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E. B. Whitman to George L. Stearns

February 20, 1858

Boyd B. Stutler Collection

Lawrence, Feby. 20, 1858.

George L. Stearns, Esq.

My dear Sir

In the midst of all my varied labor and the intense excitement of this winter, time has flown without note and I am myself surprised on recurring to the dates of your two favors Nov. 14, & 30th. I know you will pardon the delay as you have some conception of the press of business that crowds me on every side. No one not a participant in our affairs, can however, adequately understand the whirl of excitement that surrounds us, ever assuming new forms and requiring an almost daily change of tactics and policy. In some respects our prospects are brightening and in others the clouds lower gloomily over us. The Topeka movement is abandoned, killed by its professed friends, now formally and publicly renounced by Robinson himself as dead since last June. Another party propose, in case the Lecompton Constitution is received, to assume the reins of government under it, and use it so long as may be necessary to change it or provide a substitute. Others still, and the mass of the people are determined that come what will it shall never become the fundamental law of the land. Even the conservative legislature that has just adjourned passed joint resolutions of the most revolutionary character. The official copy of which now lies before me and reads as follows:

Resolved by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Kansas, That we do hereby for the last time, solemnly protest against the admission of Kansas into the Union under the Lecompton Constitution, that we hurl back with scorn the libellous [sic] charge contained in the message of the President accompanying the Lecompton Constitution to Congress, to the effect that the free men of Kansas are a lawless people; that relying upon the justice of our cause, we do hereby on the behalf of the people we represent solemnly pledge to each other, to our friends in Congress and in the states, our lives, our fortunes and sacred honor, to resist the Lecompton Constitution and Government by force of arms if necessary; that in the perilous hour of our history we appeal to the civilized world for the rectitude of our position and call upon the friends of freedom every where to array themselves against the last act of oppression in the Kansas drama. Resolved, That the governor be requested immediately to transmit certified copies of this resolution to the President of the United States, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and that they be presented to the Congress of the United States" &c. I am to convey this resolution to the Governor at Lecompton this afternoon. But what good are all the resolutions doing. The administration is bent upon forcing the acceptance of the Lecompton Constitution. If forced upon us with a proslavery government, the most fearful consequences will follow, or there is no faith to be put in man.

At present all our efforts are absorbed in preparing for the election of delegates to the new Constitutional Convention. Though acting together and apparently as a unit, yet beneath the surface two adverse currents are violently struggling for the master. It is held that whichever party gets control of the Constitutional Convention will be able not only to get the first Legislature but permanently to control the government. The two wings are the Democratic element which desires indeed a free state and is opposed to the Lecompton Constitution, but which have no real anti-slavery principle at heart and which hopes by some means or other to rescue the administration and the party from the odium that now attaches to them in consequence of the past, and to reinstate them in public favor, with full power to repeat the wrong and outrages of Kansas whenever occasion shall call for it. The other wing is composed of Republicans and anti-slavery men at heart & the abolitionists men who seek here and now, on this issue, to break the back bone of slavery forever and to leave those agencies which have shown themselves so willing to do its bidding, to the just [r]etribution of their sins. The former party embraces many of the leading politicans [sic] and many of the new comers - men doubtless sent here for this express purpose, to debauch the party and corrupt its principles. The latter is composed mainly of the people who, if they have not lost all confidence in the lead of men at the head of affairs and can be brought out to declare their will, will triumph - The hunter wing has had the baseness to introduce into the canvass as an important and governing element, the petty question of the location of the capitol or rather its continuation upon a piece of open uninhabited prairie called Minneola - now held in hands for speculation by large numbers of the members of the legislature. If this question can be fairly and openly met it will receive at the ha[n]ds of an indignant and outraged people a merited rebuke.

