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plaining something of the occasion for the original publication in
the Chief an acknowledgment of courtesy for kindness received.
The second paragraph must explain itself:

There has been so much comment of an opposite kind in the papers of the
State, upon the course of the Leavenworth Times toward me, that the slightest
indication of fair dealing on the part of an editor awakens warm gratitude, and
arouses the almost latent hope that the Press has yet left a dormant magna-
nimity that will not suffer injustice and outrage always to triumph. While
your article falls much short of rendering me justice, it evinces a spirit from
which I may well expect justice, upon a full understanding of the facts. These
have been so shamefully perverted, and so studiously substituted by mis-
chievous misrepresentation, that I should be over-fastidious in complaining of
mere lack of rightful appreciation of myself. I think I entertain too correct
an estimate of the allowances to be made for impressions deeply formed, to
fall into so grave an error as to wage a controversy against decently expressed
opinions, however erroneously I know them to be.

Two of the three closing paragraphs of the letter were omitted in
the reprint, the third from the last and the final paragraph, giving
the next to the last paragraph the closing position in the reprint.
These omitted paragraphs follow:

I can not, of course, carry on with any combination of the press of the
State a controversy in this matter. I could not if I would, and I would not if
I could, carry on such a controversy even with the editor of the Leavenworth
Times. How can I with a combination, great or small? If it give them
pleasure to continue upon me, and through me, upon truth, and upon the
Court, the jury, the creatures of the law, a course of aggression, of insult, and
of wrong, I see no alternative but submission, just as the individual can but
submit to the mob, from mere physical inability to resist its outrages. Only
when, as in the instance which forced me to self-vindication, can I, should it
be persisted in, undertake again to invoke farther redress. I have bourne with
much of it from the same source, since the trial by which I have been vindi-



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 577

cated. I have done so, because I felt disposed to allow something to a feeling
of exasperation, and am extremely reluctant again to invoke legal protection.
But I think now, that I have bourne as much as may be excused on that score,
and I take occasion to say, in conclusion, that, claiming no exemption from
just criticism of my opinions, of my acts, of my qualifications, for any trust to
which I may aspire, or to which it may legitimately be supposed that I do
aspire, I do not propose to submit to continued calumny. That a horse has
been stolen from me, and the thief prosecuted to conviction, is no reason why
I should submit to be robbed of all the horses I might own. The same law
that subjected the thief to the penitentiary, subjects the libeler to a fine not
exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding one year.

If I may be pardoned the abuse, of a partial paraphrase, of one of the
grandest utterances of New England's chiefest orator, God grant that when my
eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in Heaven, I may not
see him shining on the broken and scattered remains of homes made desolate
by any act of mine, whether in the tyrannical exercise of an accidental power;
by the indulgence of an ill-regulated and unbridled lust; by tainting the air at
large or of the home circle by false and calumnious aspersions; by casting over
the hearth or heart of mother, wife or child the dark gloom of provoked or un-
provoked homicide of father, husband, brother or friend.

Because the four paragraphs dealing with Lecompte's review of
the Sheriff Jones episode are pertinent to the present study, they
are also reprinted here:

Another accusation against me has been to the effect that the destruction
of the Lawrence hotel and press was made under my authority. To this I can
but offer unqualified denial, and an absolute defiance of any particle of proof
from living witnesses or of record. Not until long after did it ever reach my
ear that my name was in any manner connected with it, except that a news-
paper article was sent to me describing my courts as scenes of drunken debauch,
and myself as having been seen riding down to Lawrence astride of a whisky
barrel, and directing operations. To such things I could scarcely have been
expected to give denials. It did, however, in more serious forms, get into print,
and even into so-called histories, as that of "Geary and Kansas," by Gihon (the
only man whom I have ever known who struck me as coming up to the full
significance of lickspittle), that Sheriff Jones proclaimed in the streets of Law-
rence, at the time, that the destruction of the property mentioned had been
ordered by the court.

