The End of the Leavenworth Territorial Register, Part One

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

I must begin with a minor correction, Gentle Readers. I previously put Mark Delahay’s nomination by the free state party for delegate to Congress at December 15, the day that the mob at Leavenworth seized the polls and menaced his newspaper. The nominating convention actually took place on December 22.

Speaking of that convention, Delahay attended it as he had previous free state conventions. That put him in Lawrence on the twenty-second. The proslavery men took notice, as George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom reported on December 29. Threats spared the Register once, but

the Platte County Regulators had determined that it should go the way of the Luminary ere long.

B.F. Stringfellow and company earned themselves a checkered past already by this point and they did live just across the river from Leavenworth. More likely than not, members of the organization played a part in the mob action on the fifteenth. With Delahay and other “leading Free State men of Leavenworth” away they saw their opportunity:

an armed and regularly organized company of fifty men, chiefly from Missouri, led by G.W. Perkins, Dr. Royall, Capt. Dunn and James Lyle marched down from Kickapoo, broke open the Register office, destroyed the press and threw it, with all type, into the Missouri river.

Dunn and Lyle have appeared in the narrative before. Lyle participated in the lynching of the less famous William Phillips. Dunn, of course, stormed the polls. I don’t recognize Perkins or Royall, but Brown helpfully identifies them as, like Dunn and Lyle, late of the army that besieged Lawrence. They had further distinctions as well:

Perkins was the candidate of the “National Democracy” for Congress; and the Territorial Register advocated his election. “Oh! shame! where is thy blush?” Dr. Royall was a delegate to the pro-slavery “law and order” Convention. Dunn is an Irish renegade. Sprung from a class and race who are opposed and despised at home, he was endowed with all the glorious rights of American citizenship, only to aid in undermining the principles on which our republican government is founded. Lyle was the clerk of the House of Representatives of the bogus Kansas Legislature […] Such are the leaders of the pro-slavery “law and order” party.

One just can’t imagine how the Whigs and Republicans lost the Irish vote so badly. Brown sounds at least as scandalized by Dunn’s Irish background as by his proslavery violence.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Register’s endorsement of Perkins makes for rich irony. Brown must have relished the chance to strike at proslavery violence and the right wing of his own movement, which Delahay represented. His clear satisfaction shouldn’t obscure the broader picture, though. Proslavery men didn’t attack just a radical paper like the Herald of Freedom, but even a very moderate antislavery organ:

It certainly could not be charged with “Abolitionism” as attachment to Northern ideas is styled; for it advocated the principles of the Nebraska bill; it lauded the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; it was the organ and defender of Stephen A. Douglas; it advised, from first to last, the obedience to the laws of the barons of Kansas; it was in favor of the execution of the fugitive slave bill and abhorred the higher law; its editor repeatedly and publicly declared “he had as lief buy a negro as a mule;” and regarded the question of slavery or freedom merely as “a question of dollars and cents.”

All of this held true until “within the last month,” to the point that the Register had the approval of the Democracy’s national newspaper, the Washington Union.

The Herald of Freedom on Emigrant Aid, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The November 17 Herald of Freedom continues to provide fascinating reading. When George Washington Brown admits it burst at the seams, he didn’t exaggerate. He found room for three separate one paragraph pieces to thank various people for for sending him potatoes, a slice of venison, and honey even in the face of such noisome and far less interesting news about political killings, secret military parties, and the Kickapoo Pioneer’s despairing at Kansas future. Today, I struggle against the powerful urge to talk about the potatoes and honey. Less sensational matters beckon.

All the way back to Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil, Missourians framed their response to the threat of a free Kansas as one against mercenaries, hirelings, and paupers sent to Kansas to do the bidding of the Emigrant Aid Societies. Eli Thayer didn’t want to contest Kansas fair and square, but aimed to cheat. He and his New England money would buy Kansas for freedom, hedging out poor, decent Missouri men who had every right to the territory. One need not prefer slavery to freedom to understand that complaint. Brown answered it on the same page as a profile of Thayer, complete with an engraving of the man himself.

