More Bad News: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Eight

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Reeder’s diary.

May 15, 1856 found Andrew Reeder still closeted in a hotel in Kansas City, “elaborately cared for” by various ladies who would bring him food, flowers, “and attend to all my comforts.” All in all, Kansas’ free state delegate to Congress found it downright comfortable if he set aside the great issue of the day. He needed to be off raising support for the free state cause, not stuck in western Missouri. He also missed his “idolized, noble wife” and “precious, dearly-loved children.” That he had sent G.P. Lowrey ahead of him to bring news to his family, as well as lay down a false trail that might help Reeder escape wore on him as well. When Lowrey delivered his news, they would know their patriarch as a man on the run and in danger.

Reeder had news that the dragnet continued to tighten around Kansas. G.W. Brown remained a prisoner at Westport. Proslavery men stopped ordinary travelers on the road and stopped the mail for searching.

One traveler, coming down from Lawrence, was stopped on the road, and ordered to open his carpet-bag to see if he had any letters or dispatches from Lawrence, and, as he refused to be searched, it was cut open by the ruffians.

It would not do for the free state party to get news of their plight out in person or paper. More worrying still:

About 100 young men from the South, said to be from South Carolina and Georgia, arrived, as I am told, last evening, all armed and equipped after the fashion of Buford’s men, who, from their appearance, equipments, acts, and conversation, have evidently come, not as emigrants, but only to fight. About half of them went on to Leavenworth, and the residue landed here and went into the Territory, leaving their trunks here with Mr. Taylor, and saying that they did not want them along, as the fight would probably be over in a few weeks, and then they would go back.

Buford’s men, or a very similar group, had work ahead of him. That evening, Reeder got word secondhand from a member of the Blue Lodge that they had another invasion in the offing. They hoped to get together two thousand men and raze Lawrence for good, entering Kansas in small groups and avoiding the major roads to avoid notice until they arrived. They would take the town at night and under the pretext of enforcing indictments against its leaders. Samuel Lecompte had given them those indictments and proslavery men had come to Kansas back in December allegedly to maintain law and order. Thwarted then, the proslavery men would likely press far harder now.

Misdirection and Another Capture: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Seven

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Reeder’s diary.

We left Andrew Reeder hiding out in a hotel in Kansas City, where he received news of Charles Robinson’s capture on May 13, 1856. Knowing that the proslavery dragnet reached further into Missouri than just the immediate border can’t have settled the delegate’s mind. Up to this point, Reeder had the company of G.P. Lowery. He advised Lowery to leave without him, on the first available boat and in a disguise. But before Lowery departed, the two arranged some misdirection. Reeder

had him to write a letter directed to me at Chicago, and mail it loosely sealed, to induce the belief that I was in the States, by the way of Nebraska and Iowa, as we were confident they would open it. I instructed him also, if he got safe to St. Louis, to telegraph up here that he had heard from me and that I was safe in Chicago.

Nineteenth century postmasters did open and scrutinize mail, most famously to hunt down antislavery publicans for destruction. Settled precedent dating back to Andrew Jackson’s administration blessed such business. Since postmasters received their jobs through patronage rather than from a professional civil service, even any inclined against such censorship had strong incentive to keep in line.

Reeder remained shut up in his room, though it seems that he had plenty of attention. He writes that no less than four ladies “most kindly waited on” him and “took a lively interest in my safety.” Come evening, Colonel Eldridge brought Reeder less enchanting company: the posse which had came for him at Lawrence had arrived at the hotel. The governor turned delegate assured Eldridge that they had a warrant for Reeder valid in Kansas, but not Missouri. Their authority ended at the border and no harm could come to him from helping Reeder out. However, should they come with a Missourian officer and process in hand, then Eldridge should give Reeder up to keep himself out of trouble.

Expecting them to come, I concealed this diary, and made preparations. I remained up, till midnight, and there was a constant running up and down from the street to their room. At 12 o’clock I went to bed and slept soundly.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Kansas’ first governor has sterner nerves than I do. He woke on the morning of the fourteenth to more welcome news. Eldridge came up and told Reeder that the posse had said nothing of him, but instead came for Grosvenor Lowery and Samuel Pomeroy, the latter an agent of the Emigrant Aid Company. But the good news came with some bad:

G.W. Brown, accompanied by Jenkins, had started for Lawrence, and had been stopped on the road by M’Gee’s party of Missourians (without any process, of course), and made prisoners. Have not learned what is done with them.

