The Fuss and William Phillips, Part Seven

William Phillips

William Phillips

Parts 123, 4, 5, 6

On the seventeenth of May, 1855, William Phillips finally got his lynching after weeks of waiting. It involved real tar and real feathers, despite his earlier suggestion that they use molasses. He probably could have waited longer, decades even, but the mob would not. Phillips had not left Leavenworth as ordered, after all. Furthermore, they had an election coming up on the twenty-first. They had Phillips to blame for that so they might as well use him to set an example for others.

Matthew France and Adam Fisher both had Phillips example in mind when they went to serve as judges of the special election. Avoiding it would have required fairly heroic measures considering only a few days had gone by. Both reference it in their testimony. If they did not go along with J.M. Lyle, their fellow judge and a member of the lynch mob, things could go very badly for them. France would take the risk, but Fisher demurred.

But one could draw a different lesson from the proslavery terrorism. It took weeks for the mob to work up to seizing Phillips and working their will. He twice before faced simple notice that he should leave, and once got out of trouble thanks to a shortage of tar and feathers and a promise that he would go eventually. When the mob did strike, they had to carry him over to Missouri to do their work and a marshal in Leavenworth tried to get together a rescue party to come save him.

McNamara reports that after his lynching

Phillips returned to Leavenworth, but the editorial corps dare not go back for some days, the indignation at Leavenworth was so great against them.

The Mayor of the city of Weston called a meeting to consider the steps, if any were to be taken, with reference to the disgraceful proceeding. The Mayor declared that he would resign, if such riotous conduct was approved by the citizens generally. A large meeting was held, and a most exciting debate took place, but the proceedings were finally disapproved of by the majority of the people.

Even in the town where the lynching finally happened, plenty of discontent apparently existed. The same area had refused to chase out Frederick Starr not that long ago. One could favor slavery, even strongly favor it, and not approve of lynching whites. Phillips himself had lived under threat for weeks without threat turning to reality. France doesn’t tell us that he took that risk by calculating from Phillips’ example, but he did have those facts before him.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The official reaction in Leavenworth leaned heavily toward approval. George F. Warren

saw Phillips the next morning. He had just finished getting tar off him and was running bullets. One side of his head was shaved. These men were never punished for this offence. They were at one time brought before Judge Lecompte and bound over to keep the peace. He said it was his duty to remove the clerk and prevent the lawyers from practicing at the bar, but he would not do it for that time. To my knowledge they were never indicted or tried. Most of them are still living in the Territory and holding office.

One can imagine Lecompte, chief justice of the territorial supreme court and speaker at one of the anti-Phillips meetings, wagging his finger at the the mob and telling them that next time he would have to pull the wagon over and come back there. They would then act properly chastised and take him out for drinks later on. A. Payne practically bragged about having impunity on the matter:

To my knowledge, no one has been arrested, tried, or examined for the mobbing of Phillips […] These acts were done by persons well known, and no effort was made to conceal the persons or the acts.

Secrecy  would have defeated their purpose. If one did not toe the proslavery line in Leavenworth, one now had named protagonists who would come and punish as they liked. No law would save you. Making a stand meant taking a serious risk, whatever McNamara told his readers about other people objecting to vigilante terrorism. Lynching would abuse, terrify, and possibly kill the victim but lynch mobs had the larger goal. Through the fear of violence they would control those would who not otherwise comply, in far greater numbers than they could ever lynch.

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The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Seven

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Magers’ paper.

The Platte County Self-Defense Association’s mob of two hundred sent George Park’s printing press to the bottom of the Missouri River, thus silencing the Parkville Industrial Luminary’s non-agitation on slavery and criticism of the proslavery border ruffians’ intervention in Kansas. As a nice bonus for David Rice Atchison, the destruction also revenged him on Park for publishing remarks that Bourbon Dave made in his cups. The incident sheds light on the fact that the filibusters feared for Missouri’s slavery in more than an abstract sense. As B.F. Stringfellow set down, they feared they may have already lost Missouri to slavery. Certainly their failure to evict Frederick Starr for his suspected abolitionism earlier on gave them reason to wonder. An enslaved Kansas would reverse their nightmare of an abolitionist safe haven, instead giving Kansas-based border hooligans a base to police proslavery orthodoxy on the Missouri frontier.

The story could end with the Industrial Luminary’s press rusting in the river. But Park’s reaction sheds more light on the complicated nature of slavery politics in the Missouri hinterland. He circulated a letter in response to the destruction of his press, pronouncing himself

filled with the deepest concern for the events that have transpired and the passions that bear sway-premeditated as they have been, by a large and powerful secret organization.

