John George Nicolay.

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New Mexico, the other northward towards Oregon. But such had been the
interest created by the political excitement, and so favorable were
the newspaper reports of the location, soil, and climate of the new
country, that a few months sufficed to change Kansas from a closed and
prohibited Indian reserve to the emigrant's land of promise.

Douglas's oracular "stump speech" in the Nebraska bill transferred the
struggle for slavery extension from Congress to the newly organized
territories. "Come on, then, gentlemen of the slave States," said
Seward in a Senate discussion; "since there is no escaping your
challenge, I accept it in behalf of Freedom. We will engage in
competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to
the side that is stronger in numbers as it is in right." With fifteen
millions in the North against ten millions in the South, the result
could not be in doubt.

[Sidenote: 1854.]

Feeling secure in this evident advantage, the North, in general,
trusted to the ordinary and natural movement of emigration. To the
rule, however, there were a few exceptions. Some members of Congress,
incensed at the tactics of the Nebraska leaders, formed a Kansas Aid
Society in Washington City and contributed money to assist emigrants.
[Footnote: Testimony of the Hon. Daniel Mace, page 829, House Report
No. 200, 1st Session, 34th Congress. "Howard Report."] Beyond this
initiatory step they do not seem to have had any personal
participation in it, and its office and working operations were soon
transferred to New York. Sundry similar organizations were also formed
by private individuals. The most notable of these was a Boston company
chartered in April, named "The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company."
The charter was soon abandoned, and the company reorganized June 13th,
under private articles of association; [Footnote: E. E. Hale, "Kansas
and Nebraska," p. 229. It was once more incorporated February 21, 1855,
under the name of "The New England Emigrant Aid Company."] and in this
condition it became virtually the working agency of philanthropic
citizens of New England, headed by Eli Thayer. There were several
auxiliary societies and a few independent associations. But from what
then and afterwards came to light, it appears that Mr. Thayer's
society was the only one whose operations reached any degree of
success deserving historical notice.

This company gave publicity, through newspaper advertisements and
pamphlets, of its willingness to organize emigrants into companies, to
send them to Kansas in charge of trustworthy agents, and to obtain
transportation for them at reduced rates. It also sent machinery for a
few saw-mills, the types and presses for two or three newspapers, and
erected a hotel or boarding-house to accommodate newcomers. It
purchased and held only the land necessary to locate these business
enterprises. It engaged in no speculation, paid no fare of any
emigrants, and expressly disavowed the requirement of any oath or
pledge of political sentiment or conduct. All these transactions were
open, honest, and lawful, carefully avoiding even the implication of
moral or political wrong.

Under the auspices of this society a pioneer company of about thirty
persons arrived in Kansas in July, 1854, and founded the town of
Lawrence. Other parties followed from time to time, sending out off-
shoots, but mainly increasing the parent settlement, until next to
Fort Leavenworth, the principal military post, Lawrence became the
leading town of the Territory. The erection of the society hotel, the
society saw-mills, and the establishment of a newspaper also gave it
leadership in business and politics as well as population. This humane
and praiseworthy enterprise has been gravely charged with the origin
and responsibility of the political disorders which folio wed in
Kansas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before it had
assisted five hundred persons to their new homes, the Territory had by
regular and individual immigration, mainly from the Western States,
acquired a population of 8601 souls, as disclosed by the official
census taken after the first summer's arrivals, and before those of
the second had begun. It needs only this statement to refute the
political slander so industriously repeated in high places against the
Lawrence immigrants.

Deeper causes than the philanthropy or zeal of a few Boston
enthusiasts were actively at work. The balance of power between the
free and slave States had been destroyed by the admission of
California. To restore that balance the South had consummated the
repeal of the Missouri Compromise as a first and indispensable step.
The second equally indispensable step was to seize the political
control of the new Territory.

