A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Four

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left David Rice Atchison’s senate seat empty, as it would remain until 1857, and the man himself fully engaged with Kansas affairs. He won the apparently permanent emnity of Thomas Hart Benton’s wing of the Missouri democracy by orchestrating the senior senator’s involuntary retirement in coalition with the Whigs. Atchison probably considered Kansas the more important matter, and likely a road to finding himself in Washington again someday. He had refused to actively seek reelection. But Bourbon Dave still found time to resent the situation. On December 14, 1855, he wrote that the Missouri legislature lacked

the moral courage to elect me, a majority of them would prefer my election to that of any other person yet they have not the moral courage to do it

Atchison had the votes but failed, somehow, to have the votes. He went on to tell his correspondent that the press would implicate him in the late Wakarusa War. He doesn’t seem to have minded that so much, as a man who led two hundred armed men into Kansas on that occasion might well have. Atchison couldn’t help himself,

but when I do move in earnest here will be a noise louder than thunder or I am mistaken.

And furthermore:

Before the moon shall fill her hours twelve times you shall hear more from me.

More from Atchison, thunderous or not, included a public statement declaring he would not accept any elected office. Bourbon Dave’s papers explained that he withdrew from the Senate race in order to help the Missouri Democracy reunite. But if Atchison wouldn’t answer Missouri’s call, which he probably would not have received anyway, then at least a few in the South would answer his. In the fall of the year, the emissaries that his people had chosen to fan out across the South looking for proslavery settlers. They had some success, if never as much as they dreamed.

Georgia’s governor recommended a Southern convention if Congress failed to accept Kansas as a slave state, a proposal Atchison endorsed. A Southern convention naturally invoked memories of Nashville. Get enough angry southerners together and they might decide to do something drastic, so the nation had best concede the territory. Everyone, except the slaves, would win:

This course on the part of the South will save Kansas to the South-save bloodshed, civil war, and perhaps a dissolution of the Union itself.

In January, Missouri’s former senator followed that letter up with another, repeating the call for immigration:

Let your young men come forth to Missouri and Kansas. Let them come well armed, with money enough to support them for twelve months, and determined to see this thing out. One hundred true men would be an acquisition; the more the better. I do not see how we are to avoid civil war; come it will. Twelve months will not elapse before war-civil war of the fiercest kind-will be upon us. We are arming and preparing for it. Indeed, we of the border counties are prepared. We must have the support of the South. We are fighting the battles of the South. Our institutions are st stake. You far Southern men are now out of the nave of war; but if we fail it will reach your own doors, perhaps your hearths. We want men-armed men. We want money-not for ourselves, but to support our friends when the come from a distance.

Atchison may have intended to follow his own advice. He mentions that he might soon move to Kansas and the Squatter Sovereign reported the news the same month. According to them, he would arrive with two hundred of his closest friends. There his slaves would farm and he would collect the profits. The paper even claimed that Atchison had moved to the territory.

Robert S. Kelley

Parrish looked into the matter, noting that Stringfellow and Kelley kept up that story through 1856. For a Kansan, Atchison did a great deal of living in Missouri. With no family of his own, he kept rooms at a Platte City hotel. He probably also rented rooms in Atchison and may have used them, but Parrish looked deep into the land records and never found evidence that Atchison bought a parcel. In my own research, Atchison always comes over from Missouri rather than down from his namesake town. The Sovereign could claim that the senator had the same basis for residence in both jurisdictions, but it doesn’t look like he lived that way.

Whether Atchison ever had serious plans to make himself a Kansan or not, others did. Late April brought the largest group of southern colonists, Jefferson Buford’s organization, arrived to do their part in saving Kansas for slavery. When Southerners came through, Atchison took an interest in them. South Carolinians particularly drew his eye and he personally housed the children of friends and others who came in their company. Corespondents asked him to advise the young men they sent on “where to settle, how to vote, and if necessary, when to fight.” Atchison the man did as asked, showing new arrivals around Atchison the town. When they came with money for him to use, he let them keep it but stood ready with advice on how to best spend their funds. In turn, the new arrivals admired Atchison well enough to honor him at banquets.

