The July Crisis Part 1: On Causes of War

The intersection of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg shortly after the 99th anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo has led me to ponder the outbreak of war.  As I was preparing an assessment, this statement from Conor Friedersdorf caught my eye:

Secession and nullification aren’t inherently wrong. The judges who tried to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act were doing God’s work. If the federal government started rounding up all Muslim Americans, and liberal California tried to secede and offer them safe harbor, I’d proudly fly the banner of the Bear Flag Republic. And I believe that state governments are the rightful deciders when it comes to issues like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and assisted suicide. Want to nullify the War on Drugs by refusing to cooperate with federal efforts to prosecute marijuana? Go for it, Colorado! Cite the Tenth Amendment. I’ll back you.

There is so much wrong in this statement I feel the need to point out that the judiciary carrying out its duties under Article III to vacate unconstitutional laws isn’t nullification and that the Bear Flag Republic is home to Manzanar.  But Friedersdorf partly acknowledges the issues with terms that carry historical weight:

What [Jack Hunter] fails to realize is that secession and nullification have bad names because, historically, in practice rather than theory, their use has overwhelmingly led to the subjugation of minorities and diminished liberty; and because, a few Vermonters aside, the maneuvers are almost always paired — as Hunter pairs them! — with a myopic Confederate nostalgia that poisons intellectual consideration of the concepts more than any central government-loving liberal.

Centralization is often bad for liberty. Prohibition and the federal government’s War on Drugs are examples. But the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 14th Amendment, and the incorporation doctrine were huge advances for liberty that every American ought to celebrate.

I say partly because Friedersdorf makes a serious historical error in citing the Emancipation Proclamation instead of the 13th Amendment.  The text of the 1862 presidential order includes a curious oddity:

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

Lincoln’s presidential order did not emancipate over a million slaves under direct federal jurisdiction—all federally-controlled territories and the non-Confederate slave states of Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland were exempted (West Virginia was not admitted into the Union until June 20, 1863).  From here I feel compelled to delve into the actual sequence that precipitated the American Civil War.

I: The Common Cause

Because writing about the outbreak of the bloodiest nineteenth-century war as having any other contributing cause(s) than what inelegantly might have been termed ‘the slavery question’ has a tendency to brand the author as a revisionist, I turn first to a go-to author, Tony Horwitz, for period scholarship:

“We’ve decided the Civil War is a ‘good war’ because it destroyed slavery,” says Fitzhugh Brundage, a historian at the University of North Carolina. “I think it’s an indictment of 19th century Americans that they had to slaughter each other to do that.”

Similar reservations were voiced by an earlier generation of historians known as revisionists. From the 1920s to 40s, they argued that the war was not an inevitable clash over irreconcilable issues. Rather, it was a “needless” bloodbath, the fault of “blundering” statesmen and “pious cranks,” mainly abolitionists. Some revisionists, haunted by World War I, cast all war as irrational, even “psychopathic.”

World War II undercut this anti-war stance. Nazism was an evil that had to be fought. So, too, was slavery, which revisionists–many of them white Southerners—had cast as a relatively benign institution, and dismissed it as a genuine source of sectional conflict. Historians who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement placed slavery and emancipation at the center of the Civil War. This trend is now reflected in textbooks and popular culture. The Civil War today is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of four million slaves.

In light of the fact that Horwitz also indicates this four year bloodbath took upwards of 750,000 lives, I feel compelled to posit that traditional “causes” of wars that appear in textbooks almost never trigger the actual fighting that ensues.  The powder keg, so to speak, needs a spark.  Before I go further, let me preface my take with the obvious, undeniable fact that the 1860-61 wave of seceding states which went on to form the Confederacy did so to preserve the institution of slavery.  I could be accused of revisionism myself (that is if anyone ever bothered to read my diatribes), but wars almost always result from a series of escalations—a boiling over of underlying tensions that can make the starting point of large-scale conflict amorphous.

II: Nightmares of the Founders

In the case of the American Civil War, the political conflict over slavery had gone unresolved for almost a century.  This begs the question: why 1861?  Why was the fuse lit and the powder keg detonated that year?  Why not 1841, or 1871?  I am going to go out on a ledge, and argue it was the legacy of the founders.

Two lives are probably responsible for the Civil War being delayed for decades—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820 is often credited with this feat, but Jefferson knew better:

I thank you, dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. It is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read newspapers, or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. But this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.

Jefferson refers to the 36’30” parallel:

Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois proposed an amendment allowing slavery below the parallel 36 degrees, 30 minutes in the vast Louisiana Purchase territory, but prohibiting it above that line. That parallel was chosen because it ran approximately along the southern border of Missouri.

Jefferson’s April 22, 1820 letter to John Holmes concludes with a prediction of the calamity of 1860:

I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. If they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away, against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world. To yourself, as the faithful advocate of the Union, I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.

Reconciling in 1812 and engaging in a 14-year period of correspondence that generated 158 letters, the second and third American presidents exchanged deep political animosity from the 1790s and 1800s for deeper friendship to shepherd the United States of America through its first 50 years of existence.  Adams’s last words, “Thomas Jefferson still lives,” were the 90-year old man’s lament for his friend on his deathbed, unaware that his 83-year old protégé had died three hours earlier.  The ability for two elder statesmen from Massachusetts and Virginia to bury the hatchet helped set the tone for a generation after their deaths—the turn coming almost exactly 30 years after Adams and Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826.

III: Filling the Keg

The Missouri Compromise came apart during the 1850s.  For the first time since Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence, the number of Free states in the Union passed the 50% mark with the admission of California in 1850.  When Senator Henry Clay’s omnibus gambit failed, Stephen Douglas of Illinois managed to push through the Compromise of 1850 which exchanged an onerous fugitive slave law and the federal government shouldering Texas’s massive debts for admitting California.  Contemporary media describe the compromise almost glowingly:

The Compromise of 1850 brought relative calm to the nation. Though most blacks and abolitionists strongly opposed the Compromise, the majority of Americans embraced it, believing that it offered a final, workable solution to the slavery question. Most importantly, it saved the Union from the terrible split that many had feared. People were all too ready to leave the slavery controversy behind them and move on. But the feeling of relief that spread throughout the country would prove to be the calm before the storm.

I rarely see analyzed the fact that the 36’30” parallel essentially bisects California, immediately calling into question the validity of the earlier 1820 compromise.  Either way, the Compromise of 1850 did not hold long:

On December 14, 1853, Augustus C. Dodge of Iowa introduced a bill in the Senate. The bill proposed organizing the Nebraska territory, which also included an area that would become the state of Kansas. His bill was referred to the Committee of the Territories, which was chaired by Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.