Kansas lay directly west of the State of Missouri. For a frontier
State, the pro-slavery sentiment of Missouri was very pronounced,
especially along the Kansas border. The establishment of slavery in
this new region had formed the subject of public and local discussion
before the Nebraska bill, and Senator Atchison had promised his
western Missouri constituents to labor for such a result. From the
time the unlooked-for course of Senator Douglas made it a practical
possibility, Atchison was all zeal and devotion to this object, which
he declared was almost as dear to him as his hope of heaven. When it
finally became a question to be decided perhaps by a single frontier
election, his zeal and work in that behalf were many times multiplied.

Current reports and subsequent developments leave no doubt that this
Senator, being then acting Vice-President of the United States,
[Footnote: By virtue of his office as President _pro tempore_ of
the United States Senate. The Vice-Presidency was vacant; William R.
King, chosen with President Pierce, had died.] immediately after the
August adjournment of Congress hurried away to his home in Platte
County, Missouri, and from that favorable situation personally
organized a vast conspiracy, running through nearly all the counties
of his State adjoining the Kansas border, to decide the slavery
question for Kansas by Missouri votes. Secret societies under various
names, such as "Blue Lodges," "Friends' Society," "Social Band," "Sons
of the South," were organized and affiliated, with all the necessary
machinery of oaths, grips, signs, passwords, and badges. The plan and
object of the movement were in general kept well concealed. Such
publicity as could not be avoided served rather to fan the excitement,
strengthen the hesitating, and frown down all dissent and opposition.
Long before the time for action arrived, the idea that Kansas must be
a slave State had grown into a fixed and determined public sentiment.

The fact is not singular if we remember the peculiar situation of that
locality. It was before the great expansion of railroads, and western
Missouri could only be conveniently approached by the single
commercial link of steamboat travel on the turbid and dangerous
Missouri River. Covering the rich, alluvial lands along the majestic
but erratic stream lay the heavy slave counties of the State, wealthy
from the valuable slave products of hemp and tobacco. Slave tenure and
slavery traditions in Missouri dated back a full century, to the
remote days when the American Bottom opposite St. Louis was one of the
chief bread and meat producing settlements of New France, sending
supplies northward to Mackinaw, southward to New Orleans, and eastward
to Fort Duquesne. When in 1763 "the Illinois" country passed by treaty
under the British flag, the old French colonists, with their slaves,
almost in a body crossed the Mississippi into then Spanish territory,
and with fresh additions from New Orleans founded St. Louis and its
outlying settlements; and these, growing with a steady thrift,
extended themselves up the Missouri River.

Slavery was thus identified with the whole history and also with the
apparent prosperity of the State; and it had in recent times made many
of these Western counties rich. The free State of Iowa lay a hundred
miles to the north, and the free State of Illinois two hundred to the
east; a wall of Indian tribes guarded the west. Should all this
security be swept away, and their runaways find a free route to Canada
by simply crossing the county line? Should the price of their personal
"chattels" fall one-half for want of a new market? With nearly fifteen
million acres of fresh land to choose from for the present outlay of a
trifling preemption fee, should not the poor white compel his single
"black boy" to follow him a few miles west, and hoe his tobacco for
him on the new fat bottom-lands of the Kaw River?

[Speech in Platte County. Wm. Phillips, "Conquest of Kansas," p. 48]

Even such off-hand reasoning was probably confined to the more
intelligent. For the greater part these ignorant but stubborn and
strong-willed frontiersmen were moved by a bitter hatred of
"abolitionism," because the word had now been used for half a century
by partisans high and low - Governors, Senators, Presidents - as a term
of opprobrium and a synonym of crime. With these as fathers of the
faith and the Vice-President of the United States as an apostle to
preach a new crusade, is it astonishing that there was no lack of
listeners, converts, and volunteers? Senator Atchison spoke in no
ambiguous words. "When you reside in one day's journey of the
Territory," said he, "and when your peace, your quiet, and your
property depend upon your action, you can without an exertion send
five hundred of your young men who will vote in favor of your
institutions. Should each county in the State of Missouri only do its
duty, the question will be decided quietly and peaceably at the
ballot-box. If we are defeated, then Missouri and the other Southern
States will have shown themselves recreant to their interests and will
deserve their fate."