On the preliminary examination of the case against Anthony, James F.
Legate distinctly disproved any such declaration by Jones. I know of nobody
who will say that Jones ever made any such declaration. I have no idea that
he ever did. All I can say is that, if he did, he stated what is unqualifiedly
false. If he or any other living man should say that, by any order, oral or
written, I directed such destruction, he would say what is unqualifiedly false.
If he or any other living man should say that, by act or word, I had ever inti-
mated any such thing, he would say what is unqualifiedly false. If he or any
other living man should say that, by act or word, I had ever given an expression
to a sentiment of approval of the destruction of this or any other property, he

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578 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

would say what is unqualifiedly false. If he or any other living man should say
that he ever heard me express any other sentiment regarding it than unquali-
fied condemnation, he would say what is unqualifiedly false.

What more can I say? If it be true that I did, directly or indirectly, by
word, by intimation, by order, by connivance, by innuendo, advise, counsel,
direct or approve of all or any of the wrongs then perpetrated, I trust that God
almighty shall paralyze my arm as I write, so that this disavowal shall never
meet the public eye. What more can I say? Where is the order? where was
the trial, where the conviction upon which such an order could have been
based? Do the records show it? Does anybody remember it? Has anybody
ever seen it? How heartless, how base such aspersions!

There were presentments by the grand jury of the hotel, and, I believe, of
the press that denounced the laws and defied and counseled resistance to them.
There may have been issued by the clerk of the court citations to the owners
to appear in court and show cause why they should not be abated as nuisances.
I know not that there were. It was not my duty to know, but that of the district
attorney. If he ordered them, they would have been issued by the clerk. There
may have been many writs in the hands of the marshal for service, and I pre-
sume there were; for I do know that it was to aid him in the service of the writs,
which he stated his inability to serve without aid, that he made the foundation
for his proclamation ordering a posse. It was his duty to serve the process of
the courts. If he could not without aid, it was his duty to summon aid. This
he did, and with this I had nothing to do. The public meetings assembled in
Lawrence so understood; else wherefore is it that all their correspondence and
resolutions and conferences through committees were addressed to and carried
on with the governor and with the marshal? Why was not I ever addressed?
Was it that they lacked confidence in me? Why, then, was not this somewhere
disclosed in the course of the various movements to which the events gave rise?
Nowhere in all the publications of the time will it be seen that my name was
mentioned, except in the purely gratuitous and, as I have shown, absolutely
groundless and false assertion that my authority justified the subsequent
wrongs. 20

In this defense, more clearly than in the Stewart letter of 1856,
Lecompte differentiated himself as judge, and the district court,
from the grand jury, and from other officers, each acting within
legally defined jurisdictions. Two important points he did not
clarify; his use of the phrase "presentments by the grand jury," and
the actual status of Sheriff Jones in the whole proceeding. Le-
compte's defense was strictly legalistic and negative. By that is
meant, that he imposed upon himself the limitation of showing that
as judge, he was not responsible and was not even consulted. On
the positive side, he refrained carefully from accusations against
others. As a legalist, his rights and duty in his own defense ended
in his own vindication. The task of proving who was guilty, he left
to others.

In the course of Lecompte's Kansas Chief letter, as in some other

20. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 8, pp. 394, 395.



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 579

of his writings, he revealed his knowledge of literature. In this
case, he quoted aptly from Shakespeare, and in such a manner as to
demonstrate his intimate familiarity with the great plays. 21 Surely,
those who visualize Judge Lecompte as a Border Ruffian astride a
whisky barrel are obliged to revise substantially their picture. In
December, 1873, when he filed the libel suit, Lecompte was 59 years
of age, and on December 12, 1874, when the verdict against Anthony
was delivered by the jury, he could look upon it as a birthday an-
niversary gift to be celebrated the next day, Sunday, December 13.
He was commonly referred to as an old man, "Old Lecompte," and
for that time, 60 was relatively a more advanced age than in the
mid-20th century. Denied by- public prejudice and intolerance
many of the satisfactions which otherwise might have been his lot,
he found companionship with greater minds through the medium of
literature.

