Kansas State Historical Society.

The Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) online

. (page 6 of 59)
Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 6 of 59)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Henry A. Bullard, New Orleans, to Amos Lawrence, December 29, 1850, January 25, 1851,
"Amos (Lawrence Letters," v. 10.



COTTON WHIGS IN KANSAS 43

this territory be opened to popular sovereignty, and that when
prepared to enter the Union should do so "with or without slav-
ery" as determined by its constitution at the time.

As expected, leading antislavery elements immediately led the
attack upon the measure as further proof of an insidious conspiracy
to extend the slave empire into the west. But among the groups
in the North which set themselves against this "Nebraska infamy"
none were more outraged and resentful than the "Cotton Whigs"
of Massachusetts. Convinced that they had demonstrated their
own good faith by having upheld the institution of slavery where
it was sanctioned by the constitution, they expected that the South,
in return, had guaranteed that the territories would remain free.
Assured that the Compromise of 1850 had ended the issue of slavery
once and for all, they were now furious at this inexcusable dem-
onstration of bad faith. On February 23, 1854, some three thou-
sand of the "solid" men of Boston, headed by Abbott Lawrence,
Robert C. Winthrop, and Samuel Eliot, held a great meeting at
Faneuil Hall to protest the way in which they had been cheated
and ridiculed by what they considered to be the machinations of
cheap demagogues. 17

Business interests, which had always deplored public antislavery
agitation, now began to add their mighty influence to the ground-
swell of public opinion and curse themselves for having to do it.
"If I could have prescribed a recipe for reinflating Free-Soilism
and Abolitionism, which had collapsed all over the country," sput-
tered Robert C. Winthrop in utter frustration, "I should have
singled out this precise potion from the whole materia medica of
political quackery." His friend Amos A. Lawrence agreed, and
condemned the political stupidity which reopened the issue of
slavery and split North and South again. After all, if the wealthy
merchants and the "retired gentlemen who go into State Street
for an hour or two every day" were now going over to the anti-
slavery cause, then who else was left? "These constitute pretty
much all the 'slave power' in this community," he confided to a
friend, "and if they give up the Compromises and say that they
have been cheated, we all know that sympathy for the South and
their 'Institution* must be gone." 18

17. Boston Daily Advertiser, February 23, 1850; Boston Times, February 23, May 30,
1854; Amos A. Lawrence to George S. Park, January 23, 1857, "Amos A. Lawrence Letter-
book," v. 4.

18. Winthrop, op. cit., pp. 165, 166; Edward Everett, Mss. "Diary," M. H. S., May 27,
1854; Amos A. Lawrence to Samuel Walley, May 12, 1854, Lawrence to Mr. Andrews, May
26, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letterbook," v. 2.



44 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

The first object of the "Cotton Whigs" was to defeat Douglas
and destroy his nefarious bill. While the gentlemen of Boston
pleaded with their Southern friends not to upset the peace es-
tablished by the Compromise of 1850, they urged their political
representatives in Washington to "pour in the vollies of red hot
shot" upon the Nebraska bill and make sure that "Douglas' day

"10

is over. ]

But the consummate political skill of Senator Douglas proved
more than a match for the irate protestations of his Whig op-
ponents in the North. Borne along by the energies of young Doug-
las, supported by administrative approval from the White House,
and sustained by jubilant Southerners of all parties, the Kansas-
Nebraska act swept aside its opponents and was signed into law
by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. 20

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act, the "Cotton
Whigs" of Massachusetts found themselves in a peculiar dilemma:
As realistic men of business and capital, the Yankee manufacturers
felt obliged to retain the faith and good will of a Southern planta-
tion economy upon which their own substantial fortunes were
solidly based. As men of political principle, the New England
Whigs felt constrained to preserve the Union which Marshall had
defined, Webster had defended, and which the Whig party had
labored so hard and long to maintain. But as men of honor and
integrity, the keepers of the "Puritan Conscience" felt themselves
consumed by righteous wrath at what they considered to be the
selfish designs of unscrupulous politicians who had gambled with
national unity for the sake of railroad ties and caucus votes.

Nowhere, perhaps, is the startling metamorphosis of the Boston
businessman so well demonstrated than in connection with the
seizure of the Negro, Anthony Burns, on May 26, 1854. So great
was the opposition of Boston to this application of the Fugitive
Slave law that it was necessary to use the entire city police force
plus federal troops to escort Burns to the wharf. Amos A. Law-
rence angrily told the mayor that he would prefer to see the court-
house burned to the ground than have Burns returned to slavery;
and when he was forced to witness the victim's march to the docks,
he told his brother that only the immense display of military
power "prevented the total destruction of the U. S. Marshal and

19. Amos A. Lawrence to R. A. Crafts, New Orleans, March 7, 1854, Lawrence to Hon.
Samuel H. Walley, May 12, 1854, Lawrence to Hon. J. W. Edmonds, March 16, 1854, ibid.