Western water transportation found its natural terminus where the Kaw
or Kansas River empties into the Missouri. From this circumstance that
locality had for years been the starting-point for the overland
caravans or wagon-trains. Fort Leavenworth was the point of rendezvous
for those going to California and Oregon; Independence the place of
outfit for those destined to Santa Fe. Grouped about these two points
were half a dozen heavy slaveholding counties of Missouri, - Platte,
Clay, Bay, Jackson, Lafayette, Saline, and others. Platte County, the
home of Senator Atchison, was their Western outpost, and lay like an
outspread fan in the great bend of the Missouri, commanding from
thirty to fifty miles of river front. Nearly all of Kansas attainable
by the usual water transportation and travel lay immediately opposite.
A glance at the map will show how easily local sentiment could
influence or dominate commerce and travel on the Missouri River. In
this connection the character of the population must be taken into
account. The spirit of intolerance which once pervaded all
slaveholding communities, in whatever State of the Union, was here
rampant to an unusual degree. The rural inhabitants were marked by the
strong characteristics of the frontier, - fondness of adventure,
recklessness of exposure or danger to life, a boastful assertion of
personal right, privilege, or prowess, a daily and hourly familiarity
with the use of fire-arms. These again were heightened by two special
influences - the presence of Indian tribes whose reservations lay just
across the border, and the advent and preparation of each summer's
emigration across the great plains. The "Argonauts of '49" were not
all gamblers and cut-throats of border song and story. Generally,
however, they were men of decision and will, all mere drift-wood in
the great current of gold-seekers being soon washed ashore and left
behind. Until they finished their last dinner at the Planter's House
in St. Louis, the fledgelings of cities, the lawyers, doctors,
merchants, and speculators, were in or of civilization. Perhaps they
even resisted the contamination of cards and drink, profanity and
revolver salutations, while the gilded and tinseled Missouri River
steamboat bore them for three days against its muddy current and
boiling eddies to meet their company and their outfit.

[Illustration: DAVID R. ATCHISON.]

But once landed at Independence or Leavenworth, they were of the
frontier, of the wilderness, of the desert. Here they donned their
garments of red flannel and coarse cloth or buckskin, thrust the legs
of their trousers inside the tops of their heavy boots, and wore their
bowie-knife or revolver in their outside belt. From this departure all
were subject to the inexorable equality of the camp. Eating, sleeping,
standing guard, tugging at the wheel or defending life and property, -
there was no rank between captain and cook, employer and employed,
savant and ignoramus, but the distribution of duty and the assignment
of responsibility. Toil and exposure, hunger and thirst, wind and
storm, danger in camp quarrel or Indian ambush, were the familiar and
ordinary vicissitudes of a three months' journey in a caravan of the

All this movement created business for these Missouri River towns.
Their few inhabitants drove a brisk trade in shirts and blankets, guns
and powder, hard bread and bacon, wagons and live stock. Petty
commerce busies itself with the art of gain rather than with the labor
of reform. Indian and emigrant traders did not too closely scan their
sources of profit. The precepts of the divine and the penalties of the
human law sat lightly upon them. As yet many of these frontier towns
were small hamlets, without even a pretext of police regulations.
Passion, therefore, ran comparatively a free course, and the personal
redress of private wrongs was only held in check by the broad and
acknowledged right of self-defense. Since 1849 and 1850, when the gold
fever was at its height, emigration across the plains had slackened,
and the eagerness for a revival of this local traffic undoubtedly
exerted its influence in procuring the opening of the territories in
1854. The noise and excitement created by the passage of the Kansas-
Nebraska Act awakened the hope of frontier traders and speculators,
who now greedily watched all the budding chances of gain. Under such
circumstances these opportunities to the shrewd, to the bold, and
especially to the unscrupulous, are many. Cheap lands, unlimited town
lots, eligible trading sites, the multitude of franchises and
privileges within the control of a territorial legislature, the
offices to be distributed under party favoritism, offer an abundant
lure to enterprise and far more to craft.