The paupers who so outraged Missouri had, in their destitution, spent at least million dollars. That sum, which Brown considered “a low estimate”, went entirely to western Missouri:

This money has been expended for provisions, cattle and horses, for labor with teams, &c., and has become the circulating medium along the border, and passed from hand to hand, adding wealth to every person who has had the handling of it. Whilst the commercial cities, and in fact all parts of our extended country, have felt the pressure of the money market, times have been comparatively easy in Western Missouri. Provisions have commanded double the price ever known before, and a home cash market has been found for everything produced.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Brown might have blustered his way through all that. The number could come from nothing more than the south end of a northbound newspaper man. But one can’t argue with the basic fact that merchants on the Missouri border stood to do very well from emigrants passing through. Anything going into Kansas had to go through their lands and those who reached Kansas would find themselves at least somewhat dependent on Missouri’s vendors for the near future. Stringfellow foresaw that threat:

It seemed as if Weston were about to become the head-quarters of their operations. It was feared, and subsequent events have vindicated, that our fear was not without foundation, that among our traders and merchants there where those who at heart were against us; others who loved money so much more than their country, they would, for the gain from the abolition trade, encourage them to come among us.

The love of money truly forms the root of all evils. George Brown knew and bragged about it. That million dollars didn’t fall out of the sky, so if the “intelligent” man reading his paper could “divest his mind of party prejudice, he will thank heaven for so pleasant a result.” But intelligence seemed in short supply in Missouri:

while the facts exist, and are obvious to the casual observer, and the treasures are literally rolling into the laps of our neighbors, they are stigmatizing the people of Kansas-those who have saved them from bankruptcy during the general crash-with being “paupers, and the filth and scum of the eastern cities.”

Their papers had misled them by painting Eastern emigrants to Kansas in such colors, but couldn’t the people of Missouri see the color of their gold? Did paupers go around “jingling in their pockets” such riches? The nation’s richest poor people had come to Kansas to the tune of thirty-five to forty thousand, and Brown claimed another thousand a day. The 1860 census counted 107,206 in Kansas all of five years later, so Brown might have roughly the correct number. Could Missouri afford to keep slandering so many well-off customers? If antislavery neighbors rankled and giving up the cause meant denying oneself the pleasures of slandering Yankees, then as compensation for those pains one could take full pockets.


Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

Leavenworth, just across the river from Platte County, had the population to make a county seat. While its proslavery men mobbed William Phillips back in the spring, they lacked the power to control the town. Thus Leavenworth became, in the minds of proslavery men across the river, “an abolition hole.” Such a place could not serve as county seat. That would naturally put the county officials to some degree under antislavery influence. Many in Missouri also had investments land around Kickapoo and Delaware, Leavenworth’s rivals. Putting the county seat elsewhere would thus both frustrate antislavery Kansans and prove personally lucrative. The Missourians knew their business and got to it. William Phillips recounts that

Leavenworth polled some five or six hundred votes, which I suppose the town and county adjacent could do at that time. Between Kickapoo and Weston the steam-ferry ran free all day. Missourians poured over as they had done at former elections, being naturalized in the ferry-boat by a ceremony in which whiskey, bread and cheese, figured extensively. Kickapoo, which might have been able to poll one hundred and fifty votes, rolled up eight hundred for the county seat.

The vote stands at five to six hundred for Leavenworth. Kickapoo has eight hundred. That left Delaware, where Phillips opined “scarcely anything” stood.

At Delaware, also, they attended to their interests. A steamer was chartered to run between Delaware and any point on the other side where there were votes. Public sentiment was aroused by a band of music, free whiskey, and other edibles, and kept aroused by objurgations on the “d—d abolitionists of Leavenworth!” Delaware struck out a new feature of electioneering. Instead of being satisfied with one day’s voting, they kept their polls open and the boat running until they had time to ascertain how many votes had been polled at Kickapoo, and also as much longer as it required to make up a larger vote. By the evening of the third day they had obtained nearly nine hundred (they could not have thrown more than fifty legal votes); so the polls closed in triumph.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

At some point the assault on democracy turns over into farce. Delaware’s returns asked too much. On receipt of the returns, “the first authority” named Kickapoo the winner and condemned Delaware’s three days of polling as “unheard of irregularity”. Phillips doesn’t name that authority, but he must mean the territorial government. Leavenworth acknowledged it and so would have conducted an election under its auspices. Likewise Kickapoo and Delaware, both solidly proslavery, had no reason to do otherwise. But by refusing to name it he can deny the government some measure of legitimacy and at least partially dodge questions about why he simultaneously held the body as illegitimate and cited its authority on the election returns.