 

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“The prosperity or ruin of the whole South” A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Three

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2

Proslavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans had a parallel series of conventions in their respective jurisdictions. We left David Rice Atchison, late senator from Missouri, firmly turning down the effort to turn one into the start of his reelection campaign. Bourbon Dave had given up on Washington, at least in the near term, in favor of saving Kansas for slavery. Through it, he would also save slavery in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, and spread it to the other territories.

In the summer of 1855, almost everything turned out to Atchison’s liking. His border ruffians had secured the Kansas legislature for their own men. They ousted Andrew Reeder, who had defied them. Between governors, Daniel Woodson filled in and he had already proven his proslavery bona fides. That Franklin Pierce passed him over to appoint Wilson Shannon did not thrill the Missouri border, but Shannon soon earned the endorsement of Atchison’s Kansas-based organ, the Squatter Sovereign. The fall brought invitations for Atchison to go east and speak for the cause, as he had probably done during the winter. He declined them, citing obligations at home, but answered with a letter that made his case.

We (“the border ruffians”) have the whole power of the Northern states to content with, single-handed and alone, without assistance and almost without sympathy from any quarter; yet we are undismayed. Thus far we have bewen victorious and with the help of God, we will still continue to conquer. … The contest with us is one of life and death, and it will be so with you and your institutions if we fail. Atchison, Stringfellow and the “border ruffians” of Missouri fill a column of each abolition paper published in the North; abuse most foul, and falsehood unblushing is poured out upon us; and yet we have no advocate in the Southern press-and yet we have no assistance from the Southern States. But the time wilol shortly come when that assistance must and will be rendered. The stake the “border ruffians” are playing for is a mighty one. … In a word, the prosperity or ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle.

Atchison’s biographer added the emphasis, which neatly encapsulate’s the ex-senator’s view of the question. He certainly wrote it to exhort and guilt his fellow southerners into action, but he believed it too. Those who invited him might never have expected Atchison to turn up -such invitations often served more as a way to request a public letter- but even if they did he had work to do and probably didn’t think Kansas could spare him. The rise of the free state movement in the fall proved Atchison right.

Daniel Woodson

To answer that threat, establishment figures in Kansas tired to take a moderate tone with their Law and Order party. They positioned themselves as moderate alternative to Atchison’s hooliganism in November. At the end of the month, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow. The ensuing strife put those hopes to rest. Daniel Woodson wrote straightaway to Kelley and Stringfellow at the Squatter Sovereign, who he could depend on to pass word into Missouri and Kansas had a new invasion. The territorial secretary especially asked that his friends bring “the Platte City cannon.” The letter crossed the border and came into Atchison’s hands. He read it to a mass meeting at Platte City, then took two hundred men into Kansas to join the campaign against abolitionism.

Yet Atchison’s rhetorical, and occasionally physical, militancy fell short again. When Wilson Shannon negotiated a settlement with the free state leadership at Lawrence, he and Albert Boone took the governor’s side in talking down the army that Atchison had himself helped gather. His argument then had less to do with principal than public relations. The antislavery side had maneuvered things so that if the proslavery men struck, they would appear as the aggressors. Without Governor Shannon’s blessing, withdrawn thanks to the settlement, turned an irregular militia into a lawless mob that would destroy the Democracy come election time and put “an abolition President” in power.

Horace Greeley

Not that this mattered to Atchison’s Missouri foes. Still a potential senator, they castigated him for plotting the destruction of the Industrial Luminary and voting in Kansas, the latter of which forfeited his Missouri citizenship and disqualified him. Failing reelection, the Missouri Democrat thought Atchison might forge some kind of breakaway proslavery nation. Atchison’s biographer, William Parrish, found no evidence for any of this. In the Democrat’s pages, even the convention where Atchison refused to make the affair into an election event proved his perfidy; the paper recast it as a failed attempt at the same. Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead endorsed Atchison for president on the Know-Nothing ticket. The paper did endorse Atchison for the presidency, until he told them to stop, but always and only as a Democrat.

With all that going on, Missouri’s General Assembly again convened to elect a senator and again failed to manage the feat. Both houses of the legislature agreed that they should hold an election, but could not agree on a time for it. Moments of legislative grace like this did much to explain why these same bodies would eventually vote to strip themselves of the power to choose their senators in ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment. Atchison’s seat in Washington remained empty until 1857.

