Proslavery Men Standing Ready

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

The Squatter Sovereign declared its editors insurrectionists-in-waiting. They had enough of Wilson Shannon and Franklin Pierce telling them they couldn’t march out and destroy Lawrence. The abolitionists, who had shot the brave Samuel Jones, must face the music and they aimed to play it. This time, no governor would get in their way and no presence of US Dragoons would change their minds. If the abolitionists could shoot a man with a military guard, why couldn’t they? A body can only bear so many cruel disappointments.

John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley had more than bluster and a personal willingness to kill in their arsenal. A separate item on the same page of the paper informs readers

Since the rumor of an outbreak at Lawrence, there have been two companies, containing about seventy men each, under arms in this city and ready to start at a moment’s warning, to the next of war. From information received, we are inclined to think that the law and order party will be again compromised and another treaty made with the lawless scamps. “It is entirely too humiliating,” Governor Shannon thinks, “to require these traitors to give up their arms,” but they can, with perfect impunity, resist the laws of the Territory, and shoot down officers of the law […] and then are recognized as equals with the Government party and peace made with them on favorable terms.

They tried that, against the proslavery party’s will, back in December. April had come and brought this result. Proslavery men needed not just to take matters into their own hands, but keep them or Shannon would surely frustrate them once more. The governor, proslavery or not, aimed to prevent the effusions of blood to which Stringfellow and Kelley aspired.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

To tell readers more about those two companies, the Sovereign printed this item:

Our young friends from South Carolina, who have settled in this city, wishing to be in a situation when called upon, to render the best service possible to the officers of the law who might need their assistance in punishing abolitionists and other offenders, have wisely formed themselves into a Rifle Company, and elected as their Captain, a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy. A finer body of men, we have never seen together, and if they do not prove efficient soldiers, we are no judge of the ability of men. Should this Company ever be called out against the traitors at Lawrence, terrible, indeed, will be the effect.

These men sound like members of Jefferson Buford’s expedition. According to Walter Fleming (PDF), Buford’s group didn’t arrive in Kansas until May 2, but he puts them in Kansas City and Westport before that. This would place the four hundred or so proslavery men right on the border around the time of the article, but rather farther to the south than Atchison. Some of Buford’s men might have gotten out ahead of him, but given he paid their passage that seems unlikely. More probably, the paper refers to some men from South Carolina and possibly elsewhere who united under a Carolinian leader.

This company held a meeting and placed itself as the disposal of William C. Richardson, general in the Kansas militia,and organized themselves for military action. Had they come with Buford’s party, they would have already had organization.

 

 

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“The sacrifice of every abolitionist in the Territory.”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The Weston Argus reported on Samuel Jones’ shooting with a degree of restraint. They didn’t come out and say that proslavery men ought to go to Lawrence and murder the lot of damned abolitionists who shot the sheriff, or encouraged and protected those who did. The paper came close, but its piece in the Squatter Sovereign doesn’t quite cross that line. The editors issued the stereotypical mafiosi threat: nice town you’ve got there, shame if something happened to it. The Sovereign itself would have none of that. Robert S. Kelley probably still felt his cruel disappointment back in December. Probably all of us have suffered a disappointment or two like that.

Whether Kelley moped about his missed chance around the office until no one could stand him or not, his paper connected the dots that the Argus left implied. A small item at the bottom of the page notes

Had justice been awarded to Lawrence in December last, during the disturbances of that month, there would be no Fort there now to shield an army of traitors who are sworn to resist the laws.

Lawrence did not have a fort per se, but they had built Free State Hotel to do double duty as a nineteenth century pillbox. That might prove an obstacle to working bloody justice on those who “murdered” Samuel Jones, “than whom a braver man never lived.” The Sovereign’s own version of events, which I missed a few days ago, comes just a few columns over from the Argus’. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley reminded their readers of Jones’ virtue and informed them that the free state men, “thieving-paupers of the North” had come to trample the rights of Southern men, stealing their property, and murdering them if they had half a chance. All of that aimed to break the Union.