The reaction to Sol Miller's act of giving aid and comfort to
Lecompte in his Kansas Chief was swift and direct. As the reader
may have noticed already, editors of the 1870's were quite unin-
hibited in the language employed in controversy, and Anthony was
among the freest and most fertile in his usage of words and devices
intended to convey a certain disapprobation of a victim. On Feb-
ruary 6, Anthony's Times observed:

The Saintly Lecompte, Deacon Houston [The Commercial], and Sol Miller,
have signed a tripartite agreement, in which they promise to stand by one
another in every difficulty. Lecompte will sling Shakespeare at the enemy,
Houston will pray for him, and Miller will "cuss" him. We are afraid the good
and pious Deacon is in bad company.

Three days later Anthony related that:

The Saintly Lecompte bought one hundred copies of the Troy Chief con-
taining his article on "The Truth of History." He presented them to a news-
stand in this city. Two copies have been sold, and those to a blind man, who
asked for "something religious like, you know for my wife." He has not been
heard from yet.

Miller's retort courteous came in the very next issue of the Chief,
February 11, 1875.

The Leavenworth Times, instead of pitching into editors who are disposed
to give Judge Lecompte a fair hearing, had better devote itself to the main
question. The Judge has warped it to Anthony right lively. It is nice and
pretty, as long as the papers throughout the State denounce the verdict in the
libel case, and Lecompte for bringing the suit, giving the Times occasion to

21. Two quotations were from Macbeth. One from Act III, scene 1, line 91, began
"Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men. . . ." Another was from Act IV, scene 2, line 51,
Son: "What is a traitor?" Lady MacDuff: "Why one who swears and lies." The third
quotation was from Ct/mbeline, Act III, scene 4, line 35, beginning: "Slander, whose edge
is sharper than the sword. . . ."



580 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

copy all these opinions; but those who presume to give the other side an oppor-
tunity to be heard, are very naughty.

The idea of Sol being called "naughty"! He had been called so
many more virile names! What a masterpiece of understatement to
put Anthony in his place! But Anthony gave Lecompte attention in
three places in his issue of February 14. He advised the "saintly
Lecompte to keep cool," but pointed out what the Garnett Plain-
dealer had said:

He makes, of course, a fair showing for himself, but it seems strange that a
man has to go into print to explain his conduct of twenty years ago, to a people
among whom he has lived all these years. As he threatens more libel suits, it
is not a safe subject to comment upon.

The second mention was a reprint of an article from the Oska-
loosa Independent suggesting to Sol Miller that he get Jeff Davis
to write a vindication of himself as a patriot, and Lincoln as a tryant;
and when that was done, and

all of which he can as readily do as Lecompte can blot out the history of Kansas
in the past or the terpitude of his record then made, the thing will be com-
plete. ... It will be vastly more pungent and entertaining than the story
of this one-horse border-ruffian judge.

We wish Lecompte no harm, but all the good possible. We have never yet
seen him to know him, and can consequently have no kind of personal feeling
against him. We think he ought to be encouraged and aided in every "good
word and work," and in the road to reformation, and not be badgered and
abused. But his record as judge of the territory of Kansas was simply infamous.

The Independent placed upon Lecompte the major role in Kansas
border ruffianism, recounting count by count against him:

These are facts as notorious as any in history, and no man can disprove them.
Judge Lecompte was not only a party to these judicial outrages and neglects,
but was the head and front of the whole thing.

We would respect the Judge very much more if he would honestly confess
that he was led away by the excitement of the times, and permitted himself
to become a partisan and a party to these things, and after confession ask
clemency of the public. Such a course would be honorable, dignified and
truthful. But an attempt at "vindication" only leads us to fear his reformation
is not real, but a sham to gain some selfish end. Truth is the first requisite of
true reform, as it is of real nobility and genuine manhood.

This afforded the occasion noted earlier when Anthony declared
that "Nothing can now be said that will change history," and then
concluded:

Our minds may be prejudiced, and that is perhaps the reason why we think
old Lecompte may have been a purer and better judge than the one who now
fills that position in our Criminal Court.

We want one thing distinctly understood, and that is, that all we have said
about Lecompte was that history and his general reputation proved him guilty
of the crimes named.



