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

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

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

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

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

Amos Adams Lawrence

Amos Adams Lawrence

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

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

“A series of grave errors” : A Minority of One, Part Five

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Majority Report: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Reports with the Kansas petition here.

 

Felix Zollicoffer had about enough of all this talk in the majority report about the precedent for admitting Kansas’ wildcat, free state government. None of them held a bit of water for him, whatever his fellows on the Committee on Territories thought. On the contrary, he found controlling precedents the other way. The majority, he affirmed, did not simply find themselves on unexplored constitutional ground. They found themselves on explored ground decided against them.

Zollicoffer began at home. Before the Constitution, some people got together the State of Franklin, roughly coterminous with modern Tennessee. They had no lawful permission to do that and the land belonged to North Carolina. They pleaded

Indian hostilities were raging throughout its settlements, ‘making it absolutely necessary, in the apprehension of the settlers, to establish some sort of local government for themselves

Kansans could claim that they had Missourian marauders at the door all the liked. White Tennesseans had actual Indians coming after them. If the United States would protect white men from anything, it would protect them from Indians. They could even bring hostility on themselves and expect protection from the federal government. If anybody had a legitimate claim to statehood on those grounds, the people of Franklin did. They got none, so why should Kansas get better treatment when beset only by proslavery whites? Why shouldn’t they enjoy the same fate as Franklin did, “swept from existence”?

What about a government at odds with another government in the same jurisdiction, claim oppression? Zollicoffer didn’t have to go back to the eighteenth century for that one. Up into the 1840s, Rhode Island still operated off its antique colonial charter, leaving a great many Rhode Islanders entirely disenfranchised despite their white skin and male sex. Thus

the Dorr insurrection, as it was familiarly called, sought to set up, without the sanction of law, a State government in defiance of the existing State government of Rhode Island. But that movement was also promptly put down, and was from the beginning firmly discountenanced by the general government.

Kansans could claim their reasons, just as the Dorrites could, but everybody has reasons. Zollicoffer told the House that even if the complaints sounded plausible, they didn’t have the other side to hear and should take nothing on faith. Those free state Kansans had “committed a series of grave errors” which went all the way back to the start of the controversy when

active and noisy movements were set on foot to throw into Kansas a mass of voters from distant States for the avowed purpose of controlling its elections, and making it a free State. For this purpose, Emigrant Aid Societies were organized in the New England States; millions of money were subscribed; and with a vociferous agitation against slavery, large numbers of persons were procured to enter the Territory.

Zollicoffer had the facts on his side again, but as he did before in looking at precedents for statehood by population, he dodged the actual issue. Popular sovereignty meant that the people of Kansas got to vote slavery in or out. Those people constituted the actual settlers there, people who had come from afar to stay. While some who came on emigrant aid company subsidy did go home on finding Kansas not to their liking or voted after only a few days in the territory, it appears most went with the full intention of staying. The Border Ruffians could claim no such distinction. Some of them surely meant to come to Kansas and others did come and remain, but the vast majority clearly came over to vote with no intention of staking claims. Since they lived next door, that had that luxury. People from New England hardly came to Kansas for a day trip in the 1850s.

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

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Chesnut

Mary Chesnut

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

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

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

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

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

Floride Calhoun

Floride Calhoun

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

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

 

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

William Lowndes Yancey

William Lowndes Yancey

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

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

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

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

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

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

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

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

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

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

The Buford Expedition, Part One: Forty Slaves, Fifty Dollars, and “some crazy enough”

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

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

The State of Missouri, which had born the weight of advancing slavery in Kansas Territory alone for two long years, finally had enough. The free state party had not quietly accepted defeat and gone away, but rather persisted in the green glow of Emigrant Aid Society cash. If antislavery Americans could subsidize emigration to Kansas, then why not proslavery Americans? The Show Me State published an appeal for the South to do just that. In Alabama, this inspired Thomas J. Orme to declare that if the state would hand over $100,000, he would put five hundred proslavery men in Kansas at once. Nobody obliged Orme. Walter Lynwood Fleming, from whom I have all this, doesn’t delve into why. I imagine the state had better things to do with such a massive amount of money than a decidedly speculative venture.