That day also brought a boat up to Kansas City which departed with great cheers from the town. Reeder thought that Robinson must have come through, but learned instead that Kansas City cheered a marshal’s party starting for Leavenworth. It says something for Reeder’s state of mind that news of an armed band heading into Kansas from Missouri came as a relief, though probably also to the fact that Andrew Reeder consistently stood for the party of Andrew Reeder. He had joined the free state movement late, when deprived of other means for political advance in Kansas, and under the condition that they make his grievance over shady land deals their own.

After a while, Reeder changed rooms for the second time. Things had quieted and the proper residents of the room had been out of it for some time. Anybody could start to wonder. At this point, Reeder hoped no one believed him present and so he might safely move on as soon as he could find a boat with a willing captain, which would remain docked through the night so he could quietly board. With Robinson captured, he needed to get moving regardless. It fell now to him to take up the governor’s mission and seek out the executives of Ohio, Michigan, and maybe even Iowa and Wisconsin to come to aid the free state cause.

Jim Crow Comes to Michigan

Gentle Readers, the triumphant story of the Civil Rights Movement ends in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow died there, stabbed through the heart by Lyndon Johnson’s pen. Black Americans henceforth had protection against state governments that acted more as their jailers than their servants. Their laws did not say, in so many words, that no black person could cast a vote but the men who wrote them made sure it worked out that way. To grant the vote to subhumans would degrade actual people who, our most ancient creed holds, come exclusively in white skin. The Supreme Court has gotten at the law, cutting away many of its substantial protections. We must now believe that some states with a history of racial discrimination -a trait all fifty share- do not require special attention. As a result those same states have rushed to erect numerous obstructions to casting a vote, closing more than eight hundred polling places and writing laws against the phantom of voter impersonation fraud which they design to ensure black Americans don’t vote. The laws will not catch every black voter, of course, but they can swing close elections. Furthermore, their mere presence serves as a deterrent.

My state has had voter ID on the books since the Nineties. I disagreed with it then, on the grounds that the fraud it’s claimed to protect happens so rarely that these measures clearly constitute a solution looking for a problem. Even if someone went around to multiple polling places to cast votes under assumed names, complete with the correct addresses remembered on the spot and the person they posed as didn’t show up before or later and cast suspicion on the ballot by doing so, microscopic vote margins happen so rarely and unpredictably even in local races that they amount to statistical noise. An individual could cast no more than a handful of fake votes. As soon as you get enough people to really make a difference, things look more like territorial Kansas. Everybody who knows anything about elections already knows this.

But Michigan requires you to have identification so every time I go with my driver’s license in hand. I present it to one of my father’s old coworkers, a man who used to live less than a block from me. We know each other by sight. He passes it to his wife, who knows me just as well. They scan the license and compare my address and name with their records to discover, quelle surprise, I am who they thought I am. Then they mark my name off and hand me a ballot. The license adds no great security to the rest, but it does cost money and one has to go out and get a new one every now and then. If I lost my license or it was damaged and I could not get a new one before election day, I would have to swear an affidavit that I had the right to vote in my precinct and then proceed. More than eighteen thousand of my fellow Michigan residents did that this month. While not ideal, and clearly intended to deprive people of less means of their chance to vote, they state government hasn’t gotten all it paid for from this system. Black Michiganders still vote.

The Republicans who control the state government have had quite enough of that. The Party of Lincoln, founded in this state, has decided to throw in with Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. They insist that if you don’t have your ID, even if you have the right name and address and the risk of someone impersonating a voter is astronomically rare and unlikely to ever matter without being obvious to the dullest observer, you should have to cast a provisional ballot. They will cast it in the trash, only to rescue it if you provide your ID within ten days. In other words, if you have the misfortune of lacking an ID on election day you have less than two weeks to get fortunate enough, find out where and how you can prove your bona fides, and then get your vote counted long after the outcome has been announced.

Maybe people will do that, but the Michigan GOP hopes they will not. They have dug this law out of a drawer somewhere, in the lame duck session immediately after the election just as they did when they voted to eviscerate the right to unionize in our state. Now they rush to get it passed before opposition can mount. I suspect that, while their gerrymandering will keep them in control of the legislature, they worry about the governor’s race in 2018. Their incumbent poisoned thousands of black people, after all. Those people have families and friends who will vote, probably not for whoever they run for the top spot in the state.

This should remind us that Jim Crow disenfranchised black Americans by the millions because of their race, but also because of how they would vote. The Democratic party that erected the whole edifice knew full well that the freedpeople and their descendants would remember what party freed them and stood up for their rights. In much of the postwar South, if black men could vote then they would decide elections. In still more areas, they would have numbers enough to force white politicians to court their support or see it go to an opponent. We must remember segregation as a racial injustice, but we should not forget that racism doesn’t come down to pseudoscientific theories about superiority. Rather we invented white supremacy to justify an existing political and economic order against challenges to it. In suppressing the vote so they can keep winning elections, Republicans in Michigan and across the country have not departed from our most deadly creed; they have renewed it.

