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Brown, editor of the Herald of Freedom, at Lawrence, has, after his printing
press has been destroyed by the order of Judge Lecompte's court, been himself
indicted, and is now imprisoned, awaiting trial. . . .

Note that this charge was introduced by the word "probably."

Then, calling attention to the section of the territorial code author-
izing the hiring of convicts, Colfax predicted that, unless executed
for treason, Charles Robinson, with ball and chain, could be hired



488 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

out to Governor Shannon, to perform menial labor; "And Judge
Lecompte, would have the privilege, too, and would, doubtless,
exercise it, of having Judge Wakefield as his hired serf. . . ." 14
On July 23, 1856, toward the end of a long speech on "The Slavery
Question/' Rep. James A. Stewart, of Maryland, came to the defense
of Judge Lecompte:

If the President or Chief Justice Lecompte has transcended the limits of his
official duties, with criminal intent to oppress the most obscure citizen, why not
boldly, and as true patriots, bring up your impeachments? Why snarl at them,
when you have the right to make out your bills of indictment? I submit, if it is
right, fair, or manly, to assault official authority, and attempt to bring it into
disrepute, when you have ample remedy, by putting them on their trial, giving
them the power of vindication; and this you decline?

I have said that I believe the President has fearlessly discharged his duty,
and the country will so esteem it. I happen to know Judge Lecompte. He is,
I doubt not, a fearless, firm, and impartial officer, and I am sure will discharge
his high duties faithfully and promptly. I am satisfied, in his responsible
station, he will meet all its requirements as the exigencies of the occasion
may deserve. He is not a man to be badgered or browbeaten. He is a sound
lawyer, and I take it, will so carry himself in his honorable position, as to defy
any well-grounded charge of breach of duty. It is abominable to endeavor to
tarnish his official standing by mere partisan allegation. I dare say similar
testimonials may be borne as to all the territorial judges and officers.

Stewart took the ground that the controversy was a "tempest in a
teapot," and continued: "Where has there been intolerable oppres-
sion in Kansas, and where have all the remedies been resorted to?"
His point was that for such wrongs as were alleged there were legal
remedies :

Congress has not been petitioned for redress by these Topeka constitution
and revolution mongers. The legality of the proceedings of the Kansas Legisla-
ture may be tried before the courts. The much-abused Kansas-Nebraska act,
in the twenty-seventh section, provides an appeal from the court in Kansas,
from Judge Lecompte's, if you please, to the Supreme Court. You can test
the frauds that you say have disturbed you, by bringing the whole subject
before the Supreme Court of the United States. This you can do, even under
the habeas corpus proceedings, recognized by the said section. If, then, there
has been fraud, outrage, violence, and if the Legislature itself is unauthorized,
and its whole proceedings void, why is not the legal and orderly method, and
the only satisfactory one, except the ballot-box, resorted to, in place of revolu-
tion, anarchy, and bloodshed? By pursuing this mode, order and regularity
in all our proceedings are observed. Because this has not been done, I am
right in assuming that the founders of the Topeka constitution are clearly in
the wrong, and upon their own heads, with their coadjutors, does all the
responsibility rest. . . , 15

14. Congressional Globe, Appendix, 34 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 641-647, at 641-645.

15. Ibid., pp. 982-993, at 989.



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 489

The amazing thing is that the responsibility was fastened upon
Judge Lecompte, and that no one in the territory, not even the Pro-
slavery men, came to his defense in the newspapers, during the sum-
mer of 1856, to explain the errors, and set the record straight in such
a manner as to exonerate Lecompte. Certainly, no lawyer, Pro-
slavery or Free-State, practicing in the district court of Kansas, or
acquainted with judicial procedures, but knew the major facts and
was quite aware that they did not support the charges. The Free-
State men referred to Lecompte as the American Jeffries. On the
contrary, he had been reluctant to exceed the legal authority dele-
gated to a judge, but upon occasion had done so in order to protect
Free-State men. Had Lecompte done the things in his official capac-
ity, which Free-State men insisted he should have done, he would
indeed have qualified as an American Jeffries tyrannizing over Pro-
slavery men. The only thing antislavery and Proslavery men would
have been satisfied with in Kansas during this period would have
been aggressive partisanship in promoting their respective causes.
In relation to most of their charges against Lecompte, from both
sides, the focus of the grievance against him was that he refused
to adopt that abuse of the judicial function. In other of the differ-
ences between them the issue turned upon principles of policy that
were legitimately subject to honest difference of opinion. Upon
occasion, all men are liable to errors of judgment, and Lecompte
was no exception, but even in that area caution needs to be exercised
in rendering verdicts, because such historical verdicts may in fact
only convict the historian of an unconscious captivity to prejudice,
and at the same time vindicate Lecompte.

