Propaganda in the media is not a new thing. Bleeding Kansas. 1850’s. We like the word bleeding, don’t we? The unfolding drama of free settlers armed to the teeth by Eastern preachers versus tobacco chewing ruffians with the Slavocracy behind them. Good vs Evil on a bloody field. But not so quick.
People rushed to Kansas for the LAND. They may have taken their guns (and those of the preachers’) but hell, everyone took guns into the wilderness. And what about those ruffians? Maybe some did chew tobacco but is that a crime? Digging a little deeper one finds the occasional fanatic but common sense would have it that most people went about their business for personal gain. In Kansas the real fight was over property claims and government jobs.
The Northern abolitionist papers knew this but they didn’t mind muddying the waters for their cause (since their cause was justified). What’s a little exaggeration and deceit?
Let’s take the “sack” of Lawrence, Kansas. Okay, it’s a little complicated here. This sacking was very minor as sacks go. The Southern ruffian side and the Free Soil side squabbled over capitols and such. They had mini-fights that went back and forth (still mostly about power and property with maybe a sheen of the slavery issue). So the ruffian side comes into town there’s a bit of property damage and very little injury to humans. Here’s the headline from The New York Tribune : “Startling News from Kansas–The War Actually Begun–Triumph of the Border Ruffians–Lawrence in Ruins–Several Persons Slaughtered–Freedom Bloodily Subdued.”*
A few days later all the New York papers made mention in small type somewhere that reports had been greatly exaggerated and “scarcely” anyone had been hurt. Imagine you’re reading the paper and imagining this:
And then there’s the story of John Brown. Before Harper’s Ferry there was Pottawatomie. Kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Can we all be honest here? The photographs of John Brown give some insight into his character (maybe a little unhinged?).
John Brown is frustrated at the moderate Free Soil folks in Kansas. He joins up with one of the many local militia groups “The Pottawatomie Rifles” and heads to Lawrence only to hear that Lawrence has been “sacked.”
The following night he takes his sons and a few other men on a killing spree. Here we don’t have to imagine. There were witnesses who testified. The killers dragged prominent Pro-south men from their beds ( in front of their wives and children) and systematically sacked (or I should slaughtered) them. With sharpened broadswords they hacked their heads until their skulls split and John Brown shot one to make sure he was dead.Then for fun they stole some horses.
Okay, so after the first hacking I’m pretty sure this group of men were sickos. I can sort of understand a passion killing, but to hack one person then another and another before traveling to yet another man’s house for some more hacking is beyond the beyonds to me. Not so for the eastern newspapers. The abolitionists couldn’t have it. No sickos on our side, thank you very much. They whitewashed the whole deal. Eventually John Brown became a hero–even songs were written in his honor.
So I ask you is it okay to fudge the truth for a good cause?
*From The Impending Crisis by David Potter