Thursday, April 13, 2006

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 13: The sack of Lawrence

The illegally-elected pro-slavery Shawnee Mission government in Kansas proceeded in 1855 to pass draconian "slave codes", which again illustrate the degree to which slavery in practice was eating away at the democratic rights of even white men in the slave states.  As the PBS Bleeding Kansas site puts it:
The new state legislature enacted what Northerners called the "Bogus Laws," which incorporated the Missouri slave code. These laws levelled 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.
Oswald Garrison Villard in his John Brown, 1800-1859 (1910) gives a more critical description of the Bogus Laws:
When the fraudulent Pawnee [pro-slavery] Legislature convened, July 2, 1855, it enacted, true to its lawless inception, a code of punishments for Free State men that must always rank as one of the foremost monuments of legislative tyranny and malevolence in the history of this country.  Under that code no one conscientiously opposed to slavery, or who failed to admit the right of everybody to hold slaves, could serve as a juror; and the right to hold office was restricted to pro-slavery men.  Five years at hard labor was to be the fate of any one introducing literature calculated to make a slave disorderly or dangerous or disaffected.  Death itself was the penalty for raising a rebellion among slaves or supplying them with literature which advised them to rise or conspire against any citizen.  The mere voicing of a belief that slavery was illegal in Kansas was made a grave crime, in the following words:
"Sec. 12:  If any free person, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that persons have not the right to hold slaves in this Territory, print, publish, write, circulate, or cause to be introduced into the Territory, any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet or circular, containing any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this Territory, such persons shall be deemed guilty of felongy, and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than five years." (my emphasis)
Such was the commitment of the slaveowners and their partisans to democracy and American freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition and assembly.
As I mentioned in my summary of events in Kansas at this time, Free State partisans organized their own state government in the fall of 1855, known as the "Topeka" government but whose real stronghold was Lawrence.  In November, 1855, an armed group of 1,500 pro-slavery men surrounded Lawrence, where about 500 Free State men prepared to give battle.  A peace agreement, known rather grandly as the "Wakarusa treaty", averted the clash, which was even more grandly called the Wakarusa War.

The Howard Committee described the 1855 confrontation at Lawrence as follows.  Noting that the pro-slavery government (now called the Lecompton government) were looking for pretexts for moving against the Free State citizens' of Lawrence, they reported:
It is obvious that the only cause of this hostility is the known desire of the citizens of Lawrence to make Kansas a free State, and their repugnance to laws imposed on them by non-residents.
And on the event itself, they wrote:
Among the many acts of lawless violence which it has been the duty of your committee to investigate, this invasion of Lawrence is the most defenceless. A comparison of the facts proven with the official statements of the officers of the government will show how groundless were the pretexts which gave rise to it. A community in which no crime had been committed by any of its members, against none of whom had a warrant been issued or a complaint made, who had resisted no process in the hands of a real or pretended officer, was threatened with destruction in the name of " law and order," and that, too, by men who marched from a neighboring State with arms obtained by force, and who at every stage of their progress violated many laws, and among others the constitution of the United States.
The chief guilt must rest on [Sheriff] Samuel J. Jones. His character is illustrated by his language at Lecompton, where peace was made. He said Major Clark and Burns both claimed the credit of killing that damned abolitionist, and he didn't know which ought to have it. If Shannon hadn't been a damned old fool, peace would never have been declared. He would have wiped Lawrence out. He had men and means enough to do it. (my emphasis)
Such was the kind of "Southern honor" promoted by the allegedly superior civilization produced by the "sacred institutions of slavery and white supremacy".