A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison looms large in the story of Bleeding Kansas. A man of his beliefs and inclinations, living just across the line in Missouri, would have probably taken part regardless of his national prominence. Though all but forgotten today, except for the false trivia about his serving as president for a day, in his time Atchison enjoyed a national following. After Calhoun’s death, he served as one of the most high-profile spokesmen for extreme proslavery politics. He had the high esteem of his peers in the Senate, who elected him president pro tempore, unanimously, during what many consider that body’s golden age. He appears in antislavery sources as a crude drunkard, probably with some justice, but Atchison also received a fine education and served ably as a lawyer and judge before his political career. In the former capacity, he worked to defend the Mormons from their hostile Missourian neighbors. We may know far more about him, except that most of his papers went up in smoke in a house fire. Thus when William Earl Parrish took Atchison as his subject, he produced a spare monograph that remains the Senator’s lone biography. Parrish leans heavily on Atchison’s ease in making political friends to underline his abilities, while not neglecting that Bourbon Dave put them to work in the service of slavery.

Parrish traces Atchison’s involvement with filibustering Kansas from its start. He joined with the Stringfellows, close friends of his, in calling for a meeting to discuss Kansas matters and plan a response to the Emigrant Aid Company in the summer of 1854, with the ink barely dry on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That meeting formed the Platte County Self-Defense Association, which accepted B.F. Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil. as its manifesto. As soon as Atchison got home from Washington, he took up control of the Self-Defensives. They used their group as a model in establishing the blue lodges that spread across Missouri and joined with a separate group Parrish calls the Kansas League, which operated inside the territory. Then the Senator came into Kansas to speak at his namesake town, just before they began selling off lots.

Atchison’s organization did not elude national notice. Amos Lawrence wrote him in March of 1855, asking the Senator to rein in his followers. Lawrence made no bones about their conflicting purposes: Atchison wanted slavery in Kansas and Lawrence wanted it out. But he asked that the two sides have a fair fight of it and assured Atchison that his organiztion did not actually have a vast legion of militant Yankees bent on conquest. If his side failed, Lawrence promised that antislavery Kansans would accept a loss in good grace “but they will never yield to injustice.”

Amos Adams Lawrence

Atchison answered in April, two weeks after the legislative elections where he and his conducted one of the largest and most flagrant frauds in American electoral history. He had no regrets:

You are right in your conjecture that I and my friends wish to make Kansas in all respects like Missouri. Our interests require it. Our peace through all time demands it, and we intend to leave nothing undone that will conduce to that end and can with honor be performed. If we fail, ten we will surrender to your care and control the State of Missouri. We have all to lose in the contest; you and your friends have nothing at stake. You propose to vote or to drive us away from Kansas. We do not propose to drive you and your friends from that Territory; but we do not intend either to be voted or driven our of Kansas, if we can help it; for we are foolish enough to believe we have as much right to inhabit that country as men from New England. Neither do we intend to be driven from Missouri, or suffer ourselves to be harassed in our property or our peace, if we can help it. At least we will try and make you and your friends share some of our anxieties.

At the time of the first delegate election, Atchison stumped across western Missouri. He told the people of Weston in to do their duty, anticipating what he would write to Lawrence in the spring:

When you reside within one day’s journey of the territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property depend upon your action, you can, without an exertion, send 500 of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions.

That day or shortly thereafter, Atchison ran a convention of the various blue lodges in Weston which nominated John Wilkins Whitfield as delegate.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Bourbon Dave didn’t leave things sit with that, of course. He skipped the first few weeks of the new term of Congress that began in December of 1854. Instead of Washington, Atchison went to Independence where he presided over a meeting to choose blue lodge emissaries to fan out across the South and replicate his work. Some would send men, but Atchison would take money and propaganda too. B.F. Stringfellow drew Virginia (his home state) and Maryland as his assignment. Platte and Buchanan counties would pay his travel expenses. He traveled back east with the Senator.

At Atchison’s request the Senate had elected Jesse D. Bright, a friend of Atchison’s from university days and who represented Indiana whilst owning slaves and a plantation in Kentucky, as his replacement. Bright offered to resign in Atchison’s favor, but the Missourian turned him down. He did little in the Senate, and missed sessions entirely toward the end of January. Parrish couldn’t find proof of it, but suspected that Atchison went with Stringfellow to lobby Virginia and Maryland. The Senator likely last served in his official capacity in Washington on February 2, 1855. Afterwards, he drops off the radar for about twenty days again. The papers, national and Missourian, took no note of him except for the latter complaining that he had vanished.