Douglas had entered politics early and had advanced quickly; at 21 he was Illinois state’s attorney, and by age 35 he was a U.S. Senator. He strongly endorsed the idea of popular sovereignty, which allowed the settlers in a territory to decide for themselves whether or not to have slavery. Douglas was also a fervent advocate of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States had the God-given right and obligation to take over as much land as possible and to spread its “civilizing” influence.

To fulfill its Manifest Destiny, especially following the discovery of gold in California, America was making plans to build a transcontinental railroad from east to west. The big question was where to locate the eastern terminal — to the north, in Chicago, or to the south, in St. Louis. Douglas was firmly committed to ensuring that the terminal would be in Chicago, but he knew that it could not be unless the Nebraska territory was organized.

Organization of Nebraska would require the removal of the territory’s Native Americans, for Douglas regarded the Indians as savages, and saw their reservations as “barriers of barbarism.” In his view, Manifest Destiny required the removal of those who stood in the way of American, Christian progress, and the Native American presence was a minor obstacle to his plans. But there was another, larger problem.

In order to get the votes he needed, Douglas had to please Southerners. He therefore bowed to Southern wishes and proposed a bill for organizing Nebraska-Kansas which stated that the slavery question would be decided by popular sovereignty. He assumed that settlers there would never choose slavery, but did not anticipate the vehemence of the Northern response. This bill, if made into law, would repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which said that slavery could not extend above the 36′ 30″ line. It would open the North to slavery. Northerners were outraged; Southerners were overjoyed.

Douglas was stubborn. Ignoring the anger of his own party, he got President Pierce’s approval and pushed his bill through both houses of Congress. The bill became law on May 30, 1854.

Southerners wouldn’t remain joyous for long.  After the 1850 California admission, two more Free states would be admitted during the 1850s—Minnesota on May 11, 1858 and Oregon on February 14, 1859.  No slaveholding state would ever be admitted after Texas in 1845.

This really shouldn’t be surprising—a veritable flood of immigrants sparked the rise of a backlash anti-immigrant movement history remembers as the Know-Nothings that took 52 seats in the 1854 congressional elections; and a member of their ranks, abolitionist Nathaniel Banks became Speaker of the House.  The likelihood that a slaveholding constitution would pass muster in Congress under those circumstances were almost nil.  Demography turned decidedly against slaveholding states during the 1850s— the American population increased by 8,251,445 between the 1850 and 1860 censuses, compared to the latter census counting 5,482,222 total freemen living in the states that would form the Confederacy.

Worse for the South, opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a major force behind the creation of the Republican Party.  One Republican politician in particular, Abraham Lincoln, rose further to prominence attacking both Kansas-Nebraska and Douglas directly on October 16, 1854 in his three-hour Peoria address, foreshadowing Lincoln challenging Douglas brilliantly in a series of debates for his Senate seat in 1858 which in turn marshaled support for Lincoln’s 1860 presidential bid.

But in 1854 Southerners were unaware how outmatched they would become in Washington, and seized control of the Territory of Kansas:

Nebraska was so far north that its future as a free state was never in question. But Kansas was next to the slave state of Missouri. [T]he territory would become a battleground over the slavery question.

The reaction from the North was immediate. Eli Thayer organized the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which sent settlers to Kansas to secure it as a free territory. By the summer of 1855, approximately 1,200 New Englanders had made the journey to the new territory, armed to fight for freedom. The abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher furnished settlers with Sharps rifles, which came to be known as “Beecher’s Bibles.”

Rumors had spread through the South that 20,000 Northerners were descending on Kansas, and in November 1854, thousands of armed Southerners, mostly from Missouri, poured over the line to vote for a proslavery congressional delegate. Only half the ballots were cast by registered voters, and at one location, only 20 of over 600 voters were legal residents. The proslavery forces won the election.

On March 30, 1855, another election was held to choose members of the territorial legislature. The Missourians, or “Border Ruffians,” as they were called, again poured over the line. This time, they swelled the numbers from 2,905 registered voters to 6,307 actual ballots cast. Only 791 voted against slavery.

The new state legislature enacted what Northerners called the “Bogus Laws,” which incorporated the Missouri slave code. These laws leveled severe penalties against anyone who spoke or wrote against slaveholding; those who assisted fugitives would be put to death or sentenced to ten years hard labor. (Statutes of Kansas) The Northerners were outraged, and set up their own Free State legislature at Topeka. Now there were two governments established in Kansas, each outlawing the other. President Pierce only recognized the proslavery legislature.

During these turbulent times the seeds of violence were planted:

Most settlers who had come to Kansas from the North and the South only wanted to homestead in peace. They were not interested in the conflict over slavery, but they found themselves in the midst of a battleground. Violence erupted throughout the territory. Southerners were driven by the rhetoric of leaders such as David Atchison, a Missouri senator. Atchison proclaimed the Northerners to be “negro thieves” and “abolitionist tyrants.” He encouraged Missourians to defend their institution “with the bayonet and with blood” and, if necessary, “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.”

Had the Border Ruffians understood that the Free Soil movement in Kansas was the province of white supremacists, perhaps Atchison wouldn’t appear to be such a moron a century and a half later:

The northerners, however, were not all abolitionists as Atchison claimed. In fact, abolitionists were in the minority. Most of the Free State settlers were part of a movement called Free Soil, which demanded free territory for free white people. They hated slavery, but not out of concern for the slaves themselves. They hated it because plantations took over the land and prevented white working people from having their own homesteads. They hated it because it brought large numbers of black people wherever it went. The Free Staters voted 1,287 to 453 to outlaw black people, slave or free, from Kansas. Their territory would be white.

Almost 160 years later, branding a writer ‘revisionist’ is almost a given should the author question whether the conflict in the 1850s and 1860s was due to anything other than slavery.  PBS has a spine of steel to call a spade a spade—the Free Soil movement was filled with bigoted misanthropes.  But legislative sausage-making did not trigger the descent into slaughter.  Before 1855, the powder keg in Kansas had not yet detonated.

IV: First Sparks

Instrumental in March 30, 1855 election rigging was Samuel J. Jones:

Governor Reeder ordered the first territorial census completed in February 1855. Returns from eighteen districts showed a total population of 8,501 residents (excluding Indians) with only one-third of them declared as eligible voters. The remaining numbers were women, children, aliens, 172 free blacks, and 192 slaves. 2,905 white, twenty-one-year-old males were eligible to elect the first territorial legislature.