Then in May of 1856, after a year of escalating tensions and violence, came the "sack of Lawrence".  We can go to the PBS site for the short version of this one, too:
There had been several attacks during this time, primarily of proslavery against Free State men. People were tarred and feathered, kidnapped, killed. But now the violence escalated. On May 21, 1856, a group of proslavery men entered Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.
The Howard Committe's account gives more details.  They describe the state of things prior to sack of Lawrence:
In one case witnessed by one of your committee, an application for the writ of habeas corpus was prevented by the urgent solicitation of pro-slavery men, who insisted that it would endanger the life of the prisoner to be discharged under legal process.
While we remained in the Territory, repeated acts of outrage were committed upon quiet, unoffending citizens, of which we received authentic intelligence. Men were attacked in the highway, robbed, and subsequently imprisoned; others were seized and searched, and their weapons of defence taken from them without compensation. Horses were frequently taken and appropriated. Oxen were taken from the yoke while ploughing, and butchered in the presence of their owners. A minister was seized in the streets of the town of Atchison, and, under circumstances of gross barbarity, was tarred and cottoned, and in that condition was sent to his family. All the provisions of the constitution of the United States securing persons and property were utterly disregarded. (my emphasis)
Eventually, the defenders of the higher Southern civilization attacked Lawrence:
Under color of legal process, a company of about 700 armed men, the great body of whom your committee are satisfied were not citizens of the Territory, were marched into the town of Lawrence, under marshal Donaldson and sheriff Jones, officers claiming to act under the law, and then bombarded and burned to the ground avaluable hotel and one private house, destroyed two printing-presses and material, and then, being released by the officers whose posse they claimed to be, proceeded to sack, pillage, and rob houses, stores, trunks, &c., even to the clothing of women and children. Some letters thus unlawfully taken were private ones, written by the contesting delegate, and they were offered in evidence. Your committee did not deem that the persons holding them had any right thus to use them, and refused to be made the instruments to report private letters thus obtained.
This force was not resisted because it was collected and marshalled under the forms of law. But this act of barbarity, unexampled in the history of our government, was followed by its natural consequences. All the restraints which American citizens are accustomed to pay, even to the appearance of law, were thrown off. One act of violence led to another; homicides became frequent. A party, under H. C' [sic] Pate, composed chiefly of citizens of Missouri, were taken prisoners by a party of settlers, and while your committee were at Westport, a company, chiefly of Missourians, accompanied by the sitting delegate, went to relieve Pate and his party. A collision was prevented by the United States troops. Civil war seemed impending in the Terri tory. Nothing can prevent so great a calamity but the presence of a large force of United States troops, under a commander who will, with prudence and discretion, quiet the excited passions of both parties, and expel with force the lawless band of men coming from Missouri and elsewhere, who, with criminal pertinacity, infest the Territory. In some cases, and as to one entire election district, the condition of the country prevented the attendance of witnesses, who were either arrested and detained while, or deterred from, obeying our process. The sergeant-at-arms who served the process upon them was himself arrested and detained for a short time, by an armed force claiming to be a part of the posse of the marshal, but was allowed to proceed upon an examination of his papers, and was furnished with a pass signed by "Warren D. Wilkes, of South Carolina." John Upton, another officer of the committee, was subsequently stopped by a law less force on the borders of the Territory, and after being detained and treated with great indignity, was released. He, also, was fur nishled with a pass, signed by two citizens of Missouri, and addressed to "pro-slavery men." Bv reason of these disturbances we were delayed in Westport, so that while in session there our time was but partially occupied. But the obstruction which created the most serious embarrassment to your committee was the attempted arrest of Gov. Reeder, the contesting delegate, upon a writ of attachment issued against him br Judge Lecompte, to compel his attendance as a witness before the grand jury of Douglas county.  (my emphasis)
Villard writes of Gov. Reeder:
Governor Reeder at once [mid-1856] became a valuable leader of the [anti-slavery] Kansas Free Soilers, being thus forcibly converted into an Abolitionist from a sympathizer with the [pro-slavery] Squatter Sovereignty policy, and was regarded in the East as a martyr to the Abolition cause, particularly after he was compelled to flee from Kansas in disguise, in May, 1856, never to return to that State.
Villard describes the sack of Lawrence as follows.  The pretext of entering Lawrence was for Sheriff Jones to serve legal warrants.  The Lecompton men carried banners that upset Northerners then even more than seeing a Mexican flag sends our present-day nativists to foaming at the mouth.  Such as, "Southern Rights" and "South Carolina" and:
Let Yankees tremble, abolitionists fall,
Our Motto is, Give Southern rights to all

We saw above what "Southern rights" meant as compared to American democratic rights.
Villard gives this account of the attack on the town itself:
With the utmost alacrity the invitation was accepted [for the Lecompton forces to enter Lawrence], but no pretence of serving any writs was made. The Southerners were stimulated by the oratory of Atchison [of Missouri], but recently presiding officer of the United States Senate, who declared among other things: "And now we will go in with our highly honorable Jones, and test the strength of that damned Free State Hotel. Be brave, be orderly, and if any man or woman stand in your way, blow them to hell with a chunk of cold lead." But they did not go in until the Free State men had surrendered their arms to Jones, as further evidence of good faith. Once in, there was no John Brown to counsel resistance to them, no Lane to lead, and no Robinson to temporize.  There was no real leader. The military company, the Stubbs, was not in evidence. There were only two hundred rifles and ten kegs of powder in all Lawrence. Many of the citizens were either in arrest or in hiding to escape capture. Many others had left town to save their families. So no defence was attempted when the two newspaper offices were destroyed and the types, papers, presses and books thrown into the river. The Free State Hotel remained, however, and the order of the court that it be "abated" was not yet enforced. Here Major Buford again protested that he had not come to Kansas to destroy property, and Atchison seems to have been sobered some. But Jones wanted his triumph complete, and the Free State Hotel was soon in flames, after the pro-slavery cannon had sent thirty-two shot into it, Atchison firing the first shot. "This," said Jones, "is the happiest moment of my life." As the walls of the hotel fell, he cried out in glee, "I have done it, by God, I have done it,"  and it in no wise troubled him that, when he dismissed his drunken posse, as the hotel lay in ruins, it promptly robbed the town, winding up by the burning of Governor Robinson's house. The majesty of the law was upheld; its flouting by Free Soillers avenged.
The pro-slavery leaders and their disbanded followers left the Territory exulting in their victory, and wholly unable to realize that it was not only to be their defeat, but that they had let loose a veritable Pandora's box of evil passions, and finally inaugurated a reign of bloodshed, midnight assassination and guerrilla warfare.  (my emphasis)
The sack of Lawrence occurred on Thursday, May 21.  On May 22 in Washington, the honorable Preston Brooks of Georgia brutally assaulted Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane, wounding him badly.  That weekend, John Brown and foure of his sons and a few other supporters would take an action of "midnight assassination and guerrilla warfare" which remains the most controversial act in his career.
An Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month 2006 postings is available.

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