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.”

“The fiendish spirit by which they are governed” The Maltreatment of Reverend William C. Clark

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

We left the Reverend William C. Clark giving the Herald of Freedom his opinion of his late ordeal. The good Reverend had suffered at the hands of proslavery men, possibly including some members of the Kansas legislature. Like most of us who have had a rough handling, he liked it not one bit. Never in his life had he experienced such treatment, despite enjoying the company of everyone from New England Christians to “the savage Esquimaux”. He knew he had gotten off easier than he might have, with the example of Pardee Butler prominent in his mind, but that hardly constituted much in the way of consolation. In all likelihood, he would have had far worse if he hadn’t absconded from his ship ahead of schedule.

But Clark made it home to Massachusetts, where he took sick for a while but had since recovered. He hoped to return to Kansas “in March next.” In the interim, he aimed to “take the stump” for the territory and recruit antislavery settlers. Clark almost surely planned to do that anyway, but the chance to spite his attackers by living up to their idea of his goals probably didn’t hurt. Before he got to that, he wanted his readers to know that he had long preached peace. Clark still did, but

Peace principles are the best for all classes of men; but as to wild beasts, or the bipeds of Missouri, who walk upright, wear men’s clothes, vote for the people of Kansas, and hang around steamboats-nothing but Colt’s revolvers have any influence with them: hence the duty to have them on hand.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Here Clark anticipates Charles Robinson’s inaugural message. The proslavery men had passed beyond the pale and so no longer deserved the consideration one would normally grant a person. They had become something less than human, or at the very least no longer fit participants in the ordinary political process. On the second point, one struggles to disagree with Clark. They had eschewed the normal practices of nineteenth century politics almost from the very start.

Clark knew that his ordeal made a poor advertisement for Kansas: Come along to the land where ministers fear for their lives! You might just get lynched! The Reverend concluded with a few words to balance it all out:

I hope that no person who has had thoughts either of visiting or settling in Kansas, will be deterred by the above. The cheapest and safest way is to go out under the charge of the Emigrant Aid Co., in which case all would be perfectly safe. It is only when men are caught alone unarmed that such land pirates dare exhibit the fiendish spirit by which they are governed.

“It was only the outburst of Slavery’s Wrath” The Maltreatment of Reverend William C. Clark

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

The Reverend William C. Clark, aboard the steamboat Polar Star escaped from his first confrontation with proslavery men unscathed. They had a discussion about theology that drifted into the politics of territorial Kansas, wherein Clark defended the common ancestry of Indians, blacks, and whites. After getting clear of that, and noting how his fellow passengers had taken to pointing him out to one another, Clark spent the rest of the day in his cabin. He came out in the evening and some men tried to sweet talk him into an impromptu public lecture on his racial and political theories. Clark didn’t rise to the bait, expecting that if he had he would have found himself under arrest for inciting a slave revolt amongst the Polar Star’s stewards.

The next morning brought Clark new troubles. He gave up his seat to a lady and took a walk on deck. There he found “some twenty or thirty” discoursing about current (September, 1855) events in Kansas. Clark spoke up and they descended upon him. A man punched him in the face and a second swung into his side. The reeling reverend then took several more blows as the crowd called out for the murder of the “abolition son of a —–.”

The affray continued a few more moments. Clark

stepped back between the chimney and cabin, so as not to be favored with a dirk in my back, when the captain of the boat appeared, and, refusing to hear any explanation, ordered me to go to my state-room, and be ready to leave the boat at Providence, the next village below.

Clark would have to find some other way across half the width of Missouri to St. Louis and he would leave the Polar Star as a conspicuous antislavery man.

Nothing he could do about it. Clark went back to his cabin and seems to have remained there for some time. But he had no breakfast, having surrendered his seat to a lady, and decided he had to have some coffee.

I stepped from my stateroom to the table for a cup of coffee, where I was again assailed. An attempt was made to strike me with a chair, which I seized with my hands, and in the contest the chair was broken in pieces.

The captain intervened again, once more not accepting any explanation. He said stay in the stateroom and he meant it, end of story. Clark obliged, but considered the dangers facing him at Providence. He would arrive

with the marks of violence on my face, as slaves and their masters would be there in great numbers to ship and receive freight; and it was probable that the cry of “abolition Yankee” would follow me from the boat.

