It was provided by an Act of Congress, passed in 1826, and known by the name of the Missouri Compromise, that Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a Slave State, but that slavery should not be introduced into the territories west of the Mississippi and north of the thirty-sixth parallel of latitude. The territories west of the Mississippi and south of 36° were not referred to in the Act, and the Southern States interpreted its silence as a virtual admission that, when the case should arise, they were to be admitted to the Union as Slave States. In the instance of California, the case did arise, and the two parties which divide the Union agreed to adopt the principle of allowing the population to make their own choice. The Southern part treated this is as a repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and insisted that as California, which fell within what they contended was the slavery district, had been allowed to enter the Union as a free State, Kansas—to which at that time the names of Kansas and Nebraska were applied indiscriminately—should also be allowed to make its election between Northern and Southern institutions, instead of being obliged, under the Compromise, to join the Union as a Free State. This was the substance of the Nebraska-Kansas Bill which passed through Congress on the 25th May, 1854.
In this state of things it became a matter of great importance to each party to secure a majority in the Kansas legislature. To every party it was a matter of vital importance, for the principal object of their existing policy is to multiply as far as possible the number of Slave States, either by subdividing the old, or by acquiring new ones. In fact, by no other means would it be possible for them to maintain their political influence in the face of the great superiority which the Northern States possess in numbers, wealth, and intelligence. The expedient which suggested itself to the Antislavery party consisted in fitting out a number of bodies of settlers, to one of which Dr. and Mrs. Robinson belonged, who were to take possession of the country, and form a majority when the time for the election of the Legislature should arrive. Several parties arrived in the early autumn of 1854, and settled in and about the town of Lawrence. They seem to have been for the most part people of good station in society, and of sufficient means. They were not, however, allowed to enjoy the fruits of their emigration in peace. Crowds of Pro-slavery men from Missouri entered the Territory without any intention of settling, and merely for the purpose of setting up fictitious claims to plots of land which would give them the right to vote. When the day or the election of the Territorial delegate to Congress arrived (29th November, 1854), crowds of Missourians came over the border, in order to vote by main force. Of 1034 votes at Lawrence, 802 were illegally given. At another place, out of 417 votes only 80 were legal; and at a third, twenty-five or thirty men voted no less than 10 times. Nothing could exceed the ferocity and occasional blasphemy of this first instalment of Border Ruffians. “ A man from the Western States, who said Stephen A. Douglas was a better man than Jesus Christ, made his appearance with his friends;" and a man of the name of Stringfellow exhorted his companions “to vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver to mark every scoundrel that is the least tainted with Free-soilism or Abolitionism, and exterminate him." By this means the elections were carried by the Pro-slavery party. In the course of the winter and spring of 1854-5, new bodies of emigrants arrived—one of which, consisting of 200 persons, under the charge of Dr. Robinson, the husband of the authoress, left Boston on the 13th of March, and reached Kansas towards the end of that month, just before the election of the territorial Legislature. Like that which took place in the winter, it was carried by the violence of the Missourians, who had no legal right to vote at all, and who proceeded to pass slavery laws of the most violent character. The most remarkable of these was an Act to punish offences against slave property, which made it a capital crime to excite or to assist any insurrection of slaves, or to write, or circulate, or introduce into the Territory any publication for the purpose of exciting such revolt. It also punished with death all persons decoying slaves away from their masters, or bringing them into Kansas from other states, after having decoyed them from their servitude. It even went so far as to punish, by two years' imprisonment, the asserting or maintaining, by speech or writing, that persons have not the right to hold slaves in Kansas, or the introduction into the Territory of any publication containing any such denial.