By this point, early October, the legislature had adjourned. Phillips thus couldn’t damn them for accepting Kickapoo as the county seat. However, Wilson Shannon’s territorial executive recognized and cooperated with the legislature just as Andrew Reeder’s had. To endorse them would have undermined Phillips’ position and, in a work written in 1856, might yet do harm to the free state cause in general. The same sort of consideration went into how the Lincoln administration referred to and dealt with the Confederacy.

Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part One

William Phillips

William Phillips

The proslavery friends of law and order had their preliminary meeting at Leavenworth on October 3, 1855. That city occupied an odd place in Kansas politics. According to William Phillips’ The Conquest of Kansas, the people of Leavenworth largely preferred the free state party. However, the city also accepted the rule of the territorial legislature, laws and all, in order to enjoy a charter from the Kansas Assembly. Phillips relates that this position arose “partly by business considerations, and partly by timidity.” This may have made it the ideal place for a notionally slavery-agnostic movement that opposed the free state men to gather. It also made the city into a target for proslavery men who had less tolerance for the soft sell.

The Assembly failed to name the seats of each county in Kansas, which left some of them up to the citizens to decide. The men of the county went to the polls on the subject in early October:

Three points contended for the honor. Leavenworth, the largest, and now the largest city in the territory, felt sure of it; so sure that no very special effort was made. Kickapoo was another contestant. Kickapoo is a river town, being some ten miles up the Missouri river from Leavenworth. It is a cotton-wood town of the “great futurity” school, and does a heavy business in the whiskey-retailing line. The other point, Delaware, is also a river town, eight miles below. This latter place has an admirable faculty for making a great place, there being scarcely anything of it now.

Kickapoo had a strong proslavery contingent, which prevented the free state delegate election polls from operating. I’ve also seen references to a proslavery militia called the Kickapoo Rangers. It had to look like a better prospect for county seat than the questionable Leavenworth, even if the latter sat just across the river from Platte County and had proslavery men committed enough to lynch William Phillips and brag about it back in the spring. As Phillips had it:

Previous elections had taught them a lesson, and furnished a valuable precedent. Western Missouri is just over the river from Kickapoo, and many of the citizens of the former place have an interest in the latter. So it is with Delaware; many of the most deeply interested speculators in this yet-to-be-Babylon live in Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri. Under these circumstances it is not wonderful that it was not difficult to arouse an interest in this election in Missouri. Another thing against Leavenworth-it was reputed to be an “abolition hole.”

All of this reminds me a bit of the argument in John McNamara’s account of Phillips’ mobbing. He argued that the papers in Missouri condemned Leavenworth as soft on slavery and the town’s proslavery men took Phillips on in part to prove them wrong. Leavenworth’s business-minded timidity on slavery could come across, especially from Missouri, as simultaneously making it a threat and a good place to win an easy victory. Add into this the issue of Missouri men having considerable money invested in its much smaller population -Phillips insists that Kickapoo and Delaware added together and doubled wouldn’t have matched Leavenworth’s numbers- and one has a convenient and relatively compelling case to steal yet another election.

The Blue Lodges, Part Five

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Jordan Davidson told the Howard Committee, with a bit of pride, that the members of the proslavery Blue Lodges had done right and, they believed, lawfully in coming over and voting in Kansas’ elections. He further had a rather different view of the organizations than did either people in Kansas or other members. Davidson insisted that the men of the lodges swore an oath against the use of violence. This might come down to his lack of scrupulous attendance. If he missed as many meetings as he suggested, then Davidson saw very little of his fellow proslavery men in action. Alternatively, the lodge members could have sworn that oath and broken it. They might have claimed the same kind of abstract self-defense that justified defiance of law in Benjamin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil:

The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin. To induce a slave to escape, involves not merely to the master the loss of that slave, of that amount of property; but it brings in its train far more serious consequences. Other slaves are thereby induced to make like attempts; a hatred for their masters, whom they begin to regard as their oppressors, is thus begotten; and this, too, often is followed by arson and murder.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

While we can’t say that Stringfellow spoke for Davidson’s Pleasant Hill lodge officially, as he had for the Platte County Self-Defense Association, both the similarity of the two groups in politics and the general tenor of the proslavery movement argue that they had similar ideas. With that in mind, Davidson and others could swear themselves to obedience to the law and restraint from violence but then defy the law and resort to violence. They could, in words they would not have much appreciated, have cited a Higher Law.

