The Speech that Settled Kansas: Eli Thayer's Rousing Lecture

Editorial Statement

           The ambition of the digital Thayer archive “The Speech that Settled Kansas: Eli Thayer’s Rousing Lecture of 1854” is to recover and reconstruct a foundational document of nineteenth-century abolition—one that places Kansas at the center of a national emigration plan to end slavery through activism in the Midwest. Thayer’s December 5 lecture motivated East Coast abolitionists like Isaac Goodnow—a founder of both Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas State University—to emigrate and ensure via popular sovereignty that Kansas would become a slavery free state. To do so, the digital Thayer archive provides  a diplomatic transcription and scholarly edition of the manuscript draft of Thayer’s influential speech that was almost lost in the archive. Thayer’s December 5 lecture at Providence was never printed and survived only in form of a handwritten draft amongst the Thayer Papers at the John Hay Library at Brown University (Call Number: MS 78.1). As a result, Thayer’s lecture was unavailable to scholars without in person access to special collections at Brown University and could not be consulted in its original form. This project includes digital images of Thayer’s original manuscript and makes his important lecture accessible to researchers and the general audience alike, bringing the complex histories of the Kansas settlement back into discussions about nineteenth-century abolition and slavery.
         While this project focuses on the rhetoric and history of the antislavery movement that promoted settling in the Kansas Territory, I would like to acknowledge here also that Thayer’s emigration plan certainly participated in larger national racist policies that purposefully pushed local indigenous population and the Kanza tribe especially from their ancestral homelands leading to their permanent removal from the Kansas Territory.[1] Ronald D. Parks talks about the systemic violence through which Kanza tribe was pushed toward the Indian Territory, present day Oklahoma by 1873. He argues, “Kanzas were, indeed, dominated by powerful Euro-American cultural, political, and economic forces during their last years in Kansas.”[2] My project is closely related to the incident of Kanzas’ removal from the Kansas Territory since New England Emigrant Aid Society worked as an aiding agency who helped the East Coast abolitionists to settle in Kansas. Eventually this large-scale emigration pushed the Kanza tribe to leave their territory indirectly.    
          Thayer’s December lecture was an important turning point within discussions about unorthodox ways to fight slavery after a political solution had become unachievable. As a result, Thayer’s speech critically responds to the shortcomings of more conservative contemporary antislavery organizations that continued to eradicate slavery through political activism. Furthermore, Thayer’s lecture explains how assisted emigration to the Kansas Territory could be successful in realizing a plan for freedom where political means have failed. Making Thayer’s lecture freely available, this digital project therefore opens and explains the dynamic processes of Thayer’s arguments in his December 5 lecture by providing the cultural and political contexts to which he responds.
           My decision to create a diplomatic transcription of the manuscript draft of the lecture emphasizes the importance of the revisions and changes that Thayer left in the text. It also makes the draft version legible to contemporary readers unfamiliar with  mid nineteenth-century handwriting. To this end, I purposefully placed the manuscripts’ scanned images side by side to the transcribed pages and allowed for easy comparison by including line-numbers throughout.
           What is more, three types of primary media define the foundation of the digital Thayer archive: 1) scanned images of Thayer’s draft manuscript; 2) historic newspaper articles that address Thayer’s lecture and influence; and 3) Thayer’s personal correspondence. I collected the archive of historic newspaper clippings (Gallery of Historic Newspaper Articles) from the Rhode Island Freeman, The Liberator, The Dial, The Weekly Wisconsin, and The New York Daily Time. All these articles explain and contextualize Thayer’s plan for the abolition of slavery. I also included five letters of personal correspondences written to Thayer by contemporary activists  and created a separate media gallery for the newspaper articles and letters in the Newspaper Articles and Letters chapter.

