“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.

Another Resolution from Tecumseh

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

On February 13, 1856, in response to Franklin Pierce’s special proclamation on Kansas, a mass meeting gathered at TecumsehThe Herald of Freedom and Squatter Sovereign agreed that the Tecumseh meeting had a firm proslavery constituency. They also spoke with one voice on how the assembly represented a good step forward for their antagonistic causes. For George Brown’s Herald, that meant standing up for Kansas for the Kansans. For John Stringfellow’s Sovereign, it meant confusion to and suppression of the abolitionists. Kansan could be run by any combination of Kansans and “Kansans” who went home to Missouri after each election. To judge from the lone resolution of the meeting that Brown printed, he had the right of it. That resolution constituted one of the seven the meeting voted.

The Squatter Sovereign printed the whole slate. Most of them do no more than express hearty agreement with the President. This already slants things heavily to the proslavery side, as Pierce outright accused the free state movement of plotting treason. He had nothing of near so grave a magnitude to say for Kansas’ regular invaders. But in the event that anyone missed that point, the Tecumseh meeting made it clear even to the least astute:

we consider with the President in his view that “showed a [professed] movement, revolutionary in its aim and motives reach[ing] the length of organized resistance by force” to the legitimate authorities of the Territory, it must then be regarded as “treasonable insurrection” and as such be dealt with according to law.

The presiding officer then informed the meeting that, for his money, one crossed the line into treason when you took an oath of office under the Topeka Constitution.

A full reading of the story does not permit one to honestly say that Tecumseh hosted an antislavery meet, or even a meeting of chastened and discouraged proslavery men, on that day. Brown’s piece indicates that he knows of multiple resolutions and chose to print only the one, so we can’t chalk this up to incomplete information. He had the full document and chose to print at best a misleading editorial painting his enemies as in disarray and on the verge of giving up.

The editorial commentary with the resolution drips with sarcasm. From that, one could take it that Brown intended no one to take him seriously. He might further have tipped his hand by declaring that he had little “faith in the honesty” of the Tecumseh meeting’s declaration. For people living in or near Kansas, I suspect that this reading would prevail. They would have first hand knowledge, or near enough, as to the relative strength of the proslavery party around Tecumseh and ready access to the Squatter Sovereign and other local papers to get the full story. Brown couldn’t have lied to many of them about something so large and public as a mass meeting with published resolutions if he tried.

But neither Brown’s nor Stringfellow’s papers served an entirely local audience. Each paper operated in the context of a national movement, from which they frequently solicited direct support. What Brown wrote in Kansas as sarcasm, he could know full well that people back East would take nearer to face value. Furthermore, Brown writes in the same somewhat contemptuous voice he has used when reporting genuine defeats for the proslavery side rather than with the gravity he has often reported real threats. This can only be a judgment call on my part, but I think that Brown set out to mislead. Given the radical step that the free state movement had just taken in seating its government, his cause needed the legitimacy of a united Kansas might grant more urgently than ever.

One Resolution from Tecumseh

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

While the free state men got their government together, the proslavery men hadn’t sat on their hands. They too got news of Franklin Pierce’s special proclamation on Kansas’ troubles. The Squatter Sovereign and Herald of Freedom both reported on a “spontaneous” meeting at Tecumseh Court House on February 13, 1856. According to the Sovereign, that meeting constituted

the largest and most enthusiastic gathering of the inhabitants of central Kansas that had ever been held in the Territory. Pursuant to a spontaneous call that had been issued upon receipt of the President[‘]s Special Message, the settlers assembled, irrespective of party to manifest their devotion to the Union and confidence in Republican Government.

Republican in form, not party.

If you read the Herald of Freedom, you learned instead that Pierce’s proclamation had “a favorable effect” on proslavery men. At Tecumseh, “the few pro-slavery people who reside in that vicinity” got together to have speeches made at them and resolutions “very moderate in tone compared with the past, albeit eulogistic of the President.”

However many people showed up, they published their resolutions. George Washington Brown printed one of them:

we consider the present as a most auspicious time for the true patriots, bona fide settlers and conservative men of all classes to come to a perfect understanding and unite upon one Platform. The supremacy of the Laws-sovereignty of the People of the Territory, and Non-intervention with or from the people of the States.”