But at the same time:

I am happy to know that the people of Parkville and vicinity took no part in it

Men from Platte County did, but not from Parkville and environs. The mob surely didn’t let Park or any associates run a census of its members, but one imagines that small town residents in a frontier area knew one another well enough by sight to spot any familiar faces. That said, Park knew the limits of his town and his own conscience. He may favor a free soil Kansas on economic grounds, but

the charge of abolitionism is false; I have never harbored such a thought, nor meditated an action, detrimental to the honor, the interests, or institutions of Missouri; but have labored unceasingly to promote her prosperity. It is true I have not believed the honor and interests of Missouri to be in that course of policy marked out by some politicians-duty has compelled me to cross their path, which has brought on my devoted head the bitterest persecution.

That stand brought a mob of Atchisonians down on Park, but not his close neighbors. Would they permit no dissent at all? Park declared his love for both sections, his desire for a peaceful Union, and reminded readers of his service in the Texas Revolution. He dared the mob to come, insisting he would not leave his home. He’d rather be consigned to the waters with his press, but even his death would not destroy freedom of the press. But

If there is no security in the land of Washington-if an American home affords no protection-if the time has arrived when this union must be dissolved, and all its kindred ties and mighty interests broken and destroyed, and drenched with fraternal blood, then let me be buried beneath the turbid waters of the Missouri, rather than live to see such a scene. God save our country!

Park’s brave words did not stop him from leaving town in the end. Magers’ paper references a circular letter dated November 8, 1855. Therein the people of Parkville protested his eviction and said they needed him back. They could decide for themselves who did and did not belong among them, even if they disclaimed abolition and free soil in the doing. Park did return, and got $2,500 in damages out of the mob, but later found himself in Illinois and did not return to Missouri until after the war.

We can take from this that the people of Parkville tolerated George Park just fine and resented the Self-Defense Association’s meddling in their affairs. His free soil beliefs might make that tolerance less than pleasant on occasion, or they may have distanced themselves from it in the name of not bringing a mob down on their heads, but they felt confident enough to take a stand in his favor. In their forebearance, they lived up to the Self-Defensives’ nightmare: Missourians who would not tolerate proslavery vigilantes dictating to them the range of permissible opinion.

The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Six

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Magers’ paper.

The fact that George Park criticized the actions of the Platte County Self-Defense Association and other border ruffian bands who crossed into Kansas to control its elections might have in itself earned him a visit from the mob and a printing press delivered with care to the bottom of the Missouri River. Furthermore, while Park’s surname and founding of the town put the Park in Parkville, he did have the poor fortune to hail originally from Vermont in an area where most men, per Magers, treasured Virginian, Kentuckian, and Tennessean heritage instead. That he had gone off to fight for Texas’ independence, where he escaped a firing squad, might not enter into it. Nor his long and successful residence in the town that bore his name. His decision to channel Thomas Hart Benton and curse abolitionists and nullifiers alike, in the heart of Atchison Country, could not have done him any favors. But Magers suggests another factor in bringing the Self-Defense Association to the Industrial Luminary‘s office that Saturday morning. He draws on a letter sent by Frederick Starr to the New York Tribune and published on June 4, 1855. I didn’t find a letter bearing Starr’s name, but I think Magers means this. It begins by setting the scene:

On a warm day last Summer a large crowd had assembled at the town site of Atchison in Kansas to attend a sale of lots. “Dave” himself was there, and as there was much whisky and many friends, he got “glorious” a little earlier in the day than usual. So with much spitting on his shirt and making himself generally more nasty than common, the Vice-President delivered himself something after this wise:

“Gentlemen, you make a d[amne]d fuss about Douglas-Douglas-but Douglas don’t deserve the credit for this Nebraska bill. I told Douglas to introduce it-I originated it-I got Pierce committed to it, and all the glory belongs to me. All the South went for it-all to a man but Bell and Houston-and who are they? Mere nobodies-no influence-nobody cares for them.”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

A friend of Bourbon Dave’s heard the remarks and came back to Parkville with them. George Park’s partner in the newspaper, Patterson, took the words down and published them in the next issue. The Tribune’s correspondent remarked that Atchison’s friends, though not the man himself, had sobered up by this point. His paper, The Platte Argus, published a denial but the Parkville witness shot back that he heard what he heard and any man who said otherwise lied.

It might have all ended there, but John Bell had a nephew in St. Louis who read the account and did not care for Atchison calling his uncle a friendless nobody. Said nephew wrote Atchison. Did he say it?