The absence drew some attention after the fact. Gideon Welles confided to his diary (in a volume I can’t find online) that he asked Lewis Cass after Atchison in that time. A mutual friend told Cass that Atchison had gone

on a tour through the Southern States, concocting measures with the Governors and leading men at the South to make Kansas a slave state.

“There was no peace”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Proslavery movements against Lawrence began again in earnest on May 11, 1856. On that day, US Marshal Donaldson issued a proclamation calling for a large posse to help him serve his process in the town. He wanted one as big as Kansas and Missouri could manage. Proslavery men, including some from Jefferson Buford’s expedition, happily obliged him. As they gathered, harassing people moving about Lawrence and killing two antislavery men, Donaldson remained at Lecompton. There the majority of the force assembled, as he had asked it to, and he and Governor Shannon heard desperate pleas from Lawrence for aid. Much of the free state leadership had fled, leaving the town with a committee of safety caught between internal divisions and a marked lack of realistic options. On the twentieth, his deputy entered Lawrence and had a few conversations. He left unmolested, thus demonstrating how much Donaldson required overwhelming force to carry out his duties.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Not that it mattered. Donaldson had between five and eight hundred men bent on doing something to Lawrence, whatever excuse they could get. They included David Rice Atchison, who had done so much to inaugurate Kansas’ troubles. Atchison’s Senate term had expired the year before, but he still hoped he might get another out of Missouri’s legislature. Divided, they instead left the seat open until 1857. The former Senator came into Kansas in the company of the Platte County Self-Defensives and two field pieces. The Kickapoo Rangers, who had killed Reese Brown, joined in as well. To them, William Phillips added

all the loafers and wild pro-slavery men from Leavenworth and Weston […] General Stringfellow had crossed from Missouri to Atchison, and reinforced by his brother , the doctor (who is the more eminent of the two), and the infamous Bob Kelly, Stringfellow’s law partner Abell, and several other pro-slavery men there, had gone to Lecompton. Colonel Boone, from Westport, with several other pro-slavery leaders from that place, and also from Liberty and Independence, at the head of bodies of armed men, or to take command of companies that had preceded them

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

A separate force had established itself at Franklin, under Buford. Phillips puts United States arms in their hands, given out by “federal appointees of Kansas.” That probably meant Donaldson, though Phillips doesn’t name him. Buford’s men had two cannons of their own.

The Lecompton force broke camp in the predawn hours of May 21, on the move at last. They arrived “shortly after sunrise” and occupied the heights of Mount Oread overlooking Lawrence, near Charles Robinson’s house.

The town was perfectly quiet. Its inhabitants were shaking off their slumbers; those already astir were going quietly about their avocations. No guns were planted upon the embankments. No lines of riflemen were drawn up. The cry was, “Peace! peace! when there was no peace.

“It was a cold, bleak day.” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Five

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

We left Pardee Butler having a bad day. He came back to Atchison, months after his previous near-murder, hoping to make a quick stop and get on to his claim and his family. The mob which had taken him proposed shooting and hanging, the ringleader had other plans. Robert S. Kelley, now on his second proslavery, anti-Butler mob, preferred to humiliate and torture Butler. He had taken the same route previously and Butler believed, reasonably enough, that Kelley preferred to keep his hands clean once things had proceeded to a proper fake trial instead of a spontaneous mobbing. Kelley’s name ran right under John Stringfellow’s on the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead, so attaching it to a murder might complicate the paper’s appeal to slavery’s friends outside the Kansas-Missouri border.

Kelley did not preside over Butler’s show trial, but the man who did recognized his motion

by saying, “It is moved that Butler be tarred and feathered and receive thirty-nine lashes.” A majority said “Aye,” though a number of voices said “No.”

Butler recalled that he wondered “how that sort of thing of thing would work as far north as the latitude of Kansas, which sounds like one of those incongruous thoughts one has in trying times.