The good people of Providence lived in Boone County, which had 3,666 slaves in the 1850 census. Their owners could reasonably understand Clark as a threat and decide to take action. Clark took a powder at a woodyard ahead of Providence, absconding with valise in hand whilst the steamer took on fuel. He followed the river to a log house, where he explained himself and received a rather warmer welcome than he might have expected. He could just as well have gotten the Pardee Butler treatment.

Clark told the Herald of Freedom that he had gone about the world since his sixteenth year, mingling with “the pious and humble christian of New England to the savage Esquimaux of Labrador.” In all that time, he had

never before found a man who was so savage and brutal as to lay hands of violence on me and, what renders this case more savage, it was without any previous offence-the first blow that I received was as unexpected as a clap of thunder from a cloudless sky. But it was only the outburst of Slavery’s wrath, which had probably been gathering over my head from the moment when they found I was an Eastern man, a minister, travelling alone, and probably unarmed[…] The demons of slavery in Kansas seem to manifest more hatred toward anti-slavery ministers than any other class of men.

They feared the influence of the Gospel, Clark said. It would sway minds against slavery. Proslavery men had their own version of the Gospel that did no such thing, but slavery did require strict white solidarity to keep secure and proslavery partisans had molested ministers before. Clark raised Pardee Butler’s example by name, and also that of a Reverend Snyder, who “is tarred and feathered and rode on a rail.” To Clark, as well as the others, “they applied their soundest arguments in favor of slavery-fists, chairs, and slung shots.”

“The so called treaty amounts to nothing”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The January 29, 1856 Squatter Sovereign apologized for lacking the space to print Franklin Pierce’s third annual message, though it did run items praising the president for condemning antislavery Kansans. In the course of finding those pieces, I also came across other interesting specimens of proslavery thought in the territory at the start of 1856. At the same time as proslavery Kansans received Pierce’s message, they could read this in their newspaper:

The Herald of Freedom had lately praised Wilson Shannon. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley wanted their readers to know that Shannon hadn’t turned abolitionist on them:

it sometimes happens that when these low, mean, despicable scoundrels find that a man is incorruptible, they will endeavor to blast his character by attaching -or trying to attach- themselves to him, that he may be contaminated by their filth […] The miserable caitiffs are trying to blast the reputation of Gov. Shannon by making it appear that he is hand in glove with such wretched traitors as Lane, Brown, Robinson, and others. We can say, in good faith, to pro-slavery men every where, that Gov. Shannon made no bargain with them by which they were allowed to disregard the enactments of the Legislature

The Sovereign wouldn’t even admit that Shannon reached an accord with the free state movement, instead doubting

that the treaty as it is called, was what was actually agreed upon. The only evidence is that the freesoilers say so.

But even if an agreement did exist, Shannon had not endorsed the free state program of ignoring territorial law. And anyway, Shannon called together the proslavery army for a specific end, which they achieved:

We were ordered out by the Governor to assist the sheriff in executing legal process. The Sheriff and the Governor told us they had no further use for us, that the laws wold now be executed, and as good men we obeyed.

We, the proslavery men, had the law on our side. As law and order men, they did not stand for political hooliganism. Though they may live near a border, you would not find a ruffian among them. Pay no attention to the destroyed press, the mobbed polls, or the lynched men. You wold find the real ruffians with the antislavery sorts.

But, one might say, hadn’t Lawrence’s besiegers taken men prisoner who they later released? They had, but that could not fairly count as a concession. With the war over, the army “no longer needed or desired” them.

Nor, the Squatter Sovereign promised, would Kansas leave them on the hook for the week or more of expenses they incurred doing their duty:

as to being paid for the hay and corn used of forage, the next Legislature will make an appropriation for that, particularly as many of our own friends had to suffer in the same way -though as a general thing we desired to buy of the abolitionists, knowing that thereby we would “toll” them to the Territorial Legislature for relief. We must have an extra session for the special purpose of attending to the cries of the corn and hay robbed citizens of Douglas.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

When Stringfellow and Kelley talk about friends here, they mean more than political allies. They themselves went off to Lawrence. That they apparently engaged in a bit of plunder whilst away from home should not, of course, disqualify them from their due compensation. They stole what they liked from Douglas county as a matter of civic responsibility. By forcing antislavery Kansans to seek relief from the territorial government, they would compel their enemies to accept its authority. For that good work, they deserved the thanks of patriotic Americans everywhere. So get right on it and call the legislature into session, Governor Shannon. As Speaker of the House, John Stringfellow stood ready to do his duty yet again.