Newspapers on both sides of the border appealed for an overwhelming turnout on Election Day. “Missourians, remember the 30th day of March, A.D. 1855, as Texans once remembered the Alamo,” exclaimed the proslavery Leavenworth Kansas Herald. On Election Day March 30th, a whopping 6,318 votes were tallied. A Congressional committee later determined that only 1,410 votes were legal and 4,908 were fraudulent. (The vast majority of voting fraud was committed by proslavery Missourians but, to be fair, abolitionists also cheated.)

Polling places throughout the territory were forcibly overrun by armed waves of proslavery Missourians, who, after running off the election judges, illegally elected themselves a legislature. At Lawrence, 1,000 Missourians, fortified with two artillery pieces, set up camp on the evening before Election Day and prepared to vote en masse the next morning. This force being larger than deemed necessary for an overwhelming victory was split off and 500 to 600 Missourians, with white ribbons tucked in their buttonholes to distinguish them from abolitionist, headed on to outlying districts.

One detachment swept into Bloomington (Clinton) under the command of Westport Postmaster Samuel Jones. A practice mock election for governor was held. The Reverend Thomas Johnson won. With Bowie knives drawn and pistols cocked, Jones and company forced their way into the election judge’s cabin. All the judges were forced to resign. The proslavery mob stuffed the ballot box for proslavery candidates and an overwhelming victory. The deed was done. They rode east to Missouri with the ballot boxes and poll-books in tow. Outraged abolitionists and their free soil allies dubbed this new legislative body of thirty-nine members the “bogus legislature” and its statutes the “bogus laws.”

So, how was the Westport, MO. Postmaster dealt with for literally stuffing and stealing the ballot box?  Arrested by the county sheriff?

In August 1855 this “bogus legislature” organized into law a large number of counties; designated Lecompton as the permanent territorial seat of government; and made provisions that every officer in the territory, executive and judicial, be appointed by the legislature. Proslavery Douglas County commissioners in September 1855 appointed Samuel Jones sheriff. Jones swore to support the U.S. Constitution, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Fugitive Slave Law. But to Lawrence abolitionists and free soilers, Sheriff Samuel Jones was a “bogus sheriff.”

Kind of hard to do that if you appoint the criminal county sheriff.  Then again, coercion and criminality may have been the norm in 1855:

Kansas Territory in 1855 had a proslavery delegate to the U.S. Congress, had a proslavery governor in Wilson Shannon (Reeder was fired by the president and fled for his life), had won an overwhelming victory in the first territorial legislature, had chosen the strongly proslavery town of Lecompton as its capital, had a chief justice, Samuel Lecompte, who would enforce its proslavery law, and had a proslavery president, Franklin Pierce, approving the actions of its government, backed up by the U.S. army led by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Secretary Davis was pushing for congressional action to make Kansas the next slave state.

That’s a perfect plan, Kansas, except for the fact that the Speaker of the House is an abolitionist.  As I mentioned previously, the demographic trend was moving decidedly against slaveholding states in the 1850s, especially after Border Ruffians began killing Free State settlers:

On the 21st of November, 1855, F.M. Coleman, a pro-slavery man, shot and killed C.W. Dow, a free-state man.  Dow was unarmed and passing by Coleman’s house on his way to Jacob Branson’s, with whom he lived, when Coleman came out and shot him.

On the night of November 26 sheriff Jones and a party burst open the door of Branson’s cabin, found Branson in bed, and, with revolvers in hand, arrested him on a peace warrant sworn out by H.H. Buckley, who with one Hargous, was, according to evidence before the congressional committee, an accomplice in the murder of Dow.

While Jones and his prisoner and posse were on the way to Franklin and approaching Major Abbott’s house some free-state men came out and faced them.  The posse halted.  Branson, being requested to ride over to the free-state men, did so.  Jones, after threatening to bring 1,500 men within ten days to retake him, rode away to Franklin, where he sent a message to Colonel Boone, of Westport, Mo., and then, at some person’s suggestion, a message to the governor, at Shawnee Mission.

The rescuing party, with Branson, went to Lawrence, calling up Doctor Robinson on the way, who advised calling a meeting, as it might be a pretext for destroying the town.

Really?  A sworn law enforcement officer might attack and destroy a town in his own jurisdiction?  Dr. Robinson’s fears are out there

Coleman fired upon Dow with buckshot, killing him in cold blood. Dow became the first free-stater murdered in Kansas. The arrest of Coleman, along with rumors that free-staters had murdered more than 60 pro-slavery men and driven others from their homes, incited Sheriff Samuel Jones of Douglas County, border ruffians, and Routt and his followers into forming a posse to raid and destroy Lawrence.

Not only did Missouri’s Southern sympathizers need weapons for their posse, but also for military defense against abolitionists who were assisting and encouraging slaves to escape across the Missouri border. In addition, they needed weapons to subjugate free-state men, crush the Free-State Movement and annihilate the city of Lawrence.

The Liberty Arsenal had the ammunition, and Routt and his vigilantes had the courage to defy the law and raid the arsenal.

The weapons depot had originally been established in 1836 as a government fort to protect settlers from Indian attacks on the north side of the river. Fort Osage and Fort Leavenworth protected the south side.

On Dec. 4, 1855, Routt and his group of Confederate sympathizers seized the Liberty Arsenal, located three miles south of the city, confiscating guns and ammunition.  The men joined Jones’ Missouri posse and crossed the border into Kansas along the Wakarusa River bottoms with the intent to destroy Lawrence.

They seized a federal arsenal?  How is that not treasonous, maybe even an act of war against the United States?

When Routt and his men arrived, they unexpectedly discovered a reinforcement of more than 1,100 free-state men waiting to defend the town.

A Missouri anti-slavery informant had warned Lawrence settlers about the impending raid, and Lawrence had organized military companies and sought assistance from chief towns within the territory.

Among this group of defenders was the famous abolitionist Capt. John Brown. After receiving word that he was needed, Brown and his men marched overnight into Lawrence to assist Capt. James Lane in setting up barricades and redoubts that could hold up to 150 men, each armed with a Sharps rifle.

A soldier could fire between eight and 10 shots per minute depending on his skill with these guns. More than 100,000 Sharps rifles and carbines were built between 1850 and 1881.