That higher law might have come into play within the group as well. J.C. Prince testified that he feared for his safety if he told the Howard Committee all he knew about the Blue Lodges. Davidson testified to an oath against telling the group’s secrets:

The penalty for violating the rules and secrets of the order was all the honor a man had. A man, by violating the secrets and rules of the order, was liable to stand in society beneath the dignity of a gentleman, but to no personal injury, except as they might take a notion to inflict it. There was nothing said in the oath or forms of the society about inflicting personal harm upon delinquent members.

One can read that either as further to the effect that the lodges demanded no violence of their members or that they demanded no violence officially. Davidson says only that the oath and forms did not require violent retaliation, not that it never happened or that the group’s bylaws forbade them. He carefully outsourced any violence that might come to the unspecified, general society rather than to the particular society in question. This distinction might have cleared his conscience or proved useful in a court of law, but could end in broken bodies and stolen lives all the same.

The Blue Lodges, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3

W.P. Richardson would only tell the Howard Committee that he would not tell them about the Blue Lodges that plotted to control the future of Kansas. J.C. Prince told some, but admitted he would not tell all he knew because he had sworn otherwise and feared retaliation. John Stringfellow, clearly proud of the lodges’ work, told the committee all manner of things that everybody who lived in Kansas or Missouri could have seen for themselves. He went on, however, to deny much logistical coordination between the lodges. The committee’s remaining witness on the issue continued in much the same vein.

Jordan Davidson testified that

There is a secret society in the State of Missouri, for the purpose of introducing slavery into Kansas Territory. The proper name of the society, as recognized by its own members, is “Social Band,” “Friend’s Society,” and by some the “Blue Lodge” and “The Sons of the South.”

Davidson had never seen any written bylaws of the group to say that it had a single official name. Nor, he admitted, did he often attend meetings. He had too much work to do in the day and wanted rest too much at night to put on regular appearances. But he felt confident to speak to the group’s general nature, goals, and activities. Specifically:

The order compelled no man to come into this Territory and vote.

But the order did go over and vote. When asked directly of the Blue Lodge served as a way to organize men for election stealing, Davidson agreed almost without qualifier:

The greatest weight it had was in this way, for protection when we did get here; that when we got into a scrape we should not fall foul of each other. The friends of the society were friends to slavery in the south, and to extend it here if we could do it by lawful means.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Lawful means concern Davidson repeatedly in his testimony. He declares the lodges “governed by law,” indulging in “no compulsion beyond the law” and saw “nothing in it contrary to the law”. Davidson

never heard any of the leaders of the invasion of the 30th of March say it was illegal to come over here and vote. I heard an investigation of that matter in the lodge. One of the members asked how they could come here and vote lawfully, if they were objected to as not citizens of the Territory. The answer was to squeeze it in somehow, and if we could not get to vote, there was no violence to be used.

All of that sounds like protesting a bit too much. Davidson declares that he himself viewed voting in Kansas as right by the law, but even if we take that at face value then others in his lodge had their doubts. Otherwise, why would they require a discussion? Why admit that if challenged, they should find some way to “squeeze” the votes regardless? Some of that can come down to an assertion that Kansan voting scruples simply must yield to Missourian. Then a Missourian need not accept the legitimacy of examining his credentials. He might even feel free to simply lie.

Davidson further testified

Some of the wisest of our party, I suppose, did not fully believe that voting here was lawful, but they contended that it was right as there were a good many others coming here to vote; I considered it right myself, and came here of my own accord.

What we consider right often differs from what we find lawful. In such cases, we generally think it right to ignore the law. The border ruffians did the same. Davidson agreed with them and came of his own free will. But his invocation of right here, in light of his repeated insistence on the lawfulness of election stealing, suggests that he meant more than that he came to Kansas and did what he thought right. One must remember that Davidson testified under oath before a committee of the House of Representatives. The “here” to which he came meant Kansas, but not just on the occasion of the election. He came back to testify, apparently without a summons, and with a clear conscience. His testimony thus has an air of defiance to it: He came and told what he knew, as he liked, with pride. By implication, Davidson dared them to do something about it.

