November 8, 2011

The Challenge of Reporting on Bleeding Kansas, 1856

I like these articles about the conflict in the Kansas Territory from the Tuesday, Sept 16, 1856, issue of the New York Tribune for several reasons, hardly the least of which is that they are highly entertaining to read. That is, if you enjoy reading antiquated insults aimed at politicians.  Another reason I like them is because they illustrate that people at the time were often confused about what was happening in Kansas, something I believe has persisted in historical treatments of the topic.  Although the author complains about the border-ruffian bias of the news reports coming out of Kansas, I think the free-state bias expressed in this article is relatively moderate and fair given its chronological proximity to the events at hand.

From the New-York Daily Tribune on Tuesday, September 16, 1856:
It would be absurd to look to the drunkard Atchison, to the drunkard Shannon, or to the drunken rabble of Missouri, or even to the miserable President Pierce, who, perhaps, can scarcely be held more accountable than they—it would be absurd to look to any of these as the really responsible parties for the atrocious crimes against both public and private rights, the rights of citizens as well as the ordinary rights of humanity, of which Kansas is now the scene.  Neither the ruffians of Missouri, nor President Pierce, heartless and soulless demagogue and doughface as he is, would have dared to venture, would have ever thought even of venturing upon such unheard-of atrocities, had they not been instigated to it, and encouraged and supported in it, by persons of vastly more social and political consequence and influence than themselves.  That which has been done is now doing in Kansas, is briefly this: A Missouri mob takes violent possession of the polls, elects a pretended Legislature, and through the medium of that pretended Legislature enacts a bloody and atrocious code; and that same mob are now in Kansas with arms and torches in their hands, murdering the Free-State men, burning down their towns and houses, and driving them, stripped of all their property, from the Territory, under pretense of enforcing order, sustaining the authority of the United States, and putting in execution the laws of the Territory! 
Now, admitting that the first violation of the rights of the people of Kansas, by driving them from the polls and returning as elected a body of the bogus legislators, was solely the idea and act of the Border Ruffians themselves, without any encouragement or instigation from Washington or elsewhere—which is more, we fear, than the truth of the facts will warrant—yet other persons, by upholding and sustaining as a legal body the bogus Legislature thus infamously imposed upon Kansas, and their infamous laws as a binding code, have made themselves the responsible parties for all the subsequent outrages.  And who are the parties who have thus taken upon themselves this terrible responsibility—a responsibility to which the people of these United States will most strictly hold them?  These responsible parties, these indorsers of the Missouri invaders and their bogus Legislature, are the Cabinet of President Pierce, the Border-Ruffian majority in the Senate of the United States, and, to a still greater degree than either of these, the Cincinnati Convention and the politicians who support the nominee and the platform of that Convention.  It is only the confidence of being sustained by, and the hope of giving pleasure and satisfaction to, these influential parties, that have emboldened the Border Ruffians of Missouri to enter upon the ferocious, bloody work in which they are now engaged.  They are but re-acting the part of the servants of Henry II., who, in the hope of pleasing their King and master, waylaid and murdered Thomas a Becket; and the politicians, to please and gratify whom murders and other outrages are now being perpetrated in Kansas, may rest assured that before they ever again can be recognized as Christians or political leaders, the same humble, barefooted penance which the proud and powerful Henry II. was obliged to pay at the shrine and grave of St. Thomas a Becket to purge his conscience of that murder, the people of the United States will force them to pay at the graves of the martyrs of Kansas. 
The Cabinet at Washington, the Senate of the United States, the Cincinnati Convention, and the politicians that support the Platform and the candidate of that Convention, will each and all, and every individual of them, be held responsible for the horrible deeds lately done and now being done in Kansas; but there are four individuals, all northern men and all doughfaces, upon whom the force of the public indignation may be expected to fall with a weight peculiarly crushing.  These four persons are, Marcy and Cushing of the Cabinet, Douglas of the Senate, and Buchanan, the nominee of the Cincinnati Convention—no longer (as he himself declares) the man James Buchanan, but a walking, writing, speaking automaton, to which the Cincinnati Platform serves as intellect and conscience, and which has neither wish, hope, intention, or sentiment beyond those embodied in that document. 
Pierce may be let off on the score of imbecility, natural or superinduced; but these four able men cannot set up the excuse of folly.  They have gone into this Kansas business with their eyes open; and, let them be assured, they will be held to a responsibility at which bolder men than they might well tremble. 
Our readers have already been reminded that Missouri and the Border Ruffians lie directly between us and Kansas, so that the first tidings of all conflicts or outrages in that devoted Territory emanate from Pro-Slavery sources, and reach us through Pro-Slavery channels.  Even The Missouri Democrat forms no exception to this remark, since, though its correspondents mean to be fair and its editors just, yet their telegraphic news is mainly made up of the stories set afloat by the Ruffians in Kansas or hovering on her border.  Under such circumstances, we have no alternative but to publish the accounts as they reach us, fully believing that our dispatches and Missouri bulletins which are calculated to discredit the Free-State men, will in due time be corrected by more authentic advises, including the letters of our own correspondents.  It is hard to be obliged to give the falsehoods of the Ruffians ten or twelve days’ start of the truth, but we see no practicable alternative. 
