"What Saved Kansas," from Thayer's A History of the Kansas Crusade

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Eli Thayer was an educator and reformer from Worcester, Massachusetts, who lived from 1819 to 1899. Thayer served as a State Representative from Worcester when he concocted the plans for the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, later the New England Emigrant Aid Society. After Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, the status of slavery was left open to the inhabitants of that territory, who would vote on whether or not Kansas would be a slave or a free state. Thayer created the Emigrant Aid Company to provide the financial and material means for New Englanders to move to Kansas and to cast votes against slavery.

Published in 1889, Thayer states in the preface that he wrote A History of the Kansas Crusade: Its Friends and its Foes to "show by what agency Kansas was made a free state, and how this result has affected our national life." Throughout his book, Thayer takes great pleasure in describing how the Emigrant Aid Company contributed to the defeat of slavery in Kansas. He also clearly outlines the "enemies" of his cause, namely William Lloyd Garrison and other "antislavery disunionists." Thayer outlines his belief that Garrison's fiery brand of abolition was too extreme and exaggerated the rift between the North and the South which led to the Civil War. In contrast, Thayer praises the work of the clergy, churches, and the Northern press in furthering the Emigrant Aid Company's cause.

This excerpt is from Chapter 13, "What Saved Kansas," which concludes A History of the Kansas Crusade. Thayer includes testimony from numerous sources that testify to the importance of the Emigrant Aid Company in the defeat of slavery in the Kansas territory. He also outlines for readers how the Company's work affected the course of slavery and how the Kansas conflict affected the course of U.S. history.

From "Preface" and "Chapter VI: The Impotence of Antislavery Disunionists," Eli Thayer, A History of the Kansas Crusade: Its Friends and its Foes (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1889).

Transcription of Primary Source

The following testimony, proving the efficiency and controlling power of the Emigrant Aid Company in the decisive contest between freedom and slavery in Kansas, is mainly from the pro-slavery side.

In his evidence before the Howard Congressional Committee, John H. Stringfellow, having been duly sworn, said:

"At the time of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and prior to that time, I never heard any man, in my section of Missouri, express a doubt about the character of the institutions which would be established here, provided the Missouri restriction was removed; and I heard of no combination of persons, either in public or private, prior to the time of the organization of the Emigrant Aid Society, and indeed for months afterwards, for the purpose of making united action to frustrate the designs of that society in abolitionizing, or making a free State of Kansas. The conviction was general that it would be a slave State. The settlers who came over from Missouri after the passage of the bill, so far as I know, generally believed that Kansas would be a slave State. Free-State men who came into the Territory after the passage of the bill were regarded with jealousy by the people of western Missouri, for the reason that a society had been formed for the avowed purpose of shaping the institutions of Kansas Territory, so as to make it a free State in opposition to the interests of the people of Missouri. If no emigrant aid societies had been formed in the Northern States, the emigration of people from there, known to be in favor of making Kansas a free State, would have stimulated the emigration from Missouri. Had it not been for the emigrant aid societies, the majority in favor of slave institutions would, by the natural course of emigration, have been so great as to have fixed the institutions of the Territory without any exciting contest, as it was in the Settlement of the Platte Purchase. This was the way we regarded the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and this was the reason why we supported it."

Isaac M. Edwards (sworn):

"It is my opinion that all the difficulties and troubles have been produced by the operations of the Emigrant Aid Society. I am satisfied that if the Emigrant Aid Society had not sent men out to the Territory of Kansas for the purpose of making it a free State, there would be no trouble or difficulties in the Territory."

Scores of other witnesses before the Howard Commission testified in nearly the same words that there would have been no contest whatever in Kansas had it not been caused by the efforts of the Emigrant Aid Company to make Kansas a free State, by sending thither organized colonies of free-State men.

This was not the testimony of Missourians alone, nor of pro-slavery settlers in Kansas. You will find it in all the pro-slavery papers of the time, and in nearly all the antislavery journals.

Throughout the South the Emigrant Aid Company, often under the name of "Eli Thayer & Co.," was charged with the enormous crime of making Kansas a free State. In Missouri various sums, in several localities, were publicly offered for the head of the founder of that company.

Even in the halls of Congress pro-slavery senators and representatives denounced this company as the power which had robbed the slave-State party of Kansas, and had put in peril the very existence of slavery.

In 1861, though the battle had been fought in Kansas, and the victory won by the free-State men years before, Senator Green, of Missouri, said in the Senate: "But for the hot-bed plants that have been planted in Kansas through the instrumentality of the Emigrant Aid Society, Kansas would have been with Missouri this day."

Stephen A. Douglas, in his report to the United States Senate in 1856, said: "Popular sovereignty was struck down by unholy combinations in New England."

Senator J. A. Bayard, of Delaware, said: "Whatever evil or loss or suffering or injury may result to Kansas, or to the United States at large, is attributable, as a primary cause, to the Emigrant Aid Society of Massachusetts."


The work of saving Kansas was done before the eyes of the whole world. We said we would do it, and stop the making of slave States. We also laid down our methods; we went on just as we had promised and used the methods proposed, and accomplished the results aimed at, without the help of politicians, and in spite of the active hostility of the Abolitionists.

No man, unless he be ignorant of the facts in the Kansas struggle, or completely blinded by malice or envy, will ever attempt to defraud the Emigrant Aid Company of the glory of having saved Kansas by defeating the slave power in a great and decisive contest.

The logical sequences of this great work, in relation to slavery, were:
1. The conviction in the South that no more slave States could ever be formed in the Union.
2. The attempt to secede, so that slave States might be formed outside of the Union.
3. The Civil War.
4. The Emancipation Proclamation as a military necessity.
5. The Union preserved and slavery destroyed.

The national results of the Kansas conflict may be briefly summarized:
1. It stopped the making of slave States.
2. It made the Republican party.
3. It nearly elected Fremont, and did elect Lincoln.
4. It united and solidified the North against slavery, and was a necessary training to enable it to subdue secession.
5. It drove the slave-holders, through desperation, into secession.
6. It has given us a harmonious and enduring Union.
7. It has emancipated the white race of the South, as well as the negroes, from the evils of slavery.
8. It is even now regenerating the South.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
A History of the Kansas Crusade: Its Friends and Its Foes
234-236, 249-251
Thayer, Eli
Place of Publication: 
New York
23 cm.
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
First Eds. Hale; E455 T369 H889; LK Thay H889