20. Robert W. Johannsen, "The Kansas-Nebraska Act and Territorial Government in
the United States," Territorial Kansas (Lawrence, University of Kansas Social Science
Studies, 1954), pp. 17-32.



COTTON WHIGS IN KANSAS 45

his hired assistants." 21 These were the words of a man who only
two years earlier had offered his personal services to the U. S.
marshal in Boston to aid "in any capacity" in carrying out the very
same law. 22 "The commercial class of the city have taken a new
position on the great question of the day," reported the Boston
Times, and noted that a number of prominent merchants "who
have never before given their influence on the anti-slavery side,"
had just signed a public petition to have the Fugitive Slave act
repealed. 23 It seemed, indeed, as if the conservative gentlemen
of Boston had become "stark mad Abolitionists" overnight, and
all they needed was some means of converting their sentiments into
action.

As "Cotton Whigs" they had repeatedly pledged their word that
they would never interfere with the South or with any of her in-
stitutions where the constitution provided sanctions; but they had
also gone on record as opposing the extension of that "peculiar
institution" beyond those prescribed constitutional limits. So, by
God, Douglas or no Douglas, bill or no bill, if population was the
determining factor in deciding the fate of Kansas, these Yankees
would see to it that there would be a flood of "free citizens" to
Kansas, the like of which had not been seen since the waters of
the flood overflowed the earth. "The North was on fire," exclaimed
Edward Everett Hale, and prophesied that a gigantic wave of
emigration like nothing since the days of Moses would soon be
passing into the valleys of the Nebraska and the Kansas like the
crusaders of old under Peter the Hermit. This was no old "anti-
slavery warhorse plan," maintained Hale. This was a plan to "meet
the South on its own terms" by sending emigrants to Kansas in
accordance with a plan which "the whole providence of God de-
mands, and which is made easy by the wonderful arrangement of
His wisdom." 24

"Anger hath no mercy nor fury when it breaketh forth. And
who can bear the violence of one provoked!" states the Book of
Proverbs. With all the fervor of an evangelistic crusade, the New
England conscience went to work, with the battle cry of William
Seward ringing out: "God give the victory to the side that is

21. Amos A. Lawrence to William Lawrence, June, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letter-
book," v. 2.

22. Amos A. Lawrence to Marshal Charles Devens, February 17, 1851, ibid., v. 1.

23. Boston Times, May 30, 1854.

24. Edward E. Hale, Jr., The Life and Letters of Edward Everett Hale, 2 vols. (Boston,
1917), v. 1, pp. 248, 256, 257.



46 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

stronger in numbers as it is in right/* and with Amos Lawrence
answering: "We shall beat them!" 25

The earliest response to the Kansas challenge centered about the
"Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company" which had been created
early in the spring of 1854 while the Kansas-Nebraska act was still
pending. The work of Eli Thayer of Worcester, a member of the
Massachusetts legislature, the plan proposed to mix philanthropy
with profit. Thayer planned to sponsor whole villages of free
settlers to develop the fertile soil of Kansas, and then divide up
the profits between the homesteaders and the investors. On April
26, 1854, the governor of Massachusetts signed a charter authoriz-
ing a capital stock of $5,000,000, and Thayer was off to New York
to convince other subscribers of the fabulous opportunities involved
in making Kansas free. 26

Back in Boston, however, hardly a month had passed before
Thayer's project began to be labeled as a crass, money-making
scheme, and the motives of its membership ascribed to selfish
greed masquerading behind the glittering fagade of humanitarian-
ism. Amos A. Lawrence, now a leading merchant and financier,
prominent in the Emigrant Aid movement, was disturbed by the
ugly rumors which he himself had heard. Hard pressed by many
of his influential colleagues and investors who had suddenly be-
come fearful of the great amount of liability which they had in-
curred in Thayer's "harum scarum" scheme, Lawrence now de-
manded that Thayer reform the company or lose the support of his
Boston subscribers. 27

Learning of these developments in New York City, Thayer
rushed back to Boston after hastily obtaining a charter of corpora-
tion from the state of Connecticut apparently in order to hold to-
gether his New York subscribers. Thayer's attempts to fight the
Boston men proved fruitless. Lawrence was adamant, and threat-
ened to withdraw his name and his money if a change were not
forthcoming. Thayer yielded, and on July 24, 1854, a "voluntary

25. Amos A. Lawrence to William Lawrence, June 20, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Let-
terbook," v. 2.