It was to such a population and under such a condition of things that
Senator Atchison went to his home in Platte County in the summer of
1854 to preach his pro-slavery crusade against Kansas. His personal
convictions, his party faith, his senatorial reflection, and his
financial fortunes, were all involved in the scheme. With the help of
the Stringfellows and other zealous co-workers, the town of Atchison
was founded and named in his honor, and the "Squatter Sovereign"
newspaper established, which displayed his name as a candidate for the
presidency. The good-will of the Administration was manifested by
making one of the editors postmaster at the new town.

President Pierce appointed as Governor of Kansas Territory Andrew H.
Keeder, a member of his own party, from the free State of
Pennsylvania. He had neither prominent reputation nor conspicuous
ability, though under trying circumstances he afterwards showed
diligence, judgment, integrity, and more than ordinary firmness and
independence. It is to be presumed that his fitness in a partisan
light had been thoroughly scrutinized by both President and Senate.
Upon the vital point the investigation was deemed conclusive. "He was
appointed," the "Washington Union" naively stated when the matter was
first called in question, "under the strongest assurance that he was
strictly and honestly a national man. We are able to state further, on
very reliable authority, that whilst Governor Reeder was in
Washington, at the time of his appointment, he conversed with Southern
gentlemen on the subject of slavery, and assured them that he had no
more scruples in buying a slave than a horse, and regretted that he
had not money to purchase a number to carry with him to Kansas." With
him were appointed three Federal judges, a secretary, a marshal, and
an attorney for the Territory, all doubtless considered equally
trustworthy on the slavery question. The organic act invested the
governor with very comprehensive powers to initiate the organization
of the new Territory. Until the first legislature should be duly
constituted, he had authority to fix election days, define election
districts, direct the mode of returns, take a census, locate the
temporary seat of government, declare vacancies, order new elections
to fill them, besides the usual and permanent powers of an executive.

[Sidenote: Ex-Governor Reeder's Testimony, "Howard Report," pp. 933-985.]

Arriving at Leavenworth in October, 1854, Governor Reeder was not long
in discovering the designs of the Missourians. He was urged to order
the immediate election of a territorial legislature. The conspirators
had already spent some months in organizing their "Blue Lodges," and
now desired at once to control the political power of the Territory.
But the Governor had too much manliness to become the mere pliant tool
they wished to make him. He resented their dictation; he made a tour
of inspection through the new settlements; and, acting on his own
judgment, on his return issued a proclamation for a simple election of
a delegate to Congress. At the appearance of this proclamation Platte
County took alarm, and held a meeting on the Kansas side of the river,
to intimidate him with violent speeches and a significant memorial.
The Governor retorted in a letter that the meeting was composed of
Missourians, and that he should resist outside interference from
friend, foe, or faction. [Footnote: Governor Reeder to Gwiner and
others, Nov. 21, 1854; copied into "National Era," Jan. 4, 1855.]
Pocketing this rebuff as best they might, Senator Atchison and his
"Blue Lodges" nevertheless held fast to their purpose. Paper
proclamations and lectures on abstract rights counted little against
the practical measures they had matured. November 29th, the day of
election for delegate, finally arrived, and with it a formidable
invasion of Missouri voters at more than half the polling places
appointed in the Governor's proclamation.

In frontier life it was an every-day experience to make excursions for
business or pleasure, singly or in parties, requiring two or three
consecutive days, perhaps a night or two of camping out, for which
saddle-horses and farm-wagons furnished ready transportation; and
nothing was more common than concerted neighborhood efforts for
improvement, protection, or amusement. On such occasions neighborly
sentiment and comity required every man to drop his axe, or unhitch
from the plow in the furrow, to further the real or imaginary weal of
the community. In urgent instances non-compliance was fatal to the
peace and comfort and sometimes to the personal safety of the settler.
The movement described above had been in active preparation for weeks,
controlled by strong and secret combinations, and many unwilling
participants were doubtless swept into it by an excited public opinion
they dared not resist.