The tone of the letter was strongly suggestive of “the usual satisfaction.” Dave evidently thought his three hundred pounds of flesh too good a mark for a pistol-ball, and he accordingly replied to the nephew that he had the most distinguished consideration for his uncle and never said such a word about him-if he had said anything that the lying scoundrels had tortured into what they had published, he begged that it might be passed by as he was “in liquor at the time.” And thus the Vice-President escaped the vexation of personal responsibility for his language. Drunkenness is not unusually regarded as a valid plea for a lawyer to make in behalf of a client, but it seems very good for a Vice-President.

To hear the correspondent tell it, Atchison got the proper number of cold shoulders from the affair. That would surely keep it fresh in his mind. If he wrote anything like the letter to Bell’s nephew it must have galled him. The author of his troubles? Surely not Bourbon Dave or his bottle, but rather George Park’s paper. Magers writes that Atchison kept up a strong grudge against the Industrial Luminary. When Park criticized Atchison’s border ruffians, he finally had a casus belli to let him take his revenge and, conveniently, police proslavery orthodoxy at the same time.

The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Five

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4. Magers’ paper.

What did George Park do, in the eyes of the Platte County Self-Defense Association, to earn the destruction of his printing press and the threatening of his life if he remained in Missouri or dared move to Kansas? The Herald of Freedom cited an article that Park published in the Industrial Luminary, happily reprinting the it. This took a bit of cheek, especially given what had already happened in Kansas proved that proslavery Missourians would not stay on their own side of the line and could very well bring violence when they came. The Herald’s press could go in the drink just as the Industrial Luminary’s had, possibly with the editors tied to it. Magers at one point says that the mob planned to do that with George Park, but he never provides any evidence on that front.

The Herald had some things to say to any Missourians thinking of such mayhem, which it used to preface its reprinting of Park’s offensive article:

It was said that destruction of the LUMINARY OFFICE was designed as an example to others, and it is very knowingly hinted that ours will meet a similar fate. Very well, we have concluded to give any number of persons who wish to perpetrate such an act of folly a free pass to “kingdom come,” and we pledge them every assistance in our power. Probably many of them never took an upward journey, and would like to try the experiment of sailing on a blaze of glory, such as a couple of kegs of gunpowder, exploded at an opportune occasion, would furnish. We have not a member in our family, ourself included, who would not deem a transit into the future life with, companions deu voyage of a goodly number of printing press destroyers as a favor rarely to be met with.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Their “eyes would see the glory of the coming of the Lord,” all right. To make it clear to any aspirant proslavery martyrs that they would die in vain, the editors also told the reader that they had duplicate subscription books and arrangements with others to continue publication should circumstances ever require them to ride their gunpowder straight into Heaven.

Park’s own piece began with a fairly straightforward account of the theft of the legislative elections at the end of March. He put on Reeder, who he supposed would soon go off to Washington to get the opinion of the Pierce administration, the decision to set aside the election and so “Abolitionize” the territory “or countenance such action which has for its ulterior object a dissolution of the Union.” But what else could Reeder do?

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

We have occupied a conservative and national ground, promptly opposing the measures and men who have brought this crisis. Will the President meet it? Surely he cannot longer follow counsels from among Abolitionists and Nullifiers? The country demands that, sound, firm, energetic men have the direction of public affairs-who will impress and enforce justice and law. There is virtually no law in Kansas, and no security for life and property, save in the sense of honor and justice cherished by every true pioneer. This may save the country from bloodshed; but the Government is held up to ridicule and contempt, and its authority disregarded-Judges of elections have been displaced, and others appointed-the polls have in some instances been guarded with pistols and bowie-knives-and some of those elected are going to the governor swearing that if he does not give a certificate of election immediately, they will “cut his throat from ear to ear!” Is the flag or our country to be no longer a protection?-or are individuals, or companies of men to declare WE WILL! and it MUST be so, without regard to law? Is this what the authors of the Nebraska-Kansas bill meant by Squatter Sovereignty?

This challenged the Self-Defensives and their allies directly. More keenly, Park attacked them on decisively Bentonian line. Thomas Hart Benton always said that abolitionists and nullifiers alike made problems for the Union. The best way to handle slavery involved no agitation on it at all, either for or against. For that sin, Atchison eventually conspired to unseat him. Here George Park may well have quoted the former senator, right in the heart of Atchison country.

The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Three

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

Parts One and Two.