In 1856 Samuel D. Lecompte was 41 years of age, with well-estab-
lished political and professional connections in his native Maryland.
The Colfax attack upon him in the congress, and Stewart's defense,
afforded him an opportunity to make a public explanation of his
official acts in Kansas. This defense took the form of a letter to
Stewart, dated August 1, 1856, which was released to the press.
Among the several contemporary printings, it appeared in the St.
Louis Republican, September 13, and in the Kansas Weekly Herald,
Leavenworth, September 27, 1856. It was never made available
generally to students of Kansas history, however, because it was
omitted from the documents printed by the Kansas State Historical
Society in its Collections, v. 4, although a copy was an integral part
of the archives of the office of the territorial governor. 16

16. See the explanation of this omission, Kansas Historical Collections, v. 4, p. 603.
Contrary to the statement in that note that it was a private letter, the fact should be



490 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

The letter is too long to summarize here, and furthermore, it
dealt with the whole of Lecompte's judicial career to that date.
Some of the setting must be presented, however, although the focus
of this discussion is the single episode of the "sack of Lawrence." In
review of his tenure of judicial office, Lecompte recited that he had
arrived in Kansas early in December, 1854, with his wife, five chil-
dren, and two Negro women, and he had not been out of the territory
or out of his district, except as specified in detail. He recognized
different categories of charges against him and gave brief attention
first to the indefinite and anonymous ones:

That there is not a solitary specific charge by any individual of character, or,
indeed, by any individual of name, might be relied upon as sufficient reply to
these questions.

I think I could safely rest upon the mere absurdity and palpable falsity of
some of those anonymously made, to discredit all, at least until, in a tangible
form, they shall have been presented by some responsible person.

Surely to every one who knows me, the report that I was seen in a wagon
with a cannon and a barrel of whiskey, heading a company of the Marshal's
posse, carries its own refutation.

Other similar instances reported in the New York Tribune or like
places, such as the packing of the McCrae jury and the constructive
treason charge to the grand jury, he would pass over. Of a different
category, however, were the charges made by Colfax in his speech
in congress and the report of the Howard committee on Kansas
troubles, appointed by the house of representatives. Only recently
had he seen a copy of the Colfax speech, and he had seen only what
purported to be the conclusions of the committee. The third of
these Howard committee conclusions was quoted: "That these
alleged laws have not, as a general thing, been used to protect per-
sons and property, and to punish wrong, but for unlawful purposes/'

In the course of his denial Lecompte said "I put against it an
unequivocal and contemptuous denial, and denounce it as a wanton
and gross slander. . . ." Then in addition to the general denial,
Lecompte reviewed one by one the more prominent cases in his court
by name, describing the circumstances and disposition of each. He
described how he had taken the initiative in action on more than
one occasion to keep the peace and to insure justice regardless of
party. Also, he reminded the public of how he and General Rich-
ardson had slept in the passage in front of Charles Robinson's door
in Leavenworth to protect him from violence.

pointed out that Lecompte's letter of October 6, 1856, was an official reply to Governor
Geary s official inquiry, and the Lecompte letter to Stewart was an enclosure incorporated
into that reply to Geary, and thus, regardless of its original purpose, it became an integral
part of Lecompte's official letter of October 6, which should have been printed in the
"Executive Minutes of Governor Geary."



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 491

A challenge was made to the Howard committee, and to Golf ax:

Let the records of the Courts of my District be examined, let my judgment
be re-opened and canvassed, let every judicial act be tried. Let every criminal
trial be reheard, and let every individual sentiment be spread out, and I am
content to abide the result.