This body and its laws were disavowed by Mr. Reeder, the Governor of the Territory, who was deprive of his place for doing so. It is called by the Abolitionists the “bogus" or sham Legislature, and its laws the “bogus" laws. Governor Shannon was appointed to succeed Governor Reeder. He was a warm adherent of the Slavery party, and was eagerly welcomed by them on his arrival. Shortly afterwards—in November, 1855—a “grand mass convention" was held at Leavenworth by the Slavery party, for the purpose of expressing their views. General Calhoun declared that “he would rather be a painted slave over in Missouri, or a serf to the Czar of Russia, than have the Abolitionists in power;" and another gentleman “endorsed his sentiments," remarking—“We must enforce the laws though we resort to the force of arms; trust to our rifles, and make the blood flow as freely as the turbid waters of the Mississippi that flows along our banks." Upon the proceedings of this assembly Mrs. Robinson remarks:—“Governor Shannon, it is said, will lead on his red-shirted butternut-coloured-trousered allies from Missouri, to crush his own people. Has his brain become so muddled in the bad whisky in which it floats as to dull all his perceptions of justice and right?" In pursuance of his determination to support the bogus laws and Legislature, Governor Shannon marched against Lawrence at the head of what he called militia, and what the Abolitionists described as Missourian banditti. The Free-soilers considered the whole transaction as nothing else than robbery and murder, and fortified their town with a view to resistance. The winter, which was extremely severe, passed over in great alarm, but there was no fighting, thou h there was a little murdering. Mrs. Robinson describes the circumstances of the irregular siege to which the town was subjected at great length, and occasionally in a rather startling manner. For example:—“We pity the guards who faithfully watch for our safety in such a wild night as this. The password for the night, ‘Pitch in, ‘was in strange consonance with the wildness of the terrific storm." This curious state of things— which was called, from the name of a neighbouring river, the Wakarusa War—terminated in a sort of treaty between Governor Shannon and the people of Lawrence, by which the former acknowledged that he had no right to call in the aid of persons not belonging to the State for the purpose of keeping the peace; whilst the latter asserted that, whilst they expressed no opinion about the validity of the bogus laws, they had no intention to do anything illegal.
Notwithstanding this treaty, if such is its proper description, the Abolitionists at Lawrence were still threatened by the Missourians. About a dozen of “the womanly element" of Lawrence amused themselves in making cartridges, and one lady “threatened to shoot the sheriff if he attempted to arrest her husband." A regular armed force was formed, and added to the gaiety as well as to the security of their townsmen. “Co. A.," we are told, gave parties; “they are our strong defenders," and “have taken to themselves the name of ‘Stubs,’ suggestive of their stature." Besides their fortifications and the gallant company of Stubs, the people of Lawrence founded, in the course of the winter, four religious societies, a circulating library, and a bookstore; and besides these institutions they formed a Legislature, comprising a Governor, Judges, Senate, and House of Representatives, in opposition to the bogus Governor and Legislature. These proceedings seem to have been considered illegal by the latter assembly, and sheriff Jones, a member, or at any rate a partisan of that body, proceeded to make various arrests in Lawrence in consequence. Some of these arrests were made, as the Abolitionists contended, without proper warrant or other legal authority, and the persons arrested refused to submit. Upon this the United States' Marshal issued a proclamation, stating that Lawrence was occupied by a body of armed men bound by oaths and pledges to resist the law, and called out the remarkable body known as the Kickapoo Rangers—consisting of natives of Carolina, Alabama, and Missouri—as his posse to put them down. The natives of Lawrence, with extraordinary forbearance, determined to submit at once to the authority of the United States' Marshal ; and the Kickapoo Rangers marched into the town eight hundred strong, under the command of a certain General Atchison, who exhorted them to “go in again with our highly honourable Jones, and teach the Emigrant Aid Company that Kansas shall be ours." The grand jury at Lecompton had indicted the Free-soil newspapers and hotel as nuisances, and the Kickapoo Rangers threw the presses into the river, and sacked the hotel after firing a good many cannon-shot into it. This event took place towards the end of May last. It was followed by many arrests and much violence towards the Abolitionists, who certainly seem to have carried to its extreme limit the principle of yielding even to the semblance of lawful authority. After much violence on the part of the Slavery party, the United States' troops marched into the Territory and dispersed by force the Free State Legislature; but even their presence did not keep the peace between the rival parties. There was a considerable amount of skirmishing in the months of August and September, and the ultimate issue of the question is still quite uncertain.
Strange and intricate as the whole story is, it throws a curious light on the American character. There never was a nation which carried on its quarrels with such singular attention to legality. The Free-soilers were ready to submit at any moment to almost any amount of ill-treatment, if inflicted, even in appearance by the authority of the Federal Government; and the whole effort of the Border Ruffians throughout has been to obtain, by fraud or by violence, some kind of legal colour for their outrages. If the proceeding shows in a strong light the bad side of the American character—its occasional fierceness, licence, and tyranny—it brings out no less forcibly their extraordinary aptitude for political combination, and the innate reverence which, in the North at least, is felt for law.
Saturday Review, December 6, 1856.