When the Missouri posse arrived and discovered they were outnumbered, the men were ready to retreat. There was no fighting in what became known as the Wakarusa War.  The men compromised and signed a “peace treaty” at Lawrence that read:

“Whereas there is a misunderstanding between the people of Kansas, or a portion of them, and the governor thereof, arising out of the rescue, near Hickory Point, of a citizen under arrest, and some other matters; and whereas a strong apprehension exists that said misunderstanding may lead to civil strife and bloodshed; and whereas it is desired, by both Governor Shannon and the people of Lawrence and vicinity, to avert a calamity so disastrous to the interests of the territory and the Union, and to place all parties in a correct position before the world …”

On Dec. 16, 1855, Brown wrote in a letter to his wife, Mary: “The Free State leaders skillfully accomplished and signed an agreement with Governor Shannon that was much to their own liking.”

The Missourians returned to their state, and Routt marched his men back to Clay County, dismissed them and saw that the “borrowed” property from the arsenal was returned to the government: 100 dragoon pistols, 55 rifles, 67 sabers, 20 Colt revolvers, three brass fieldpieces and a plenitude of ammunition.  Although they kept $400 in equipment, the government did nothing against the raiders on this occasion.

Oh, so Routt raided a federal weapons storage facility, but returned almost everything, so no harm no foul.  Well, except for another murder in Kansas

Once in the territory, Barber took a claim north of the Wakarusa River (Bloomington vicinity), some eight miles southwest of Lawrence, and became involved in the free-state cause. He was shot and killed by a member of the proslavery party—reportedly George W. Clark, the Indian agent—on December 6, 1855, on a road four miles southwest of Lawrence. Barber, who was in the company of his brother Robert F. Barber and Thomas M. Pierson at the time of the shooting, had gone to the aid of his Lawrence neighbors during the so-called “Wakarusa War.”  While his assailant was reportedly bragging that he had “sent another of these d–d abolitionists to his winter quarters,” Barber’s body was being taken to Lawrence where he became an instant martyr.

Yeah.  Well, was Sheriff Jones right to arrest Branson?

Sheriff Samuel J. Jones was a resident of Westport, Mo.  He made himself conspicuous as a ruffian at the Bloomington prescient, in Douglas County, at the election of March 30, 1855.  There he, in border style, had drawn his revolver and his watch, and said to the judges of the election he would give them five minutes to resign, and when that time expired and they had not wavered, he extended the time one-half minute more.  He had also been engaged with others in burning the cabins of free-state men.  He said he had the murderer Coleman in his custody; but he allowed him the liberty to go and come as he pleased, accepted his statements as to the murder as true, and never caused investigation to be made in regard to it.  His spectacular descent on old Mr. Branson’s cabin at night, with his armed posse, was to arrest him on a complaint he knew to be false, and done only to aggravate and persecute.

Well, that’s just the opinion of the Kansas State Historical Society.  Oh, Coleman went on to murder another man?  That just means Jones was terrible at his job as an enforcer of the law, which isn’t a crime.  Sheriff Jones couldn’t be all bad

The headline from John Stringfellow’s proslavery newspaper, the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, bellowed,” ABOLITIONISTS IN OPEN REBELLION—SHERIFF JONES MURDERED BY THE TRAITORS&HE MUST BE AVENGED. HIS MURDER SHALL BE AVENGED. Even with a lead ball lodged near the spine, Sheriff Jones survived and was soon back to work, this time with a vengeance.

On May 21, 1856, the “sack of Lawrence” began. This incident stemmed from attempts this time by the U.S. marshal to serve warrants issued by territorial Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuel Lecompte in Lawrence. Lecompte had convened a grand jury which indicted Jim Lane, Charles Robinson (both had slipped out of the territory) and other Free State leaders for treason. The jury recommended that the Free State Hotel, a defensive structure, and the two Lawrence Free State newspapers be abated as public nuisances. 700 to 800 proslavery cavalry and infantry militiamen with four cannons swept into Lawrence. After the warrants had been served and arrests made, the militia was dismissed by the federal marshal. Sheriff Jones gathered up a number of these militiamen. They assisted him in battering and burning down the Free State Hotel; wrecking the offices of the Herald of Freedom and Kansas Free State; breaking, opening and looting stores, and burning the home of Charles and Sara Robinson to the ground. Sheriff Jones was allegedly heard to exclaim: “Gentlemen, this is the happiest day of my life. I determined to make the fanatics bow before me in the dust and kiss the territorial laws. I have done it, by God. You are now dismissed.” Senator David Atchison of Missouri, drinking and enjoying the day immensely, directed the artillery bombaredment on the hotel. Colonel Henry Titus commanded the cavalry. Judge Lecompte maintained that neither the jury nor he ever gave any such order. He hinted that the whole affair was Jones’ doing. The militia members called out by U.S. Marshal J.B. Donalson during the destruction of Lawrence were comprised of Southerners and Missourians more radical than those used during the “Wakarusa War.” Virtual civil war broke out in Kansas during the remainder of 1856.

Oh, hell.  Jones and a United States Senator led the assault on Lawrence?  Do I really want to know what was meant about Jim Lane’s and Charles Robinson’s ‘treason?’

Robinson’s cool, detached leadership provided a stabilizing influence on the party—a counter balance to the much more volatile Jim Lane—and he was subsequently elected governor of Kansas Territory under the “extra-illegal” Topeka Constitution.

Robinson helped negotiate a truce that ended the “Wakarusa War” in December 1855 but was arrested on treason charges in May 1856, along with several other free-state men, because of his leadership role in the rump government that challenged the legitimacy of the proslavery territorial government recognized by the Pierce administration.

It was during Governor Robinson’s four months of confinement that many of Bleeding Kansas’s most violent incidents occurred: the sack of Lawrence, the Pottawatomie Massacre, and the battles of Black Jack and Osawatomie, to name only a few.

Alright, I’m tired of trying to play devil’s advocate with these war criminals.  Atchison and Jones’s actions against Lawrence after Jones arrested the “treasonous” Charles Robinson were themselves full-on treasonous.  Kansas in 1856 was already descending into a cycle of violence:

The gunfire that cut down a Mr. Cook (proslavery) at Easton in January 1856 set the stage for the revenge killing of one of his assailants, R.P. Brown (antislavery). Tit for tat, killing for killing, each side fought to avenge supposed crimes by its enemies.