How to be a white supremacist

Gentle Readers, let’s talk white supremacy. We do that almost all the time here, but usually in the context of other things. That makes it easy to let some details slip through the cracks. I think most Americans get the most basic idea: whites come first, everyone else possesses debatable humanity. I realized a few weeks back, in the course of talking with others, that I ought to pay more attention to the myriad ways that simple idea wends its way through our lives.

Most people would probably agree that an individual who expresses belief in the racial superiority of whites or the inferiority of non-whites to whites counts as white supremacist. The guy in the brown shirt with the red armband and the other guy in the white hood believe things like that. We have agreed, at least in mixed company, that this makes them monstrous. They believe in horrible things and countenance historical atrocities and present injustices which we righteously condemn. They have no fit place in polite society and we have an obligation to do what we can to contain them and limit the harm they do, so far as we can do so and remain faithful to other vital principles. If they wheel out racist pseudoscience, whether vintage nineteenth century or the more recent sort, that makes them a hard case. Sometimes they receive a kinder hearing than they should, but mostly the convention holds. We should call those people out and keep to our norms. Such clear expressions of racial hatred serve as calls to action and precursors for new horrors. People may do harm with or without our saying so, but they will understand silence as permission.

We do not, however much we may wish otherwise, live in a world where villainy so eagerly announces itself. Admitting that puts us in a bind. In making those who express open racial animus into pariahs, exiled by their deplorable ideas, we easily slip into a second corollary. Something we consider so vile, we cannot imagine occurring with any great frequency. We imagine racists as freaks, so different that we can’t imagine knowing them. We have made racism into a crime near unto murder, yet with no victims. Someone far away or long ago did horrible things, but we finished that and now we have sad, hateful remnants who don’t really warrant our attention. Racism simultaneously counts for a great deal and doesn’t matter at all. It then makes no sense for us to go looking for it.

By we, I must clarify, I mean myself and other white Americans. We have the luxury of these conventions written on our skin. Their costs we carve into the lives of others. I have done it myself more times than I care to remember. We have arranged our civilization to let us do it without thinking, but even when we choose thoughtlessly, we still choose. Suffer me this story to illustrate:

The worst physical injury I have yet endured came when two boys pushed me down on the playground. I landed with my left hand forward. Rather than catching myself, the radius and ulna both broke. My hand drove up between them and one of the bones lay lengthwise across the back of it. The doctors told us that I had one of the worst fractures they ever treated without operating. It still hurts when it gets cold sometimes, almost a quarter century later. I can’t imagine many people I have actually met whom I have cause to like less than those two boys, who suffered no punishment for doing it. But I have known since the day it happened that they did not come at me thinking that they would break my bones and leave me with occasional pain for decades after. They set out to shove me away, perhaps to the ground, but not to rearrange my skeleton.

Some part of that day will always be in the present tense for me. Others have suffered far worse with a grace I can’t muster; I don’t write this to ask your sympathy for childhood pains. Rather hope you can understand that what those boys meant to do on the playground didn’t matter. Their not meaning to hurt me did not preserve me from harm. No amount of good intentions saved my bones and spared me fleeting pain. Even had they simply bumped into me in the hall, not meaning to lay a hand on me, the bones got broken. I felt, and sometimes still feel, the pain of the moment. That matters. We live with the things done to us in flesh and blood far more than we ever will the intentions that drove them.

We can perform white supremacist actions without conscious intention to do so; I know I have. We can say, perhaps honestly, that we didn’t mean it. People get hurt all the same. I maintain that we do so more often than not, habitually privileging the interests, concerns, and ultimately the lives of white Americans above those of anybody else. The people of Flint have poison coming out of their faucets because white people chose to allow it. They suffer not an iota less if we meant otherwise. The government of Michigan, my state, poisoned them all. It has lately appealed a court ruling that the state must deliver that water to residents, rather than make them come to collect their daily rations. No one made the state file that appeal; they chose it, knowing that the less accessible they make drinking water the more likely they are to force the residents to use the poison flowing from their taps all the same. Flint has a majority black population. A mostly white government with a mostly white constituency prefers poisoning them to supplying them with basic necessities, even when that government has only itself to blame for the poisoning.

Say that the people of Michigan did not vote for this. (We didn’t, though when we voted as we did we could reasonably have expected a cavalier attitude toward black lives.) Say that the state government did not mean for it to happen or didn’t know it could. (They knew.) It doesn’t matter. Flint’s residents of all ages got to drink poison all the same. Pleading good intentions will not change that, though it does an admirable job of distracting us from white supremacy in grotesque operation.