The Blue Lodges, Part Three

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Parts 1 and 2

W.P. Richardson stonewalled when asked about the Blue Lodges. J.C. Prince told some, including that he feared to tell all, but spent much of his testimony making a claim and then qualifying it back nearly to oblivion. Several of his statements read as denials that he hoped the Howard Committee would understand as stating the opposite. John Stringfellow, his proslavery bona fides unassailable, testified at greater length. He began by rehearsing the claim that his brother made all the way back in Negro-Slavery, No Evil that the free soilers started the whole mess by organizing the Emigrant Aid Society. Before that, thanks to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, all expected that Kansas would come into the Union as a slave state.

That proslavery men held this story as orthodox dogma does not mean that they lacked facts on their side. It had always taken affirmative legislation to bar slavery from entering territories. The absence of restriction ensured a future presence all the way back to the Southwest Ordinance that created Tennessee. If popular sovereignty meant, rhetorically, letting the people decide then those who defended it as such had very good reason to know just how the people would decide. Territorial settlement operated on the de facto principle of slavery national and freedom sectional.

Emigrant Aid meant cheating to proslavery Missourians, who then resolved that they would lose Kansas if they stood idle. With the business couched in defensive terms, Stringfellow dated the founding of the Blue Lodges to October, 1854. He might have believed all that himself, though I’ve seen references to Blue Lodges forming in the summer of 1854 and it seems likely that he knew what his brother spent the summer occupied with, but he went on to argue

The members of these societies knew each other, and in public and private pledged to use all honorable means to make Kansas a slave State. They raised no more money than for the incidental expenses of their meetings. The condition of affairs of Kansas were discussed in these meetings. We consulted and talked about the mode of carrying out our object, which was by voluntary emigration. With respect to the then approaching elections means were taken to prevent underhanded advantages, which we feared would be taken to control the elections in favor of the free State party. Part of the means taken was to come into the Territory from Missouri to prevent or counteract illegal voting on the part of hired voters from the east and other free States.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

These honorable means included carting cannons over the border, attacking polling places, shooting guns at suspected free soil voters, and hiring their own voters, facts that the Committee knew from other witnesses. One could consider paying border ruffians an incidental meeting expense, but it seems much more likely that Stringfellow intended himself understood as denying that any payment for border ruffian activities took place.

Stringfellow testified that the societies, while mostly a Missourian phenomenon, extended into Kansas “to a limited extent”

they were united associations, with officers, and they communicate with other societies through their officers. The design was to direct or advise rather than to assist persons where to settle in the Territory.

Thus the word could get around about where proslavery men had best go to find friends, or needed to go to carry precincts. So things remained until the March elections. Since then

public organizations or aid societies have been formed all through the slave States, so far as I can learn, to enable settlers favorable to the institution of slavery to reach the Territory without assuming any control over their acts after they get here. Several gentlemen have left the Territory and the border of Missouri since March election in 1855, and visited the slaveholding States and addressed the people, urging the importance pecuniarily and publicly of a proslavery emigration to Kansas Territory.

Those organizations did their work well enough, Stringfellow said. He pointed to increased southern emigration in the spring of 1856 as proof, but he put it down

more to the general belief in the importance of such emigration rather than to the societies or Missourians.

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.

Jumping the Governor

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Andrew Reeder faced unfriendly crowds on his way back from Washington to Kansas. One man told him of a denizen of Weston, Missouri, who promised to get together a mob and scour Kansas for the governor, fit him with a noose, and gainfully employ the nearest tree. Reeder answered back that he’d happily shoot dead any such man, even if he hanged moments later, but would not let such threats intimidate him. One resident of Weston, site of William Phillips’ lynching  (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and home to the Platte County Self-Defense Association, had a bit more in mind than threats.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, of the Self-Defensives, authored its manifesto (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Therein he described the dire threat that antislavery men presented to Missouri:

The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin.