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE" 581

JAMES CHRISTIAN'S STORY

The silence of Proslavery men is one of the most remarkable as-
pects of all these controversies. One of the few to break the silence,
and fortunately for history, was James Christian. A lifelong Demo-
crat, he did not change sides as so many did, out of either con-
venience or conviction, after the Civil War. Christian compelled
the genuine respect of Republican Kansas of the 1870's. Only occa-
sionally did he make excursions into the explosive area of territorial
history, but when he did, he spoke in no uncertain terms and the
enemy listened, although subsequently, his testimony was almost
uniformly ignored by writers on Kansas history. As a law partner
with James H. Lane during the later part of the territorial period,
the firm handled legal business for both sides in the same manner
as ambidextrous law firms do in the mid-20th century. 22 His ac-
quaintance was first hand with both men and measures. As a result
of the agitation growing out of the Lecompte-Anthony libel suit,
he prepared an article which was published in the Western Home
Journal, Lawrence, May 27, 1875, under the title, "The First Sack-
ing of Lawrence." The part of the Christian account bearing on
the Jones phase recounted that Jones

entered the town with fire, torch and cannon, commenced to plunder houses,
destroy printing presses, beat down the old Free State Hotel in defiance of all
law, ending the day by burning Gov. Robinson's dwelling with its contents, just
for amusement. Those who were not here upon that day can form no concep-
tion of what transpired, and even those that were here had little knowledge of
what was in contemplation. . . .

Almost every man, woman and child ran and left their houses open com-
pletely panic stricken. I believe there was but two women who remained in
town during the day, my wife and Mrs. Fry.

According to Christian, Jones ordered Eldridge to remove his
furniture, he refused, but the crowd carried out the most valuable
part, piling it in the street somewhat damaged in the haste. Then
Christian turned to vindication of Lecompte:

Right here I want to correct a false impression that was started upon that
day, that has done gross injustice to a good man. I mean Judge Lecompte.
Jones informed several of our citizens that he had a writ from the District Court
to destroy the hotel as a nuisance, and he held in his hand a paper that he pre-
tended to be the writ, but did not show it. I asked him to let me see it. He
laughed and said: "Don't be too inquisitive." I said: "You know very well
you have got no writ, and you ought not to place the court in a false position. ["]
He remarked: "They don't know any better." It was heralded all through the
East that the Jefferys of Kansas had issued a writ to destroy the hotel and print-
ing offices as nuisances. There never was anything farther from the truth. I
was present in court at Lecompton, some time previous, when the grand jury

22. Lawrence Republican, May 27, 1858.



582 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

brought in a report concerning the hotel, and recommending its abatement
as a nuisance, when a lawyer by the name of Reid, I think, asked the Judge for
an order for its destruction. Lecompte looked at the fellow with astonishment,
and remarked to him: "Mr. R., do you seriously make that motion as a lawyer?"
The fellow answered, "I do." Lecompt[e] told him he should do no such
thing, that the thing was unheard of as a legal proposition, that he had no more
authority to issue such an order than he had to order a man taken out and shot.
The ruffian made some insulting remark to the Judge, when his friends took him
by the arm and led him out of the court room, the fellow still cursing and
calling the Judge an Abolitionist in disguise. I was in the party, and intimately
acquainted with the leading officials, and I know that there never was a man
more basely lied upon than Judge Lecompt[e], except it be Gov. Shannon. The
genuine pro-slavery leaders looked upon both these men as being a little tender-
footed on the question of the day, because they put Democracy before pro-
slaveryism, and the opposition party had an interest and purpose in slandering
these men, owing to their conspicuosity, the one being Governor and the other
Chief Justice of the Territory. Many other little incidence . . . have
passed out of remembrance.