Keeping on the theme of water, an oil company wants to build a pipeline through North Dakota. It would have run right by Bismarck, the state capital. The people there believed that this would put their drinking water at risk. Oil does tend to spill; pipes do fail. In response to the concerns of Bismark’s people, which we can all understand, the pipeline got rerouted through a Sioux reservation, Standing Rock. The Sioux, who know something about living on the business end of genocide for the past few centuries, objected too. They would also prefer that they and their children did not drink poison, as well as that an oil pipeline not run through their sacred lands. For some time now they have conducted a large, peaceful protest against the construction, to which the police have responded with violence. That includes spraying water on the protesters at night, in November on the high plains, which ought to count as lethal force all by itself.

I understand that many people stand to make a great deal of money off this pipeline, including the man who lost the late presidential election. But when the people of Bismarck objected to the route endangering their water, plans changed. Ninety percent of the people who live in that city can boast white skin, which goes a long way. The Sioux cannot, so they get to have their children poisoned and their holy places despoiled. Their resistance, not that of Bismarck, brought down the heavy hand of the law. Here, as in Flint and as we do in countless other times and places, people made a decision. White children don’t deserve poisoned water. No one will drive a pipeline through one of Bismarck’s churches. The Sioux have no such immunity. Their concerns, lives, and culture don’t count any more than the people of Flint do.

It may be that some of the people who made the decisions for Flint and North Dakota exulted at the thought of afflicting minorities. If I have learned anything from the research I do for this blog, I have learned to never underestimate the power of pure malice. But it doesn’t matter if they acted with depraved hearts, they did what they did. We can’t know fully the minds of others, however much we try, but they write their actions on the bodies of their victims. The rest of us must make our own choices then. Even if we can’t follow every issue and understand each controversy, we decide when they come before us. We can refuse to allow such things to happen in our name or we can turn away and tell stories about well-meaning mistakes and oversights, reducing those genuinely harmed to an irrelevant detail. A band of neo-Nazis or Klansmen might harm people by the score, but all of us standing by play our part in far greater crimes. A gang can kill dozens or hundreds; policy, silent assent, and willful blindness reach millions.

Utter Defiance and Resistance: A Minority of One, Part Two

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

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

Felix Zollicoffer’s minority report on the free state government’s petition for Kansas statehood agreed with the majority that polities should not languish forever in territorial status. However, he disagreed strongly that Kansas had done so. If Michigan could wait thirty-two years, then surely Kansas could not have come to the brink of ruin in two. For that matter, Kansas had nowhere near so many people as to make the matter urgent by numbers alone. Quite the opposite, the territorial population hung on the very low end or past admissions and making it a state now would do an injustice to the others by asking to accept a relative handful of people warranting one Representative and two Senators. On the last point, Zollicoffer echoes the traditional criticisms of the Electoral College and the Senate.

But Tennessee’s most strikingly named son started with the small stuff. The Committee on Territories reported out a bill for Kansas’ statehood under the Topeka Constitution. Said bill declared that “the people of Kansas have presented a constitution, and asked admission”. That all sounds right enough, until you open a newspaper. There, Zollicoffer found the curious

fact that this “constitution,” and this pretended “State of Kansas,” have been set up in open resistance to the lawfully-constituted authority of the country-set up on the public domain of the United States in utter defiance of and resistance to the laws of the United States; set up not by “the people of Kansas,” but by a dissatisfied portion of the people, arrayed in excited antagonism to another portion; with a questionable list of grievances, and with a temper too impatient, or too prone to disorder, to await the redress of grievances which the due processes of law and order are sure to accord

To top it off, they claimed that the territorial government had failed and so deprived the people of “any legal government whatsoever”. Zollicoffer would have none of that. The United States gave Kansas a territorial government in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. If a law of Congress did not make that government legal, then legality had no meaning. Who elected those senators and representatives of Kansas? Not the people of Kansas, who had legal elections to represent them. Rather some band of rebel scum grinding axes over the dubious cause of freedom took matters into their own hands. With the exception of Zollicoffer’s view of the free state movement’s grievances, he has the facts on his side. That proslavery men within Kansas had gone over thanks to the same grievances didn’t enter into it. They hadn’t all switched sides.

As much as we naturally want to dismiss Zollicoffer as a proslavery partisan, he has at least a weak point. The process of writing and ratifying a constitution cannot for a second escape politics. They all come with embedded ideologies and policy objectives. But in treating constitutions as more than ordinary law, we mean for them to acquire a more fixed state that also renders them uniquely binding upon the people. Traditionally, Americans believe you should have some kind of supermajority to do that. In theory, that means you come up with a document that all parties can at least tolerate.

