John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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Ruffian reserve lying a little farther back from the State line could
at any time easily turn the scale. The free-State men had only their
convictions, their intelligence, their courage, and the moral support
of the North; the conspiracy had its secret combination, the
territorial officials, the Legislature, the bogus laws, the courts,
the militia officers, the President, and the army. This was a
formidable array of advantages; slavery was playing with loaded dice.

With such a radical opposition of sentiment, both factions were on the
alert to seize every available vantage ground. The bogus laws having
been enacted, and the free-State men having, at the Big Springs
Convention, resolved on the failure of peaceable remedies to resist
them to a "bloody issue," the conspiracy was not slow to cover itself
and its projects with the sacred mantle of authority. Opportunely for
them, about this time Governor Shannon, appointed to succeed Reeder,
arrived in the Territory. Coming by way of the Missouri River towns,
he fell first among Border-Ruffian companionship and influences; and
perhaps having his inclinations already molded by his Washington
instructions, his early impressions were decidedly adverse to the
free-State cause. His reception speech at Westport, in which he
maintained the legality of the Legislature, and his determination to
enforce their laws, delighted his pro-slavery auditors. To further
enlist his zeal in their behalf, a few weeks later they formally
organized a "law-and-order party" by a large public meeting held at
Leavenworth. All the territorial dignitaries were present; Governor
Shannon presided; John Calhoun, the Surveyor-General, made the
principal speech, a denunciation of the "abolitionists" supporting the
Topeka movement; Chief-Justice Lecompte dignified the occasion with
approving remarks. With public opinion propitiated in advance, and the
Governor of the Territory thus publicly committed to their party, the
conspirators felt themselves ready to enter upon the active campaign
to crush out opposition, for which they had made such elaborate

Faithful to their legislative declaration they knew but one issue,
slavery. All dissent, all non-compliance, all hesitation, all mere
silence even, were in their stronghold towns, like Leavenworth,
branded as "abolitionism," declared to be hostility to the public
welfare, and punished with proscription, personal violence, expulsion,
and frequently death. Of the lynchings, the mobs, and the murders, it
would be impossible, except in a very extended work, to note the
frequent and atrocious details. The present chapters can only touch
upon the more salient movements of the civil war in Kansas, which
happily were not sanguinary; if, however, the individual and more
isolated cases of bloodshed could be described, they would show a
startling aggregate of barbarity and loss of life for opinion's sake.
Some of these revolting crimes, though comparatively few in number,
were committed, generally in a spirit of lawless retaliation, by free-
State men.

Among other instrumentalities for executing the bogus laws, the bogus
Legislature had appointed one Samuel J. Jones sheriff of Douglas
County, Kansas Territory, although that individual was at the time of
his appointment, and long afterwards, United States postmaster of the
town of Westport, Missouri. Why this Missouri citizen and Federal
official should in addition be clothed with a foreign territorial
shrievalty of a county lying forty or fifty miles from his home is a
mystery which was never explained outside a Missouri Blue Lodge.

[Sidenote: Wm. Phillips, "Conquest of Kansas," p. 152, _et seq._]

A few days after the "law-and-order" meeting in Leavenworth, there
occurred a murder in a small settlement thirteen miles west of the
town of Lawrence. The murderer, a pro-slavery man, first fled, to
Missouri, but returned to Shawnee Mission and sought the official
protection of Sheriff Jones; no warrant, no examination, no commitment
followed, and the criminal remained at large. Out of this incident,
the officious sheriff managed most ingeniously to create an
embroilment with the town of Lawrence, Buckley, who was alleged to
have been accessory to the crime, obtained a peace-warrant against
Branson, a neighbor of the victim. With this peace-warrant in his
pocket, but without showing or reading it to his prisoner, Sheriff
Jones and a posse of twenty-five Border Ruffians proceeded to
Branson's house at midnight and arrested him. Alarm being given,
Branson's free-State neighbors, already exasperated at the murder,
rose under the sudden instinct of self-protection and rescued Branson
from the sheriff and his posse that same night, though without other
violence than harsh words.

[Sidenote: Shannon, proclamation, November 29, 1855. Senate Ex. Doc.,
3d Sess. 34th Cong., Vol. II., p. 56.]

[Sidenote: Phillips, p. 168.]