Gentle Readers, I discovered a source today that allows me to go into more depth on the matter of the Parkville Industrial Luminary: a copy of Roy V. Magers’ paper The Raid on the Parkville Industrial Luminary in the October 1935 issue of the Missouri Historical Review. I rarely get access to this kind of material, let alone in a timely matter. I hope that you’ll forgive a bit of repetition in the interest of adding more details.

Magers sets the scene:

On the evening of Friday, April 13, 1855, the people of Parkville were excited by the appearance of the hill north of town a company of armed and mounted men. Those who went to investigate came back to report that the horsemen were members of the Platte County Self-defensive Association, a strong pro-slavery organization whose reason for existence was to discourage and destroy, by violence if necessary, any agency or influence that seemed to be an expression of the spirit of Abolitionism. When morning came, the party proceeded to Parkville, and without delay carried into execution the purpose for which they had come.

I had the impression from past reading that the men who destroyed the press hailed from Parkville itself. Their status as local outsiders adds an interesting dimension to things. Magers doesn’t make it clear if the whole mob came from outside of Parkville or not, but clearly at least some of the two hundred did. They may not have come from far given that Platte County include Parkville, but these very fine distinctions can matter in small towns even today. I’ve seen it myself.

The mob came into Park’s building, a former hotel, and “seized the printing press, type and other equipment and brought them into the street.” He then read out the Self-Defense Association’s eight resolutions against Park, calling the paper “a nuisance which has been endured too long” and Park and Patterson “traitors to the state and county in which they live”. This brought them to the ultimatum:

That we shall meet here again, on this day three weeks, and if we find G.S. Park and W.J. Patterson in this town then, or at subsequent time, we will throw them into the Missouri River, and if they go to Kansas to reside, we pledge our honor as men to follow and hang them wherever we can take them.

The resolutions then turned to acknowledging “our Parkville friends,” who had apparently informed them of other free soil men in the area to “attend to”. Furthermore, since they had the crowd there:

we will suffer no person belonging to the Northern Methodist Church to preach in Platte County after this date, under penalty of tar and feathers for the first offense and a hemp robe for the second.

Magers’ footnote, regrettably the only one, tells us that the Northern Methodists had recently adopted an abolitionist platform that endeared them similarly to most locales along the border.

The remainder of the resolutions called on other counties throughout Missouri to engage in their own purges in the interests of “our peace, our property and safety”. One doesn’t go far in reading this sort of thing without some reference, however indirect, to the feared slave revolt. The Self-Defensives concluded by asking that the proslavery press in Kansas and Missouri reprint their resolutions.

With the speech finished, the mob went about its work:

A procession was formed, bearing at its head a banner with the words “Boston Aid.” It moved across the bridge and through the town to the foot of Main Street, where the press and type were dumped into the waves of the Big Muddy […] One can imagine that there was a good deal of whooping and yelling, horse-play and laughter, furnishing rare entertainment for the townspeople who watched the performance.

Everybody had a great time, except Park, Patterson, and those with less conspicuous antislavery ideas who now had to wonder if someone had informed on them and so if they could expect a visit. Not everybody would have the quick wits or sheer courage of Frederick Starr, and Starr  himself left Missouri within a week of the Industrial Luminary going from the soil of Missouri into the waters of the Missouri.

Kansas: The Cure for Missouri’s Freedom

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Frederick Starr defended himself to the point of shaming the Platte County Self-Defense Association into admitting he did no wrong. Though an outsider-a Yankee no less!-he hewed carefully to the established norms for dealing with western Missouri’s enslaved population. He did just as they would have done in his place, so why had they brought him to their kangaroo court?

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow would not have that. He denounced all who would cheer Starr, damning them as people who thought slavery an evil that might someday end rather than a positive good to celebrate. The institution so blessed the South in part because it freed the section from the great curse of the North: free labor. Earning a wage made one worse off than a slave, as slaveholders treated their property with care while employers cared only to extract as much toil for as little wage as possible.

Stringfellow told this to a courtroom full of wage earners. They considered themselves much better off than slaves and most certainly did not appreciate the suggestion that some other man ought to own them for their own good. Having come to ruin Frederick Starr, they left with their wrath pointed right at Stringfellow. He spent several days running around telling everyone who would stop and listen that they misunderstood. Some secret abolitionist maliciously twisted his words. Stringfellow never meant to suggest that white men would benefit from slavery or that wage labor degraded them.

Stringfellow meant, as he later wrote in his pamphlet, that slavery made all white men equal. The wage labor system produced vast inequality, which everyone should loathe, but he dropped the suggestion that it degraded white laborers and instead focused exclusively on predatory employers. Trust him on it.