The inconclusive end of the Wakarusa War encouraged such arguments. The Missourians went home. Kelley confessed his cruel disappointment that Lawrence remained standing. The free state leadership walked free. The crisis passed, but in doing so it resolved nothing. This left the situation open to more than the usual amount of interpretation. The antislavery side declared victory, and got Shannon to endorse their militias, but he had not condemned the proslavery party or done anything against them save dispersing the force he summoned against Lawrence. Winning one battle need not win the war, particularly with the proslavery party frustrated but essentially undamaged.

“The Laws Must be Enforced”

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

The free state movement undertook a very conspicuous business. They held elections all around Kansas for their convention at Topeka. Delegates gathered and there wrote a constitution for the territory which they proposed to submit to the voters on December 15, 1855. To run the polls, they needed judges of election and clerks. To carry the returns they needed couriers. To arrange polling places they had to communicate with people in each district. All of this might sound simple and straightforward to us, looking at it from the top down, but it took a great deal of organizing. This meant free state men moving around all of Kansas, including proslavery territory. The Squatter Sovereign, John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley’s paper, noticed. Under the headline “The Law Must be Enforced”:

We see there is a determination on the part of the Abolition papers at Lawrence, and a faction who act and think with them, to resist the Laws passed by our Legislature. This state of affairs is to be regretted, and the matter should be immediately looked into. The laws must be rigidly enforced, and that immediately or else anarchy and confusion will spread over the territory.

The laws effectively forbade antislavery activity in Kansas, so naturally the Squatter Sovereign favored strict enforcement. Laws against Missourians coming to Kansas for a day to vote did not enter into it, of course. The editors declared that the free state movement proposed “bold and daring nullification”which demanded

the attention of the officers in that section of the Territory to the matter, to perform their duty. If resistance, as is threatened, is made, then let a sufficient number be summoned, though it should take every law and order man in the Territory, and the offenders be brought to justice.

On behalf of Atchison County, Stringfellow and Kelley pledge five hundred “good and true men” to the cause. If those worthies did not suffice, then the rest of Kansas would chip in as

this rebellion must and will be quashed. If blood must flow, let it run freely. Let each individual proselite of the higher law doctrine, be singled out and brought to trial where justice will be done, though Heaven and the Union should fall.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Immediately following the Squatter Sovereign’s bold pledge of lives, it reported “Another Outrage”. A free soiler had come around posting notices of the free soil elections on October 9. This miscreant

insulted our citizens by attempting to put up some of the aforesaid bills in this place. He was “caught in the act” and a large roll of his contraband goods taken from him and burned before his eyes. It was with the greatest difficulty that some of our citizens were prevented from hanging the culprit; but he was permitted to return after denying any knowledge of the contents of the bills and promising to “sin no more.”

Given how the citizens of Atchison treated Pardee Butler back in August, the paper likely didn’t exaggerate their fury. The messenger, the Sovereign continues, chose to depart Kansas at once and by the most direct route instead of hazarding “himself in the hands of the indignant Squatters of Kansas.”

The Blue Lodges, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Part One

W.P. Richardson stonewalled the Howard Committee when asked about the proslavery secret societies who had invaded Kansas, stolen its elections, used their ill-gotten majorities to pass tyrannical laws, and thus driven many Kansans into the arms of the free state movement. Other witnesses did better, though J.C. Prince confessed that he

should not like to tell all I know about this society, because I think it would result to me injury; and that is one reason, though not the only one, why I dislike to answer in relation to the matter. One other reason is, that the members of the society take oaths to keep secrets those matters.

Nineteenth century Americans placed more stock in oaths than we do, so we should not entirely dismiss Prince’s reference to keeping his word. He said he would and doing so may have genuinely meant a great deal to him. But nor should we discount the potential threat to his person. He spoke, after all, of men who stood ready to prosecute their case with cannons. They ran Frederick Starr out of Missouri and destroyed George Park’s printing press. In Kansas, they had seized Pardee Butler, tarred and feathered William Phillips, and apparently terrorized Lawrence sufficiently that the free state men got together for mutual defense. Prince didn’t have to wonder if they’d back violent threats with violent deeds; he knew it for a fact. Men like Robert Kelley and John and Benjamin Stringfellow, to say nothing of David Rice Atchison, meant business.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