There is a mode of trial, and they know it. Mr. Colfax alluded to it in his
speech in Congress. Let them impeach me. The committee threatened it when
here, and on account of the process from my Court against Ex-Governor A. H.
Reeder. I could not, indeed, but feel dishonored by it its expense might,
indeed, be ruinous . . . but ... I feel that its result would repay
in infinite satisfaction. It is very true that I might anticipate perjury to be
added to the turpitude of deliberate falsehood, but I must abjure a long fixed
faith in God and truth before I could fear any combination of such atrocities
before an honorable and enlightened tribunal.

In this part of the letter, Lecompte made an extended analysis of
the issue of treason and his charge to the grand jury, showing how
the idea of constructive treason was illegal. In this Lecompte was in
full agreement with his detractors, only Lecompte insisted that the
charge of constructive treason was purely a Free-State invention.
Lecompte had made the mistake of giving the charge to the grand
jury orally, but he insisted that "The indictments as found will show
that both the District Attorney of the United States, who prepared,
and the grand jury, who found them, understood me as I have stated.
. . . For their soundness I shall cheerfully submit them to be
tested by the highest authorities."

Then turning to the Colfax charge relative to the "sack of Law-
rence," Lecompte quoted him in full and pointed out that the laws
of the United States defined the authority of the courts in Kansas
and "It was under the authority of the Marshal thus rightfully exer-
cised, and not of the Court, that his posse went to Lawrence."

As to the rest of the charges, this is all that occurred. The Grand Jury sitting
al the time made presentment of the presses and of the hotel in Lawrence, as
nuisances, and that presentment still lies in Court. No time for action on it
existed none has been had no order passed no decree made nothing done,
and nothing even dreamed of being done, because nothing could be rightly
done but upon the finding of a petit jury.

At two points in particular in his letter Lecompte undertook to be
facetious, but succeeded only in showing bad taste. These devia-
tions were only minor, but regrettable from the standpoint of what
otherwise was a rather able defense. In the final paragraphs, Le-
compte challenged Colfax to specify cases, give the names of per-
sons unjustly treated. In the course of his castigation of Colfax for
his irresponsible charges and unethical tactics on the floor of con-
gress, Lecompte asked:



492 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

But why not, Mr. Colfax, manfully and directly charge moral depravity and
adduce the facts to sustain it? Why disclaim, but by inuendo and directly
make deadly thrusts? The facts do not exist.

In closing, Lecompte called attention to the unfavorable condi-
tions under which a judge found it necessary to work in Kansas:
novel cases, unsettled conditions, travel in circuit, little access to law
books, and little aid from the bar:

The mixed system provided by Territorial and Federal legislation a jurisdic-
tion like that of County and Circuit Courts of the States, with the addition of
that conferred upon the Circuit and District Courts of the United States will
not fail to impress with awe and apprehension of inadequacy any one not vain
to rashness.

CONCLUSIONS

Later in the year, when Geary became governor, he addressed
letters of inquiry to the judges in Kansas asking for an accounting
of their stewardship. As a matter of legal principle, Lecompte
questioned the right of the executive branch to treat the judiciary
as "his subordinates in office," but, out of "high respect," and a desire
for the "restoration of order," Lecompte, in a letter dated October 6,
1856, reviewed the judicial record of Leavenworth county, the
records for the other counties not being available at that place. A
postscript related to the disposition of the treason cases in Douglas
county, and the reasons for releasing the prisoners on bail. It was
upon this occasion that a copy of his letter to Stewart was made a
part of his report.

Lecompte was not a man to be intimidated, and besides challeng-
ing Geary's right to interrogate the independent judiciary, he defined
and defended his rights on other counts:

As to the charge of "party bias," if it means simply the fact of such bias,
I regard it as ridiculous; because I suppose every man in this country, with
very few exceptions, indeed, entitled to respect either for his abilities, his intelli-
gence, or his virtue, has a "party bias." I am proud of mine. . . .

If it be intended to reach beyond that general application, and to charge a
proslavery bias, I am proud, too, of this. ... I love the institution as
entwining around all my early and late associations; . . .