Sheriff Jones, as a peace officer had a duty to break that cycle.  Instead, he and Atchison sack Lawrence, precipitating a much more violent backlash:

The fifth victim floated nearby as John Brown and his men washed blood from their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. Brown said that the killings had been committed in accordance to “God’s will,” and that he wanted to “strike terror in the hearts of the proslavery people.” His killings would provoke fear and reprisals — pushing America one step closer to an all-out civil war.

Violence spiked after the Pottawatomie Massacre:

[T]he data shed light on the nature of violence in Kansas Territory.  The dates of the political killings and the distribution of those dates reveal the periods of greatest conflict.

By year, the frequency was:

1854 = 0

1855 = 4

1856 = 38

1857 = 6

1858 = 3

1859 = 3

1860 = 2

1861 = 0 (until statehood)

These figures confirm that 1856 was the bloodiest period in Bleeding Kansas.  During that year a total of thirty-eight people were killed in political strife, far above the eighteen who died during all the other years combined.

Dale E. Watts’ numbers are a bit conservative.  He dismisses the other late-1850s mass killing in Kansas, the Marais des Cygnes Massacre, which occurred two years after Pottawatomie, as not related to “Bleeding Kansas” violence:

On May 19, 1858, [Charles] Hamilton swept back into the territory with some twenty to thirty-five accomplices.  He captured twenty or so men in the vicinity of Trading Post. Apparently following impromptu trials, he elected to retain eleven of the captives.  No definitive evidence has been found to explain why he held certain men while releasing others.  None of those retained had been active in the political disturbances, and nine of the eleven were National Democrats, a party generally opposed to the antislavery movement.  Hamilton and his men led their prisoners about two miles back toward Missouri, had a brief gunfight with Eli Snyder at his blacksmith shop, and then shot down the captives in a ravine.  Five men were killed, five wounded, and one survived unscathed.  As with the affair between Coleman and Dow, this incident had large political repercussions as a nationally publicized event but was not inherently a political killing. Unless additional evidence proves that Hamilton’s motives were political, the massacre must be considered a matter of blind revenge being wreaked on undeserving victims. Politics played a role in creating conflict in the area but were not the controlling factor.

To my mind, this is evidence that Colombia-style La Violencia descended onto Kansas and Missouri in the middle of the nineteenth century (explained in depth at the end of this piece).  Thankfully, Watts makes available the raw data on the Kansas violence from over 150 years ago:

A careful search of representative sources reveals a total of 157 violent deaths during the territorial period.  Of these, fifty-six may be attributed with some confidence to the political conflict or the slavery issue.  The remaining 101 killings comprise fifty-two resulting from personal conflicts such as fights or brawls, seventeen stemming directly from land disputes, eleven from lynchings, and five occurring during robberies.  In sixteen cases information is insufficient to determine a primary motivation.  Of these 101 slayings, twenty-five may have had politics or slavery as a significant contributing cause, but primarily they were the result of other factors.

These figures indicate that the level of killing in territorial Kansas was much lower than was implied at the time and by subsequent writers. Political killings account for about one-third of the total violent deaths. They were not common. The streets and byways did not run red with blood as some writers have imagined.

Watts includes some much-needed statistical perspective as well:

One should not make light of the armed attacks that wounded but did not kill, nor of the arson that destroyed households and means of livelihood but did not kill, nor of the threats that drove settlers away but did not kill. These all merged with the killings and the rumors of killings to produce a sometimes frightful environment in which to live. However, it is important to keep in mind the relatively small number of actual killings that occurred in this environment. It is almost infinitesimal when compared with the 583 people estimated to have died violently during 1855 in California and the 1,200 who died in San Francisco between 1850 and 1853.

The rest of Dale E. Watts’ assertions are well-taken:

While most of the findings of this study tend to confirm traditional interpretations, one very important exception is apparent. Contemporary antislavery accounts and the writings of historians generally depict the antislavery people as the victims of proslavery attackers.  Newspaper reporters and other propagandists were very adept at creating graphic descriptions of the atrocities that the Border Ruffians were said to be inflicting on the virtually helpless antislavery settlers.  The data, however, indicate that the two sides were nearly equally involved in killing their political opponents: thirty proslavery people, twenty-four antislavery men, one officially neutral U.S. soldier, and one man whose political persuasion is obscured by a garbled historical record. Antislavery men seem to have been just as hostile and aggressive as their proslavery counterparts. The only difference is that their reprehensible actions, such as killing Sarah Carver, either have gone unnoticed or have been excused as accidents or as having been committed in self-defense.

No angels lived in Kansas Territory. The Pottawatomie Massacre constituted the bloodiest single atrocity, but those murders were balanced by the killings of peaceful antislavery men. The gunfire that cut down a Mr. Cook (proslavery) at Easton in January 1856 set the stage for the revenge killing of one of his assailants, R.P. Brown (antislavery). Tit for tat, killing for killing, each side fought to avenge supposed crimes by its enemies while striving to convince the world that it did so only with the purest of motives. Because they eventually won the contest in Kansas, the antislavery group wrote most of the history books. This gave them the opportunity to hide their own misdeeds and to accentuate those of their foes. However, both sides often placed human life below ideology and personal gain.

The exact number of political killings in territorial Kansas will never be known. Propagandists inflated or deflated their reports for political reasons.  Estimates were and will continue to be based on rumor as much as on solid information. As was common in the unstable environment of new regions, people disappeared without a trace: some may have been killed by political foes; others probably simply moved on to greener pastures. Newly documented instances of political killings will continue to appear as historical research progresses; however, some cases included here in the political category may prove in the future to have been precipitated by essentially nonpolitical motives. Therefore, the present estimate of fifty-six political killings in Kansas Territory likely will remain relatively constant, fluctuating only within a narrow range as additional information becomes available.

A century and a half later, what seems most striking was the Border Ruffians were never held responsible for their actions.  The Pottawatomie Massacre and the battles at Black Jack and Osawatomie all involved John Brown, but he was executed for treason in 1859.  No other principals were held to account for the violence touched off in 1855 and 1856.  Sheriff Jones would quickly turn insubordinate:

In September the third governor, John Geary, who would reside in Lecompton in the “governor’s mansion” built and owned by Sheriff Jones, arrived in Kansas with instructions from President Pierce to bring civil strife to an end. Most proslavery men would have preferred Secretary and Acting Governor Daniel Woodson or Surveyor General John Calhoun over Geary. Geary realized a state of near anarchy prevailed in the territory. To smother it and restore order, he disbanded and sent home the territorial militia roaming the territory commanded by Sheriff Jones. The governor’s orders were ignored. He was finally forced into a face-to-face confrontation with Jones and his force of 2,700 men on September 13, 1856 a few miles outside Lawrence. Geary was successful in stopping an attack on Lawrence and disbanding Jones’ men. This action infuriated the proslavery party and politically alienated the governor. Governors in Kansas did not enjoy easy lives nor serve long tenure in that office. Ten men served as governor or acting governor in six and one-half years of territorial government.