But all the same, Prince would testify some of what he knew:

I know that there was a secret society in Missouri. I knew it in the fall of 1854; but I do not know whether it exists now [May, 1856] or not. I think of the party who went to Fort Scott in November, 1854, to vote, some ten or fifteen were members of this society, perhaps all, for aught I know. The society is a pro-slavery society, and the object is to get none but pro-slavery men into office; and, I suppose, it had reference to making Kansas a slave State. They had signs and pass-words, or something similar, by which we would know each other to be members of that society. The members of this society take an oath when they join the society, administered by one of the officers of the society. The subject of the oath is to keep secret the proceedings of the society, and make Kansas a slave State, the best way they can.

The free soil men of Kansas may not have required the illustrative example of their opponents when organizing their own groups, but if they did then they clearly had it. However, this tells us not much more than we could have gathered from reading eyewitness testimony of the election stealing or Negro-Slavery, No Evil. More interesting, Prince testifies to the scope of the Blue Lodges:

I do not know that this pro-slavery society exists in any State but Missouri; and I do not recollect that I have ever heard. I have understood that the society existed pretty generally in Missouri, though I think it has pretty much died away now. […] I do not know that they ever raised any money, or paid any expenses for that purpose, or ever sent out any communications for the purpose of getting up votes here. They discussed in the lodges the question of sending voters here to make Kansas a slave State. I do not know, of my own knowledge, of how many belonged to the society in Missouri, but I have heard the number, though I do not now recollect it, though it was a very large number.

Prince’s hemming and hawing comes right before he invokes the danger to himself. I get the impression that he remembered rather more than he let on. He alternates between making a claim and swiftly walking it back. He remembers that a large number of people belonged to the group, but can’t say how many. He thinks the society existed and operated, but also that it no longer does. He knows they went to Kansas, but can’t testify that they received payment for it. Whether the Blue Lodges had died away by spring of 1856 or not, Prince still feared them if he said too much.

The Squatter Sovereign on the Laws of Kansas, Part One

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

The Squatter Sovereign apparently did not feel that the Big Springs convention deserved any response except some threats directed at Andrew Reeder and his supporters. Robert S. Kelley, or his partner John Stringfellow, took another few swipes at Reeder in an article covering Governor Shannon’s late doings and the race for delegate to Congress. They griped about the temerity of calling for an election on a date not authorized by the legislature. They speculated that this separate election constituted the Plan B for the free soilers: either they would appear to yield the field and invite proslavery candidates to split the vote in advance of storming the election and making Reeder the delegate from Kansas, or they would use the later election where he would run unopposed as a fallback. I suspect this gives the antislavery men more credit than they deserve. The rich irony of the proslavery party complaining about potential trickery at elections passed, naturally, unmarked in the pages of the Squatter Sovereign.

But while looking for something more on those lines, I came across a piece worth more attention. In an editorial signed “S,” John Stringfellow, or someone writing in his name, addressed comments from Missouri. Apparently some of the papers in the Show Me State had strange ideas about what Stringfellow and company had done at Shawnee Mission. The Speaker of the House set them straight:

we did not pass any law exempting negroes from sale under execution. -A bill was introduced into the lower house, of that character but it met with no favor, and after it was amended, so as only to exempt household slaves, it received but four votes.

If I have read that right, some Missourians thought that the proslavery legislature passed a law prohibiting the sale of slaves under penalty of death. This rather beggars belief, but it might speak to just how vulnerable Missourians thought their slave property to internal subversion. They couldn’t even trust reliable proslavery men to stand up for the institution, or so they imagined.

Nor did they legislate

preventing free negroes and mulattoes from emigrating to the Territory, though I think from the feeling amongst all parties here, they will meet with but poor encouragement to come.


permitting negroes to testify against white persons

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Those charges came from the abolitionist press and good Missourians should ignore them. But the Assembly of Kansas very much did

pass a law for the encouragement of Abolition emigration from the Territory. -Amongst other provisions, is one providing against the utterance of the opinion that slaves cannot be legally held in bondage in the Territory.

See, proslavery Missourians? The proslavery Kansans have your back, as well they should considering most of them had occupied the latter category all of two years prior. They fought not just for slavery in Kansas, but for its salvation in western Missouri and, more generally, it’s future in the Union as a whole.

