Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some Kentucky Reports on Bleeding Kansas

As promised in the previous post I thought I'd share some of the Kentucky newspaper reports on Bleeding Kansas that I have recently come across. Admittedly my search has been limited and most of what I have found are merely reprints from Missouri newspapers. But, that in itself says a great deal. By purposely choosing pro-slavery reports over free-state or more balanced accounts shows, not surprisingly, a bias.

On the front page of the April 1, 1856 edition of the Frankfort Commonwealth, a lead-in to the re-published article clearly shows this bias. It reads:

"The following circular, over the signature of many of the most reputable gentlemen in Lexington, Mo., will disabuse the public mind of erroneous impressions sought to be made by the Free-soil presses of the country, and we cheerfully republish it as an act of justice to the people of Western Missouri."

One paragraph of the re-printed Missouri article was especially interesting:

"It will not, we hope, be considered improper for us in this connection to say, as near neighbors deeply concerned, we are not indifferent spectators of the strife in Kansas. Many of us have brothers and sons legitimate settlers in the Territory-our prayers for life, health and prosperity went with them to their new homes. We have seen pouring through our own State, from the East, a corrupt horde, concentrating for plunder and destruction around our kindred, and we have heard 'The cry of our strong swimmers in their agony' breasting the waves of aggressive fanaticism, yet we as a people, have moved not. True, some of our impetuous youths, visiting their brethren with hospitality they have enjoyed, have shared the dangers of the day; but Missouri, always mindful of the Constitution, though vitally interested, has hopefully awaited the interposition of the Executive arm for the protection of her energetic emigrating children. She asks for the enforcement of constitutional law and the observance of legislative enactments. An arbitrament by the SWORD is her last wish; she has no hope of tranquility which looks beyond the existence of this glorious Union; yet if shorn of her constitutional rights, like the blind giant of old, she will gather to its fall the pillars of the temple." (Italics in original)

In the March 25, 1856 issue the Frankfort Commonwealth ran a story under the headline: "Arms for Kansas Arrested---Hostilities Commenced." This story was a reprint from the Lexington (Missouri) Express and explained that on a westbound steamboat was found a box that contained "one hundred Sharpe's rifles and two cannons!" It went on to say that "The proceedings were orderly, and although the determination to arrest the arms was decided, no one talked of violence to the poor tool that could heartlessly lend himself to such unnatural work. The arms were boxed up and marked 'Carpenters' Tools'...The passengers and officers were highly incensed at the disclosures, but no indignity was offered to the miserable disorganizer." The arms were found on the boat due to the carelessness of passenger who was conveying them, as apparently he dropped two letters to his mother back in Massachusetts describing his trip and how he was successfully slipping by the Missourians. The article closed by stating that, "The 'Carpenters' Tools' are now safely stored in this city...We suggest that a committee be appointed by our citizens, at a meeting to be held a the Court House to-morrow, (Monday) morning, at ten o'clock, whose duty it shall be to examine for, and intercept, all similar shipments." For some reason I have a hard time believing that "no indignity was offered to the miserable disorganizer."
An another article under the headline "Kansas Outrage," reprinted by a St. Louis newspaper, it explained that, "As Mr. Cosgrove and Dr. Brannon, were going from Lecompton to Franklin, they were hailed by a party of Free State men, who enquired who they were, and where they were going. On being answered, the commander of the party turned to his men and asked their motto. They replied, Sharp's rifles, and immediately fired on Cosgrove and Brannon. Brannon was wounded, but Cosgrove sent a ball through the leader. The balance fled."

Again, as previously mentioned, these are limited examples, but apparently, and not surprisingly, the pro-slavery press of Kentucky specifically chose to print articles from pro-slavery Missouri papers that expressed positive sentiments with their political stance. When I find the time I hope to look up more Kentucky examples from the 1854-1860 Bleeding Kansas period to see if this trend continued.