The mob consulted amongst themselves, whispering and exhibiting “dark, threatening, and ominous looks.” When their judge came out again, he declared that they would strike the whipping. That made it a less apt punishment for a man who earned Kelley’s wrath in part for refusal to endorse the whipping of another. Butler didn’t know what inspired the change, however welcome. He then had other things to think about, as the court remanded him to the unhappy South Carolinians.

They muttered and growled at this issue of the matter. They said, “If we had known it would come out this way, we would have let —- —- shoot Butler at the first. he would have done it quicker than a flash.” One sharp-visaged, dark-featured South Carolinian, who seemed to be the leader of the gang, was particularly displeased. With bitter curses he said, “I am not come all the way from South Carolina, spending so much money to do things up in such a milk-and-water style as this.”

Cruel disappointment all around. They abided by the rituals the Kansans and Missourians liked in their lynch mobs and got no lynching for their trouble. All the same,

They stripped me naked to my waist, covered my body with tar, and for the want of feathers applied cotton. Having appointed a committee of seven to certainly hang me the next time I should come into Atchison, they tossed my clothes into my buggy, put me therein, accompanied me to the outskirts of the town, and set me naked out upon the prairie. It was a cold, bleak day.

The Return of Pardee Butler, Part One

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

According to the Squatter Sovereign, the news of Samuel Jones’ shooting by an antislavery man in Lawrence had set Atchison’s proslavery men to readying their arms. Some new arrivals from South Carolina formed a military company, one of two then extant. The paper itself, believing Jones dead, demanded bloody revenge. One of their own, a trusty, violent proslavery man had caught a bullet. They preferred to reserve that undertaking to their enemies. One might dismiss the violent language as so much bluster, but proslavery men had killed or threatened to kill before for less provocation. Slavery’s partisans in Kansas had even turned the murder of an antislavery man by one of their own into cause for an invasion that came close to ruining Lawrence.

Closer to home, the same community had turned on Pardee Butler when he refused to endorse the whipping of an antislavery man. Robert S. Kelley, the junior editor of the Sovereign, led the mob that seized the minister, hauled him down to the Missouri River, and nearly killed him there. After a “trial” of two hours’ length, the mob put him into the Missouri on a raft with a flag declaring him an abolitionist. They didn’t kill him themselves, but anybody on the river might have seen the flag and tried their aim. Butler left an Atchison quite happy to see the back of him, but when he departed he promised that he would return to see to his claim.

Understandably, Butler didn’t rush right back to Atchison. He spent the winter of 1855-6 in Illinois, following the news out of Kansas. This convinced him that he would best wait before trying to evangelize the territory again. But return he did, first for a brief visit in November and then again, arriving in Atchison on April 30. Butler’s return doesn’t receive a mention in Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas, as more weighty matters transpire at the same time. I include it here, drawing from his Personal Recollections, because it clarifies a few issues and serves as a more material illustration of Atchison’s present state of discontent.

On the first point, Butler reports

The news of the coming of the South Carolinians had not reached Illinois when I started for Kansas, but when I had reached Western Missouri the country was alive with excitement. Maj. Jefferson Buford had arrived with 350 soldiers, and a part of them were quartered in Atchison.

The records I have of Buford’s movements place their arrival slightly later. Butler did write thirty years after the fact and might have confused things, but with him and the contemporary paper both identifying an existing group of South Carolinians who came with military intentions, I feel less inclined to chalk it up to a mistake. Most likely, some of Buford’s men had gone on ahead. Maybe those in Atchison come from the first “deserters” who had expected Buford to provide for them until they could find and settle claims.

Butler still had friends in Kansas. They told him to stay away, but the minister persisted in his course. His last night in Missouri, a fellow staying at the same hotel chatted Butler up. They didn’t bring up the slavery question, which Butler remarks that everyone else talked about. The next morning, they met again on the road to Atchison. The gentleman rode up beside Butler’s buggy and they talked some more, before he rode on ahead.

Butler told his readers that they would, “recognize this gentleman again in Atchison.”

Proslavery Men Standing Ready

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

The Squatter Sovereign declared its editors insurrectionists-in-waiting. They had enough of Wilson Shannon and Franklin Pierce telling them they couldn’t march out and destroy Lawrence. The abolitionists, who had shot the brave Samuel Jones, must face the music and they aimed to play it. This time, no governor would get in their way and no presence of US Dragoons would change their minds. If the abolitionists could shoot a man with a military guard, why couldn’t they? A body can only bear so many cruel disappointments.

