Posted by: Democratic Thinker | December 5, 2012

Weekly Story: William Phillips—American Hero

Weekly Story

An Episcopal missionary relates an event which happened during the troubles in Kansas.

An Abolitionist Sold At Auction.


THERE was residing at Leavenworth City a lawyer by the name of Phillips. He was very decidedly in favor of the Free State interest. His decision of character, popular talents, and position, gave him considerable influence. He had been oftentimes publicly abused; at one time he had been seized by a mob at Leavenworth, but was rescued by his friends, who were driven to desperation by the act, and who seized every weapon which came in their way likely to aid them in defence. The great hatred by which the Pro-Slaveryites were actuated towards Phillips at this time, was accounted for from the fact that he had made an affidavit to the effect that the election at Leavenworth City for the members of the Legislature was fraudulent. It was in consequence of Phillips, and others, that the election was declared void by the Governor, and a new suffrage to be taken. The curses which were given to Phillips were both loud and deep. Particularly was the organ of the “ Self-Defensives,” the “ Platte Argus,” published at Weston, exercised against him. An election on the border was a matter of no small interest. The chivalry, like Cæsar of old, had crossed the “Rubicon,” alias, the Missouri: their dispatch to the “Platte Argus” ran: “We came, we saw, we conquered.”

Thus they did, and returned home. What was their dismay when they found a Yankee Lawyer bold enough to run up and spike their gun! The charge of the light brigade at Balaklava was child’s play compared to this! “The Platte Argus” now had work before it. Everything was to be done over again. It had to set a tune for these lines:

“He that fights and runs away,
 May live to fight another day.”

“The Platte Argus” generated, and shot its lightning, and rolled its thunder weekly against the cowards of Leavenworth City. When its battery would be too highly charged with electricity to hold in a week, it was obliged to let off in “extras” against the devoted of Leavenworth! “The Argus” “doubted whether there was a true friend of ‘the goose’ in Leavenworth.” “If there are any of the faithful there, why is the traitor Phillips permitted to live!” It continually harped against “the Leavenworth Herald.” “The Herald’ must not call itself the advocate of ‘the goose’ while that traitor Phillips lived in the same town in which it was published.”

“The Herald” would weekly whimper out its meek apologies, and say a word about “circumstances over which it had no control!”

But, “no whining, gentlemen,” replied “the Argus.”

“The Herald” saw the plight in which it was placed. When it took up the “gray goose quill,” it dreamed of the freedom of the press, but it awoke, and behold it was a dream!

Come, “Mr. Herald,” stir your stumps, the Diplomats of the Army of Occupation in Kansas, “The Weston Regency,” the “Self-Defensives” are after you with a long pole! Give an account of your stewardship.

Wm. Rives Pollard and Wm. H. Adams, editors of “The Herald,” asked each other what they should do, for, of a verity, their lords were about to take from them “the stewardship.”

Wm. Rives Pollard was named after a gentleman, and looked like a gentleman; he wore magnificently large ruffles in his bosom—a distinctive badge of the F. F. V.’s.

“I tell you what we will do,” said each to the other, “let us betray Phillips to cross the Missouri; we shall have the tar and feathers all ready for him on the Missouri side.” “We will strip him, over there, on the solitary river-bottom, clip his hair off, coat him with tar, and apply the feathers. We shall then ride him on a rail through the streets of Weston, while a drum shall be beaten, and the chivalry will cry out ‘victory,’” which, you know,

“If not victory, is yet revenge.”

“And every body praised the Duke,
 Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
 Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he;
“But ‘twas a famous victory.”

All that the editorial corps devised was carried into effect. Phillips was enticed over the river. They did to him all that was desired. He was brought to Weston in that awful plight. They cut off the hair of his head, but his strength did not fail him—he was a Samson still. His body looked contemptible, but the soul of the man was there; they could not tar and feather that!

Col. Lewis Burns now approached him, and tried to wheedle him to sign a paper declaring that he would leave the Territory of Kansas.

“No, sir,” said the hero, “I am in your power, you can put me into the Missouri, if you please, but I will not voluntarily leave the Territory!”

A negro was now brought forward, and commanded to sell Phillips at auction.

“How much, gentlemen, for a full-blooded abolitionist, dyed in de wool, tar and feathers, and all?”

Laughs and jeers followed this sally of humor on the part of Sambo.

“How much; gentlemen? He will go at de fust bid.”

A quarter-of-a-cent was bid, and Phillips was sold!

Phillips returned to Leavenworth, but the editorial corps dare not go back for some days, the indignation at Leavenworth was so great against them.

The Mayor of the city of Weston called a meeting to consider the steps, if any were to be taken, with reference to the disgraceful proceeding. The Mayor declared that he would resign, if such riotous conduct was approved by the citizens generally. A large meeting was held, and a most exciting debate took place, but the proceedings were finally disapproved of by the majority of the people.

This mattered little to the editorial corps. The “Platte Argus” endorsed the “Leavenworth Herald;” it was declared sound on the “goose.” The right-hand of fellowship was once more extended to them. Their late magnanimity had covered a multitude of sins. The Virginia ruffles on the bosom of Wm. Rives Pollard might at any time be inspected at the office of the “Platte Argus,” after this auspicious day!

—John McNamara, Three Years on the Kansas Border (1856).


ADDENDUM: On September 1, 1856, the day of the city election in Leavenworth, a pro-slavery mob shot William Phillips to death while he was standing on his own veranda.


Three Years on the Kansas Border.
Read the Book.