“To stop with a rough hand”

On June 26, 1863, General Thomas Ewing Jr. made a speech in Olathe, Kansas, where he reiterated his resolve to stop the raids into western Missouri that were being conducted by Kansas irregulars, such as the notorious Red Legs. “I mean…to stop with a rough hand all forays for plunder from Kansas into Missouri…there are very many men in Kansas who are stealing themselves rich in the name of liberty.” Among the “many men” whom Ewing swore to stop was Daniel Anthony. Anthony was a friend to the Red Legs and an ally of Kansas Senator Jim Lane, who helped to organize and promote punitive expeditions by irregulars into Missouri. Just days after coming into office, Anthony had written to Ewing’s predecessor, General James Blunt “The city of Leavenworth is now quiet…I am confident that, with the police force I have, the lives, persons, and property of loyal citizens will be fully protected.” However, he was still the same radical abolitionist who believed those who supported the confederacy deserved no protections. He ran for mayor, and won, on those beliefs. Anthony had no problem dealing with General Blunt, who owed his position to Jim Lane. Ewing was a different matter.

Ewing began sending detectives into Leavenworth to find and return property taken from Missourians by raiders from Kansas, which would have included escaped slaves. On July 17th, one of Ewing’s detectives tried to take some horses from an escaped slave named “Reed,” detaining him as a thief. Anthony in turn had the detective arrested, charging him with “breach of the peace” and returning the horses to Reed. A second of Ewing’s detectives was arrested on the 18th, under a similar charge, after the officer tried to repossess a horse apparently owned by the U.S. government (likely identified by a brand or other mark). The detective was fined $50. During the hearing, Anthony himself served as counsel to the plaintiff claiming ownership of the government’s horse.

Ewing, who already thought Anthony to be a radical and an impediment to his military goals, responded by declaring martial law in Leavenworth County on July 19th. In a July 20th letter to the Mayor, Ewing accused him of trying “to interrupt the execution of my orders.” He called the administration of law in Leavenworth “inefficient” and argued that martial law was necessary because Anthony lacked the jurisdiction to punish Kansan’s for offenses committed in Missouri. Anthony responded, writing to Ewing on July 22nd. Why declare martial law in Leavenworth, Anthony asked, while in “Atchison County a vigilance committee has to enforce the law” and “in Johnson County…loyal citizens are being murdered almost every week by bushwackers from Missouri?” Why did Ewing’s detectives care more about “swindling poor runaway slaves out of their horses” than rooting out southern sympathizers?

One reason the Civil War is still so instructive is that it put new stresses on our system of government, stresses which influence us to this day. Fears about big government and about rogue state or local governments have always colored our society. As you read the next few posts about Daniel Anthony and the stirring events in Leavenworth during the summer of 1863, ask yourself, whose side would you choose? Was Daniel Anthony right to defend an escaped slave’s ability to steal from his former master, or to protect Kansan’s who sought bloody vengeance upon Missourians for past depredations? Was Ewing right that the military alone could properly prosecute civilians who engaged in their own war, and as such trial by jury should be suspended? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not one or the other, which is part of why it’s important.   


Letters from Anthony and Ewing can be found in Congressional Serial Set, 1888-1889, Volume 3, US Government Printing Office, 1889. http://bit.ly/1ognX0I

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