The Squatter Sovereign on Big Springs

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Through their various enactments, the purged, proslavery legislature of Kansas used its ill-gotten power to protect slavery so thoroughly that it drove a fair number of Kansans not just over to the free soil cause, but all the way into alignment with the Lawrence radicals. The various acts of freelance violence in the service of slavery could only have aided in reaching that outcome, but each carried with it at least some deniability. One couldn’t plausibly put any daylight at all between the acts of the party’s elected leaders and the acts of the party. Proslavery men, from Missouri or otherwise, had chosen those people to lead them. They carried at least some moral responsibility for what their leaders did, especially given that they demonstrated no particular interest in replacing them. Thus the Big Springs Convention came down firmly in favor of ignoring the Assembly of Kansas, rejecting its laws, and ultimately setting up its own government.

After spending so much time on the antislavery side, especially in the context of its reaction to proslavery advances, it only makes sense to go back and see how the proslavery side saw recent events. I went into the Squatter Sovereign archives and found the issue immediately after Big Springs. Robert S. Kelley and John Stringfellow did not treat readers to a lengthy excoriation of the affair, but they did have something to say about the free state party’s embrace of Andrew Reeder for Congress:

We have just learned that the personage above named, has been nominated at Big Spring for Congress, and that his election is to come off in November.

Why did the date matter so much? The Kansas legislature had set the date for the delegate election to early October. John Whitfield again stood for the proslavery party. By setting a different time for the election, the free state men further rejected the authority of the legislature:

This is but a parcel of the treasonable conduct of that faction, who with Reeder at their head, have declared open hostility to the laws of the Territory.

With the exception of the notion that Reeder led the free state movement, one can’t really argue with any of that. Setting up a rival government certainly sounds like insurrection to me, even if it comes in service to a cause to which few of us would object.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Stringfellow and Kelley went on to condemn Reeder, who they would only call “the gentleman” in the article’s text, for persisting in his past “folly” and seeking more, in hopes that “there is only a step from the sublime to the rediculous”. The Squatter Sovereign averred that Reeder might “almost” reach the line. He could hardly cross it, after all. But since the Pennsylvanian had committed himself:

We advise the poor idiot to give us a “wide berth,” or he may find himself following in the wake of the hero martyr, Pardee Butler.

This from the same paper that carefully omitted reference to its editor’s role as a ringleader in the mob that took Butler all of a month before. The article doesn’t name Kelley as a perpetrator still, but he clearly intends that the reader know exactly who did what.

Big Springs Resolutions, Part Three

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Big Springs Convention Proceedings: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Resolutions: parts 1, 2

When we imagines an antislavery group, we naturally fancy them racial egalitarians concerned with the horrific costs of slavery to the slaves. We expect Americans to preach racial egalitarianism, if only on the most superficial level. Our practice could still use much work. But people in the nineteenth century, though like us in many ways, did not live in our world and imbibe our norms. What we see as their shortcomings did not appear as such to most Kansans of the time. We might expect them to best approximate our sentiments when speaking of slavery itself, within the bounds of Kansas. Here they had good reason to launch a full-bore assault on the peculiar institution. Jim Lane’s platform does just that, in a way:

our true interests, socially, morally, and pecuniary, require that Kansas should be a free state; that free labor will best promote the happiness, the rapid population, the prosperity and wealth off our people; that slave labor is a curse to the master and the community, if not to the slave; that our country is unsuited to it; and that we will devote our energies as a party to exclude the institution and to secure for Kansas the constitution of a free state.

While Lane does make a moral condemnation of slavery, he specifically calls it a scourge upon only the master and the white community. It might, in fact, work out very well for the slaves. Maybe they need that kind of management and cannot prosper without it. This echoes proslavery writers who preached the virtues that slavery taught to the enslaved. They learned true white religion and true white civilization under the master’s lash. If that took a few stripes, then so it goes. Not blessed with the faculties granted to those who wisely chose white skin at their births, the slave required harsher tutelage. Even that would never make a slave into the equal of a white man, but slaves would realize a vast improvement all the same. That the slaves disagreed and resisted with slow work, broken tools, deliberately misunderstood instructions, by stealing themselves, and on occasion by outright violence did not enter into it. They just didn’t want to take their medicine. Resistance to brutality thus legitimated further brutality.