John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley had more than bluster and a personal willingness to kill in their arsenal. A separate item on the same page of the paper informs readers

Since the rumor of an outbreak at Lawrence, there have been two companies, containing about seventy men each, under arms in this city and ready to start at a moment’s warning, to the next of war. From information received, we are inclined to think that the law and order party will be again compromised and another treaty made with the lawless scamps. “It is entirely too humiliating,” Governor Shannon thinks, “to require these traitors to give up their arms,” but they can, with perfect impunity, resist the laws of the Territory, and shoot down officers of the law […] and then are recognized as equals with the Government party and peace made with them on favorable terms.

They tried that, against the proslavery party’s will, back in December. April had come and brought this result. Proslavery men needed not just to take matters into their own hands, but keep them or Shannon would surely frustrate them once more. The governor, proslavery or not, aimed to prevent the effusions of blood to which Stringfellow and Kelley aspired.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

To tell readers more about those two companies, the Sovereign printed this item:

Our young friends from South Carolina, who have settled in this city, wishing to be in a situation when called upon, to render the best service possible to the officers of the law who might need their assistance in punishing abolitionists and other offenders, have wisely formed themselves into a Rifle Company, and elected as their Captain, a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy. A finer body of men, we have never seen together, and if they do not prove efficient soldiers, we are no judge of the ability of men. Should this Company ever be called out against the traitors at Lawrence, terrible, indeed, will be the effect.

These men sound like members of Jefferson Buford’s expedition. According to Walter Fleming (PDF), Buford’s group didn’t arrive in Kansas until May 2, but he puts them in Kansas City and Westport before that. This would place the four hundred or so proslavery men right on the border around the time of the article, but rather farther to the south than Atchison. Some of Buford’s men might have gotten out ahead of him, but given he paid their passage that seems unlikely. More probably, the paper refers to some men from South Carolina and possibly elsewhere who united under a Carolinian leader.

This company held a meeting and placed itself as the disposal of William C. Richardson, general in the Kansas militia,and organized themselves for military action. Had they come with Buford’s party, they would have already had organization.

 

 

“The sacrifice of every abolitionist in the Territory.”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The Weston Argus reported on Samuel Jones’ shooting with a degree of restraint. They didn’t come out and say that proslavery men ought to go to Lawrence and murder the lot of damned abolitionists who shot the sheriff, or encouraged and protected those who did. The paper came close, but its piece in the Squatter Sovereign doesn’t quite cross that line. The editors issued the stereotypical mafiosi threat: nice town you’ve got there, shame if something happened to it. The Sovereign itself would have none of that. Robert S. Kelley probably still felt his cruel disappointment back in December. Probably all of us have suffered a disappointment or two like that.

Whether Kelley moped about his missed chance around the office until no one could stand him or not, his paper connected the dots that the Argus left implied. A small item at the bottom of the page notes

Had justice been awarded to Lawrence in December last, during the disturbances of that month, there would be no Fort there now to shield an army of traitors who are sworn to resist the laws.

Lawrence did not have a fort per se, but they had built Free State Hotel to do double duty as a nineteenth century pillbox. That might prove an obstacle to working bloody justice on those who “murdered” Samuel Jones, “than whom a braver man never lived.” The Sovereign’s own version of events, which I missed a few days ago, comes just a few columns over from the Argus’. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley reminded their readers of Jones’ virtue and informed them that the free state men, “thieving-paupers of the North” had come to trample the rights of Southern men, stealing their property, and murdering them if they had half a chance. All of that aimed to break the Union.

The news had thrown Atchison, just recently visited by its namesake ex-senator, into quite the stir. Rumors flew about, which we know include word of Jones’ death. They may not have. A simple assault on Jones ought to have done the same work for their movement as his death, given past performance. Given he did get shot and things appeared close for a while, I see no reason to doubt their sincere belief that Jones had died of his wounds. The Sovereign roared

HIS DEATH MUST BE AVENGED. HIS MURDER SHALL BE AVENGED, if at the sacrifice of every abolitionist in the Territory. If the proslavery party will quietly set still and see our friends, one by one, murdered by these assassins, without raising their arms to protect them, we much mistake their character. Will they again allow a Northern Governor to cheat them out of their just revenge? We answer emphatically, NO! If the Governor of this Territory and the Administratin at Washington any longer attempts to force us to assume the position of outlaws, before we can have justice done us, the sooner such a contingency arises, the better.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

Outraged at resistance of the laws and an antislavery party that set themselves up in defiance of the territorial government and, perhaps, the nation, the proslavery party of Kansas avowed that they must do precisely the same. Should Wilson Shannon or Franklin Pierce get in the way, the Sovereign would count them enemies with the rest. The party who once damned their enemies as nullifiers now declared for nullification of their own, with all the customary agility that such contortions required.