Structure of “The Speech that Settled Kansas”:
           I decided to adopt the free, open source authoring and publishing Scalar platform for “The Speech that Settled Kansas” project because it allowed me flexibility in present my findings in aesthetically pleasing ways and add an integrated media gallery. For example, Scalar allowed me to display the images of the original manuscript and their transcriptions on the same page while maintaining the order of line numbers. Scalar made it possible also to arrange my materials through a set of consecutive chapters and a table of content very much like a traditional book. This combination of book format structure and openness to various additional project specific needs were crucial for my project. Thanks to a Kansas State University Arts and Sciences Travel Award, I was able to participate in a Scaler Workshop at the University of Southern California in the summer of 2019. At USC, I was introduced to their digital Voltaire archive created on Scalar, which served as model for the digital Thayer project.
           The Thayer archive is divided into five chapters: 1) the “Thayer's Lecture of December 5, 1854” opening chapter; 2) the “About the Project” chapter;  3) the “Editorial Statement” third chapter; 4) the “Thayer's Rhetorical Style” background chapter;  and finally 5) the “Newspaper Articles and Letters.” The chapter division can be accessed from the landing page through the Table of Contents link on the left upper side.
          The landing page identified as “Home” presents a greyscale image of Eli Thayer that I reproduced with permission from the Library of Congress digital archive.[3] The title of the project sits in white fonts at the center of the homepage. To visually introduce the handwritten manuscript aesthetics, I used the images of the second and third pages from Thayer's manuscript draft of his December 5 lecture. The landing page also contains the first path, entitled “Begin with Thayer's Lecture of December 5, 1854,” that directs readers to the lecture page.
         The first chapter, titled “Thayer's Lecture of December 5, 1854,” holds the diplomatic transcription of Thayer’s manuscript draft. Here eight snapshots of the manuscript alongside corresponding transcribed text allow readers to study Thayer’s arguments and their development in detail. For easy comparison I have numbered the lines both of Theyer’s original manuscript and of my transcription. At the end of each page readers are directed to the next text segments by way of a radio button. Reaching the final page of this path, readers are guided to the second  chapter of the digital project “About the Project.” 
           The “About the Project” page contains background to Thayer’s lecture and my editorial statement. Here I introduce the 1854 cultural and political contexts that inform Thayer’s thought and arguments, specifically the conflict between Free-State settlers and Border Ruffians of Missouri, known as Bleeding Kansas. Border Ruffians crossed the border into the Kansas territory to interfere in discussions about slavery. They frequently attacked and threatened East Coast settlers to demoralize and scare them away, destroying the growing support for abolition. The “About the project” page also offers background about the Missouri Compromise to readers unfamiliar with Kansas history. Moreover, I explain the importance of Thayer’s speech and its relationship to the Kansas emigration plan organized by the New England Emigrant Aid Company.
           A radio button at the bottom of the “About the Project” page directs readers to the next chapter of the online archive that holds my editorial statement. In it, I clarify the overall goals of the digital Thayer project and its structural organization as well as the methodologies that I chose in transcribing the December 5 lecture. Reaching the bottom of the editorial statement, readers have two choices: they can either go back to the previous “About the Project” page by clicking on an arrow pointing to the left or they can proceed to the next chapter, called “Thayer’s Rhetorical Style.”
          The fourth chapter, titled “Thayer's Rhetorical Style,” offers a rhetorical analysis of Thayer’s December 5 speech. Here I analyze Thayer’s distinctive oratory style and use of literary allusions, religious references, and figures of speech. Here I present the lecture’s literary value by analyzing the lecture’s formal and aesthetic organization. This section is vital to understand how Thayer crafts  impeccable arguments to persuade his audience to join the New England Emigrant Aid Company.
The fifth and last chapter, called “Newspaper Articles and Letters,” showcases a set of articles responding to Thayer’s important December lecture and published in historical newspapers between 1854 and 1886 . Here I also include five unpublished letters addressed to Thayer written by Isaac Goodnow. Isaac Goodnow was a member of the New England Emigrant Aid Company but, more importantly, a cofounder of Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas State University . The gallery of contextual primary documents is divided into two segments: a first section reproduces historic newspaper articles written in response to Thayer’s 1854 lecture alongside additional articles that address the question of abolition; a second section focuses on five surviving letters by Isaac Goodnow and sent to Thayer between 1858 and 1879. In these letters, Goodnow describes political and social conditions in Manhattan, Kansas, between 1858 and 1879. Goodnow also reflects on efforts to secure a land grant for the Bluemont Agricultural College, which  later turned into Kansas State University.
A final section provides a bibliography about used and useful materials related to Eli Thayer and lists miscellaneous materials about abolition in the Midwest from 1843 to 2019. This reference section serves also as a guide to future scholars who wish to learn more about Thayer and his role within the larger discussion of abolition.

Editorial Decisions:
          Central to the digital reconstruction of Eli Thayer’s December lecture was my decision to involve my reader’s direct participation and engagement. This ambition motivated the diplomatic transcription of Thayer’s manuscript draft in close fidelity to the original so that readers can engage with the text word by word. To mirror Thayer’s editing process my transcription presents every mark and revision on the page typographically and includes additionally his deletions, corrections, and additions. I also do not connect separated words that Thayer divided because his sentence had reached the end of the line. For example, in lines 10 and 11 on page 1 of the manuscript Thayer splits the word “Missouri” and  I repeat this separation in my transcription.
           In my attention to the formal details of Thayer’s manuscript I followed Susan Schriebman’s argument that “the goal in diplomatic editing is not to present the reader with a finished text but to give the reader insight into the revision process."[4]  Fidelity to the original is also the reason why my transcriptions sit right next to the manuscript images, which allows keeping the flow of lines intact. One of the greatest challenges, however, in this recovery project was to date Thayer’s manuscript . The handwritten draft begins in the middle of a torn page. On top of the torn page sit four half-legible digits that read 1854 . At the John Hay Library at Brown University, where the Thayer papers are housed, the draft manuscript is kept in the “undated manuscripts” (MS 78.1 B10. 8/) folder because the exact date of composition cannot be determined.

Transcription: A Puzzle Solving Skill:
          I started working on the digital Thayer project with scanned copies of Thayer’s manuscript generously provided by the John Hay Library. A big challenge in transcribing the manuscript was deciphering Thayer’s handwriting. To facilitate the process, I printed out the scanned manuscript pages, which helped enormously. I also used photo illustrator to adjust the contrast of the scanned images and large computer screens at Hale Library to magnify illegible passages. I experienced, however, a real breakthrough when I was able to work in person with the original manuscripts at John Hay Library at Brown University (thank you again Kansas State University’s Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Small Grant Award in Spring 2020). This is when I could finally spell out words and concepts that had remained undecipherable. Here I would also like to express my gratitude  to Holly Snyder, Curator of American Historical Collections and the History of Science at John Hay Library, and Timothy Engels, Senior Library Specialist at John Hay Special Collections, who helped me finding my way through the Thayer Papers.

[1]The Kanza, the Shawnee, and the Potawatomi were the inhabitants of the Kansas Territory from 1780 to 1840s (Kevin Olson, Frontier Manhattan, 14).
[2] Roland D. Parks, The Darkest Period (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 5.
[4] Schriebman, Susan. “Digital Scholarly Editing.” Literary Studies in the Digital Age, MLA 2013.

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