Peter from Louisiana

Peter from Louisiana

But Lane’s brief critique does have an element of truth to it. This comes not in the claims about Kansas’ suitability to slavery, as adjacent Missouri did just fine, nor in slavery’s economic backwardness. While generations of historians took that for granted, more recent studies have shown that slavery remained a tremendous fountain of stolen wealth for its practitioners. Consider instead the effect of habitual brutality upon other people. Every whipped slave requires a hand on the lash. If you see a person whipped for disobedience every day, if terrorizing people into compliance forms part of your daily experience, to some degree you internalize these things. As social animals, we pick up our norms from watching others. You get used to it. To minimize the stress of seeing it, you find ways to dull your natural empathy. You make excuses. You decide that you can’t do anything. We do not have it in us to begin the world anew. Participating yourself simply makes it imperative that you convince yourself of the necessity, even righteousness, of the violence much faster.

In a slave society, one grows up around this. The model of authority one imbibes must incorporate, to some degree, the use of brutal violence to secure compliance and demonstrate dominance. Not everybody will yield to these social pressure, but most people will. If they did not, a slave society could never develop in the first place. By learning how to manage slaves with violence and terror, one adopts a model that knows no color line. Violence against slaves receives its rationalization in necessity. They just have to learn that way, or horrors ensue. With that belief internalized what stops a person from applying the same methods to a white body that presents a challenge to slavery and so invokes the same potential horrors?

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Nobody proposed selling Charles Robinson’s children, but his invocation of the slavery of whites has a grain of truth in it. Means of social control developed to preserve slavery would inevitably see use against whites who threatened the institution. They already had. When Robert S. Kelley came calling on Pardee Butler, he wanted Butler to endorse the whipping of a white man who questioned slavery. That level of abuse paled in comparison to what slaves endured daily, but it did pose a real threat to white Kansans. Any one of them gathered might become as the next Butler, or worse.

Kelley vs. the Herald of Freedom, Part Three

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Parts 1 and 2

Pursuant to the new laws passed by the proslavery Assembly of Kansas, Robert S. Kelley, Atchison postmaster, editor of the proslavery Squatter Sovereign, and business partner of Kansas Speaker of the House John H. Stringfellow, refused to distribute copies of George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom. He sent them back, save for a few kept as evidence, with a note asking Brown to keep his “rotten and corrupt effusions” to himself. He most likely also marked them up in various ways that he denied in his letter.

Brown took to the pages of his paper to express his outrage at the interference in the mail and, not incidentally, his business. He asked for help from outside Kansas to continue the antislavery fight. Along the way, he also thanked Kelley for paying his newspaper the compliment of declaring it a dire threat to slavery.

The fact remained, however, that Kelley had interfered with the United States mail. While such interference could and did happen frequently in the South, Brown and other antislavery Kansans did not care to yet concede that Kansas belonged in that section. Thus he reached out to the Postmaster-General James Campbell, to whom Brown

submitted Mr. Kelley’s letter, also the inscription on the wrapper of the returned papers, and the paper itself. […] If he allows his officials to decide what matter is “incendiary,” there is an end to the freedom of the press in Kansas if not America.

By this point, Brown can’t have expected much of the Pierce administration. Still, one should follow the proper forms so others could not find fault in neglecting to do so. Making the protest showed that Brown really did care enough to make a case of it and demonstrated that he sought redress within the bounds of law. Kelley could hardly claim the same.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

More than freedom of the press hung in the balance. Sending the papers through the mail meant sending them to a named person who could himself be liable for prosecution under the same law as Brown or subject to the kind of informal “justice” that Kelley had doled out to Pardee Butler the month prior. Even keeping the mail a secret between sender, receiver, and postmaster still left Kelley in the loop. This prospect could hardly delight anybody who preferred to avoid visits by armed and unfriendly men.

At this point, it had to seem like the proslavery men had every advantage. They controlled the legislature. They had essentially outlawed antislavery politics. Pursuant to those laws, the territory’s leading antislavery paper could not longer reach at least part of the state where it once had. A new, avowedly proslavery governor presided over Kansas. Proslavery men could burn down houses, tar and feather, whip, and run out of Kansas any antislavery man in their reach. But whatever good cause Kelley, the Stringfellows, and others had to gloat in the fall of 1855 they had not yet carried the territory. The resort to extrajudicial defense of slavery speaks to a fundamental insecurity, at least in the minds of the mob. They might control the legal levers of power, but they did not enjoy the kind of solidarity that they might in a more consolidated slave state. They had yet to persuade or terrorize the free soilers into yielding the territory.