The news had thrown Atchison, just recently visited by its namesake ex-senator, into quite the stir. Rumors flew about, which we know include word of Jones’ death. They may not have. A simple assault on Jones ought to have done the same work for their movement as his death, given past performance. Given he did get shot and things appeared close for a while, I see no reason to doubt their sincere belief that Jones had died of his wounds. The Sovereign roared

HIS DEATH MUST BE AVENGED. HIS MURDER SHALL BE AVENGED, if at the sacrifice of every abolitionist in the Territory. If the proslavery party will quietly set still and see our friends, one by one, murdered by these assassins, without raising their arms to protect them, we much mistake their character. Will they again allow a Northern Governor to cheat them out of their just revenge? We answer emphatically, NO! If the Governor of this Territory and the Administratin at Washington any longer attempts to force us to assume the position of outlaws, before we can have justice done us, the sooner such a contingency arises, the better.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

Outraged at resistance of the laws and an antislavery party that set themselves up in defiance of the territorial government and, perhaps, the nation, the proslavery party of Kansas avowed that they must do precisely the same. Should Wilson Shannon or Franklin Pierce get in the way, the Sovereign would count them enemies with the rest. The party who once damned their enemies as nullifiers now declared for nullification of their own, with all the customary agility that such contortions required.

“Many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun” The Proslavery Version of Jones’ Shooting, Part One

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Update: The Squatter Sovereign does have its own version of the story, which I looked right at and missed. Sorry.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time on how the free state people of Lawrence understood Samuel Jones’ shooting, almost certainly by one of their own, on April 23, 1856. But Kansas had two parties, one of which liked to operate across the Missouri line as well. The Squatter Sovereign reported on Jones’ shooting in its April 29 issue. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley’s paper didn’t bother with their own version of events, instead relying on the Weston Argus of April 25. Under the headline “WAR IN KANSAS,” the Argus informed its readers that “[t]he traitors of Kansas, are again under arms.”

We imagine that fields of conflagration and carnage fumes of sulphur and blood, will rise before the fantastic vision and salute the acute olfactories of a few deluded fanatics, (or rather, we should say, scoundrels and hypocrits,) on reading the above caption. The howl of fanaticism, the cant of hypocracy, will again sweep over the country. […] But this time it was not the “Border Ruffians,” whose footsteps on the virgin soil of Kansas, were so lately marked by “blood, rapine, and murder,” that are called upon. No: the United States troops, “who keep step to the music of the Union,” are to deal with these lords of humanity.

The invocation of the military looks forward and backward simultaneously. Soldiers had gone into Lawrence with Jones. Might they go in again? The Argus clearly thinks they ought to, as its version of events works hard to incriminate the entire antislavery movement:

Ex-Governor Reeder, on his arrival at Lawrence, obeying the instructions of Seward, Banks, & Co., summoning all the courage of his dastardly soul, harrangued the fanatics of that place, counceling resistance to the civil authorities, to disregard the laws of the Territory, and place themselves in open rebellion!

Senator William H. Seward (Whig-NY)

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

Reading that, you’d think that William Seward and Nathaniel Banks put out a hit on Jones. The Argus doesn’t say so, but it draws a clear connection between national and Kansas-based antislavery, with the national movement calling the shots. One could get the idea that nobody in Kansas objected to all the election irregularities and violence until some Yankees poured poison in their ears.

Only after Reeder’s rabble-rousing, the Argus would have us know, did Jones enter Lawrence. He came to arrest Wood and company not for the rescue of Branson, but rather because they had stolen some poll books. This may have surprised Wood and Jones both. On reading it I did some investigating, but found only references to the Branson rescue. That said, the Argus implicated the Speaker of the House and Kansas free state Senator. To this point, it had entirely neglected to connect another antislavery leader to the shooting. Time to remedy that:

On the arrival of Mr. Jones in Lawrence, Robinson, the California murderer, counselled them to resist, and there deluded individuals accordingly refused to accompany Mr. Jones.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

My other accounts don’t mention Robinson as a decisive factor here, but if Wood and company asked advice of him he would have surely told them to resist. I’m afraid I haven’t found anything on the idea that Robinson killed someone in California.

Faced with resistance, the Argus told its readers that Jones sought military aid from Wilson Shannon, which he did. The paper observed that Lawrence’s “shivalrous gentlemen-shivalrous at a distance” may have cause to thank the governor. Shannon called out the army rather than “the malitia” for

if the stern yeomanry of Kansas Territory, are again called upon to leave their fields and families and march to Lawrence, to crush out treason and rebellion, it will be no child’s play. As much as they dislike to shed the blood of those who claim to be American citizens, we warn them now, that in the last resort, many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun and many a traitor’s carcass will be suspended between heaven and earth.

