Monday, December 2, 2013

David Rice Atchison: The Chief Border Ruffian

Image from the Library of Congress, informational text and primary source speech text from the Kansas Historical Society.

In honor of the anniversary of John Brown's death I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a little biography on one of Brown's Kansas enemies: David Rice Atchison.

David Rice Atchison was a proslavery leader from Missouri. He represented that state in the U.S. Senate from 1843 to 1855. He was involved in various aspects of the territorial conflict.  He commanded several different proslavery troops and was believed to participate in the sack of Lawrence.  He was a founder of the Law and Order Party that encouraged southerners to settle in Kansas Territory.

The U.S. senator from Missouri lived very close to the Kansas border. He said, "The prosperity or the ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle." Atchison argued that Missourians had a special stake in the outcome of Kansas Territory. His belief was so strong that he encouraged Missourians to cross the border and illegally vote in Kansas elections to help sway the outcomes. He and other proslavery supporters appealed to people in the South. They asked for money, moral support, and proslavery settlers to come to Kansas Territory.

As president protempore of the senate on Sunday March 4, 1849, when President James Polk's term ended, some say Atchison was president for a day. Zachary Taylor chose to wait until Monday to be inaugurated along with his vice president Millard Fillmore. Atchison was next in line as acting vice president.

The city of Atchison, founded in 1854, along the Missouri River, was named for the senator as was Atchison County.

Here is the text from Atchison's pep speech before the sack of Lawrence, Kansas, May 21, 1856:


Gentlemen, Officers & Soldiers! - (Yells) This is the most glorious day of my life! This is the day I am a border ruffian! (Yells.) The U.S. Marshall has just given you his orders and has kindly invited me to address you. For this invitation, coming from no less than U.S. authority, I thank him most sincerely, and now allow me, in true border-ruffian style, to extend to you the right hand of fellowship. (Cheers.) Men of the South, I greet you as border-ruffian brothers. (Repeated yells & waving of hats.) Though I have seen more years than most of you, I am yet young in the same glorious cause that has made you leave your homes in the South. Boys I am one of your number today (Yells.) and today you have a glorious duty to perform, today you will earn laurels that will ever show you to have been true sons of the noble South! (Cheers.) You have endured many hardships, have suffered many privations on your trips, but for this you will be more than compensated by the work laid out by the Marshal, - and what you know is to be done as the programme of the day. Now Boys, let your work be well done! (Cheers.) Faint not as you approach the city of Lawrence, but remembering your mission act with true Southern heroism, & at the word, Spring like your bloodhounds at home upon that d--d accursed abolition hole; break through every thing that may oppose your never flinching courage! - (Yells.) Yess, ruffians, draw your revolvers & bowie knives, & cool them in the heart's blood of all those d--d dogs, that dare defend that d--d breathing hole of hell. (Yells.) Tear down their boasted Free State Hotel, and if those Hellish lying free-soilers have left no port holes in it, with your unerring cannon make some, Yes, riddle it till it shall fall to the ground. Throw into
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the Kanzas their printing presses, & let's see if any more free speeches will be issued from them! Boys, do the Marshall's full bidding! - Do the sheriff's entire command! - (Yells.) for today Mr. Jones is not only Sheriff, but deputy Marshall, so that whatever he commands will be right, and under the authority of the administration of the U.S.! - and for it you will be amply paid as U.S. troops, besides having an opportunity of benefitting your wardrobes from the private dwellings of those infernal nigger-stealers. (Cheers.) Courage for a few hours & the victory is ours, falter & all is lost! - Are you determined? Will every one of you swear to bathe your steel in the black blood of some of those black sons of ---- (cries & yells of yes, yes.) Yes, I know you will, the South has always proved itself ready for honorable fight, & you, who are noble sons of noble sires, I know you will never fail, but will burn, sack & destroy, until every vistage of these Norther Abolishionists is wiped out. Men of the South & Missouri, I am Proud of this day! I have received office and honor before; - I have occupied the vice-presidents place in the greatest republic the light of God's sun ever shone upon; - but, ruffian brothers, (yells.) that glory, that honor was nothing, it was an Empty buable, compared with the solid grandeur & magnificent glory of this momentous occasion! Here, on this beautiful prairie-bluff, with naught but the canopy of heaven for my covering, with my splendid Arabian charger for my seat, to whose well tried fleetness I may yet have to depend for my life, unless this days work shall annihilate from our western world these hellish Emigrant Aid paupers, whose bellies are filled with beggars food, & whose houses are stored with "Beecher's Rifles (Bibbs!) (Yells prolonged.) I say, here, with the cool breeze of the morning blowing fresh around my head, with the U.S. Marshall at my left, - completely surrounded by my younger brothers, (terrible enthusiasm.) each supporting a U.S. rifle, and on the manly countenance of each, plainly seen, his high & fixed determination to carry our to the letter the lofty & glorious resolves that have brought him here
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- the resolves of the entire South, and of the present Administration, that is, to carry the war into the heart of the country, (cheers.) never to slacken or stop until every spark of free-state, free-speech, free-niggers, or free in any shape is quenched out of Kansaz! (Long shouting & cheering.) And what is also pleasing beyond my powers of description, is the fact that, having above me, - as I speak the honest sentiments of my heart and the sentiments of the administration & the blessed pro-slavery party throughout this great nation, - is the only flag we recognize, and the only one under whose folds we will march into Lawrence, the only one under which these d--d Abolishionist prisoners were arrested - who are now outside yonder tent endeavoring to hear me, which I care not a d--n if they do! (Cheers.) Yes, these G--d d--d sons of d--d puritan stock will learn their fate, and they may go home and tell their cowardly friends what I say! - I care not for them! - I defy & d--n them all to H--l. (roars & yells.) Yes, that large red flag denotes our purpose to press the matter even to blood, - the large lone white star in the centre denotes the purity of our purpose, & the words "Southern Rights" above it clearly indicate the rightiousness of our principles.
I say under all these circumstances I am now enjoying the proudest moments of my life, - but I will detain you no longer. (Cries of go on, go on.) No boys! - I connot stay your spirit of patriotism, I cannot even stay my own; - our precious time is wasting. - No hasten to work, - follow your worthy and immediate leader, Col. Stringfellow! (Yells.) he will lead you on to a glorious victory, & I will be threre to support all your acts & assist as best I may in all your acts, & assist completing the overthrow of that hellish party, & in crushing out the last sign of d--d abolishionism in the territory of Kanzas. - (Three times Yells for Atchison.)

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