26. Amos A. Lawrence to Moses Grinnell, New York, June 21, 1854, ibid. Also, see
Samuel A. Johnson, "The Genesis of the New England Emigrant Aid Company," New Eng-
land Quarterly, Portland, Maine, v. 3 (January, 1930), pp. 95-122, and R. V. Harlow,
"The Rise and Fall of the Kansas Aid Movement," American Historical Review, Richmond,
Va., v. 41 (October, 1935), pp. 1-3.

27. Patrick Jackson to Amos A. Lawrence, June 10, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letters,"
v. 11; Eli Thayer to Lawrence, June 22, 1854, ibid. See, also, Robert E. Moody, "The
First Year of the Emigrant Aid Company." New England Quarterly, v. 4 (January, 1931),
pp. 149, 150, and Eli Thayer, A History of the Kansas Crusade (New York, 1889), pp. 25-30.



COTTON WHIGS IN KANSAS 47

association" was formed by which the subscribers associated them-
selves together into a noncorporate joint stock company to be
known as "The Emigrant Aid Company/' Management was vested
in three trustees, Amos A. Lawrence, J. M. S. Williams, and Eli
Thayer, with Dr. Thomas H. Webb as secretary, and Lawrence
acting as treasurer. 28

In February of the next year, the members of what was now
commonly referred to as "The New England Emigrant Aid Com-
pany" applied to the Massachusetts legislature for a charter, and
on February 21, 1855, Governor Gardner signed the act authoriz-
ing corporation "for the purpose of directing emigration West-
ward and aiding in providing accommodations for the emigrants
after arriving at their places of destination. . . ." On March
5, a meeting was held, the charter accepted, and the organization
crystalized which would operate in the struggle for Kansas during
1855-1856. John Carter Brown of Providence was elected presi-
dent, Eli Thayer and J. M. S. Williams chosen as vice-presidents,
Amos A. Lawrence continued in his post as treasurer, and Dr. Webb
was kept on as secretary. 29

The new company was now established as a purely local or-
ganization, separate and distinct from similar emigrant organiza-
tions in other states, with wary investors assured of limited liability
under the careful hand and expert eye of Mr. Lawrence. From
now on "aid" would consist of free information and a 15 per cent
reduction in railroad and steamship fares through quantity pur-
chase. No political questions were to be asked of the emigrants,
since the avowed purpose of the organization was to get people
to Kansas, and there let them make their own free choice to op-
pose the establishment of slavery "by all legal and constitutional
means." In this respect Lawrence went out of his way to make it
clear that the reorganized company was not a speculative venture
for profit. Although some members, especially Eli Thayer, con-
tinued to expect fabulous returns on their investments, Lawrence
himself never expected that the company stock would pay divi-
dends or even that the stockholders would ever see their money
again. He was quite upset when the free settlers named their
capital "Lawrence," fearing that his motives in sponsoring the Emi-

28. Amos A. Lawrence to Eli Thayer, July 5, July 6, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letter-
book," v. 2; Thayer to Lawrence, July 15, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letters," v. 11. See
Moody, "The First Year," New England Quarterly, v. 4, pp. 152, 153, and Johnson, "Emi-
grant Aid Company," ibid., v. 3, p. 100.

29. Ibid., pp. 105-107.



48 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

grant Aid Society would be interpreted as an attempt to promote
his own influence and "celebrity." 30

Writing to Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, Lawrence
denied that the funds of the company were used for any other
purpose but to provide for the basic needs of the emigrants and
insisted that the stock was worthless. Furthermore, continued Law-
rence, these emigrants were not Abolitionists. "So far as we know,
not one known to be of that stamp has gone in our parties," he
wrote. "They are free to vote and do as they please. The society
has no agreement with them nor pledge, nor are they asked any
questions." 31 When two of the trustees proposed to buy real estate
in Kansas, to the amount of 28 million dollars, Lawrence vetoed
the idea. Such a purpose, he wrote in a memorandum, "is for the
purpose of speculating, to make a profit; and it is not necessary
in order to accomplish the objects for which the Society was
formed." The Emigrant Aid Society was created for the purpose
of promoting freedom not money. 32