A small note on spelling here, Gentle Readers: I customarily render quotes as they appear in my copy, including unusual nineteenth century spellings. The Argus has more eccentric spelling than most.

 

“Or kill every D—–d Son of a B—h there” The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

 

We left Lawrence on April 19, 1856, with Samuel Jones placing Samuel Wood under arrest for seizing Jacob Branson from him way back in December. Wood had left Kansas for a while thereafter, but on his return Jones soon got word and came to do his duty and get his revenge. Wood appeared inclined to comply, asking only that Jones let him see his family before they departed. That didn’t sound too bad, but Jones wanted Wood to accept his authority and insisted on a promise that Wood give himself up after the visit. Wood would have none of that, so Jones refused permission. Wood twisted free and bounded for the house.

John Speer saw, and participated in, what happened next:

Jones jumped for him [Wood] and caught him by the collar just as he reached me at the door; when, impromptu, and apparently without reflection, I caught Jones by the throat and wood by the coat collar, and saying, “Get away, Wood.”

Wood saw the wisdom of that, but relieved Jones of a revolver before departing. Jones had deputies with him. Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars lists only one, which I reported before, but Speer insists on three. They might both have it right, as Jones might have gone to town with one person and had others join him there. James B. Abbott “laid one of them down on the ground very hard.” Charles F. Garrett “swung another off the porch by the coat tail.” I don’t know how that maneuver works, but it sounds uncomfortable. Samuel F. Tappan “throttled” the last.

Jones, just as delighted as one would expect given his circumstances. According to Edward Fitch (PDF),

Jones raved and swore some and said he would have S.N. Wood or kill every D—-d Son of a b—h there

The crowd, enchanted by Jones’ repartee, tried to offer their own graceful converse: “Put him in the river!” Speer tried to talk the Lawrence crowd down, advising them that proslavery men should have the outrage market cornered. One of the deputies then cried Uncle, at which point Jones and friends departed.

If you remember the events of the Wakarusa War, you know that Jones doesn’t take this kind of thing laying down. When Wood relieved him of Jacob Branson, Jones called in an army. He wrote to Missouri and then to Governor Shannon, setting in motion the siege of Lawrence. Coming near to a bloodbath apparently didn’t leave Jones much more satisfied than it had Robert S. Kelley, but the sheriff of Douglas County had some creativity in him. The last time, he dallied long enough for Lawrence to amass defenders. For a second try, he aimed to serve his warrants before anyone knew they needed an army again.

One Resolution from Tecumseh

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

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

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

Republican in form, not party.

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

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

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

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

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

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

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

A Free State Welcome for Davy Atchison?

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Alongside the Squatter Sovereign’s endorsement of Pierce’s third annual message and John Stringfellow’s plan to sell town shares to fund arms for proslavery militiamen ran another item. Every issue I have seen of the Squatter Sovereign, until January of 1856, ran with an endorsement of David Rice Atchison for president. The Stringfellows really liked Missouri’s lately former Senator. When they took it down, they did so at the request of the great man himself. The most illustrious border ruffian, the man who declared he would wipe Kansas clean of every abolitionist, the most instrumental figure in managing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, declared that he had no presidential ambitions just then. But, the Sovereign reported, David Rice Atchison planned to move to Kansas. He would come with friends, slaves, and friends with slaves, and settle down in his namesake town.

I don’t know that Atchison ever did move to Kansas, even temporarily, but the news got the Squatter Sovereign very excited. It seems the rumor went around a few different times, so Atchison might have had plans and reconsidered or let on that he had such plans as a way to bolster the proslavery cause. Or John Stringfellow may have imagined it entirely. When you name your town after someone who lives nearby, you might start to expect things. Either way, the Sovereign relates that not everyone in Kansas cheered at the prospect of the author of all their woes coming to stay:

Brown, of the Herald of Freedom, says that “if ever Gen. Atchison is found in this Territory with arms in his hands, they (the abolitionists) will have him shot.” We inform the valiant editor that Gen. A. intends moving to this country in a few weeks, and whenever the traitors of Douglas county, or any other portion of the Territory, refuse obedience to the laws of the Kansas Legislature, enacted at Shawnee Manual Labor School last summer, and a posse is called out to aid the sheriff, Gen. Atchison will be found on the ground “with arms in hand,” and if you want his scalp you can have an opportunity of taking it, provided your courage does not evaporate as it did before when the militia was called out.