One could argue that the free state movement did that; its elections at least had higher turnout than the territory’s legal elections did. That it could manage such a feat while having at best tenuous legality and at worst fomenting insurrection speaks volumes as to how Missourian invasions and the laws they wrought transformed Kansas into a prison house for white liberties. That they managed this with a white population of which Missourians formed a large part says still more. But the history of the free state movement and its legal status do raise serious questions about its formal legitimacy.

 

A Minority of One, Part One

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

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

 

Galusha Grow’s majority on the Committee of Territories, affirmed that the Congress should admit the free state government to the Union at once. The territorial government Congress had establish lost all legitimacy through “fraud and violence” and its “odious oppression in the form of legislative enactments”. The time had come for Congress to act in the name of peace, liberty, and “the remove the causes of civil war.”

Not everyone on the committee agreed, so the minority produced his own report. Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (Whig turned Know-Nothing, TN), who might just outdo Galusha Grow in the competition for most remarkable name, did not think Congress should leave Kansas a territory. No American should dwell forever in a territory. Congress should instead authorize a state constitutional convention. However, he denied that Kansas had languished as a territory for so long as to

depress that independence of sentiment which a government like ours should ever cultivate in its citizens; and that it would be ill-judged in continuing to impose upon the United States the burdens of a Territorial organization, after the people of the Territory were fully able to defray for themselves all the expenses of a State government.

Yes, Kansas deserves statehood. But why rush? It had only two years’ territorial status under its belt. The typical state muddled through “from twelve to thirteen, and in some instances much more”. Zollicoffer, like Grow, had examples: Mississippi remained a territory nineteen years, Florida twenty-six, and Michigan thirty-two. That sounded wrong to me and I suspected that Zollicoffer engaged in some prevarication to claim some obscure legislation as the start of the territorial history rather than the normal organic act. He did not. Mississippi (1798-1817), Florida (1822-1845), and Michigan (1805-1837) all match his math. Sorry for misjudging you, Felix.

Furthermore, even if Kansas had done thirty-two years as a territory, Zolicoffer believed it lacked sufficient people to justify statehood. He put its October, 1855 population at twenty-five thousand, just as Grow did, but held that it required 93,420 whites to qualify. To admit it so soon would do an injustice to the the present states, diluting their power with representatives of so few. He declared that

It would be a radical departure from the established usage of the government; there being no instance in which a State has ever been admitted with a population so inconsiderable, and no instance, with one solitary exception, more than equal to the ratio of representation in Congress.

The Constitution may not, as Zollicoffer agrees, require such numbers. But the established norm came about for good reasons and the nation should not lightly set it aside. The average population of the eighteen states admitted, at the time of their admission, stood a bit over 104,000. The majority had just cherry-picked the low population territories to make its argument. He supplied a table to prove it.

Here Zollicoffer does do something sophistical. Grow’s majority did not present their low-population states as average. Rather they acknowledged that they had the low end of the curve. They maintained that Kansas could secure admission at its then-current population on the grounds that other states had done so with less. He has a perfectly good point on the numbers, but chose to misconstrue the majority’s position on the question to strengthen his own.

“Two to five years in the penitentiary” The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Five

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4; Report with the Kansas petition here.

The Committee on the Territories, chaired by Galusha Grow, reported to the House that the Congress had caused all Kansas woes by opening the territory to slavery. Now the Kansans had gone to work to fix that, establishing a free state government in defiance of the proslavery territorial regime, and petition for admission under a free state constitution. However irregular, their situation had precedent in the cases of Arkansas and Michigan. Congress had the sovereign power to admit states whenever, however it liked. The expediency and morality of admitting a free Kansas mattered, not the details. Would the Congress do Kansas a favor to make it a state?

Grow’s committee thought it would, as Kansans had suffered the domination of their polls by violent Missourian invaders. He had this information not from abolitionist newspapers or antislavery rumor mills, but straight from no less a solid proslavery man than Franklin Pierce. The report cited minutes of the Kansas governor’s office, as forwarded to the House by the president. They had highlights:

In the third representative district, two of the judges of election

were driven from the room by a company of armed men from the State of Missouri, who threatened their lives, and commenced to destroy the house and beat in the door

In the tenth representative district, Missourians

surrounded the window and obstructed the citizens of the Territory from depositing their votes

In the first election district, “Six or seven hundred armed men” camped by the polls and obstructed them most of the day. Petitioners told Andrew Reeder that someone set up a polling place at an unauthorized location and “non-residents surrounded the polls with firearms and voted indiscriminately.”