With the company reorganized, Lawrence not only received
the additional backing of such men as his prominent uncle, Abbott
Lawrence, and of William Appleton and Joseph Lyman, but was
contacted by such leading New York merchants as Moses Grinnell
who sought to join forces with the New England group. 33 Collect-
ing money, writing letters, encouraging friends, and denouncing
foes, Lawrence demonstrated the enthusiasm which motivated
many Northern Whigs to work so zealously for a free-soil Kansas.
He had letters sent to every minister in New England, explaining
the nature and purpose of the Emigrant Aid Society and soliciting
their support. "We beg you," he urged, "to consider with your most
influential and patriotic parishioners and townsmen, and with them
take such measures as shall carry forward this undertaking to a
successful issue." 34 So convinced was he of the righteousness of
his cause that Lawrence told Governor Gardner that if he were a
member of the Massachusetts legislature, he would go so far as to

30. William Lawrence, The Life of Amos A. Lawrence: With Extracts From His Diary
and Correspondence (Boston, 1888), p. 84; Amos A. Lawrence to Charles Robinson, Septem-
ber 30, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letterbook," v. 2; Lawrence to the Rev. S. Y. Lum,
Lawrence, Kan., November 28, 1854, ibid.

31. Amos A. Lawrence to Thomas Hart Benton, January 2, 1855, ibid., v. 3.

32. Memorandum to Messrs, Williams and Thayer, August 26, 1854, ibid., v. 2;
Charles Robinson, The Kansas Conflict (Lawrence, 1898), p. 182. Also, see Johnson,
"Emigrant Aid Company," loc. cit., pp. 100, 112-115, for a good comparison of the ideas
of Thayer and Lawrence regarding the proper objectives of the company.

33. Amos A. Lawrence to Eli Thayer, July 31, 1854, Lawrence to Hon. John Goodrich,
August 2, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letterbook," v. 2.

34. Letter to be sent to every minister in New England, dated September, 1854, ibid.



COTTON WHIGS IN KANSAS 49

vote "in favor of placing at the disposal of the Governor and Coun-
cil a liberal sum to be used in case an attempt is made to drive our
people from the Territory [Kansas] by force/' 35

With great satisfaction, Lawrence and his friends saw hundreds
of free settlers start off from the East, make their way to Kansas
City, Mo., and then set off along the Santa Fe trail into Kansas.
All in all, a total of some 600 such homesteaders had settled either
in Lawrence, or in nearby settlements as Osawatomie, Manhattan,
and Topeka, by the time the freezing winter of 1854 closed in.
Assuming that there was no question as to the legitimate status
of the free-soil inhabitants of Kansas, Lawrence formally requested
the President of the United States to recognize the free settlers
as the legally constituted government of Kansas. 36

The New Englanders, however, reckoned without the hostile
attitude of the Proslavery settlers just across the border in Missouri.
Angered at what they considered to be an unwarranted interfer-
ence in the normal course of events, Missouri border men, includ-
ing bull-whackers, buffalo hunters, and Indian fighters, prepared
to take whatever steps were necessary to prevent free-soil Yankee
imports from creating an artificial free state. The first opportunity
for such action came in the fall of 1854 when the governor, An-
drew Reeder, called for the election of territorial delegates. Into
Kansas swarmed a roaring horde of Missouri "ruffians" to stuff the
ballot boxes in favor of slavery. When Reeder called for the elec-
tion of a territorial legislature the following March, the Missouri
once again overflowed its banks. 37

Outraged at what he considered to be an unfair and illegal inter-
ference with a perfectly constitutional procedure, Amos A. Law-
rence wrote directly to Franklin Pierce. Informing him of the
activities of these Missouri agitators, Lawrence warned the Presi-
dent that if the United States government did not take imme-
diate steps to protect the free settlers, they would have to take
matters into their own hands. Against the current accusations
that the free-soil emigrants were traitors because they refused to
recognize the new territorial government of Kansas, Lawrence
condemned this government as fraudulent, and flatly denied that
the emigrants would ever resist or even question the laws of the
United States when executed by "the proper officers." But, he

35. Amos A. Lawrence to Governor Gardner, March 7, 1856, ibid., v. 3.

36. Amos A. Lawrence to President Pierce, April 17, 1855, ibid.

37. National Intelligencer, Washington, June 22, 1854.

42200



50 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

concluded, the free-soil settlers would never recognize the present
Proslavery legislature, "nor its enactments, nor its officers." 88

Lawrence also took time to write Senator Atchison and demand
of the gentleman from Missouri that he see that the contest be
conducted according to the rules of fair play. The Kansas-Ne-
braska act had decreed that the future of Kansas was to be de-
pendent on the factor of population, and it was to be a wide-open
race so let the best man win! These New England settlers, Law-
rence pointed out to the Western railroad magnate, were not Abo-
litionists, but continued interference on the part of the Proslavery
elements, he warned, "may make them abolitionists of the most
dangerous kind/' 39