According to Brown, this was near to capitulation. Chastened by Pierce’s pretend neutrality, proslavery Kansans had come around to the free state cause. He editorialized in the finest grace, commencing with “Better late than never.” They ought to have gotten religion on Kansas two years prior. Instead

While you and your confederate scoundrels in Missouri have ignored the Democratic rule of Popular sovereignty, and reckless of the consequences substituted the savage law of Might, the Free State party, embracing nine-tenths of the actual settlers, have adhered to that principle steadfastly-keeping it before them as their guide […] You espouse the cause of popular rule too late in the day. We haven’t much faith in the honesty of your professions; but there is some hope if you prove true in the future.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Gentle Readers, if you remember Franklin Pierce’s decidedly hostile attitude toward the free state movement, as expressed in the very message that prompted the meeting at Tecumseh, you might wonder just of which sort of tobacco the people there had partaken. The discrepancy in the size of the meeting between the two papers, one can attribute to partisanship. It did not suit George Washington Brown’s purpose to tell the world that a large group of proslavery men lived in Kansas. But it did not suit John Stringfellow’s purpose to suggest the numbers went against his side either. They can’t both be right and in giving the same date, place, and naming the same officers for the meeting establishes that both papers had the same event in mind. Someone lied.

Acutally, George Brown did Threaten Davy Atchison

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Gentle Readers, yesterday I concluded that George Washington Brown probably did not print a threat against David Rice Atchison. John Stringfellow over at the Squatter Sovereign probably invented the line, or recast someone Brown had said of border ruffians in general as a threat on Missouri’s latest ex-Senator. Nineteenth century papers do invent dialog often enough. Go into the archives and you’ll find quite a few letters written under obvious pseudonyms, often in eye dialect, that look a mite too convenient for the paper’s editorial line. Letters from friendly correspondents generally use standard English, which makes both all the more suspicious for the contrast. A certain degree of prevarication inevitably happens in the editorials too. One must also consider that even politically aligned newspapers liked to pick fights with one another and eagerly sling the kind of mud that we would expect to find on Twitter today. Politically hostile papers had little reason to restrain themselves.

Stringfellow’s paper said that Brown promised abolitionists in Kansas would shoot Atchison dead if ever they found him in the territory with arms in hand. I ran a searches on permutations of the phrase “if ever Gen. Atchison is found in this Territory with arms in his hands, they (the abolitionists) will have him shot.” The Sovereign put it in quotation marks and attributes it to Brown. They all came up dry. I also skimmed Herald of Freedom issues for the two months prior looking for Atchison references. I found a fair number, but he rarely came up except as a villain alongside both Stringfellows and other prominent proslavery men or in conjunction with his role in the Wakarusa War.

The search and my skimming missed the piece to which Stringfellow must have referred. The January 12 Herald of Freedom has some praise of the Cleveland Plaindealer. The author, George Brown informs us,

talks like a man. We thought him always wrong, but we are glad to make a correction in his favor.

Talking like a man sounds like something you do while crushing beer cans on your forehead, bragging about your sexual prowess, or threatening violence to me. Sixteen decades’ distance have put me off on the first two points, but the Plaindealer’s Gray nailed the third. Brown quotes him, in reference to David Rice Atchison:

He, with all other residents of Missouri who have crossed the borders of that State either to vote or fight in Kansas, should be shot, if no other means can be used to prevent their intrusions.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

While not quite the kill on sight statement that Stringfellow implied, this is otherwise quite close. But Stringfellow quoted Brown by name, not some fellow named Gray back in Ohio. Brown signed off in the next lines:

We may be allowed to say that we coincide in opinion with Mr. Gray, and that Atchison will be shot like a dog, traitor as he is, if he shall be found in Kansas with arms in his hands in case of a similar outbreak to the last. The people of Kansas hold him, and his colleague-B.F. Stringfellow-responsible for all the difficulties on the border; and in due time they will compel those men to pay the penalty for their violence, if continued.

Brown’s actual statement had a few more qualifiers than Stringfellow admitted, and doesn’t exactly match Stringfellow’s quote, but the differences don’t change the gist of it. If Atchison came back to Kansas with a party of armed border ruffians, then Brown thought him adequately qualified to play unwilling host to some hot lead. Morever, Brown expressed his firm belief “hundreds” would take the Plaindealer’s suggestion when the time came.

Given the number who turned out to defend Lawrence only the month before, he might have had it exactly right.