On November 26, eight days after Orme’s stillborn proposal, the delightfully named Major Jefferson Buford came out with his own. An Alabama lawyer and veteran of Second Creek War, Buford took to the pages of Eufaula’s Spirit of the South:

Who will go to Kansas? I wish to raise three hundred industrious, sober, discreet, reliable men capable of bearing arms, not prone to use them wickedly or unnecessarily, but willing to protect their sections in every real emergency.

Buford sounds like he had some mixed feelings about recruiting fighting men. He clearly wants soldiers, but not just soldiers. His expedition meant to go to Kansas to stay, not as a long distance version of a Missourian election raid. If you joined up with the Major and removed to Kansas, to which he hoped to depart by February 20, 1855, Buford promised:

a homestead of forty acres of first rate land, a free passage to Kansas and the means of support for one year. To ministers of the gospel, mechanics, and those with good military or agricultural outfits, I will offer greater inducements.

You could go to Kansas to do more than kill Yankee abolitionists. Buford would set you up nicely and take care of you until he could. He pledged twenty thousand of his own money, which he raised by selling forty of his slaves. He also

expect[ed] all those who know how and have confidence in me and who feel an interest in the cause to contribute as much as they are able.

Like a latter-day PBS drive, Buford promised that for every fifty dollars someone kicked in, he would put a settler in Kansas

able and willing to vote and fight if need be for our section, or in default of doing so, that I will on demand refund the donation with interest

They didn’t have tote bags, baseball caps, or surplus copies of Ken Burns documentaries to hock in the nineteenth century, but you would buy a settler or get your money back. Should the state kick in a nice pile of cash -hint, hint- Buford would break it up into fifty dollar allotments and use it just the same way. So

Here is your cheapest and surest chance to do something for Kansas,-something toward holding against the free-soil hordes that great Thermopylae of southern institutions. This is their great day of darkness, nay, of extreme peril, there ought to be, there needs must be great individual self-sacrifice, or they cannot be maintained.

Every endeavor had its risks; people went west in far less fraught circumstances and failed. But the cause of the South demanded the section produce “some crazy enough to peril even life in the deadly breach” to go save Kansas for slavery at fifty dollars a head.

 

 

 

Missouri Calls for Help

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Before delving back into the maltreatment of William C. Clark, I wrote about the Kansas Pioneer Association of Jackson County, Missouri. They aimed to do what the Emigrant Aid Societies had done for more than a year: subsidize emigration of politically-reliable white men to Kansas. There they would vote for slavery, vs. the Emigrant Aid Societies’ freedom, and cement the institution’s grip on the nation’s most troubled territory. Missourians had heretofore considered such behavior cheating, but firm principle yielded to clear advantage as often to them as to us. Nor did they come alone to the prosalvery side of the Emigrant Aid Game, though their side did come to the business tardily. Walter Lynwood Fleming explains why in The Buford Expedition to Kansas (PDF). My copy is from Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF) on the grounds that I found it first.

Fleming puts proslavery delay down to how “it was doubtful if the anti-slavery party would ever be strong enough to control the elections” but Yankee Emigrant Aid operations got to work at the job.

In the movement of importing men the North had already two years the start, the South being confident that no exertion would be necessary in order to secure Kansas as a slave State. So there was very little pro-slavery emigration into this debatable land before late in 1856 except from the neighboring State of Missouri.

Fleming then recounts how the first territorial elections went in favor of the South. He neglects how the South ensured what, whether he means the delegate election of November, 1854, or the legislative elections of March, 1855. As a member of the Dunning School, Fleming leaned proslavery about as hard as one could at the turn of the twentieth century. That proslavery Missourians invaded Kansas in large numbers to control the territorial elections seems to simply not register as relevant to him. Come late 1855 “the outlook was gloomy for the pro-slavery cause.”

Thus

Pro-slavery emigrant aid societies were now organized in Missouri, and soon other similar societies were formed in the remaining Southern States. Missouri appealed to her sister States in the South to come to her assistance.

I haven’t found the original appeal online anywhere; my searching turns up Fleming’s citation and ought else. But he does quote from it. Citing the two years of southern reverses, which Missouri had born alone, the appeal held

The time has come when she can no longer stand up single-handed, the lone champion of the South, against the myrmidons of the North. It requires no foresight to perceive that if the ‘higher law’ men succeed in this crusade, it will be but the beginning of a war upon the institutions of the South, which will continue until slavery shall cease to exist in any of the States, or the Union is dissolved.