Burning with the thirst of personal revenge, Sheriff Jones now accused
the town of Lawrence of the violation of law involved in this rescue,
though the people of Lawrence immediately and earnestly disavowed the
act. But for Sheriff Jones and his superiors the pretext was all-
sufficient. A Border-Ruffian foray against the town was hastily
organized. The murder occurred November 21; the rescue November 26.
November 27, upon the brief report of Sheriff Jones, demanding a force
of three thousand men "to carry out the laws," Governor Shannon issued
his order to the two major-generals of the skeleton militia, "to
collect together as large a force as you can in your division, and
repair without delay to Lecompton, and report yourself to S. J. Jones,
sheriff of Douglas County." [Footnote: Governor Shannon, order to
Richardson, November 27, 1855. Same order to Strickler, same date.
Senate Executive Documents, 3d Sess. 34th Cong., Vol. II., p. 53.] The
Kansas militia was a myth; but the Border Ruffians, with their
backwoods rifles and shotguns, were a ready resource. To these an
urgent appeal for help was made; and the leaders of the conspiracy in
prompt obedience placarded the frontier with inflammatory handbills,
and collected and equipped companies, and hurried them forward to the
rendezvous without a moment's delay. The United States Arsenal at
Liberty, Missouri, was broken into and stripped of its contents to
supply cannon, small arms, and ammunition. In two days after notice a
company of fifty Missourians made the first camp on Wakarusa Creek,
near Franklin, four miles from Lawrence. In three or four days more an
irregular army of fifteen hundred men, claiming to be the sheriff's
posse, was within striking distance of the town. Three or four hundred
of these were nominal residents of the Territory; [Footnote: Shannon,
dispatch, December 11, 1855, to President Pierce. Senate Ex. Doc., 3d
Sess. 34th Cong., Vol. II., p. 63.] all the remainder were citizens of
Missouri. They were not only well armed and supplied, but wrought up
to the highest pitch of partisan excitement. While the Governor's
proclamation spoke of serving writs, the notices of the conspirators
sounded the note of the real contest. "Now is the time to show game,
and if we are defeated this time, the Territory is lost to the South,"
said the leaders. There was no doubt of the earnestness of their
purpose. Ex-Vice-President Atchison came in person, leading a
battalion of two hundred Platte County riflemen.

News of this proceeding reached the people of Lawrence little by
little, and finally, becoming alarmed, they began to improvise means
of defense. Two abortive imitations of the Missouri Blue Lodges, set
on foot during the summer by the free-State men, provoked by the
election invasion in March, furnished them a starting-point for
military organization. A committee of safety, hurriedly instituted,
sent a call for help from Lawrence to other points in the Territory,
"for the purpose of defending it from threatened invasion by armed men
now quartered in its vicinity." Several hundred free-State men
promptly responded to the summons. The Free-State Hotel served as
barracks. Governor Robinson and Colonel Lane were appointed to
command. Four or five small redoubts, connected by rifle-pits, were
hastily thrown up; and by a clever artifice they succeeded in bringing
a twelve-pound brass howitzer from its storage at Kansas City.
Meantime the committee of safety, earnestly denying any wrongful act
or purpose, sent an urgent appeal for protection to the commander of
the United States forces at Fort Leavenworth, another to Congress, and
a third to President Pierce.

Amid all this warlike preparation to keep the peace, no very strict
military discipline could be immediately enforced. The people of
Lawrence, without any great difficulty, obtained daily information
concerning the hostile camps. They, on the other hand, professing no
purpose but that of defense and self-protection, were obliged to
permit free and constant ingress to their beleaguered town. Sheriff
Jones made several visits unmolested on their part, and without any
display of writs or demand for the surrender of alleged offenders on
his own. One of the rescuers even accosted him, conversed with him,
and invited him to dinner. These free visits had the good effect to
restrain imprudence and impulsiveness on both sides. They could see
that a conflict meant serious results. With the advantage of its
defensive position, Lawrence was as strong as the sheriff's mob. On
one point especially the Border Ruffians had a wholesome dread. Yankee
ingenuity had invented a new kind of breech-loading gun called "Sharps
rifle." It was, in fact, the best weapon of its day. The free-State
volunteers had some months before obtained a partial supply of them
from the East, and their range, rapidity, and effectiveness had been
not only duly set forth but highly exaggerated by many marvelous
stories throughout the Territory and along the border. The Missouri
backwoods-men manifested an almost incredible interest in this
wonderful gun. They might be deaf to the "equalities" proclaimed in
the Declaration of Independence or blind to the moral sin of slavery,
but they comprehended a rifle which could be fired ten times a minute
and kill a man at a thousand yards.