Note: Further research I’ve done about the September 1856 Siege of Lawrence indicates the presence of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke and 300 U.S. Army dragoons (an archaic term for cavalry) was equally if not more important towards forcing Jones and his men to disperse as the presence of Governor Geary.

The fact that Colonel Henry Routt stole federal property on December 4, 1855 and crossed the Missouri state line to wage war in Kansas sounds like a much more serious offense.  Call me biased, but I think the raid on the arsenal was the greater crime…wait, Col. Routt raided Liberty Arsenal a second time?

V: The Sparks Ignite the Fire

Samuel Hardwick, a Liberty resident, stated in testimony at Routt’s trial for treason that the colonel would “use his influence as far as he could, to inflame and embitter the minds of the people of Clay County in opposition to the federal government, and prepare the way for armed resistance to the administration of (President) Lincoln.”

Despite having risked his neck once before raiding the arsenal, Routt was ready and well prepared to fight for the Confederates.

The South desperately needed weapons, and a second raid on the Liberty Arsenal was the solution to the problem. Because of the 1855 attack, the government was now hostile to the Southerners, making this raid even more dangerous. Routt accepted the task, despite the potential of obtaining a rope around his neck for defying authorities.

He and his men swiftly put their plans into action.

On the morning of the attack, April 20, 1861, Maj. Nathaniel Grant, a Union man, was guarding the Liberty Arsenal. While Grant was eating his breakfast, a young slave boy hurried into the building and handed Grant a note sent by a Union sympathizer living near Liberty Landing that brought both chaos and excitement.

The note read: “A company of men from across the river camped last night in the bottoms. I understand that another company is at or near Liberty and that the destination of both is the Arsenal. If you want to make a speech, get it ready.”

According to Grant, “the force that captured the arsenal was about 200 secessionists, composed of one company from Jackson County commanded by Capt. McMurray of Independence and a strong company from Liberty and Clay County under Routt, with the whole group under the command of Col. Routt.”

With only two other assistants guarding the arsenal, Grant was outnumbered. He hurriedly attempted to develop a speech of “vigorous protest.” However, it received only smiles from the colonel’s devotees who knew that they were about to loot the arsenal.

Grant’s eloquent attempt to change their minds on the raid was futile. Immediately following the speech, Routt and his men seized the arsenal and placed Grant and his assistants under guard. Within a week, the place was completely looted.

It was a great haul this time, and Routt did not intend to return the stolen items.

The captured booty included many weapons of destruction: 1,180 muskets; 243 rifles; 121 carbines; 923 pistols; 419 sabers; 29 artillery swords; three six-pounder brass cannons, each weighing 882 pounds; 12 six-pounder iron guns; one three-pounder iron gun; five caissons; two battery wagons; two forges; thousands of rounds of ammunition for all types of arms; and other artillery equipment.

Thompson, along with Routt and his men, took the ammunitions into Liberty and hid them in barns, haystacks, cellars and in Routt’s ice-house at his home near present-day William Jewell College. The ammunitions were also divided among Southern sympathizers from neighboring Smithville, St. Joseph, Independence and Jackson County.

According to the late historian Vera Eldridge, “most of it was used against the government, and a large amount found its way to the bushwhackers.”

Seizing the Liberty Arsenal ignited a sequence of skirmishes and battles that defined Missouri’s participation in the American Civil War.

“News of the capture of the arsenal was telegraphed to the outer world the same day, and created considerable sensation throughout the country. President Lincoln heard of it and telegraphed to Leavenworth for an explanation,” according to historian Joan Chiles Eakin.

The raid was the first overt act by citizens of Missouri against the federal government.

Routt returned to private life but was soon arrested by federal authorities, taken to St. Louis and tried before a military tribunal on the charge of treason.

The tribunal found him guilty of inciting rebellion against the government of the United States and endeavoring to induce men to join in the same; conspiring to levy war against the United States and making violent assaults upon men known to be Union men, to terrify and intimidate them. Routt was sentenced to be hanged.

Fortunately for him, Union and Confederate friends interceded on Routt’s behalf, and President Abraham Lincoln, in one of the earliest wartime acts of mercy, issued a pardon of Routt’s “death by hanging” sentence.

The fact that Colonel Routt faced treason charges like a man generates in me, oddly enough, a feeling of respect somewhat.  Not for his actions—the bushwhackers murdered 27,000 civilians during the guerrilla bloodletting that culminated in a bloody return to Lawrence:

Although not the only Confederate partisan group in the region, William Clarke Quantrill’s Raiders soon emerged as the most infamous. In August 1862, they were officially mustered into the Confederate Army under the Partisan Ranger Act passed in April of that year. Nonetheless, their ambushes against Union supply convoys, military patrols and detachments and attacks on pro-Union civilians were frequently undertaken without the knowledge or input of the Confederate government.

Responding to this threat, Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, commanding the District of the Border, issued a general order that any civilian aiding the raiders would be arrested, including women and children. When a jail housing some of these prisoners collapsed in August 1863, killing five women — including the 14- year-old sister of one of Quantrill’s most trusted lieutenants — Quantrill and company organized several partisan groups for a combined raid on the Kansas town of Lawrence, killing nearly 200 men and boys.

Um, no:

Fletch greeted Quantrill with a tip of his hat and dismounted. “Good news, colonel,” he said, addressing Quantrill. “I’ve been in Lawrence three weeks and I’ve got to tell you we’re in an excellent position.”

“How’s that?” Quantrill asked.

“They’re like chickens in a coop, ready for slaughter. I even talked to the man himself, James Lane, and he admitted Lawrence is virtually defenseless. Looks like the mayor’s gonna be there tomorrow as well as Lane, Fisher, and most of the men you’ve got on your death list.”

“That’s good,” Gregg said. “What about the town itself?”

“They rebuilt the place since the raid seven years ago. Got a bigger, nicer Eldridge Hotel, wide, clean streets lined with trees, a lot of shops, and neat and comfortable houses.”

“Anything else?” Quantrill asked.

