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Chapter 3: “Southern rights to all.”

The siege of Lawrence raised, the ruffians, on returning homeward, on the 15th of December, 1855, destroyed the Free State ballot box at Leavenworth; and, on the 20th, threw the press and types of the Territorial Register, the political organ of the author of the Kansas-Nebraska act, into the muddy streets of the little town, and the still muddier bed of the Missouri River. The leaders of the riot did the writer of this volume the honor to say that the outrage was occasioned by an offensive paragraph emanating from his pen, and expressed themselves exceedingly solicitous to see him dangling in the air — for daring “freely” to exercise the rights of a free press! This was my first public honor; a good beginning, I hoped, for a friend of the slave; and one which, ever since, I have striven to deserve.

The election, thus riotously interrupted by the ruffians at Leavenworth, was held under the auspices of a voluntary political organization; and the question submitted was — Shall the Topeka Constitution be rejected or sustained? [94]

The Topeka Constitution, ever intrinsically valueless, but sacred as the rallying standard of the Free State men, was an instrument which originated in the ostensible and vaunted principles of the Organic Act — the right of a people, inhabiting a Territory, to form their own domestic institutions in their own way; among which, if there had been any honesty in the framers of the Bill, or the advocates of the doctrine, the right of choosing a Governor, Judges, Legislators, Executive State officers and municipal functionaries must inevitably have been included. Assuming the good faith of the framers of the Act, the Free State men proceeded to carry out their principles-first, by repudiating the code of enactments compiled by the invaders, and denying the authority of the officers they had elected and appointed to execute them; and, secondly, by calling on the pioneers to choose representatives to a Convention to be held at Topeka, for the purpose of forming a State Constitution. The squatters did so; the Topeka Constitution was adopted; and, on the 15th of January, 1856, an election under it, for State officers and legislators, was held throughout the Territory.

The pro-slavery Mayor at Leavenworth forbade an election being held there. But there was one man, Captain R. P. Brown,--as brave a hero as his venerable namesake-who determined to resist this tyranny; and, on the adjournment of the polls to a neighboring town, went out there with a few friends to defend the rights of free men. The Kickapoo Rangers, a ruffianly gang of Southern desperadoes, marched out there also; a skirmish ensued; they were successfully resisted and [95] driven back; but Captain Brown, on the following day, in returning home, was surrounded by an overwhelming force; and, at the earnest entreaty of his companions, although against his own judgment, surrendered under a promise that their persons should be safe.

“But the moment this was complied with,” writes Mr. Phillips, whose every statement I know to be correct:

The terms were violated. One young man was knocked down, and a ruffian was going to cut him with his hatchet, (the Kickapoo Rangers carried hatchets,) but was prevented by the Captain of the Company. The prisoners were taken back to Easton; but Brown was separated from them, and put in an adjoining building. A rope was purchased at the store, and was shown to the prisoners, with the intimation that they should be hanged with it. ... . It was fiercely discussed for hours what should be done with them; and meanwhile liquor was drank pretty freely; and they who were brutal enough without any thing to make them more so, became ungovernably fierce. Unwilling that all of these men should be murdered, the Captain allowed the other prisoners to escape. One of them hastened to Fort Leavenworth, in hopes of getting some troops to go and rescue Brown; but it was a vain attempt — such protection was refused. Then followed a scene of atrocity and horror. Captain Brown had surrendered his arms, and was helpless. His enemies, who dared not face him the night before, though they had a superior force, now crowded round him. When they began to strike him, he rose to his feet, and asked to be permitted to fight any one of them. He challenged them to pit him against their best man — he would fight for his life; but not one of the cowards dared thus to give the prisoners a chance. Then he volunteered to fight two, and then three; but it was in vain. . . . These men, or rather demons, rushed around Brown, and literally hacked him to death with their hatchets. One of the rangers, a large, coarse-looking wretch named Gibson, inflicted the fatal blow — a large hatchet gash in the side of the head, which penetrated the skull and brain mans inches. The gallant Brown fell, and his remorseless enemies jumped on him, while thus prostrate, or kicked him. Desperately wounded [96] though he was, he still lived; and, as they kicked him, he said, ‘ Don't abuse me; it is useless; i am dying.’ It was a vain appeal. One of the wretches [since a United States Deputy Marshal] stooped over the prostrate man, and, with a refinement of cruelty exceeding the rudest savage, spit tobacco juice in his eyes. Satiated brutality at last went back to its carousala and it was then that a few of their number, whom a little spark of conscience or a fear of punishment had animated, raised the dying man, still groaning, and, placing him in a wagon, his gaping wounds but poorly sheltered from the bitter cold of that winter's day, drove him to the grocery, where they went through the farce of dressing his wounds; but, seeing the hopelessness of his case, took him home to his wife. ... The pulse of life was ebbing out. She asked him what was the matter, and how he came thus. ‘I have been murdered by a gang of cowards, in cold blood, without any cause!’ he said. And, as the poor wife stooped over the body of her gallant husband, he expired.