The Missourians had it mostly right on both counts. They depicted Kansas as coming to a crisis point, which would last at least through the elections of October, 1856. If the proslavery party could not control matters, they would lose the territory. Kansas required

bolt, determined action. Words will no longer do any good; we must have men in Kansas, and that by tens of thousands. A few will not answer. If we should need ten thousand men and lack one of that number, all will count nothing. Let all then who can come do so at once. Those who cannot come must give money to help others to come.

Failure in Kansas would lead, as always, to the loss of the whole West to freedom and the restriction of slavery to the southeast. Excitement reigned through the end of 1855, with the slave states

now thoroughly canvassed by agents of the pro-slavery emigrant aid societies.

Someone would take Missouri up on the offer. According to Fleming, “Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia” rushed to get in line. An Alabaman named Thomas J. Orme published an appeal of his own on November 18, 1855:

If the people of Alabama will raise $100,000, I will land in Kansas 500 settlers. I have over one hundred volunteers now.

Familiar Faces at the Kansas Pioneer Association

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Missourians decided, belatedly, that they had best get into the Emigrant Aid Game. For more than a year, the Massachusetts, then New England, and other societies in the North had paid the travel costs of antislavery settlers bound for Kansas. They even ran a hotel or two to put a roof over the heads of new arrivals, albeit one with more sod than shingles. For the previous history of territorial Kansas, the Missourians took all that as cheating the system. Now they would cheat too. Moreover, the people of Jackson County specifically empowered their Kansas Pioneer Association to coordinate with other such groups for a wide-open slave power conspiracy. The same meeting that organized the association also called for a convention of similar associations from every county in Missouri to put their plan into operation.

As the names of the officers chairing the meeting at Lexington which set all this in motion appeared in the papers, the Herald of Freedom gave them a close look. George Brown spotted S. H. Woodson among them, who had telegraphed back to the east that proslavery men needed to come in a hurry to

aid in the subjugation of the ‘d—-d Yankees.’ His dispatches were mistaken in the East for those of the Secretary of our Territory, Daniel Woodson.

Daniel Woodson

Daniel Woodson

Two Williams Phillips before and two Woodsons now. I’ve featured a letter from a Woodson before, straight out of Charles Robinson’s The Kansas Conflict. The letter appears over Daniel Woodson’s name. The full text:

Westport, November 27th.

Hon. E. A. McClarey, Jefferson City:

Governor Shannon has ordered out the militia against Lawrence. They are now in open rebellion against the laws. Jones is in danger.

(Private.) DEAR GENERAL: The Governor has called out the militia, and you will hereby organize your division, and proceed forthwith to Lecompton. As the Governor has no power, you may call out the Platte Rifle Company. They are always ready to help us. Whatever you do, do not implicate the Governor.

Daniel Woodson

While broadly similar to the letter Brown refers to, this Woodson makes no reference to Yankees in any state of grace. Nor does it seem that he sent multiple letters, but rather one specific missive to a militia officer advising him to call out the Platte County men. I don’t think Robinson above slanting things in the slightest, but this doesn’t quite like quite the letter that Brown meant.

Brown recognized other names. N.R McMurry served as Secretary of the mass meeting. He thought that the same as the Dr. McMurry, who came out from Independence for the Wakarusa War. Colonel James Chiles presided:

Whether this man CHILES, who was President of the meeting, was the man (?) who brutally maltreated Rev. Wm. C. Clark on the Missouri river last autumn, or whether he was the person who joined with others in sending dispatches over the wires during our late war […] we are not informed

For the edification of his readers, Brown reprinted Chiles’ dispatch:

There is no doubt in regard to having a fight, and we all know that a great many have complained because they were disappointed heretofore in regard to a fight. Say to them now is the time to show game, and if we are defeated this time, the Territory is lost to the South.