“Yeah. I rode across Lawrence many times, and I think the best way to attack it is from the large park south of town, where there aren’t many houses. We can branch off from there and proceed north. I’m thinkin’ if we took the major streets, like Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, we can proceed straight to the river and plunder and burn as we go. But we need to do this at the crack of dawn before the folks get up.”

Quantrill thanked Fletch for his services and trotted with Gregg down to the throng of men at the riverfront. “We’ll assemble into four companies,” Quantrill told Gregg. “I’m thinking maybe we’ll have Todd, Anderson, Yeager, and Cole in charge.” He smiled, just as he always did when he pronounced a death sentence. “The man I’m gonna personally hang is that butcher, James Lane. He’ll pay for what he did to Osceola. I swear, he’ll pay!”

It’s disturbing that the violence of 1856 cast such an immensely long shadow.  James Lane, otherwise known as Jim “Indicted for Treason by the “Bogus” Territorial Government Along With Charles Robinson” Lane became a radical partisan following the 1856 Sack of Lawrence.  Lane was instrumental in the rise of the Jayhawkers and Redlegs, militant Free Soil organizations that formed in response to Border Ruffian incursions.  As demographics increasingly turned against the pro-slavery Missourians, Lane leveraged his influence into politics.

Elected one of Kansas’s first two U.S. senators upon the state’s admission to the Union on April 4, 1861, Jim Lane and Judge Thomas Ewing (neither having formal military training) were appointed as brigadier generals after the official outbreak of the war eight days later.  Lane’s first major engagement wasn’t much of one:

On his way to Lexington, Missouri, Major General Sterling Price planned to raid Fort Scott just across the Kansas border in Bourbon County. He wanted to put a stop to the raids into Missouri from Kansas being led by the Jayhawkers, Charles Jennison and James Montgomery. Price sent the cavalry from Brigadier General James S. Rains’ Division to clear out Lane’s “marauding and murdering bands.”

Early in 1861, Kansas Senator James H. Lane had raised a brigade of around 1,200 Kansas volunteer cavalry that would come to be known as the Kansas Brigade. Charged with protecting Kansas, Lane had stationed the Kansas Brigade at Fort Lincoln, Kansas about 12 miles north of Fort Scott (near present day Fulton, Kansas 66738). When he received word that Price was headed for Fort Scott, Lane cautiously led around 600 cavalrymen from the Kansas Brigade east to meet the enemy.

On September 2, 1861, the Kansas Brigade met up with Price’s Missouri State Guard about 12 miles east of Fort Scott in and around Big Dry Wood Creek (near present day Deerfield, Missouri 64741) [ Waypoint = N 37 49.250 W 94 30.664 ]. Lane’s cavalry had surprised the Missouri State Guard cavalry led by Brigadier General James S. Rains. Lane was severely outnumbered. After a two hour skirmish, he had to withdraw back to Fort Scott. The Missouri State Guard captured 84 mules from Lane’s Kansas Brigade which has led many to refer to this engagement as the Battle of the Mules.

Lane reported 11 casualties (5 killed, 6 wounded) resulting from the engagement. There was a report that the Missouri State Guard had 20 casualties (4 killed, 16 wounded).

Price assumed he was victorious.  Lane, however, went nuts:

However, once Price took his army north, Lane would move his Kansas Brigade into Missouri and raid the towns in the border counties. These raids would culminate in the Sacking of Osceola, Missouri on September 23, 1861. Lane’s men killed nine of the town’s men, robbed the bank, plundered stores, and looted the courthouse. This added to the hatred between Missourians and Kansans.

Or the man might have seen “defeat” as an opportunity.  Lane was often considered to be in fragile mental health and shot himself to death in 1866, so I favor door #1.  Either way, others reaped the whirlwind for Jim Lane’s scorched earth tactics:

Mary Lane was glad her husband James had been prepared for the possibility of an attack. He had told her that in such an event, he would depart immediately to the cornfield in the rear of their Mississippi Street home and hide among the stalks. She knew all too well her husband was a prime target for Quantrill and eventually Quantrill would seek him out.

By the time she awoke to the sound of gunfire and the hooves of charging horses, Jim was already gone. No sooner had she searched the house for him than she heard a terrible pounding on the door.

When she opened it, she recognized Quantrill immediately, although she knew only one of the men behind him—Arthur Spicer, an acquaintance of theirs. Spicer was jabbing his finger at her. “This is the house,” he shouted. “And that’s Mrs. Lane!”

Mary was convinced that Mr. Spicer, a normally polite and friendly sort, must have been forced to play Judas for this mob.

Quantrill, all smiles, tipped his hat and asked to see the general.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Quantrill, but he’s not in,” she said, with all the charm she could muster.

“We’ll see about that. Men, c’mon in!”

A dozen charged into her home and got to work at once, busting up her furniture and racing from room to room. A couple of the men appeared to be drunk, using foul language, and even fighting with each other over possessions they wanted to keep. Quantrill stood by while members of his band went about their business of destruction. He placed his hand on her newly polished piano. “I bet the general bought this from the loot he got from Osceola,” he said, smirking. “Half of this furniture doesn’t even belong to him. He’s a thief!”

He gave a signal to his men, and they tipped the piano to the carpeted floor. Soon they were jumping on the keys and defacing the wood with their knives. One took out his revolver and shot at it several times. Other men took out matches and lit the curtains.

Mary tried putting out the fire, but the men restrained her. “Why are you doing this!” she screamed.

“I’ll ask you a question,” Quantrill retorted. “Why did your husband send his Redlegs to Missouri to wipe out innocent people?”

Everyone left the house as flames roared through the open windows. Quantrill and his men saddled up to leave, grumbling that they couldn’t find Jim Lane. Mary, standing a distance away from the front of her burning home, was more furious than sad that everything precious to her was going up in flames.

Quantrill tipped his hat as he passed her. “Please give Senator Lane my compliments. Tell him I would have been very glad to meet him.”

Mary glared back at him. “He would have been glad to have met you under different circumstances, Mr. Quantrill.”

“Good day, Mrs. Lane. If we find him, we’ll let you know where you can locate his body.”

Tom Mach’s narrative goes on to describe all sorts of depravity associated with the August 1863 Lawrence Massacre.  It is bitterly amusing to read raiders addressing Quantrill as ‘colonel’ considering his “soldiers” are clearly brigands, murderers and thieves:

The bloodletting continued throughout the war, with attack in retaliation for attack even after the Confederate Congress, under pressure from traditional military leaders, repealed the Partisan Ranger Act in February 1864. Not even the cessation of formal hostilities could quiet all of these guerrilla actions. Some partisan Confederates made for Mexico rather than be forced into a formal surrender, and veterans of Quantrill’s Raiders formed the nexus of the James-Younger Gang, infamous for a series of bank and train robberies in the decades following the war.