That the Sovereign uses quotations suggests something Brown actually wrote. Given his occasional bellicose inclinations, I can believe Brown might have. I went looking for any such proclamation in the Herald of Freedom, but found none. Stringfellow and Kelley might refer to something that Brown said rather than published, or have chosen to construe remarks he made in general as a direct threat against Atchison, but the lines look suspicious. They maintain that Brown said, rather than wrote, so they could appeal to some personal communication or spur of the moment utterance unavailable to posterity, but they frame the piece just as they would a response to a printed editorial. Clearly they intend for the reader to take a direct threat to the life of one of the nation’s more prominent politicians as something Brown went on the record about.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

This all fits well with the proslavery line on the free state movement: lawless hoodlums devoted to general anarchy beset Kansas. The friends of law and order must take a firm stand against them or those fanatics would burn the whole territory, perhaps the whole Union, to the ground. Their movement, though it might seem full of lawless hoodlums, acted strictly for defense. The placement of the piece so close to Stringfellow’s filibuster fundraising plan further underlines the point: Buy his town shares so proslavery men can have their guns, or the opposition might go so wild as to kill a senator.

“War! War!”

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley told the readers of their Squatter Sovereign that the settlement of the Wakarusa War meant nothing. The abolitionists might have survived the crisis, but the proslavery men could suffer a disappointment or two and still win the larger struggle. They expressed their commitment to the fight for slavery in Kansas through their admiration of Franklin Pierce’s message to Congress and then made its form explicit in the column adjacent. Stringfellow and Kelley had decamped from Atchison, suspending the paper for the duration, in order to do their part against Lawrence. Now they would do better. Under the headline “War! War!” the Speaker of the Kansas House wrote:

It seems now to be certain that we shall have to give the abolitionists at least one good thrashing before political matters are settled in this Territory. To do so we must have arms; we have the men. I propose to raise funds to furnish Colt’s revolvers and other arms for those who are without them. I propose to do so without taxing any one but myself. I will sell some shares of town stock in the Territory, (as given below,) and bind myself to invest all the money in the above articles, which shall be loaned to such soldiers as are unable to purchase them, and shall remain for such use for the space of one or two years. the arms to be used by the volunteers and militia of Atchison county when in service.

Stringfellow preferred Colt’s revolvers to Sharpe’s rifles, but he had the same idea as the antislavery party had. They, however, had a hostile government and enemies who had used force against them almost from the inception of the territory. The free state men needed to take their safety into their own hands because of men like Stringfellow. Now the Speaker of the House of Kansas, one of the highest officials in the government of the territory, went beyond rhetoric and personal involvement. He asked in public for investors to help him suppress the self-government of his fellow white men. A private propagandist might arouse alarm with such antics, but Stringfellow could not have better embodied antislavery fears short of seizing a white abolitionist and enslaving him.

But you had to do what you had to do. Back the month prior, the proslavery men got arms out of a Missouri state arsenal but that required a trip to Missouri and back, or from Missouri to Kansas at least. Nor could one gamble on the arsenal always proving so accessible. Given Wilson Shannon’s efforts to defuse the situation at Lawrence, Stringfellow may have feared the governor going soft on him as well. An independent, Kansas-based militia with its own arms would hedge against that risk.

That didn’t mean that Stringfellow abjured help from Missouri, of course. He just wanted a local arms cache for a local militia. He wouldn’t turn away Missourians who showed up for a fight. Moreover, he hoped that Missourian dollars would buy his town shares:

The stock I propose to sell will be sold at a far valuation, such as will enable the purchaser to get a good per centage on the investment. I feel assured that the wealthy friends of our cause, in Western Missouri, will be glad of the opportunity to invest.

Wealthy Missourians had paid border ruffian expenses in the past, even if Stringfellow in a separate column promised that the Kansas legislature would foot the latest set of bills. They could do it again. The Blue Lodges sought to protect their members investments, pecuniary and otherwise, in slavery in Missouri by expanding it to Kansas. Surely the prospect of actual profit in Kansas would not alienate them. John Stringfellow had good shares offered up too: two in Lecomtpon, now the capital; two more in Calhoun, seat of its county; and one in Delaware, seat of Leavenworth county. Territory and county business would help grow most of those towns. Proslavery Missourians could help the cause and make a tidy sum for their trouble.