All of this in a territory where the local inhabitants, bona fide settlers, had promised to them the right to decide for or against slavery for themselves? The census of February, 1855, counted 2,905 legal voters. Not quite a month after, 6,351 men voted in the legislative elections, 5,664 for the proslavery ticket. New territories could grow fast, but you’d have to grease up all Missouri, fold it into a funnel, and pour it on Kansas to pile on so much growth so fast. As a result, only one free-state man won election. The petitions he got inspired Andrew Reeder to set aside a few more elections and hold mostly clean ones, but the legislature expelled those men and seated the originals. Then it enacted a stringent set of laws effectively outlawing antislavery activity.

As a remedy for these evils and a redress of such wrongs, it is proposed by their apologizes to authorize the people, at some future time, to form another constitution, to be again submitted to Congress, with a new application for admission as a State.

Why should their present application be rejected, and they be forced to pass through the mockery of another election, under the authority of this Territorial legislature and subject to another invasion of non-residents? Immediate action is necessary in order to put an end to the strife in the Territory, which, the President informs us, threatens the peace not only of Kansas, but of the Union.

Why indeed? No reasonable person could deny that giving Kansas a do-over would invite Missourian filibusters to have another go. And they had a government supported by a majority of Kansans, constitution in hand, right there. What could one expect? Either the Missourians would have their way again and it would solve nothing, or James Lane would go home and come back with a similar petition in a year.

In that year, more militants would surely come to Kansas. Delay would only give more chance for armed clashes and let tension boil higher. Only settling the slavery question, Grow’s report affirmed, would give Kansas any peace. Admission at once would do the job. Forcing Kansas to endure “two to five years in the penitentiary” would only punish them. They had suffered enough.

“They were driven by violence” The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Four

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Parts 1, 2, 3

The Committee on the Territories laid out relevant precedent for admitting Kansas’ free state government to the Union. Arkansas had a wildcat state convention and Congress admitted it. Congress likewise, eventually smiled on Michigan despite only a minority, party convention accepting the terms of Michigan’s admission. Kansas had just the same. Galusha Grow’s committee held neither of these prior admissions in error, since Congress had complete discretion as to when, how, and if it would use its power to make states. Might rarely makes for the best of right, though. The power to do something didn’t make every exercise of that power a good idea. Thus Grow’s majority report turned to the question of expediency.

The case for that began with a history of Kansas from 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had, “[f]or the first time in the history of the government” removed a restriction upon slavery. The old policy, Grow averred, barred slavery “from all territory where it had not an actual existence, and to regulate and even restrict it where it had.” Grow’s history comes straight from antislavery orthodoxy. From the founders on, the nation accepted that slavery existed in some places and could not easily uproot it but stood firm against its spread. Congress had even asserted the power to interfere with slavery in states, by preventing the import of slaves from abroad.

Grow left out that most of the slave states no longer needed to import people by 1808 and so conceded little. We can pick apart the details further, particularly how Grow declares this a sort of formal policy rather than a series of practical concessions to slavery by a national government largely in the thrall of slaveholders. But Grow believed it and offered what, to millions of Northerners, seemed a plausible account of the nation’s past. He had the larger point of emphasizing, against late antebellum Southern orthodoxy, the Congress absolutely had the power to make decisions on slavery for territories. Only by adopting this new doctrine, popular sovereignty, had Kansas’ troubles come about:

instead of leaving this Territory, as it had been for more than a third of a century, consecrated to freedom by all the solemnities that can surround any legislative act; instead of adhering to the policy established by the fathers of the republic, and continued by the uniform action of the government for more than half a century, of settling in Congress the question of the future existence of slavery in a Territory at the time of organizing its temporary government, all restrictions were thrown off, and the existence of slavery was left as a bone of contention for the settlers of the Territory during its Territorial existence, and to be thrown back again into Congress whenever the State should apply for admission. The act itself virtually invited slavery to take possession by removing all barriers to its introduction.

Grow did not deny his partisanship, stressing that opening the territory to slavery brought about all the strife to date. Restriction it would, by implication, have led to an orderly territorial progress for Kansas. He defended antislavery emigrants: they accepted the logic of popular sovereignty and removed to Kansas to exercise it, the same right that every white American enjoyed. For their trouble

they were driven by violence from the polls, and their ballot-boxes seized by organized bands of armed men from the State of Missouri.