You can well understand how much our minds are exercised by the prospect of the passage of the Lecompton Constitution, in devising expedients to meet the emergency should it come. Now one plan is adopted as feasible and promising success and now it is abandoned and another is adopted in its stead, which in its turn is turned over as impracticable. One thing I consider however, as a fixed fact, an unchanging hatred of the instrument and a solemn determination to defeat its operation, here in the territory. The late legislature with all the conservatism did in the popular branch enact that any persons assuming to make the Lecompton government the living government of the prople [sic] for any time or for any purpose, should be considered guilty of felony, and be punished with death. It failed only in the Senate through some clogging additions made at the instance, I am told of leading outsiders, men who are charged with expecting the office of U. S. Senator, at the hands of the Lecompton Government if the free state officers should secure their seats.

So we now stand and the next succeeding three months will be fraught with as much interest as the last three have been. I remained here during the winter that I might be a participant in affairs and be able to watch the progress of events, and I shall not feel like leaving for an eastern visit until the crisis be past. It has been my good fortune to be present here during every excitement and I do not wish now to desert my post.

The labor of distributing the clothing has been great but I have the satisfaction to know, that the arrangements entered into have afforded general satisfaction to the people. I think that there ought to be published to the country a succinct but clear report of all the beneficiary movements for the relief of Kansas, both for the satisfaction of donors and the justification of almoners. I am now closing up my accounts with that committee and shall soon be ready to transfer the responsibility to other hands.

The good set apart for the New York fund are still untouched. Enclosed please find a schedule of them. The winter has been mild and the relief from the main stock so satisfactory that I thought best to hold them back wahile [sic]. It is my purpose now to divide them into portions and place them at the disposal of some ladies benevolent association in some of the prominent towns. At the time the Cambridge appropriation was solicited by me and virtually made, I had no intimation that any similar conditions were to be imposed, indeed your letter of Nov. 30 gave me the first intimation of the fact and then it was too late to make any such arrangements; as the goods had been disbursed among the several localities and instructions given and in many instances the distribution to individuals had actually taken place. At Mr. Sanborn's request I sent an account of my mode of procedure and promised a financial report at an early day.

I regret to say that a most serious misunderstanding seems to have arisen between us in regard to the appropriation of $500 to John Brown. Your return of my receipt was most unexpected. If the understanding was, as you state it to be, then I have been guilty of acting in bad faith to the National Committee besides involving myself in very serious pecuniary difficulty. I think it impossible for me to be mistaken in this matter.

In my interview with the Massachusetts Committee, at Dr. Howe's room, I stated and showed that the National Committee were indebted to me personally for funds advanced to the amount of one thousand dollars. That at least $300 was due on my return and must be paid, to prevent the sale of the clothing to pay charges, and that probably $500 more would be required to pay additional bills for freight, storage and labor in preparing the clothing for distribution; and that at a rough estimate $1000 would not more than pay for the transportation of the clothing to the various localities in the territory. After this statement the committee voted to relieve me and assume the future expense. Accordingly Dr. Lawrence and Mr. Russell authorized me to draw upon P. T. Jackson for $1300. That being all but $100 in the treasury then. This I declined to receive under condition of carrying the matter through & Judge R. and Mr. Lawrence both told me that I should have more when it was needed, by some means. You then devised the plan of getting the New York fund of $847. This succeeded and still according to my estimate there was a deficiency. In the meantime came a demand from John Brown for $1000. You will recollect a conversation that occurred at the desk in your counting-room in Boston, to this effect: That If I would proceed to Cambridge and get the $500 in that treasury appropriated to my purpose and then as I should not need to use all the money I had at once, advance $500 to J. B. I might when I needed it, draw upon you at sight, without further notice for the amount. I did proceed at once to Cambridge and made application for the money and was told that it could be had.