That Missourians came into Kansas, first temporarily and now perhaps to stay, in order to thwart antislavery Kansans hardly made for breaking news. But by linking Chiles’ and the others’ previous hooliganism to their present enterprise in Emigrant Aid, Brown underlined that they served the same ends. And just what kind of Missourian would come over in such an operation? Would they come as ordinary settlers and then turn against proslavery impositions as others had? Maybe, but what if Chiles’ send his buddies from the Wakarusa War? They came set to kill abolitionists and hardly made for the best prospects at a change of heart.

Which leaves the matter of how Chiles’ maltreated William C. Clark. More on that tomorrow.

The Bylaws of the Kansas Pioneer Association

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

After a good year of outrage at how Emigrant Aid Societies in northern states had paid the way of antislavery settlers to come to Kansas, Missourians had had enough. If Yankees could cheat by subsidizing migration of politically-reliable men, then so could they. At Jackson County court house, they formed the Kansas Pioneer Association and published their plan. Pauper mercenaries could come from near to Kansas territory just as they could from afar.

The KPA’s founders knew they needed more than hopes, dreams, and occasional extralegal violence to make a go of this. Like a good company, they aimed to sell shares and use the proceeds to fund their emigrants. They would take any sum, but if one wanted a say in how the organization operated it would cost you $20. Operations would begin in earnest as soon as they had two thousand dollars lined up. That didn’t mean they would actually have that cash on hand, but rather they would elect officers and a board of directors who could go out and requisition the funds, up to 25% of what one pledged per quarter.

All of this sounds very normal for the time, up to and including language that the Board would have full control of the funds but promised to use them for the declared ends alone, and the founders

further empower said Board to form a connection with other societies or organizations similar to this in their ends and aims, and blend all of the energies and means of this Society with those of such other societies or organizations, upon such terms as they may deem advisable.

Here the Missourians put on paper what had clearly happened informally in the past. The network of Blue Lodges which had powered their state’s previous operations against Kansas seem to have worked on strictly personal connections and mutual understanding. The expenses of boarder ruffianism came out of the pockets of the filibusters themselves and from the large planters of the area on a case-by-case basis. Now they openly declared coordination, which must have come easier for an organization with clearly legal means and ends. Contrary to proslavery protestations, no precedent of law or custom forbade organizations underwriting westward migration. What Eli Thayer could do, they aimed to do better.

“We shall have a bloody time out here”

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce called the free state movement revolutionary, tending toward insurrection, and ordered its members to disperse. In the certain event that they would refuse, he placed the Army at the disposal of Kansas’ proslavery government to suppress them. Forget the local militia, or even the Missouri militia, the actual United States Army would ride out of its forts and put an end to Kansans’ experiment in self-government. To oppose them by force would make the free state movement traitors in the eyes of large numbers of Americans. That very fear had helped curb proslavery militancy, if just barely, back in December. Charles Robinson had similar apprehensions, which the presidential proclamation could only rouse from whatever abeyance they might have settled into since the middle of December.

Free state Kansans did not miss Pierce’s meaning. Edward Payson Fitch, a Massachusetts native, had come to Kansas in the third group of New England Emigrant Aid Society settlers. Transcriptions of his letters (PDF) made it into the Spring, 1989 issue of Kansas History, along with an account of his life. Fitch wanted Kansas kept clear of slavery and if he could set up a prosperous farm and get rich on real estate speculations too, so much the better. He came to Lawrence and taught school for a time, invested in land, and partnered with Charles Stearns in the Republican House. That establishment constituted a sod hut with canvas for a roof. You could sleep there for ten cents a day, but it cost fifty more if you wished to eat too.

On February 24, Fitch wrote his parents back in Massachusetts. He had good news to report:

I have been to meeting twice to-day. It is growing warmer and we have meetings more regularly and shall continue to if we are not all killed.

They might all die tomorrow, but at least he got to church. His failure to attend, sometimes for lack of meetings at all and sometimes otherwise, features into prior letters. Fitch looked forward to the meeting of the free state legislature come March, which would put Pierce’s threats to the test. Fitch would turn twenty-three on March 8 and one can read a young man’s bravado into this. But he had put himself in harm’s way to defend Lawrence and the President of the United States really had threatened military force against his party, a fact which he reminded his parents of:

Pierce says we are traitors so of course the Missourians are to put us down but if they try it we shall have a bloody time out here. God Grant that it may be avoided.