Holy Toledo in Ohio: The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Three

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

 

Galusha Grow’s Committee on the Territories reported that Kansas’ irregular state government had precedent in the recent past. All of twenty years back, the people of Arkansas got together a state convention, wrote a constitution, and sent it on to Washington. At the time, no less an authority than Andrew Jackson’s attorney general signed off. They had the right to do so and the territorial legislature could not forbid them. Nor did granting statehood under such a constitution present any objections. Grow affirmed that even without precedent, Congress had the power to admit states at will, but the precise legal circumstances that the Congress grappled with now it had faced before. If Arkansas could do it, why not Kansas?

One could argue that Arkansas had some kind of unique situation. One might say that slave states get special rights. But Grow finished with Arkansas only to move on to Michigan, where I write this post. Some years back, Michigan celebrated its sesquicentennial. The territory felt fit for statehood well before it gained admission to the Union, but had disagreements with its neighbors. Michigan’s southern boundary ought to have run from the bottom of Lake Michigan to the bottom of Lake Erie. The legislators in Washington thought they shared a latitude. They don’t quite and Ohio and Indiana got statehood in advance of Michigan. When Ohio surveyed its northern border, it surveyed at an angle to include within itself the outlet of the Maumee river. Understanding the river and its port as an economic asset, and one which had been governed as a part of Michigan for some time prior, the territory commissioned its own survey that put the land right back with the Mitten. Between the two lines, you had the Toledo Strip.

This takes us up to 1833. Because Michigan doesn’t accept the Strip belonging to Ohio, the Ohio delegation blocks the territory’s application for statehood. Except for the boundary issue, Michigan followed the conventions: asking Congress for an Enabling Act before writing a constitution and all that. The Ohioans had some support in this from Indiana and Illinois, which had also revised their borders northward.

In 1835 the people of Michigan, after repeated failures to obtain an act of Congress authorizing a state convention, called one themselves without any such authority, elected delegates, formed and adopted a constitution, and under it elected State officers, United States senators, and a representative to Congress.

The governors of Michigan and Ohio also called out their militias, formed them up on either side of the Maumee, and took a few shots at one another. The sole injury came when an Ohioan named Two Stickney (yes, really) stabbed a Michigan sheriff. The Toledo War didn’t make for much of a war, but it did cost Michigan’s governor his job.

Congress finally agreed to take Michigan on as a state, provided that it accept the Ohio border. In exchange, the territory could have the lion’s share of the Upper Peninsula. The people of Michigan refused to trade an area with clear economic potential for an empty wilderness. This takes us into 1836. By this point the national coffers have a pleasantly full look to them, to the point that the Congress plans to pass the money out to the states. Michigan, meanwhile, has spent hundreds of thousands on militia expenses. It could use the cash but lowly territories would get nothing. Thus

Their action [rejecting the territory swap] was not satisfactory to a portion or a “party” of the people, and they, without any legislative act whatsoever, called another convention, and accepted the terms proposed by Congress though the people of large sections of the State refused to take any part in this convention, regarding it as illegal and revolutionary.

The proceedings from both conventions reached Washington, where Andrew Jackson forwarded them to Congress with the argument that the second convention, though not authorized by law, represented the will of “the people themselves”. Here we have an illegal convention that represents a minority, a party interest, making decisions for a territory without any formal authority to do so. What did Congerss do? It admitted Michigan on January 27, 1837. And so my grandfather’s favorite exclamation to use in front of children was born: “Holy Toledo in Ohio!”

Arkansas had an unauthorized convention and got into the Union. Michigan had that and dueling conventions. It received statehood. Why couldn’t Kansas?

 

Southern History? It’s Complicated.

Gentle Readers, some time back an acquaintance of mine described my abiding interest in southern history. That didn’t sound quite right to me. I spend a fair bit of time studying the American South -mostly the ugly bits I admit- but when I name it for myself, I use “history”. The exact label doesn’t matter that much for my internal monologue, but I do aim for precision when asked by others. Depending on the context, I’ve told people that I study slavery, the nineteenth century, or the Civil War. I have lately moved away from the last one, as if one says one studies a war then one tends to get questions about battlefield tactics or other very explicitly military matters. I don’t object to that kind of question and, if it requires saying, accept that they have an important role in historical inquiry. But they don’t interest me as much as many other questions. None of my standard answers quite satisfy, but they get close enough for most conversations.

I never considered, until the acquaintance suggested it, calling the whole business southern history. I knew the term existed, but hadn’t until then connected it with my own efforts. I still don’t, which probably sounds either silly or thick-witted of me. I don’t spend hours reading books about the lumber industry in Maine, Puritan Massachusetts, or Michigan during the fur trade. The stars of my bookshelves owned people, wanted to, or suffered under the attentions of the previous. Their business most often takes place within the confines of the slave states of 1860, or very closely adjacent and directly connected to slave state concerns. One cannot get much more southern than all that, given how completely slavery marks the South out from the rest of the nation. Where slavery went, the South went. Where white supremacists rode by night, there you find the South. The beating heart of Dixie pulses with the blood of stolen lives.