The arrivals from Missouri finally slackened and ceased. The irregular
Border-Ruffian squads were hastily incorporated into the skeleton
"Kansas militia." The "posse" became some two thousand strong, and the
defenders of Lawrence perhaps one thousand.

[Sidenote: Richardson to Shannon, December 3, 1855; Phillips, p. 186.]

[Sidenote: Anderson to Richardson; Phillips, p. 210.]

Meanwhile a sober second thought had come to Governor Shannon. To
retrieve somewhat the precipitancy of his militia orders and
proclamations, he wrote to Sheriff Jones, December 2, to make no
arrests or movements unless by his direction. The firm defensive
attitude of the people of Lawrence had produced its effect. The
leaders of the conspiracy became distrustful of their power to crush
the town. One of his militia generals suggested that the Governor
should require the "outlaws at Lawrence and elsewhere" to surrender
the Sharps rifles; another wrote asking him to call out the Government
troops at Fort Leavenworth. The Governor, on his part, becoming
doubtful of the legality of employing Missouri militia to enforce
Kansas laws, was also eager to secure the help of Federal troops.
Sheriff Jones began to grow importunate. In the Missouri camp while
the leaders became alarmed the men grew insubordinate. "I have reason
to believe," wrote one of their prominent men, "that before to-morrow
morning the black flag will be hoisted, when nine out of ten will
rally round it, and march without orders upon Lawrence. The forces of
the Lecompton camp fully understand the plot and will fight under the
same banner."

[Sidenote: Sumner to Shannon. December 1, 1855; Phillips, p. 184.]

After careful deliberation Colonel Sumner, commanding the United
States troops at Fort Leavenworth, declined to interfere without
explicit orders from the War Department. These failing to arrive in
time, the Governor was obliged to face his own dilemma. He hastened to
Lawrence, which now invoked his protection. He directed his militia
generals to repress disorder and check any attack on the town.
Interviews were held with the free-State commanders, and the situation
was fully discussed. A compromise was agreed upon, and a formal treaty
written out and signed. The affair was pronounced to be a
"misunderstanding"; the Lawrence party disavowed the Branson rescue,
denied any previous, present, or prospective organization for
resistance, and under sundry provisos agreed to aid in the execution
of "the laws" when called upon by "proper authority." Like all
compromises, the agreement was half necessity, half trick. Neither
party was willing to yield honestly nor ready to fight manfully. The
free-State men shrank from forcible resistance to even bogus laws. The
Missouri cabal, on the other hand, having three of their best men
constantly at the Governor's side, were compelled to recognize their
lack of justification. They did not dare to ignore upon what a
ridiculously shadowy pretext the Branson peace-warrant had grown into
an army of two thousand men, and how, under the manipulation of
Sheriff Jones, a questionable affidavit of a pro-slavery criminal had
been expanded into the _casus belli_ of a free-State town. They
consented to a compromise "to cover a retreat."

[Sidenote: Shannon to President Pierce, December 11, 1855, Senate Ex.
Doc., 3d Sess. 34th Cong. Vol. II., pp. 63-5.]

When Governor Shannon announced that the difficulties were settled,
the people of Lawrence were suspicious of their leaders, and John
Brown manifested his readiness to head a revolt. But his attempted
speech was hushed down, and the assurance of Robinson and Lane that
they had made no dishonorable concession finally quieted their
followers. There were similar murmurs in the pro-slavery camps. The
Governor was denounced as a traitor, and Sheriff Jones declared that
"he would have wiped out Lawrence." Atchison, on the contrary,
sustained the bargain, explaining that to attack Lawrence under the
circumstances would ruin the Democratic cause. "But," he added with a
significant oath, "boys, we will fight some time!" Thirteen of the
captains in the Wakarusa camp were called together, and the situation
was duly explained. The treaty was accepted, though the Governor
confessed "there was a silent dissatisfaction" at the result. He
ordered the forces to disband; prisoners were liberated, and with the
opportune aid of a furious rain-storm the Border-Ruffian army
gradually melted away. Nevertheless the "Wakarusa war" left one bitter
sting to rankle in the hearts of the defenders of Lawrence, a free-
State man having been killed by a pro-slavery scouting party.