The journals and politicians in vogue with the Ruffians pursue a different course.  They print the first Pro-Slavery bulletins, and carefully suppress those of the Free-State men; and when the former are proved false in any respect, they use this circumstance to discredit the true advices from Kansas and induce a belief that there is little or no trouble there—thus making the falsehoods or mistakes of their Missouri confederates do double duty.  Thus The New-London Star says: 
“Old Brown and young Brown, who were so badly ‘killed’ in Kansas lately, per telegraph, by the ‘Pro Slavery’ party have both turned up ‘alive.’ They were not in the ‘battle’ at all.  The people are beginning to appreciate these Kansas lies, and, as Dr. Olds said the Ohio Republican editor told him, he wouldn’t give a d---n a yard for them.” 
Now “Old Brown” and one or more of his sons were engaged in the defense of Osawattamie against a ten-fold force of Border Ruffians, who routed the Free-State men, killed several, wounded more, and sacked and burnt the town.  The victors reported that they had killed “Old Brown” and one of his sons; but it seems that they were mistaken—at least with regard to the former.  He probably lost his hat in fleeing across he Osage, which gave the Ruffians the impression that he had been shot and had sunk, leaving his hat floating on the stream.  His son, the last reports say, was killed, but the father appears to have been unaware of the fact when he wrote to his wife from Lawrence on the 2d inst.  No Free-State dispatch or letter has reported his death; yet The Star would fain improve this Border Ruffian mistake to the discredit even of the fact that there was a conflict at Osawattamie at all! 
--So The Albany Argus seizes on the fact that lawyer Phillips of Leavenworth, recently murdered in his own house for the crime of being a Free-State man, was in one dispatch termed a correspondent of The Tribune—a very natural mistake, since hundreds in Kansas and Western Missouri know that one of our Kansas correspondents is named Phillips, is a warm Free-State man, and has, in this discharge of his duties, spent considerable time in Leavenworth—to discredit all accounts of outrage and murder in Kansas—as if it made any difference, as to this, whether the Mr. Phillips killed by the Ruffians at Leavenworth were or were not our correspondent.  We exposed the error of the telegraphic dispatch on this point simultaneously with its appearance in the journals of the Atlantic States. 
--So Mr. Ely Moore (Indian Agent) took advantage of the fact that another Eli Moore had been reported guilty of an outrageous assault on a Free-State man in Kansas (see Investigating Committee's Report, page 963,) to deny most pompously that he had committed any such outrage, to assert that The Tribune had no correspondent stationed at Lecompton (where no known correspondent of this paper could live a week), and to assert that the Kansas correspondence of this and other Eastern papers was manufactured in their own offices! Comment would seem superfluous. 
--The Buchaneers are sweeping the votes of Missouri and all the South on the strength of what they are doing and confidently expected to do to make Kansas a Slave State.  We concede them the vote of every State south of Chesapeake Bay, knowing why they get them.  Now if they can make the North believe that there is no such region as Kansas, no effort to subjugate it to Slavery, and no violence, outrage or murder committed on its Free-State settlers, they may secure votes enough from the Free States to elect their men.  Let us see how they do it. 
The Charleston Standard has a letter from Atchison, Kansas, which shows the purpose with which the invaders of that Territory from Carolina, Georgia and Missouri have entered upon the last foray against the Free-State settlers.  We quote: 
“We are ordered to march to-morrow, and I think will be stationed on the Nebraska line.  Reports have reached us to-day of a fight in that direction, in which fifty Abolitionists were killed and the rest driven back.  This is almost too good to be true.  
“Gov. Shannon has resigned (his successor not having arrived yet), and Hon. Woodson is now Governor pro tem.  By reliable information we hear that he has said hat, as soon as a sufficient force can be collected to warrant the move, he, as Governor, will issue a proclamation declaring the Territory in a state of insurrection, and take the field.  The United States troops are stationed at Lecompton to protect the Government property, but will not interfere in the fight.  Col.  Titus has not been killed, but was badly wounded, and a prisoner.  His ransom was obtained by the restoration of a piece of cannon, taken by the Palmetta Rifles at Lawrence.  Reinforcements are daily arriving, and I do not think 'twould be advisable for us to take the field with less than two thousand men.  We are very badly supplied with cannon, having only a few six-pounders, and the enemy have a greater number and larger pieces.  Our only chance will be to take their's from them.  
"We are regularly in for it now, and in a few days will actually be engaged in a civil war--which will, I presume, result in a dissolution of the Union." 
The writer clearly shows that the invaders of Kansas anticipate the dissolution of the Union as the result of the civil war which they delight to find themselves "regularly in for," and that Woodson, the acting Governor of the Territory, is an accomplice with the in the conspiracy.  In other words, the power of the Federal Government in Kansas is used with a view to destroy the Union.  That, however, is but a small part of the crimes of which the Pierce Administration and the "Democratic" party are guilty.

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