Give slaves ideas about freedom and they make the incredible discovery that they dislike slavery. This would sunder the bonds of affection between them and their loving masters, they of the bountiful whips that always engender the dearest feelings. Racial annihilation would accompany financial ruin. Such threats required determined men to meet them head on:

the right of self-defence requires that we should resort to the strong hand for self-protection. We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

The sight of Andrew Reeder, still the governor and returning to Kansas to make yet more trouble, passing through Weston proved too much for Stringfellow to bear. He marched up to Reeder and demanded

an explanation of remarks which were represented as made by him at Easton, Pa., during his late eastern tour, and whether he had ever remarked that the conduct of the border Missourians was ruffianly, &c., and whether he -Gen. Stringfellow- was embraced under that expression.

Yes and yes. A challenge like this often meant a duel in the future. Admitting to the charge almost invited one. Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era reports that Stringfellow sought his satisfaction. Reeder, “sitting in a recumbent posture” per the Herald of Freedom, declined.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Furthermore, he

gave his private opinion that Stringfellow was responsible for the excitement along the border, and that it would never have existed if not for the course pursued by him in the agitating the public mind.

If Stringfellow could not have a duel, he could at least have a fight. He

approached him [Reeder] and struck him over the head, knocking him, with the chair on which he sat, to the floor, and, according to his own version of the affair, kicked him when down.

Etcheson, with access to sources I lack, fleshes out the story more than the newspaper did:

Stringfellow leapt on him, knocking him from his chair. Reeder went down with Stringfellow on top, but managed to free himself. Both men drew pistols. Hearing the fight, other territorial officials entered the room and restrained Stringfellow.

The Herald of Freedom reports that Reeder came out of this with a “scratched or bruised” face. If Reeder needed another reason to locate the legislature at Pawnee, aside his hopes to get rich and a general desire to keep business untroubled by Missourian meddling, Stringfellow had just given it to him. While proslavery men had abused private citizens and attacked judges of election, they had never before turned their spoken threats of violence against the governor into action. By attacking a legitimate authority holding a presidential appointment they went a step closer to outright insurrection.

The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1 and 2

The proslavery majority of the Kansas Assembly purged itself of all its antislavery members save one, replacing them with men all right on the hemp and sound on the goose. Whatever faint hope Andrew Reeder had that they would set aside the vexing slavery question and instead join together with him to get rich off the lands around Pawnee came to nothing. They wanted to consolidate their victory and further secure Kansas for slavery, not waste it scheming with the governor over deeply questionable investments in a capital they didn’t want. Given how much they loathed him, Reeder can’t have felt much shock at the discovery.

In their own minds, the proslavery men had beaten Andrew Reeder in the March elections. They beat him again when they tossed out the results of the special elections he called in May. They could very well keep on beating him until he gave up or bled out. I planned to deal with these later, under the mistaken impression that a key incident took place after the legislature convened. Research today set me straight, so we must back up a few days and depart from the legislature’s dealings for the moment. I think it best to take these things in their chronological context, or as closely as reasonable.

Andrew Reeder came back to Kansas at the end of June, 1855. The June 30 Herald of Freedom reported that news of Reeder’s approach ran ahead of him and many crowds met his steamer as it went up the Missouri. Everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of the Pennsylvania lawyer. Some also wanted to have words:

He was several times rudely assailed by his enemies, but the Governor showed much coolness in warding off their wordy thrusts.

Or more than words:

On one occasion a gentleman approached Gov. R., and said he heard a friend at Weston, Mo., remark that if Gov. Reeder returned to the Territory he would gather up a company of men, ten thousand of necessary, and search every part of the Territory, if need be, to find and hang him.

Reeder thanked the man for his information and had kind words to say in return:

Tell your friend that whether he comes at the head of ten hundred or ten thousand men, it will make no difference; I shall never be mobbed; and your friend, if he makes a demonstration in that direction, may rest assured that his minutes are numbered, for I will put a ball through his head thought I know I shall be cut into inch pieces afterwards.

William Phillips

William Phillips

The Platte County Self-Defense Association based itself in Weston. The town hosted the lynching of William Phillips (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). None other than Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow himself lived there. A threat from that direction could mean very serious business, even if Reeder answered it with the customary bravado. He did not bring his family back to Kansas with him, which probably helped in mustering the expected courage of a nineteenth century man under threat.

All the same, the rhetorical violence aimed at the Governor by the proslavery party soon transformed itself into literal violence, just as it had for William Phillips.