The truce patched up by this Lawrence treaty was of comparatively
short duration. The excitement which had reigned in Kansas during the
whole summer of 1855, first about the enactments of the bogus
Legislature, and then in regard to the formation of the Topeka
Constitution, was now extended to the American Congress, where it
raged for two long months over the election of Speaker Banks. In
Kansas during the same period the vote of the free-State men upon the
Topeka Constitution and the election for free-State officers under it,
kept the Territory in a ferment. During and after the contest over the
speakership at Washington, each State Legislature became a forum of
Kansas debate. The general public interest in the controversy was
shown by discussions carried on by press, pulpit, and in the daily
conversation and comment of the people of the Union in every town,
hamlet, and neighborhood. No sooner did the spring weather of 1856
permit, than men, money, arms, and supplies were poured into the
Territory of Kansas from the North.

[Sidenote: J.N. Holloway, "History of Kansas," pp. 275, 276.]

In the Southern States also this propagandism was active, and a number
of guerrilla leaders with followers recruited in the South, and armed
and sustained by Southern contributions and appropriations, found
their way to Kansas in response to urgent appeals of the Border
chiefs. Buford, of Alabama; Titus, of Florida; Wilkes, of Virginia;
Hampton, of Kentucky; Treadwell, of South Carolina, and others,
brought not only enthusiastic leadership, but substantial assistance.
Both the factions which had come so near to actual battle in the
"Wakarusa war," though nominally disbanded, in reality continued their
military organizations, - the free-State men through apprehension of
danger, the Border Ruffians because of their purpose to crush out
opposition. Strengthened on both sides with men, money, arms, and
supplies, the contest was gradually resumed with the opening spring.

The vague and double-meaning phrases of the Lawrence agreement
furnished the earliest causes of a renewal of the quarrel. "Did you
not pledge yourselves to assist me as sheriff in the arrest of any
person against whom I might have a writ?" asked Sheriff Jones of
Robinson and Lane in a curt note. "We may have said that we would
assist any proper officer in the service of any legal process," they
replied, standing upon their interpretation. This was, of course, the
original controversy - slavery burning to enforce her usurpation,
freedom determined to defend her birthright. Sheriff Jones had his
pockets always full of writs issued in the spirit of persecution, but
was often baffled by the sharp wits and ready resources of the free-
State people, and sometimes defied outright. Little by little,
however, the latter became hemmed and bound in the meshes of the
various devices and proceedings which the territorial officials
evolved from the bogus laws. President Pierce, in his special message
of January 24, declared what had been done by the Topeka movement to
be "of a revolutionary character" which would "become treasonable
insurrection if it reach the length of organized resistance."

Following this came his proclamation of February 11, leveled against
"combinations formed to resist the execution of the territorial laws."
Early in May, Chief-Justice Lecompte held a term of his court, during
which he delivered to the grand jury his famous instructions on
constructive treason. Indictments were found, writs issued, and the
principal free-State leaders arrested or forced to flee from the
Territory. Governor Robinson was arrested without warrant on the
Missouri River, and brought back to be held in military custody till
September. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter
end.] Lane went East and recruited additional help for the contest.
Meanwhile Sheriff Jones, sitting in his tent at night, in the town of
Lawrence, had been wounded by a rifle or pistol in the attempt of some
unknown person to assassinate him. The people of Lawrence denounced
the deed; but the sheriff hoarded up the score for future revenge. One
additional incident served to precipitate the crisis. The House of
Representatives at Washington, presided over by Speaker Banks, and
under control of the opposition, sent an investigating committee to
Kansas, consisting of Wm. A. Howard, of Michigan, John Sherman,
[Footnote: Owing to the illness of Mr. Howard, chairman of the
committee, the long and elaborate majority report of this committee
was written by John Sherman. Its methodical analysis and powerful
presentation of evidence made it one of the most popular and
convincing documents ever issued.] of Ohio, and Mordecai Oliver, of
Missouri, which, by the examination of numerous witnesses, was probing
the Border-Ruffian invasions, the illegality of the bogus Legislature,
and the enormity of the bogus laws to the bottom.