LECTURE OF 1879

In 1875 the Kansas Editorial Association launched the Kansas
State Historical Society. In 1876 F. G. Adams became its secretary
and executive officer, and among the activities that he promoted
were lectures on Kansas history delivered by the actors in that his-
tory. On January 4, 1878, Lecompte accepted an invitation to speak
at some future time, but on January 12 he advised Adams that, be-
cause of engagements it would be better to delay the fixing of the
time and place. Leeompte confessed "that I feel a natural and I am
sure pardonable wish to do something in the way of disabusing the
public mind, and the truth of history, of some misapprehension of
the early politicians of Kansas and of myself as the most conspicuous
object of those misapprehensions." As the Society had no funds
Adams reminded Lecompte, February 12, 1879, that the arrange-
ments must be carried out without expense to the Society, but sug-
gested he apply to the railroad for passes in order to reduce his per-
sonal outlay. Lecompte reported that, although he would appreciate
a pass, he would not make it a condition. 23 Charles Robinson was
president of the Society and the lecture was held in Topeka, at the
Baptist church, near the State House, on February 24, 1879. The
Topeka Daily Blade of that date called attention to the event in the
following paragraph :

Judge Lecompte is the oldest Kansas Judge. He was the most conspicuous
of the members of the Judiciary during the Territorial period. He it was who,
as a United States Judge, had the duty of expounding the odious laws passed

23. Correspondence of the Kansas State Historical Society "Incoming," v. 2, pp. 166,
197; v. 4, p. 131-133; "Outgoing," v. 3, p. 329.



JUDGE LECOMPTE AND THE "SACK OF LAWRENCE'* 583

by the pro-slavery legislature of 1855. In this way he became very obnoxious
to many Kansas people. He has lived long enough to have outlived the interests
of those times, and he has accepted the invitation of the State Historical society
to lecture this evening upon the subject of "The Territorial Judiciary"; a subject
which he is better able to handle than anybody else. He should have a full
house. . . .

The following day the session was reported briefly in the same
paper:

The lecture of Judge Lecompte last night before the State Historical society,
was attended by a fair sized audience, and was well received. The Judge is
one of the oldest citizens in Kansas, a consummate lawyer, a fair speaker and
a pleasant gentleman. He was introduced last night, in a few well chosen
remarks, by Ex-Governor Robinson, jwho also made a short talk at the close of
the Judge's lecture.

The Topeka Commonwealth, February 25, reported the Lecompte
lecture at greater length. In introducing the judge, the reporter said
that Robinson

gave a brief account of the manner in which Judge Lecompte with others, in
the spring of 1856, stood guard for the protection of the Governor while a
prisoner at Leavenworth, and saved him from the hands of a mob of pro-slavery
men who had determined to take Governor Robinson's life.

In his lecture, Judge Lecompte gave a forcible description of the condition
of the population coming first into Kansas from all parts of the country, all be-
coming at once partisan in the slavery question, a partisanship which very soon
became intensified into acts of violence on both sides.

Lecompte referred to the Missouri advantage of distance which
enabled them to carry the election of the legislature in 1855, but the
reporter represented him as saying:

The judiciary were in duty bound to carry out the laws enacted by the Legis-
lature, without questioning the fairness of the election. . . . the Free State
men . . . looked upon him as a monster, and ascribed to him acts which
he never did, and charged him with judicial decisions, which he never rendered.
He gave an account of his effort to save Cole McCrea from mob violence at
Leavenworth, in 1855, when at the same time he was charged by the Free State
Press with having endeavored to incite the mob to the very act which he per-
suaded them not to committ. Even the Congressional Committees' report, in
1856, placed him in the same false position.

Then turning from the content of the lecture, the Commonwealth
observed that "Judge Lecompte is a clear and forcible speaker, and
he was listened to with attention, the audience evidently being
convinced of the sincerity of the view taken by him now, in looking
back upon the trials of the early Territorial times." One more
incident must be mentioned: "At the close of the lecture, Colonel
Ritchie asked a question or two, which indicated that he and the
lecturer are not now much nearer alike in opinion than twenty-two



584 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

years ago." Except for this element of discord injected by Ritchie,
the evening appears to have been passed in "sweetness and light."
Robinson's closing remarks held that the election of the first legis-
lature was an invasion, not an election, that Free-State men were
in the majority, and that they justly refused to recognize the laws,
and naturally looked with -disfavor upon the judicial officers who
came to enforce them:



Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) → online text (page 67 of 76)