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

If you grew up in the United States, you probably heard some version of that often enough. Study a little and you find Ulrich Bonnell Phillips telling you just the same. Southern history has a central theme: white supremacy. Most Americans from outside the region probably agree. They do things differently down there, if you know what we mean. This all has more than a whiff of the stereotypical crazed relative kept locked in the attic. We have a secret national shame which we dare not acknowledge, even if the whole world knows already.

The more I have thought on this, the more apt that stock character from an age less considerate of the mentally ill has seemed. The good family squirrels away the human disgrace, which cannot bear the light of day. Some people shun society willingly, probably all of us have now and then. But the stock character doesn’t hide up in the attic entirely out of choice. Rather the family put him of her up there, away from prying eyes and so conveniently unacknowledged. We have a perfectly normal, healthy family, and you can’t prove otherwise.

A fair observer of all this might suspect that we have tried too hard to make the case. Crazed relations don’t just fall from the sky; they grew up somewhere. Someone put them in the attic or, in later decades, had them committed. Who else but family? Stock characters don’t go around locking up someone else’s relations to spare them the stigma of mental illness. They do it for themselves. In confining their relatives, they push the whole of the burden on the afflicted. If something went wrong, it went wrong with that person, there. It has nothing to do with us. Look all you will, you will find no hint of strangeness about us.

Stock characters don’t know their genetics or any of the other ways someone can end up ill. They don’t know much history either, except maybe a handed-down story about how now and then you get one of those sorts. But they know, at least implicitly, that if you get too close then the crazy might rub off on you. Often it already has. Our families don’t necessarily define us, but they try awfully hard.

De Tocqueville could sail down the Ohio river and see enslaved dock workers on one side, free on the other, and imagine a vast rift separated them. I wouldn’t try to leap or swim the Ohio myself, and not only because I do better at drowning than floating, but his chasm tells only half the story. The distinctions between North and South deserve consideration, both on their own and as expressions of their principle source: slavery. No one can fairly look at the United States and say they have found uniformity. We really do have different ways of doing things.

De Tocqueville’s Ohio separated the sections, but it also linked them. Farm products from the Midwest flowed down the Ohio to their markets. Southerners from Kentucky, including the Lincolns, moved across the same river to occupy the opposing shore. There they remained a powerful constituency, powerful enough to nearly make Illinois a slave state. They supported northern politicians who tilted South and constituted a significant check on the Republican party’s electoral success. The Grant Not-Yet-Old Party knew it had no hope in the South, so winning the White House required a great deal of support in the border North. Most of the butternut districts might have voted Democrat anyway, but their strength meant that the party needed a candidate with a more moderate reputation than party stalwarts of national standing, like William Henry Seward. The homely guy from Illinois worked out pretty well.

This story doesn’t end in 1860 or 1865. The first Klan, and allied groups, murdered and terrorized their way across the South to fight black equality even in the limited form tolerable to most nineteenth century whites in the North. When black Americans left the region of their birth, as much refugees as immigrants, they came North to cities with factories hungry for labor. Many of the children and grandchildren of idealistic abolitionists, as well as newer white arrivals, didn’t like that one bit and consequently signed on for the second Klan. That national organization had little trouble finding recruits outside the South and for a time controlled the government of Indiana. In many places, near enough every white man joined up. Did all those communities, and the state of Indiana, join the South for a while?

The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement punctuate Southern history. They set the section apart from the rest of the nation. Those things happened down there, involving those people. Then the rest of us knocked some heads together and it all worked out. Integration for everyone. It all sounds plausible enough, if you leave out the rest of the nation. If a generation of civil rights activists suffered losses, many of them tragic, then they had some wins too. When the movement swung north those dried up fast. My own state, Michigan, successfully defended segregation before the Supreme Court. White Bostonians rioted against the possibility of their children sharing a classroom with black children in the 1970s, not the 1850s. By that point, Southerners had done most of their rioting on the subject and restored segregation through private schools. And I don’t see southern states going out of their way to poison majority-black cities.

If we take white supremacy, or even just especially virulent and unrepentant white supremacy, as the defining trait of the South then we have a real problem. We have the South, sure enough, but on a fair examination it might take us a long time to find the North. We might not find it at all. With this in mind, I think that calling the subject Southern history gets close to the truth, but so close that one can miss the forest for all the damned trees in the way. Places outside the South’s traditional bounds do differ, but not nearly so much as those traditional distinctions might lead us to believe. Southern history is American history.