Even as he wrote, threatened and argued, Lawrence came to
the apparent conclusion that stronger measures would have to be
taken in order to provide adequate protection for the emigrants.
Charles Robinson, the free-soil leader in Kansas, had been plead-
ing for guns ever since the spring elections. "Cannot your secret so-
ciety send us 200 Sharps rifles as a loan till this question is settled?"
he begged Eli Thayer on April 2, 1855; and a few days later sent
a letter off to Edward Everett Hale, urging that 200 rifles and two
field pieces be sent to Kansas. Not content with merely waiting,
Robinson sent George Washington Deitzler to New England to
obtain as many weapons as possible for the free-soil cause. 40

A month later, Robinson was in possession of a letter signed by
Thomas H. Webb, secretary of the Emigrant Aid Society, acknowl-
edging the arrival of Deitzler, and assuring Robinson that one
hundred "machines" were on their way. The first shipment of
"machinery" arrived at Lawrence, Kan., in the middle of May;
and when the emigrants tore open the crates variously stamped
"hardware," "machinery," or "books," they found themselves in
possession of a hundred of the latest and most advanced type of
breech-loading weapon the Sharps rifle. With increased fire-

38. Amos A. Lawrence to President Pierce, July 15, December 10, 1855, "Amos A.
Lawrence Letterbook," v. 3. Also, see Lawrence, Amos A. Lawrence, pp. 95, 104.

39. Amos A. Lawrence to Hon. David Atchison, March 31, 1855, "Amos A. Lawrence
Letterbook," v. 3.

40. Charles Robinson to Eli Thayer, April 2, 1855, Robinson to Edward Everett Hale,
April 9, 1855, W. H. Isely, "The Sharps Rifle Episode in Kansas History," American His-
torical Review, v. 12 (April, 1907), pp. 551, 552. Because Eli Thayer flirted with the
Know-Nothing movement in Massachusetts for about a year, the question may well arise as to
whether Robinson was referring to the Emigrant Aid Company or the Know-Nothing organi-
zation when he mentions a "secret society." Since Thayer's affiliation was brief, however,
since Edward Everett Hale was violently opposed to the Know-Nothing movement, and since
it was Dr. Webb who sent out the first shipment of rifles, the present writer is inclined to
feel that Robinson was referring to the Emigrant Aid Company which had been working
quietly as a voluntary joint-stock company during the early months of 1855. See Edward
Everett Hale, Letters, v. 1, p. 260, and George F. Hoar, Autobiography of Seventy Years,
2 vols. (New York, 1903), v. 1, p. 189.



COTTON WHIGS IN KANSAS 51

power and accuracy, the free-soil settlers of Lawrence were, for
the first time, in a position to offset the numerical superiority of
the hostile Missourians across the border, most of whom were
still armed with antiquated muzzle loaders and buffalo guns. 41

Up until recently, Amos A. Lawrence had refused to consider
the idea of sending weapons to the emigrants, but after learning
of the fraudulent elections and the attacks of the "border ruffians"
he changed his mind. Writing to Robinson, Lawrence told him of
his decision. "You must have arms, or your courage will not avail,"
he admitted. "We must stir ourselves here tomorrow and see what
can be done." But Lawrence did not wait for the next day to
"stir" himself, for on the same day he sent out a letter to the sec-
retary of the Emigrant Aid Company, ordering: "Write to Hart-
ford and get their terms for one hundred more of the Sharps rifles
at once." As far as the industrialist was concerned, the course was
clear "when farmers turn soldier, they must have arms. 9 ' "Up to
this time," he wrote to President Pierce accusingly, "the govern-
ment has kept so far aloof as to force the settlers to the conclusion
that if they would be safe, they must defend themselves; and there-
fore many persons here who refused at first (myself included),
have rendered them assistance by furnishing them means of de-
fence." 42

Undoubtedly encouraged by the extraordinary encouragement
and assistance they were now receiving from their patrons in the
East ("It has a wonderful effect upon our Mo. neighbors to hear
that men are enrolling, & money is being raised in the North,"
Robinson told Salmon P. Chase), the free settlers of Kansas took
things into their own hands. They elected delegates to a con-
stitutional convention at Topeka in October, 1855, and proceeded
to draw up a Free-State constitution. Submitted to a totally free-
soil electorate, the constitution was adopted, Charles Robinson was



Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 6 of 59)