The Platte County Self-Defense Association had not gotten off to a great start. But if they couldn’t lynch Frederick Starr and instead ended up coming around in convoluted paths to a position not far from the one he gave, unsolicited, in his own defense then they could try something else. The internal subversion that Stringfellow feared could come through the lure of the almighty dollar:

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.

Maybe they had to leave Starr be, but the Platte County men could enforce a boycott against businessmen who served antislavery customers. It would take a mob committed to extralegal violence to make the plan work, but they could find that mob by looking in the mirror.

Weston’s merchants responded by forming their own mob that demanded the Self-Defense Association follow the law. If they had a grievance, it should go to the courts for fair trial. They accepted the presence of free blacks in the state. Law-abiding Missourians, whatever their opinion on slavery, had every right to full participation in the white man’s republic. And if Stringfellow, Atchison, and the rest wanted to break heads to prove otherwise then they could have their own heads broken in return. They too much money coming in to give up over slaveholders’ ideological crusades.

The Self-Defense Association retreated again, but their twin losses did not prove to them that they should give up. Rather they showed just how far Missouri had already fallen. Nothing they had done or proposed would have ruffled many feathers in the Lower South. Instead of fearing a future subversion of Missouri, they faced a Missouri that looked already subverted. Too many antislavery men had come in and corrupted the state’s moral fiber. They needed a secure base to consolidate from and then use to set Missouri back to rights. They needed Kansas more than ever.

The Platte County Men Strike

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Just over the line in Missouri, the Platte County Self-Defense Association stirred itself to life over the summer of 1854. Sunny forecasts for a free Kansas would not deter the hard-drinking, hard-fighting men of the Missouri frontier. They had every natural reason to expect their victory in Kansas. But B.F. Stringfellow had named another enemy aside abolitionist pauper mercenaries in the group’s manifesto:

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!”

Internal subversion destroyed slavery in the North. It could turn the institution out of Missouri, most especially if a free Kansas emboldened Missourians who already had private reservations. Open dissent could bring emancipation and so they must fight it at every turn. When preserving slavery conflicted with the needs and designs of the white man’s republic and the white man’s cherished rights to all things slavery, the republic, the white man’s rights, and even the nation’s laws must fall before it.

Western Missouri had those dangerous dissenters close on hand. It also had the Platte County men to do something about it. William W. Freehling reports on their efforts in The Road to Disunion, Volume Two: Seccessionists Triumphant:

On July 21, 1854, the Self-Defense Association forced a Massachusetts man out of the county. They thought he wanted a free Kansas, you see. Then came a drunkard who, according to the testimony of a lone black man who could not have legally given it in a Missouri court, aided fugitive slaves.

Then on the 29th, flush with the previous successes, Atchison and Stringfellow’s band descended on Frederick Starr, a reverend New England man who quietly supported antislavery efforts in Missouri. They seized Starr and demanded his confession. One imagines them, touching the common strings of militant paranoia, demanding to know if Starr was, or had ever been, a member of the abolitionist party.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

The Platte County Self-Defense Association had the misfortune to prey upon a quick-witted man with a flair for the dramatic. He dressed himself in a white pair of pants and a clean shirt, gathered his friends, and marched to the courthouse to hear the charges against him. The mob promptly indicted him for teaching slaves to read, for helping blacks buy their freedom, and riding beside blacks in his carriage.

Starr pleaded guilty on each charge, and then defended himself. He had taught slaves to read, but only with their owners’ leave to make them into better Christians, as was his religious duty. Better Christians would, if freed, then make better citizens. Starr’s ersatz prosecutor pressed the point: Had he always had the owner’s permission? Yes, he had. His prosecutor, John Vineyard, then admitted Starr did no wrong.

But what about helping slaves buy their freedom? Starr had done it, he said. The law allowed slaves to work for wages, if their masters permitted. The law allowed a master to sell a slave to anybody, even the slave himself or herself. Vineyard again had to admit Starr did no wrong.

And yes, a black rode beside Starr. Only Yankees flinched from black company. Every true son of the South knew blacks as part of the family, intimately connected with them and woven into the fabric of white lives. Why, Vineyard himself rode with his slaves. Couldn’t Starr do the same? Vineyard backed down again and moved to acquit. The Self-Defense Association concurred and Starr celebrated by rubbing it in.

He declared emancipation a slaveholder’s business, not one for other people. Native southerners, not Yankee interlopers, would decide slavery’s fate. But, if they did opt for manumission, outsiders like Frederick Starr himself could help prepare blacks for freedom and eventual colonization back in Africa.

This had not gone at all to plan.