And, as she thus stooped, with a fiendishness truly Southern, one of the ruffians dared to offer her an insult.

No notice has ever been taken of this atrocious murder by the powers that be; never once did they interfere to preserve the purity of the ballot box or the right of free speech. The polls were not permitted to be opened either at Kickapoo, or Atchison, or the other pro-slavery villages; and a. clergyman, who, at Atchison, said in a private conversation, that he was a Free State man, was tarred and feathered, and sent down the river on a raft-Federal officeholders leading and encouraging the rioters.

John Brown, Junior, was elected a member of the Topeka Legislature.

In the month of February, the President, in an official proclamation, denounced the Topeka Legislature as an illegal assembly; endorsed the code of the invaders [97] as the laws of Kansas; and ordered the Federal troops to aid the Territorial officers in the execution of these infamous enactments. With the opening of navigation on the river came hordes of Southern highwaymen from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Alabama, with the avowed intention of exterminating or banishing the Free State men. Organizing into guerilla companies, they soon scattered desolation throughout the Territory; but first were enrolled as Territorial militia, by Governor Shannon, and armed with United States muskets, the more effectually to enable them to carry out their purpose. An excuse was needed to march against Lawrence, in order to destroy it; for while it stood, they could hardly hope to succeed in their nefarious mission. A pretext was soon afforded. Sham writs were issued for the arrest of its citizens; United States troops entered Lawrence to enforce them. To Federal authority no opposition was made; for the sentiment of devotion to the Union, notwithstanding that to Kansas the Union was a curse, was in almost every breast an uneradicable prejudice. The Sheriff, thus protected and unopposed, in order to incite the people to resist him, encamped with his prisoners in Lawrence over night, and, in coarse and filthy language, abused the Northern citizens and his captives. Tired of the cowardice of the politicians, and exasperated by the outrages daily committed by the Southern marauders, one brave but wayward boy, on hearing the abusive language of the Sheriff, swore that he would bring matters to a crisis forthwith ; and, in the evening, he and two companions, half drunk, and wholly incensed, fired at [98] and wounded the insolent officeholder as he stood at the entrance of his tent.

He was not dangerously wounded; but, to subserve the interests of the South, it was reported that he was dead. Missouri, again appealed to, invaded the Territory ; the far Southern marauders assembled at Lecompton; and now, in order that they might march together on devoted Lawrence, “under the shadow of the wings of the Federal eagle,” it was determined to arrest Governor Reeder, then the leader of the party, under the pretence of needing him as a witness at Tecumseh. Mr. Reeder, dismissed from his office as Federal Governor, in consequence of his refusal to be the passive instrument of the ruffians, was elected as the Free State delegate to Washington, and was now in Kansas, with the Congressional Committee of Investigation, collecting evidence to sustain his claim to a seat in the National House of Representatives.

Governor Reeder, of course, refused to go,--for to have gone would have interrupted his duties, and have forfeited his life. He knew nothing of the case, in which, it was pretended, he was needed as a witness. This refusal was instantly made the pretext for marching on Lawrence, under the authority of a United States Marshal.

The news spread rapidly, that Lawrence was to be destroyed.

John Brown, Junior, at the head of sixty men, or more,1 marched from Ossawattomie, and offered to [99] defend the town; but the Committee of Safety, now so odious that it was ironically styled the Safety Valve, while valiantly declaring that “they would fight first,” rather than submit to ignominious terms, and receiving from Governor Shannon the very courteous, and patriotic answer, “Then war it is, by God!” took no efficient measures for defence, and determined to offer no resistance. John Brown, Junior, marched back to Ossawattomie; but ere he reached it and disbanded, his father, with a company of seven men, left his camp, and began in right earnest the war of liberty.

