is enacted by the Legislature of that Territory; they are to us as would be a band of Blackfeet or Camanches, who should encamp upon our borders, for the avowed purpose of stealing our cattle and horse, of plundering our farms and villages. We would be justified in marching to their camp, and driving them back to their dens, without waiting for their attack. We are not bound to wait, until they have “stolen our negroes,” “burned our slaveholding towns.” But we have been so “law abiding and orderly,” that we have not done this: we have simply said, “we will when called upon,” go to the aid of our friends, and assist in expelling those who proclaim their purpose to be the expulsion of our friends. Robbers and murderers have no right to call on the law for protection.

In other words, they should have already gone off and purged Kansas antislavery settlers. No law governed it and those people represented the worst of two sorts of human being to nineteenth century whites: slaves and Indians. They deserved driving out for the crime of their mere existence. Yet in their forbearance, the Platte County Self-Defense Association stayed their hand. They, to use the infamous words of Roger Taney constituted

beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

Free soil settlers in Kansas might, by accident of birth, end up as white men but Stringfellow laid it out in plain language. No law protected or should protect any such person. If they came, then they meant war. If they threw a war, the Missouri slaveholders would come.

“Negro-Slavery, No Evil.” Part One

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

The Platte County Self-Defense Association, founded in part by David Rice Atchison and his lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, established itself to warn off and battle people coming to settle Kansas under the auspices of the various Emigrant Aid Societies that sprung up to plant free soil settlers on the newly opened land. I did not have much luck finding the words of the Emigrant Aid Society supporters online, but the internet smiled upon me for their opponents. In 1854, Stringfellow himself wrote a pamphlet titled Negro-Slavery, No Evil. As it concerns the Platte County group directly, Stringfellow declares his work a kind of manifesto:

In obedience to a resolution adopted by the Platte County Self-Defensive Association, we proceed to lay before the public the immediate causes which led to the formation of the Association; to explain its purposes, and to suggest the means, which seem to us proper to be adopted by the citizens of the slaveholding States, to defeat the designs of the abolitionists.

One cannot get much more official than written on the order of the association by one of its principals. In doing so, Stringfellow wrote not just a specific defense of their actions and statement of motives, but also a general defense of slavery itself. That involved exposing

fully the dangers to which slave-property in Missouri, and especially on the borders of Kansas, is subjected; to arouse the attention of all good citizens, not of slaveholding States alone, but of the whole Union, to the results which must follow, if the abolitionists succeed in their purposes; and, if possible, to suggest means by which those results may be prevented.

It all goes back to the group’s name. They understood themselves not as imperialists, or even necessarily favoring expansion of slavery for its own sake, but rather as a besieged minority at the mercy of millionaire New England abolitionists. They thus had to band together to prevent the enemy from gaining a foothold so near to their homes and human property. The ultimate end of the Emigrant Aid Societies involved not a free Kansas, but rather using a free Kansas a means to overthrow their exposed slavery regime in Missouri. Offensive acts in Kansas constituted defense of Missouri. The Emigrants they opposed hardly deserved the name:

Were these miscalled “emigrants” poor and honest farmers, seeking a home and the advantages of a new country for themselves and families, we might applaud the charity of those who originated the scheme: were these associations fair means of deciding the contest between the friends and opponents of negro-slavery, we might admire the energy of the abolitionists: but when we find these miscalled emigrants really negro-thieves, their purpose not to procure a home in Kansas, but to drive slaveholders therefrom; that they are not freemen, but paupers, who have sold themselves to Ely Thayer & Co., to do their masters’ bidding; who hesitate not to proclaim that they are expert in stealing slaves; that they intend to follow their calling, self-defence requires that means equally active, equally efficient, should be adopted by those who are threatened.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The defenders of slavery leap to call whites slaves, understanding it as a sort of ultimate pejorative. Those paupers sold their wills and bodies to Thayer and his millionaires. They had masters who owned them. The same situation, when imposed by force upon blacks mysteriously endowed them only with blessings. Stringfellow does not miss the contradiction entirely. It concerned many of slavery’s defenders. He will explain why blacks uniquely benefit from slavery later on.

Situated on the border of Kansas, we were the first to receive the attack. Those among us, who had hitherto been restrained by fear, emboldened by the prospect of such efficient aid begun openly to avow their sentiments; the timid, became freesoilers; the bold, abolitionists. The emissaries of the “Emigration Aid Societies” were arriving; they were boasting that “they would shortly be the strongest, and then they would drive slaveholders from Kansas!” They declared that “they had run off slaves, would run off more, and would, finally, drive slaveholders from Missouri!”

The Emigrant Aid Societies would send white slaves to Kansas to overthrow Missouri slavery. But take note of who Stringfellow thinks those interloping thralls of Yankee millionaires would embolden. He refers not to black slaves, but free whites. He fears the destruction of white racial solidarity. If free whites get the idea that they have the freedom to oppose slavery, they’ve had a bad example just as the slave inspired to revolt would have. How would white slaveholders in a free white man’s republic battle against a grassroots effort by free whites to end slavery? Just that kind of movement had banished slavery from the North.