In the meantime the Mills firm had suspended with $1000 of the $1300 still unpaid to me tho I had given my receipt for the whole amount. At length a note of security for $1300 was obtained in my favor. This I agreed to leave in your hands to be negotiated at the earliest possible moment, and the amount due me twas to be forwarded by you to Simmons and Leadbeater in a certificate of deposit to be then se[n]t on to me by express. This matter arranged, you gave me a letter of credit at my especial request (you will remember that you hesitated a little about it at first) for $1845, the full amount of which I was to draw on my arrival in St. Louis for $1345. The $845 N. York money and the $500 Cambridge money, and reserve the remaining credit in the hands of S. C. Davis to be drawn for to refund the $500 advanced to Brown, when it should be needed. With this distinct understanding I left for St. Louis. On my arrival there I found a dispatch saying "Draw for the full amount" Of course my only inference was that you had found it convenient to at once advance to J. B. the $500, and in accordance with this understanding I forwarded the receipts, which I did.

The $1000 in Jackson's hands for which you hold the $1300 note I waited for as per agreement. Great then was my surprise at the return of the receipt with the announcement that $500 of my Jackson debt was included in the $1845 letter of credit, leaving only $500 to be paid of that due from him.

When this news arrived I had already paid over in good faith to John Brown the $500 and taken his receipt for the same. Had I not already done so I most certainly should not have paid it to him on any consideration, and for several reasons; (1) that I had no right permanently so to appropriate either the New York or the Cambridge or the Boston money. (2.) That I knew I should require all that for the purposes for which It had been given me, and without which I would not have undertaken to continue my labors in the service. (3.) That I could not afford to take it from my own funds; and lastly, and for the most important reason of all, I had no authority to do so from the National Committee, for whom I was acting.

I had already involved myself to the amount of $400 to redeem a pledge in part which they had given to John Brown and which they were unable to fulfill. At this moment I am personally held to pay to Gerritt Smith $250 paid to John Brown and have advanced the balance from my own pocket but with authority from the National Committee to reimburse myself. But for this other $500 I had and have no such authority, and even if they or any other parties should give me such authority, I am not and have not been in any condition to make such advance without great personal inconvenience and sacrifice. It is true that I have notes in my hands for collection, and there will be money soon due the National Committee, but I ought not to be compelled to wait for such returns even had I authority to convert them to such uses, which I have not. It must then come out of my own pockets if the matter is left in its present position. I most certainly consider that of the $1000 due me from P. T. Jackson and for the payment of which I left a note of $1300 in your hands I have received but $500 paid to Dr. Howe and $500 is still due to me; and I claim that a fair understanding. The draft for $1845 was intended to cover $845 of the N. York appropriation and the $500 Cambridge appropriation and $500 advanced by you for the benefit of John Brown.

If this is not so then I can only say that I was entirely deceived, and must have totally misunderstood the whole tenor of our negotiation in the matter.

I trust that this minute recital of the transaction will recall fully to your mind the real facts in the case, which amid the financial pressure and excitement of that period you must have forgotten, and that you will at once do me justice and relieve me from serious embarrassme[n]t by placing the balance of the money left by me in the hands of P. T. Jackson and doubtless realized long ere this from the collateral ($500) at my disposal. A few words of said J. B. and I must close. Some two or three months since he appeared at my house with two companions and spent two days. I furnished him with tents and bedding and paid him the money alluded to above. He then left declining to tell me or any one where he was going or where he could be found, pledging himself however that if difficulty should occur that he would be on hand and pledging his life to redeem Kansas from slavery. Since then nothing has been heard of him, and I know of no one, not even his most intimate friends, who know where he is. In the meantime he has been much wanted and very great disatisfaction [sic] has been expressed at his course and now I do not know as even his services would be demanded in any emergency. I have quite a package of letters for him but cannot forward them for want of directions. If you have learned of his whereabouts please inform me. I hopt [sic] to hear from you at an early date in relation to this financial matter which is troubling me much, in the meantime I remain as ever,

Very truly yours for freedom,
E. B. Whitman.

Note: The letter in the Boyd B. Stutler Collection is a typescript created circa 1905 at the instigation of George Luther Stearns's son Henry.

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