Meanwhile, Messrs. Reeder, Robinson, and others, urged to it by the Congressional Committee, had fled; but, excepting Reeder, were overtaken, arrested, and imprisoned on a charge of high treason. Their crime consisted in accepting office under the Free State Constitution ; save one, an editor, whose offence was the publication of a Free State journal.2

On the 5th of May, the two Free State papers in Lawrence, and a hotel erected by the Emigrant Aid Company; as, also, a bridge over a stream to the south of Lawrence, which had been built by a Free State man; were each indicted by a jury, under the instructions of the Federal Judge, Lecompte, as a public nuisance, and orders for their destruction were issued by the Court.

On the 11th of the same month, the United States Marshal issued a proclamation assembling the “militia ;” and from that time, as the writer personally [100] knows, till the 20th instant, in the words of a democratic author,3 “preparations were going forward, and vigorously prosecuted, for the sacking of Lawrence. The pro-slavery people were to wipe out this ill-fated town, under authority of law. They had received the countenance of the President, the approbation of the Chief Justice, the favorable presentiment of the Grand Jury, the concurrence of the Governor, the order of the Marshal, and were prepared to consummate their purpose with the arms of the Government, in the hands of a militia force gathered from the remotest sections of the Union. They concentrated their troops in large numbers around the doomed city, stealing, or, as they termed it, ‘pressing into the service’ all the horses they could find belonging to Free State men; whose cattle were also slaughtered, without remuneration, to feed the Marshal's forces; and their stores and dwellings broken open and robbed of arms, provisions, blankets, and clothing. And all this under the pretence of ‘law and order,’ and in the name and under the sanction of the government of the United States.”

These, and worse outrages, the murdering of the young boys Stewart and Jones, and the ravishing of a mother and a daughter among them, were speedy and infallible illustrations of the spirit of the South ; convincing proofs to every man who would look with his own eyes, instead of using the false mirror of a conservative education, that the American Union is not a Nation, but an unnatural joining of two hostile [101] peoples — of a free, progressive, tolerant, enlightened, law-loving race, on the one hand ; and, on the other, of lawless organized bands of despots, with able but unprincipled leaders, and with a lower class only slightly in advance of our barbarous semi-civilized Indian tribes of the West.

On the 20th of May, the United States Marshal, at the head of eight hundred men, entered the town of Lawrence, and made arrests; and then, with an ingenuity worthy of the South, or Austria, or any other power satanic, dismissed his immense force within the limits of the corporation. Had the army then committed any lawless act, how could the Democracy have been held responsible? The posse comitatus was now a mob. But the slot Sheriff, who so lately had been lamented as dead, stepped forward at this juncture; reorganized the force as his official staff; and then, filling the streets with these Southern marauders, destroyed the presses and offices of the two Northern papers, battered at with cannon, and finally burned down, the recently finished and splendid hotel. In the eyes of the Government, they were “public nuisances.” This mob was headed by an ex-Senator and ex-Vice President of the United States!

Among the brave young men who saw these outrages committed, were Charley Lenhart and John E. Cook. Next day they left the town, to commence reprisals. Nearly two hundred thousand dollars worth of property had been stolen or destroyed, without reckoning, in this amount, nearly two hundred Horses that had been “pressed into the service” of the South. [102]

North of the Kansas River, the conquest of the Territory was complete ; and, south of it, several Free State districts had submitted to the power of the invaders. All the towns on the Missouri River were in their hands; Lawrence had been sacked, its prosperity checked, and its prestige broken; while Tecumseh, and Lecompton, Fort Scott, and the far Southern region, had always been faithful to the traffic in human souls. On a flag that waved in the ranks of the lawless sheriff's southern force, on that memorable 20th of May, was printed the Goliath-like boast of the embattled propagandists of oppression:

You Yankees tremble, and Abolitionists fall;
Our motto is, Southern Rights for All.

The cause of God, and his servants, and despised poor, looked gloomy; but there were many hearts, fully conscious that, armed with justice and Sharpe's rifles, the right would come uppermost ere long. And among them, encamped in the woods of Southern Kansas, was a stern old man, whose cold blue eye lighted up with a holy lustre, as he read in the Sacred Book, written by the finger of his God and Father:

Be strong and courageous; be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him;

With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and to fight our battles.

1 My personal recollection is, that there were one hundred and twenty men in his company; but, as I cannot recall my authority, I give the lowest number stated by others.

2 He subsequently sold himself to the Federal Administration.

3 Gihon.

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