If it means more than the fact, and to intimate that this "party bias" has
affected the integrity of my official action, in any solitary case, I have but to say
that it is false basely false. 17

As an outgrowth of the Geary-Lecompte quarrel later in the year,
which centered upon the Hayes-Buffum murder case, Lecompte
composed two letters of defense, one to Sen. James A. Pearce of
Maryland, dated December 23, 1856, and one to Caleb Gushing,

17. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 4, pp. 602-607.



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 493

attorney general of the United States, dated January 9, 1857, but
neither reviewed the issues of the "sack of Lawrence." The Pearce
letter did, however, challenge indirectly, the President's constitu-
tional power to remove him. As in challenging Geary, the issue
raised was the independence of the judiciary. 18 In the letter to
Gushing, Lecompte challenged Pierce's attempt to remove him
without prefering charges, or holding hearings to determine facts.
The defeat in the senate of the confirmation of his successor left
Lecompte in office, but without the opportunity of vindication.

Kansas territorial history has been written upon a premise that
vitiates most conclusions about it the overriding assumption that
Kansas would have been made a slave state but for the antislavery
crusade. Those acquainted with the theater of the 19th century
will recognize the stereotype melodrama routine the rescue by the
hero of the heroine from ruin at the hands of the villain by a tense
split-second margin. When Kansas became a free territory and
later a free state, that outcome was taken as proof positive of the
validity of the premise, and of the cause-effect sequence. The whole
procedure is unsound as scientific method, and a travesty on pro-
cedural logic. No conclusive evidence has ever been brought for-
ward to prove that Kansas would or would not have been a slave
state in any case; or even if it had been nominally a slave state, to
demonstrate what the nature of the slave society would have been
in this geographical setting of space and time. Excluding for the
moment the moral issue, what conditions, if any, were there in the
situation, as of the 1850's, that would have made slavery a desirable
or undesirable institution in Kansas? What changes were taking
place in the structure of society, independently of slavery mechani-
cal versus muscle power? What was the status of slavery and
trends in the United States and elsewhere in the world? Once such
questions are raised, the whole structure of Kansas history, or United
States history centering on the Kansas question of the 1850's, col-
lapses like a house of cards.

As a matter of historical method, the historian has no right to
enter upon the investigation of any historical subject except as an
object of study in its own right. Every presumption he encounters
in the search for fact, relationship, and interpretation must be sub-
jected to rigorous analysis to test its validity. Only when he has
canvassed the whole situation, to the extent of his available re-
sources, is he ready to draw conclusions from his study, subject to

18. Ibid., pp. 726-729; Senate Ex. Doc. No. 60 (serial no. 881), 34 Cong. 3 Sess.
(1856-1857).



494 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

rigorous tests for flaws in every aspect of his plans for organization,
of facts, and of his reasoning from them. Above all, he must be
ever willing to admit that, upon the basis of the evidence available,
there are many questions to which he does not know the answer.
To some of these questions, an answer is impossible. He must be
willing to join with Lecompte in admitting a feeling of "awe and
apprehension of inadequacy [on the part of] anyone not vain to
rashness."

[Part Two, "The Historical Phase" Will Appear in the
November, 1953, Issue.]



Midwestern Attitudes on the "Kansas Fever"

Edited by PHILIP D. UZEE
INTRODUCTION

IN 1879-1880 many Negroes and some whites in Louisiana and
other cotton growing Southern states were afflicted with "Kansas
Fever." Due to the crop lien system which kept many in a state of
peonage and because they were being intimidated out of their
political rights by "bulldozing," thousands of Negroes emigrated
to Kansas and its neighboring states and territories. 1 They desired
to move to these areas because they believed they could improve
their economic and political status. Many were lured to the Mid-
west by unscrupulous opportunists who spread glowing stories, false
promises, circulars, and chromos depicting opportunities and life in
Kansas in order to fleece them out of what little money they had
through dues-paying emigrant societies or by other schemes. 2

The southern white leaders and the intelligent Negro leaders
opposed the moving of the labor force out of the region. 3 Many of
the immigrants were unskilled laborers and poverty stricken and
had to be taken care of by private individuals or public agencies in
Kansas. The people of Kansas began to oppose the immigration
of destitute and unskilled Negroes. 4 The following letters from
Kansas and Nebraska reflect this attitude.

