Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gov. Magoffin Called for Reoganization of the Kentucky Militia in the Wake of John Brown's Raid

In the aftermath of John Brown's raid, Kentucky governor Beriah Magoffin sought measures that would ensure that such an affair would not happen in the Commonwealth.

Governor Magoffin addressed the Kentucky General Assembly in December 1859 and outlined his recommendations to make the Bluegrass a safer state. Reading his words, I could not help mentally making modern comparisons to the measures that our government made after the 9/11 attacks. We formed a Homeland Security; he called for a stronger militia presence. We increased airport security; he called for greater restrictions on traveling peddlers and free African Americans.

Probably the strongest recommendation that Magoffin made was for the reorganization of the Kentucky militia system, which he viewed as ineffective in its 1859 existence. He clearly expressed what he saw as the possible consequences of this oversight. "In case of insurrection, the enforcement of the laws by the executive, the suppression of mobs, or protection from internal or external dangers, there is scarcely a single volunteer company which could be called into service."

The Harpers Ferry raid was foremost in mind in this planning. He continued, "Threatening dangers and a sense of security require it [militia reorganization]. The Harpers Ferry affair warns us that we know not at what moment we may have need for an active, ardent, reliable, patriotic, well-disciplined, and thoroughly organized militia in Kentucky." He placed blamed, or at least compliance, on the Republican Party for the attempted insurrection at Harpers Ferry. "If this affair was not planned by some of the most distinguished leaders and ministers of the Abolition and Republican party, they had knowledge of it. It received their countenance and support. It was a wide-spread and hellish conspiracy against the slave States and the longer continuance of the Union."

The furiously conservative Magoffin ran off a long indictment list, "They [Harpers Ferry conspirators] were not willing to wait until they could effect their purpose by constitutional and peaceful measures; it was too slow and uncertain. They were willing to do it by violence; to effect it in disregard for the constitution and laws; to change this government into mob outrage and desecration; to plot rebellion and insurrection; to shed blood of the innocent; to commit arson and to murder and rob an unoffending and unsuspecting portion of the loyal citizens of this country; to commit treason and break up this glorious republic; to let the end justify the means, and to do anything to make money and get place and power."

Magoffin's militia call was quickly heeded by Kentuckians. Militia reform would eventually come with creation of the State Guard in March 1860, but even before then militia companies were formed in response. In the December 17, 1859 edition of the Covington [Kentucky] Journal, a small noticed was placed that had been reprinted from the Georgetown Gazette. "A military company has been organized at the Stamping Ground [Scott County]. A movement is on foot to organize a company at Turkey Foot. These, with the 'Georgetown Guards,' will make three companies in the county. Let the ghost of old John Brown come along; who's afraid now?"

Kentucky clearly feared that they were in a vulnerable position and possibly susceptible to a Harpers Ferry-like action. Governor Magoffin, as state executive, attempted to ensure that would not happen, or if it happened, an appropriate response would meet the threat.

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