The pro-slavery forces in Kansas Territory had the federal government’s backing in their militant campaign against both the peaceful and militant abolitionists who opposed the legalization of slavery in Kansas Territory.

President Franklin Pierce, who was a Northern Democrat who backed the pro-slavery faction of the Democratic party in 1856, wrote a warrant to congress effectively stating that anyone resisting the authority of the pro-slavery government of Kansas Territory in 1856 was in violation of federal law.

Pierce wrote in 1856, “I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the seal of the United States to a Proclamation calling upon the citizens of the United States to abstain from unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory of Kansas &c dated this day, and signed by me: and for so doing this shall be his warrant. Franklin Pierce 11th Feby., 1856.”

President Franklin Pierce was considered to be a “Dough Face” by southerners, which was a northern politician that sided with the pro-slavery faction of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party was the conservative, pro-slavery party of the era, and resisted the efforts of both peaceful and militant abolitionists to end chattel slavery in the United States by both legal, extra-legal, and any other means possible.

To oppose the federal protection of the right to own and keep slaves was political suicide in the Democratic party in the 1850s, and this meant that President Franklin Pierce, who was from New Hampshire, took a strong pro-slavery stance. He gave federal government authority to pro-slavery advocates in Kansas Territory to legally suppress the efforts of both peaceful and militant abolitionists in Kansas Territory.

Thus, when pro-slavery guerillas attacked Osawatomie at the Battle of Osawatomie on August 30, 1856, they did not do so as a lawless band of guerilla fighters, they did so as a legally organized “Kansas Militia.”

Osawatomie’s abolitionist defenders were not viewed by the officers of the United States Federal Government as lawful defenders of their community, but as radical treasonous guerilla fighters who were opposing the legal authority of the federally approved pro-slavery territorial government, and thus were being justifiably attacked by the forces of the law.

The pro-slavery government of Kansas Territory viewed the Rev. Samuel Adair and his wife, Florella Brown Adair, as dangerous radicals, despite their pacifism, to the point that any pro-slavery advocate who captured or killed Rev. Adair would earn a $50 reward, a handsome sum of money in 1856.

The Adairs were not alone, as both the peaceful and militant abolitionists in Osawatomie and Miami County that dared to stand up and oppose pro-slavery forces were prime targets for both legal and illegal political and violent attacks by pro-slavery legal authorities, which bespeaks the courage of their abolitionist convictions.

Osawatomie’s and Miami County’s abolitionist pioneers were willing to risk arrest, legal discrimination, and death for their abolitionist beliefs, a testimony to their courage and dedication to the abolitionist cause.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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