  1. After all the reading I've done concerning Bleeding Kansas, one simple question plagues me. I have several guesses at its answer, or its constellation of contributing answers, but I would very much like to know what others think, because so far the literature seems to be strangely quiet on the subject. My question is this: as the South collectively was so concerned with winning Kansas as a slave state (and leaving Nebraska for the North), why were there never sufficient Southern-sympathizing pioneers willing to genuinely move into Kansas and stay there in order for popular sovereignty to tip in their direction instead of relying almost exclusively on border ruffian-ism to get their way? Why didn't more Southerners actually move to Kansas in the 1850s?

  2. I will take a stab at an answer, and think there are a couple of parts to my take. First, I think there was a pretty significant number of Southerners that did make the trip to Kansas (see Jefferson Buford's small army), however, when they arrived, they quickly saw they were outnumbered and outgunned from the beginning. Most saw that the freesoilers were far more committed to sending settlers to Kansas than pro-slavery forces were. I believe that is largely why Buford went back to Alabama. Along the same lines, Southerners thought that they could intimidate the freesoilers with the treat of violence (see May 1856 Lawrence raid), but when the free labor men fought back and fought back hard. Add to that abolitionist extremists such as John Brown and James Montgomery and it was just not practical or safe to stay. Lastly, Southerners did not feel their slave property would be secure in a state where it was so easy for those to escape to Nebraska and Iowa where they could receive significant aid. Why move to Kansas and risk your investment in slave property? Just my takes.

  3. Yes, but. . . .

    My real question is why the South didn't want to own Kansas as passionately as the North did, when you might expect the opposite to have been true. The North didn't simply want to fight in Kansas; a lot of Northerners wanted to farm in Kansas, to put down roots and stay. Buford's "army" doesn't count: it was there for temporary political and quasi-military reasons, not for agricultural reasons; it was reactionary to the Emigrant Aid Society, not proactive farmers seeking to take and hold claims and to establish farms and settle for keeps in Kansas. This is my point: Southerners looked at Kansas almost always as a battlefield, not as a giant farming field that could be home to hundreds of new plantations or smaller family farms. I think that's odd and requires explanation, because that's certainly not how they had looked at Missouri, say, a decade or two earlier. Had enough would-be Southern colonists and pioneer families wanted to farm in Kansas, they would have won elections legitimately, and the option of violence would not have been immediately viewed as "necessary." As far as it not being safe for Northerners to stay in Kansas, I don't agree. Kansas is a large state, and by far most pioneers in the mid-1850s were in the far east and north of the state. Had Southerners settled farther west and south, say, the abolitionists would have posed not much of a threat to them, and they could have racked up substantial legitimate pro-slavery votes.

    I suspect maybe the comparative disinterest in colonizing Kansas among Southerners was related to how long it takes to establish large plantations, and the attendant economic difficulties of doing so, of building up the requisite infrastructure to make the Southern economic model functional: the free-staters could move in and be successful faster than the pro-slavery folk. Also I wonder whether the absence of wide waterways played a role: harder to ship large harvests out of Kansas than out of Missouri, say. So even with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and even with popular sovereignty, I'd suggest slavery was never going to be successful farther West than it already was in 1850: it was doomed before anyone had thought up the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

    The driving impulse behind Bleeding Kansas, I think, was a combination of desperation and frustration stemming from a recognition among Southerners, essentially unconscious, of the ever-expanding, genuine threat to both slavery and white supremacy, the basis for the entire Southern economy and the Southern zeitgeist regardless of one's own social stratum. An important driving force, I'd wager (although I lack the evidence), was wealthy oligarchs in Virginia and the Carolinas who required the two Senators from Kansas far more than they needed or desired any expanded Lebensraum, if you will, for Southerners; that is, I'd guess substantial political pressure from East coast oligarchs drove the poorer, uneducated Southern whites in the West (and elsewhere) to do the fighting and killing.

    Just my takes, and guesses.