“Many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun” The Proslavery Version of Jones’ Shooting, Part One

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Update: The Squatter Sovereign does have its own version of the story, which I looked right at and missed. Sorry.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time on how the free state people of Lawrence understood Samuel Jones’ shooting, almost certainly by one of their own, on April 23, 1856. But Kansas had two parties, one of which liked to operate across the Missouri line as well. The Squatter Sovereign reported on Jones’ shooting in its April 29 issue. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley’s paper didn’t bother with their own version of events, instead relying on the Weston Argus of April 25. Under the headline “WAR IN KANSAS,” the Argus informed its readers that “[t]he traitors of Kansas, are again under arms.”

We imagine that fields of conflagration and carnage fumes of sulphur and blood, will rise before the fantastic vision and salute the acute olfactories of a few deluded fanatics, (or rather, we should say, scoundrels and hypocrits,) on reading the above caption. The howl of fanaticism, the cant of hypocracy, will again sweep over the country. […] But this time it was not the “Border Ruffians,” whose footsteps on the virgin soil of Kansas, were so lately marked by “blood, rapine, and murder,” that are called upon. No: the United States troops, “who keep step to the music of the Union,” are to deal with these lords of humanity.

The invocation of the military looks forward and backward simultaneously. Soldiers had gone into Lawrence with Jones. Might they go in again? The Argus clearly thinks they ought to, as its version of events works hard to incriminate the entire antislavery movement:

Ex-Governor Reeder, on his arrival at Lawrence, obeying the instructions of Seward, Banks, & Co., summoning all the courage of his dastardly soul, harrangued the fanatics of that place, counceling resistance to the civil authorities, to disregard the laws of the Territory, and place themselves in open rebellion!

Senator William H. Seward (Whig-NY)

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

Reading that, you’d think that William Seward and Nathaniel Banks put out a hit on Jones. The Argus doesn’t say so, but it draws a clear connection between national and Kansas-based antislavery, with the national movement calling the shots. One could get the idea that nobody in Kansas objected to all the election irregularities and violence until some Yankees poured poison in their ears.

Only after Reeder’s rabble-rousing, the Argus would have us know, did Jones enter Lawrence. He came to arrest Wood and company not for the rescue of Branson, but rather because they had stolen some poll books. This may have surprised Wood and Jones both. On reading it I did some investigating, but found only references to the Branson rescue. That said, the Argus implicated the Speaker of the House and Kansas free state Senator. To this point, it had entirely neglected to connect another antislavery leader to the shooting. Time to remedy that:

On the arrival of Mr. Jones in Lawrence, Robinson, the California murderer, counselled them to resist, and there deluded individuals accordingly refused to accompany Mr. Jones.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

My other accounts don’t mention Robinson as a decisive factor here, but if Wood and company asked advice of him he would have surely told them to resist. I’m afraid I haven’t found anything on the idea that Robinson killed someone in California.

Faced with resistance, the Argus told its readers that Jones sought military aid from Wilson Shannon, which he did. The paper observed that Lawrence’s “shivalrous gentlemen-shivalrous at a distance” may have cause to thank the governor. Shannon called out the army rather than “the malitia” for

if the stern yeomanry of Kansas Territory, are again called upon to leave their fields and families and march to Lawrence, to crush out treason and rebellion, it will be no child’s play. As much as they dislike to shed the blood of those who claim to be American citizens, we warn them now, that in the last resort, many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun and many a traitor’s carcass will be suspended between heaven and earth.

A small note on spelling here, Gentle Readers: I customarily render quotes as they appear in my copy, including unusual nineteenth century spellings. The Argus has more eccentric spelling than most.

 

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.