These letters were published in The Weekly Louisianian, a New
Orleans newspaper published by Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinch-
back, a Negro Republican leader and former acting governor of
Louisiana during the days of Radical rule. The only file of the
newspaper is in the Library of Congress, but the Hill Memorial
Library of the Louisiana State University has microfilm copies. The
newspaper was opposed to the exodus movement.

PHILIP D. UZEE is an instructor in history at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge,
La.

1. Earl Howard Aiken, "Kansas Fever," unpublished master's thesis (Louisiana State
University, Baton Rouge, 1939), pp. 3-11; Morgan Dewey Peoples, "Negro Migration From
the Lower Mississippi Valley to Kansas," unpublished master's thesis (Louisiana State Uni-
versity, Baton Rouge, 1950), pp. 2, 10-15, 19-32.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Movement of the colored people out of Louisiana and other parts of the
South was not directed at Kansas alone, although this state, because of the publicity, received
a large number. The Negro exodus, so far as it was a movement of Negroes out of the South,
was directed at practically all of the Northern states. Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York
received many. In fact several large Northern cities were a promised land to these wan-
derers. In absolute numbers, however, Arkansas received the largest increase of Negroes
from other states during the 1870's as shown by the U. S. census reports of 1870 and 1880.

2. Aiken, op. cit., pp. 16-18; Peoples, op. cit., pp. 16-19.

3. Ibid., pp. 16. 42-47.

4. Ibid., pp. 54-60.

(495)



496 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

The sole identification of "H. O. B.," the author of the first letter,
that was given by the editor of the Louisianian is: "The following
letter comes from a well known colored citizen of Kansas, whose
honor and integrity are unquestionable." 5

THE LETTERS

ATCHISON, MAY 18TH. 1879
EDITOR OF LOUISIANIAN:

Having been a constant reader of your valuable paper, we
heartily approve the manly course it has pursued, especially upon
the emigration question. Kansas has enough and to spare of un-
skilled labor. We want mechanics, we want tradesmen, we want
men of means to come into our State and take up lands and become
tax payers and help to build up the State.

Kansas is adapted to stock raising and to the production of grain.
It is a grain country. Cotton will not grow here, so that emigrants
coming here from the South skilled only in the production of cotton
and sugar cane, will be a failure. They know nothing of our system
of farming.

Kansas farmers are men of moderate means, and generally do
their own work, so that labor is never in great demand. The govern-
ment lands are out on the frontier counties generally, and from fifty
to one hundred miles from timber. Parties setling [sic] upon these
lands must have money to buy wood and other necessaries for the
sustenance of life. They must have a good two horse team or an
ox team to break up the land preparatory for using; unless they
have these necessaries they will suffer. It is nonsense to believe that
the government is going to give a mule or anything of the kind. Any
person circulating such a report among the colored people of the
South, ought to be hung to the nearest tree.

Of the 8,000 colored people who have come into the State during
the last four months, a very few have been able to settle upon gov-
ernment lands. The balance have been distributed among the sev-
eral counties. They are in some instances scattered hundreds of
miles apart, and as they are very ignorant it is fair to presume that
they will never be able to find their friends and relatives again. We
have had landed at our wharf 300 of these poor, ignorant, penniless
and dejected people. They were very dirty and ragged and in a
destitute condition. They were cared for by our people irrespective
of party, creed, or nationality. Of this number 75 remain in the city,

5. The Weekly Louisianian, New Orleans, May 24, 1879.



ATTITUDES ON THE "KANSAS FEVER" 497

the balance have been sent to other counties and cities where their
labor is in a great demand.

During the last 18 months we have had squads of Kentuckians
coming into our city. They seem to be a better set, more intelligent,
more industrious than those coming from the South. These Ken-
tuckians do not come among us as beggars and paupers, so that
upon the whole they are more a blessing than a curse.

I see that Mr. Rugle of your city is here and is registered at the
Otis house. He comes for the purpose of carrying back such as are
willing to go he paying their fare. I presume that there are sev-



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