A day or two before the election the whole Missouri border was astir.
Horses were saddled, teams harnessed, wagons loaded with tents,
forage, and provisions, bowie-knives buckled on, revolvers and rifles
loaded, and flags and inscriptions flung to the breeze by the more
demonstrative and daring. Crossing the river-ferries from the upper
counties, and passing unobstructed over the State line by the prairie-
roads and trails from the lower, many of them camped that night at the
nearest polls, while others pushed on fifty or a hundred miles to the
sparsely settled election districts of the interior. As they passed
along, the more scrupulous went through the empty form of an imaginary
settlement, by nailing a card to a tree, driving a stake into the
ground, or inscribing their names in a claim register, prepared in
haste by the invading party. The indifferent satisfied themselves with
mere mental resolves to become settlers. The utterly reckless silenced
all scruples in profanity and drunkenness.

[Sidenote: Nov. 29, 1854.]

On election morning the few real squatters of Kansas, endowed with
Douglas's delusive boon of "popular sovereignty," witnessed with mixed
indignation and terror acts of summary usurpation. Judges of election
were dispossessed and set aside by intimidation or stratagem, and pro-
slavery judges substituted without the slightest regard to regularity
or law; judges' and voters' oaths were declared unnecessary, or
explained away upon newly-invented phrases and absurd subtleties.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," in wrong and crime, as well as
in honest purpose and deed; and by more dishonest devices than we can
stop fully to record the ballot-boxes were filled, through invasion,
false swearing, riot, and usurpation, with ballots for Whitfield, the
pro-slavery candidate for delegate to Congress, at nine out of the
seventeen polling places - showing, upon a careful scrutiny afterwards
made by a committee of Congress, an aggregate of 1729 illegal votes,
and only 1114 legal ones.

This mockery of an election completed, the valiant Knights of the Blue
Lodge, the fraternal members of the Social Band, the philanthropic
groups of the Friends' Society, and the chivalric Sons of the South
returned to their axe and plow, society lodge and bar-room haunt, to
exult in a victory for Missouri and slavery over the "Abolition hordes
and nigger thieves of the Emigrant Aid Society." The "Border Ruffians"
of Missouri had written their preliminary chapter in the annals of
Kansas. The published statements of the Emigrant Aid Society show that
up to the date of election it had sent only a few hundred men, women,
and children to the Territory. Why such a prodigious effort was deemed
necessary to overcome the votes and influence of this paltry handful
of "paupers who had sold themselves to Eli Thayer and Co." was never



As the event proved, the invasion of border ruffians to decide the
first election in Kansas had been entirely unnecessary. Even without
counting the illegal votes, the pro-slavery candidate for delegate was
chosen by a plurality. He had held the office of Indian Agent, and his
acquaintance, experience, and the principal fact that he was the
favorite of the conspirators gave him an easy victory. Governor Reeder
issued his certificate of election without delay, and Whitfield
hurried away to Washington to enjoy his new honors, taking his seat in
the House of Representatives within three weeks after his election.
Atchison, however, did not follow his example. Congress met on the
first Monday of December, and the services of the Acting Vice-
President were needed in the Senate Chamber. But of such importance
did he deem the success of the conspiracy in which he was the leader,
that a few weeks before the session he wrote a short letter to the
Senate, giving notice of his probable absence and advising the
appointment of a new presiding officer.

[Sidenote: Reeder Testimony, Howard Report, p. 934.]

[Sidenote: Howard Report, p. 9.]

As a necessary preliminary to organizing the government of the
Territory, Governor Reeder, under the authority of the organic act,
proceeded to take a census of its inhabitants. This work, carried on
and completed in the months of January and February, 1855, disclosed a
total population of 8601 souls, of whom 2905 were voters. With this
enumeration as a definite guide, the Governor made an apportionment,
established election districts, and, appointing the necessary officers
to conduct it, fixed upon the 30th of March, 1855, as the day for
electing the territorial legislature. Governor Reeder had come to
Kansas an ardent Democrat, a firm friend of the Pierce Administration,
and an enthusiastic disciple of the new Democratic dogma of "Popular
Sovereignty." But his short experience with Atchison's Border Ruffians
had already rudely shaken his partisanship. The events of the November
election exposed the designs of the pro-slavery conspiracy, and no
course was left him but to become either its ally or its enemy.

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 27 of 31)