“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.

Frank Pierce’s Proslavery Conservatism

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

Franklin Pierce’s third annual message did not go unmarked in Kansas. The January 29 Squatter Sovereign published the editors’ regret that they lacked space to print it in full and encouraged readers to find themselves a copy elsewhere. I believe them; my copy runs to twenty-one pages. Stringfellow and Kelley did run a summary of the president’s arguments, handled in rough proportion to the original. Consequently, more attention went to foreign affairs than Kansas. But proslavery men in Kansas couldn’t just leave it at that:

we endorse the message entire. The President has taken the true State rights ground, and does the South entire justice. He has proven himself a very able and patriotic statesman. The message is the best State paper we have read for years. “Frank Pierce” will do as President for us.

The Sovereign also reported, with delight, on the message’s reception in the Columbia Statesman “a violent Whig and Know-Nothing organ.”

President Pierce is no favorite of ours. We opposed his election, and regard his administration as a failure. We believe he has attempted to “curry favor” with all factions in the Union, and enjoys the confidence of none. He has appointed abolitionists, free-soilers and fire-eaters to office, even to posts in his cabinet. Nevertheless, we take pleasure in saying this message is the crowning glory of his life. It is an able State paper, and, because of the soundness of its views and conservative tone, will cover a multitude of sins of its author.

Even their enemies loved the message. The rock-ribbed conservatism of Pierce’s message draws remark from historians as well. James Rawley quotes part of this passage, from Pierce’s closing, and fairly characterizes it as “obdurate”:

The storm of frenzy and faction must inevitably dash itself in vain against the unshaken rock of the Constitution. I shall never doubt it. I know that the Union is stronger a thousand times than all the wild and chimerical schemes of social change which are generated one after another in the unstable minds of visionary sophists and interested agitators. I rely confidently on the patriotism of the people, on the dignity and self-respect of the States, on the wisdom of Congress, and, above all, on the continued gracious favor of Almighty God to maintain against all enemies, whether at home or abroad, the sanctity of the Constitution and the integrity of the Union.

Pierce might as well have quoted Edmund Burke verbatim. The condemnation works equally well against any issue. I’ve read it in just those terms deployed on nearly every subject that makes the news. Reformers, they always say, have got something wrong with them. They innovate incorrigibly, chasing phantasms of equality, justice, rights, all empty abstractions that have so little to do with real life that we might as well speak of Narnia or Middle-Earth. That the speakers usually enjoy the same things they wish to deny others rarely interests them. Their fortunate births and circumstances proved that they deserved the whole lot. What do the rest of us have to offer? If we warranted better treatment, we would already have it.

The Statesman’s endorsement then takes a somewhat counter-intuitive, though very telling, turn:

The slavery feature of the message will attract universal attention. On this subject he administers the fanatics and agitators North and South-the enemies of the Union and domestic tranquility-a scathing rebuke. We hope it will effect them for good, by recalling them from the forbidden paths of sectional strife and to the peaceful walks of loyalty and patriotism.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

What message did the Statesman read? Pierce hardly delivered condemnations all around; he didn’t have a one for the South. Rather he depicted the section as acting entirely within its rights and still suffering endless victimization by the North.

The Statesman read same piece everyone else had, of course. They might have genuinely understood the message as even-handed, or may have just liked the pretense. No one occupies a neutral position in such matters, and favoring the status quo or the traditional American way of doing things in the middle 1800s meant favoring at least the continuation of slavery and the suppression of antislavery agitation. The white man’s peace and tranquility, ensconced in his Union, demanded no less. To oppose slavery, even in a moderate and incremental ways, departed from orthodoxy.

A Cruel Disappointment

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Gentle Readers, during today’s research I came upon an item in the Squatter Sovereign for January 1, 1856 that I can’t resist sharing. I think it speaks for itself:

The Junior of the Squatter Sovereign while in “the wars” was shot at by one of our own guard, and peace being declared without giving him an opportunity to shoot at any one, he has been in a bad humor ever since, hence the tone of some of our articles in this No. of our paper.

Robert S. Kelley had it rough.