"Why and How" the Company was formed, 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 2, "Why and How the Emigrant Aid Company was Formed," and it details the first public meeting where Thayer introduced the idea of forming the Emigrant Aid Company and the response it received. While the Massachusetts legislature approved the company's charter, Thayer describes how it had very little faith that his venture would be successful.

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

After much and very careful study, I concluded that if this work could be done at all, it must be done by an entirely new organization, depending for success upon methods never before applied. This was an organized emigration, guided and guarded by a responsible business company, whose capital should precede the emigrants, and prepare the way for them by such investments as should be best calculated to secure their comfort and protection. This emigration must also be of a kind before unknown, since it must, in this case, be self-sacrificing and voluntary, whereas all historical migrations had been either forced or self-seeking. To present this new method of bringing two hostile civilizations face to face upon the disputed prairies of Kansas in such a way as to unite in its support the entire Northern people of whatever parties, was the work next to be done. On this appeal must depend the future of our country. Then arose the important question, Was it possible to create such an agency to save Kansas? I believed the time for such a noble and heroic development had come; but could hope be inspired, and the pulsations of life be started beneath the ribs of death? The projected plan would call upon men to risk life and property in establishing freedom in Kansas. They would be called to pass over millions of acres of better land than any in the disputed Territory was supposed to be, land in communities where peace and plenty were assured, to meet the revolver and the bowie-knife defending slavery and assailing freedom. Could such men be found, they would certainly prove themselves to be the very highest types of Christian manhood, much above all other emigrants. Could such men be found?

It happened that on the evening of the 11th of March, 1854, there was a large meeting in the City Hall in Worcester, to protest against the passage the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. I attended the meeting, and not having yet taken counsel of any one, determined to see how the plan would be received by an intelligent New England audience without any preparation for the announcement. Accordingly, making the last speech of the evening, I for the first time disclosed the plan. The Worcester Spy of March 13th has the conclusion of my speech, as follows:

"It is time now to think of what is to be done in the event of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Now is the time to organize an opposition that will utterly defeat the schemes of the selfish men who misrepresent the nation at Washington. Let every effort be made, and every appliance be brought to bear, to fill up that vast and fertile Territory with free men - with men who hate slavery, and who will drive the hideous thing from the broad and beautiful plains where they go to raise their free homes. [Loud cheers.]

"I for one am willing to be taxed one-fourth of my time or of my earnings until this be done - until a barrier of free hearts and strong hands shall be built around the land our fathers consecrated to freedom, to be her heritage forever. [Loud cheers.]"

If instead of this impetuous, spontaneous, and enthusiastic response there had been only a moderate approbation of the plan, the country would never have heard of the Emigrant Aid Company. I did not expect that all who applauded would go to Kansas, or even that any of them would go, but I knew that whatever a New England audience would applaud in that manner I could find men to perform. There was no more doubt in my mind from that time.

Without further delay I drew up the charter of the "Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company," and by personal solicitation secured the corporators. I introduced the matter in the Legislature and had it referred to the committee on the judiciary, of which James D. Colt, afterwards a justice of the State Supreme Court, was chairman. At the hearing I appeared before the committee and said in behalf of the petition:

"This is a plan to prevent the forming of any more slave States. If you will give us the charter there shall never be another slave State admitted into the Union. In the halls of Congress we have been invariably beaten for more than thirty years, and it is now time to change the battle-ground from Congress to the prairies, where we shall invariably triumph."

Mr. Colt replied:

"We are willing to gratify you by reporting favorably your charter, but we all believe it to be impracticable and utterly futile. Here you are fifteen hundred miles from the battle-ground, while the most thickly settled portion of Missouri lies on the eastern border of Kansas, and can in one day blot out all you can do in a year. Neither can you get men who now have peaceful and happy homes in the East to risk the loss of everything by going to Kansas."

But Mr. Colt reported in favor of the charter, and it passed, though it cost its author much labor, for not one member either of the Senate or House had any faith in the measure.

Curator Notes

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