Quantrill had no business using the same title as Colonel Henry Routt, but just as deserving for a treason conviction (amongst a myriad of other charges).  It is sickening that the legacy of “Bleeding Kansas” includes this:

Quantrill was killed in 1865 during a raid in Kentucky. However, he quickly became a celebrated figure of the Civil War from the southern perspective. He was a hero to his supporters in Missouri, and his fame actually helped several other outlaw figures of the Old West. The James Brothers and the Youngers used the experienced they gained riding with Quantrill to help them rob banks and trains. Members of his Raiders gathered from 1888 to 1929 to recount their war efforts. Today there is a William Clarke Quantrill Society dedicated to the study of the Quantrill, his men and the border wars. Looking at Quantrill in the context of his times provides an interesting perspective on his actions. To this day, people argue whether his actions were warranted. What is your opinion? Quantrill: Hero or Villain?

Seriously—celebrating Quantrill and his depravity?  Calling Quantrill a hero?  A Quantrill Society, shamelessly hawking this?

August 17-18 2013

Join the cross border bus trip for a unique look at Quantrill’s Raid from both sides of the Missouri/Kansas border raid.

Tickets now on sale.

I refuse to put hyperlinks in this piece which might possibly aid a murderer-worshiping bus tour.  Given the horrific massacres unleashed during the 1850s and 1860s wars, celebration seems a bit inappropriate.

My answer to Martin Kelly: William Clarke Quantrill: WAR CRIMINAL

VI: Conclusions from the Border

A brutal border war in Kansas and Missouri erupted in 1855 that lasted more than ten years.  Descending into violence for the sake of violence, I choose to borrow a term coined in Colombia a century later: La Violencia.  Just as Mark Bowden describes Pablo Escobar growing up amongst unspeakable violence in 2001′s Killing Pablo, the war in Kansas and Missouri also devolved into The Violence, bloodletting empty of all meaning.  There might be no way to answer this, but I must ask: why?

Maybe the reason was this nation stood the concept of treason on its head.  I think the Kansas State Historical Society’s accusation is spot on:

There were constitutional rights belonging to the settlers in Kansas, and rights under the organic act; but Missouri had captured the machinery of their government and was striving to use it so as to make them appear traitors while they were loyal to those instruments, and President [(Pierce)] was sustaining Missouri in its usurpation.

Franklin Pierce is often described as one of the worst presidents in American history, but the most common reason I come across for his terribleness is this quip: “Pierce—hero of many a well fought bottle.”  In a word, NO!  Pierce’s drunkenness would have been wonderful if it had prevented him from removing honest public servants from office and permitting his administration or proxies to commit high crimes in the pursuit of frontier ‘justice:’

When the proslavery men in Kansas and Missouri perpetrated blatant electoral fraud during the March balloting, Reeder refused to certify the results and called a new election to fill the vacancies. He designated the town site of Pawnee, a few miles east of Fort Riley, as the meeting place for the first territorial legislature—July 2, 1855. After only four days, and over the governor’s veto, legislators adjourned to reconvene at Shawnee Mission, where they adopted Missouri’s harsh slave code as their own and petitioned President Franklin Pierce for Reeder’s removal. Unbeknownst to the so-called “Bogus Legislature,” the president was already moving in this direction. When Reeder refused appointment to another position, Pierce formally dismissed him from the office of territorial governor in late July 1855, alleging he had engaged in illegal land speculation.

Soon, Reeder firmly aligned himself with the free-state movement. This extra-legal junta elected Reeder and Jim Lane to the U.S. Senate, positions they were to assume as soon as Kansas was admitted to the Union under the Topeka Constitution. This, of course, never happened, and facing an indictment for high treason issued by a proslavery grand jury, Reeder fled the territory disguised as a wood-chopper in May 1856.

It has been fascinating to discover that every charge of treason thrown against the Kansans of the 1850s seems to indicate the Missourians themselves were committing the grave crimes (as for the 1860s, I will not excuse Jim Lane’s war crimes).  But no one of prominence is ever punished:

Money problems and a growing feeling against him had caused Jones to resign as sheriff in late 1856. His public career had only lasted about one year, but it ruined his name in Kansas. Money problems forced Jones to sell out all his real estate holdings in Lecompton, including Constitution Hall, to pay off debt. By 1859, he and his family had moved on to a new territory, New Mexico.

Ruined his name in Kansas?  Jones cheerfully pillages Lawrence in May 1856 and becomes upset that Kansans don’t see him in a good light (unless that light points out criminality)?  Though considering the fact that David Rice Atchison was able to retire in comfort after participating in the sacking of Lawrence and joining Confederate-aligned forces in Missouri after the war breaks out and still has a city in Kansas, two counties (one in Kansas and the other in Missouri) and a World War II LST named after him Sam Jones must have felt gypped.  Still, the criminal sheriff’s twilight in New Mexico doesn’t sound too horrific:

In the summer of 1879, an old foe from Kansas Territory, Colonel William A. Phillips, one of the Branson rescuers at Blanton’s Crossing, paid a courtesy visit to Jones at his hacienda in La Mesilla, (located on the outskirts of present-day Las Cruces, just thirty miles north of Mexico.) Phillips wrote that he found the sheriff “surrounded by the comforts of life, though suffering from the effects of a stroke and the paralysis had sadly hindered his speech.” The two old enemies reminisced about earlier times in Kansas, with Jones “manifesting the kindliest interest in his old enemies.” It seemed as though Sheriff Jones had mellowed with age but, on being accused by Phillips of becoming a latter-day Republican, the old fire-eating Democrat, vigorously denied it, but laughed and admitted that his wife and son declared that they were Republicans!

The man should have been forced to pay penance in the city of Lawrence until the day he died, or at least carried a conviction for treason on his record like Colonel Routt did.  That brings up another question: why were treason convictions for soldiers that waged war against the United States so irregular during the Civil War?


3 thoughts on “The July Crisis Part 1: On Causes of War

  1. Pingback: The July Crisis Part 2: On Treason | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

  2. Pingback: The July Crisis 3a: Colonel Edwin Sumner in Kansas | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

  3. Pingback: More Bloody Sesquicentennials | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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