[Sidenote: Howard Report, p. 66.]

Ex-Governor Reeder was in attendance on this committee, supplying
data, pointing out from personal knowledge sources of information,
cross-examining witnesses to elicit the hidden truth. To embarrass
this damaging exposure, Judge Lecompte issued a writ against the ex-
Governor on a frivolous charge of contempt. Claiming but not receiving
exemption from the committee, Beeder on his personal responsibility
refused to permit the deputy marshal to arrest him. The incident was
not violent, nor even dramatic. No posse was summoned, no further
effort made, and Reeder, fearing personal violence, soon fled in
disguise. But the affair was magnified as a crowning proof that the
free-State men were insurrectionists and outlaws.

It must be noted in passing that by this time the Territory had by
insensible degrees drifted into the condition of civil war. Both
parties were zealous, vigilant, and denunciatory. In nearly every
settlement suspicion led to combination for defense, combination to
some form of oppression or insult, and so on by easy transition to
arrest and concealment, attack and reprisal, expulsion, theft, house-
burning, capture, and murder. From these, again, sprang barricaded and
fortified dwellings, camps and scouting parties, finally culminating
in roving guerrilla bands, half partisan, half predatory. Their
distinctive characters, however, display one broad and unfailing
difference. The free-State men clung to their prairie towns and
prairie ravines with all the obstinacy and courage of true defenders
of their homes and firesides. The pro-slavery parties, unmistakable
aliens and invaders, always came from, or retired across, the Missouri
line. Organized and sustained in the beginning by voluntary
contributions from that and distant States, they ended by levying
forced contributions, by "pressing" horses, food, or arms from any
neighborhood they chanced to visit. Their assumed character changed
with their changing opportunities or necessities. They were squads of
Kansas militia, companies of "peaceful emigrants," or gangs of
irresponsible outlaws, to suit the chance, the whim, or the need of
the moment.

[Sidenote: Memorial, Senate Ex. Doc., 3d Sess. 34th Cong. Vol. II., p.

[Sidenote: Phillips, pp. 289-90.]

[Sidenote: Memorial, Senate Ex. Doc., 3d Sess. 34th Cong. Vol. II., p.

Since the unsatisfactory termination of the "Wakarusa war," certain
leaders of the conspiracy had never given up their project of
punishing the town of Lawrence. A propitious moment for carrying it
out seemed now to have arrived. The free-State officers and leaders
were, thanks to Judge Lecompte's doctrine of constructive treason,
under indictment, arrest, or in flight; the settlers were busy with
their spring crops; while the pro-slavery guerrillas, freshly arrived
and full of zeal, were eager for service and distinction. The former
campaign against the town had failed for want of justification; they
now sought a pretext which would not shame their assumed character as
defenders of law and order. In the shooting of Sheriff Jones in
Lawrence, and in the refusal of ex-Governor Beeder to allow the
deputy-marshal to arrest him, they discovered grave offenses against
the territorial and United States laws. Determined also no longer to
trust Governor Shannon, lest he might again make peace, United States
Marshal Donaldson issued a proclamation on his own responsibility, on
May 11, 1856, commanding "law-abiding citizens of the Territory" "to
be and appear at Lecompton, as soon as practicable and in numbers
sufficient for the proper execution of the law." Moving with the
promptness and celerity of preconcerted plans, ex-Vice-President
Atchison, with his Platte County Rifles and two brass cannon, the
Kickapoo Rangers from Leavenworth and Weston, Wilkes, Titus, Buford,
and all the rest of the free lances in the Territory, began to
concentrate against Lawrence, giving the marshal in a very few days a
"posse" of from 500 to 800 men, armed for the greater part with United
States muskets, some stolen from the Liberty arsenal on their former
raid, others distributed to them as Kansas militia by the territorial
officers. The Governor refused to interfere to protect the threatened
town, though an urgent appeal to do so was made to him by its
citizens, who after stormy and divided councils resolved on a policy
of non-resistance.

[Sidenote: Memorial, Senate Ex. Doc., 3d Sess. 34th Cong. Vol. II., p.

They next made application to the marshal, who tauntingly replied that
he could not rely on their pledges, and must take the liberty to
execute his process in his own time and manner. The help of Colonel
Sumner, commanding the United States troops, was finally invoked, but

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 30 of 31)