This page contains the "This Month in Legal History" column as
published in the current Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library
E-Mail Newsletter. The column features a different event from the
history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that
occurred during the month. It is published monthly in the Michael J.
Malone Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the Home
page of this website.
Archived entries from this and previous years can be accessed by visiting the This Month in Legal History Archive page on this website.
May 30, 1862 - Elliott V. Banks writes a rather gossipy letter to John Hutchings about his fellow attorneys in Lawrence, Kansas.
In the winter of 1849, Dr. Charles Robinson, who would eventually
become the first governor of the State of Kansas, joined a party of men
that was organizing in Boston, Massachusetts. The party intended to go
to the gold fields in California, and Robinson signed on as physician.
They left Boston on March 19th, and made their way west through
Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, eventually arriving at Westport,
Missouri, the town that would later be renamed Kansas City. They struck
out west along the Kaw River through the unorganized land that five
years later would become the Territory of Kansas. About fifty river
miles from Westport, Dr. Robinson observed what to him looked like the
ideal place for a town site. He kept that idea in the back of his mind
through the rest of the trip to California, through his many adventures
there, and through his trip back to Massachusetts in 1851. By 1854,
there was a push to open up the territory west of Missouri to white
settlement and eventual statehood. A bill known as the Kansas-Nebraska
Act had been introduced in congress to accomplish this. One provision
of the bill was to allow the residents of the new Territory of Kansas
to vote on whether it would allow slavery. Those opposed to slavery in
the east organized groups to oppose Kansas becoming a slave state, and
one of them, the New England Emigrant Aid Company, was determined to
send settlers to the territory to make Kansas free. Dr. Robinson had
written several letters about the places he had seen in his trip
through the future Kansas which attracted considerable attention, and
he soon found himself associated with the Company. The Kansas-Nebraska
Act passed and was signed into law on May 30, 1854. The New England Aid
Company began organizing parties of men to head for Kansas to settle
and organize Free State towns there to oppose the proponents of slavery
who were also beginning to come into the territory. On June 28, 1854,
Dr. Robinson left Massachusetts for Kansas as an agent of the Company
to select town sites. One of those that he chose was that ideal site he
had observed along the Kaw River on his trip to California back in
1849. The Company began sending parties of Free State emigrants out to
Kansas to settle, with the first one going to the new town site on the
Kaw. Dr. Robinson led the Company's second party to the new town.
Several names, including Wakarusa and New Boston, were proposed for the
name of the town, but in October 1854, it was decided that it would be
named Lawrence, in honor of Amos Lawrence, a benefactor of the Company.
Because it was known as the Free State headquarters in Kansas, many
proslavery supporters hated the town, which caused it and its residents
significant trouble. It was sacked and burned on May 21, 1856, but soon
recovered and prospered. That prosperity brought many men and women in
a wide variety of trades and professions to town, including those in
the legal profession. A number of attorneys came to Lawrence to set up
practice and work with the problematic but profitable legal aspects of
life in a rapidly developing new land. Kansas was admitted to the Union
in 1861, and by 1862, there were at a good number of lawyers practicing
in Lawrence. One of them, Elliott V. Banks, wrote a letter dated May
30, 1862, to a friend and fellow lawyer named John Hutchings, who was
contemplating a move to Lawrence. Banks wrote that "Believing that you
will finally be 'one among us' I deem it expedient to give you a
'concise' view of your destined contestants." His observations were
frequently sharp, unflattering, and rather gossipy. Banks had good
things to say about Wilson Shannon, a former governor of Kansas
Territory who held the office during the summer of 1856, the most
violent period of the "Bleeding Kansas" era, reporting him as "a grave
dignified gentlemanly man, a first rate lawyer, as good as any in the
state...." He did not, however, have a high opinion of Louis Carpenter,
who at the time was serving as probate judge. Banks refers to him as a
"close over-read bookworm",
who "stick[s] so close to the books that he often gets outside of the
case & books too". He continues his observations, writing that
Judge Carpenter was "a great brag", "a great egotist....", and that he
"has a poor faculty for making - or rather keeping friends...." Banks
also wrote that Judge Carpenter "abuses witnesses needlessly." The
excoriation of Judge Carpenter ends with the observation that Solon O.
Thatcher, who had recently become judge in the Kansas Fourth Judicial
District, had left his Lawrence practice "in Carpenters [sic] hands".
Considering that the Reverend Richard Cordley would later call Judge
Carpenter "a young man of marked ability," perhaps some of Bank's
animosity towards him was based more on jealously than on reality(1).
This possibility becomes more believable when looking at how Banks
described another Lawrence attorney, James S. Emery. Banks writes that
Emery was "So notoriously scheming and tricky & dishonest that
his...now fair business is fast dwindling out. He is doubtless a
scoundrel. Smooth & oily but his oil is plainly penetrable." Emery
was later to serve as a state legislator, as a United States District
Attorney, as a regent of the University of Kansas, and as president of
the Kansas State Historical Society. Though none of these
accomplishments disprove Bank's assessments as to Emery's character,
they do call them into question. Even though there is a question as to
whether all of the observations he recorded in his letter were entirely
accurate or fair, the letter that Banks wrote to his friend John
Hutchings still provides valuable information on the makeup and
activities of Lawrence's legal community in 1862. It is made even more
valuable because most of the other potential sources for this
information were destroyed when Lawrence was attacked and burned the
next year in Quantrill's Raid.
(1) Considering how Banks felt about Judge Carpenter, it
is interesting that he took over as Reporter for the Kansas Supreme
Court when Carpenter, who at the time was serving in that office, was
killed in Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863.
From: Charles Robinson: The First Free-State Governor of Kansas, by Frank W. Blackmar, Crane & Company, Topeka, pp. 22-29;
Robinson, Charles, Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing
events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent
persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected
personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co., Chicago, 1912,
Vol. 2, pp. 589-591;
Letter, from Elliott V. Banks to John Hutchings, May 30, 1862,
Hutchings, John, 1836- , Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas
Libraries; and, A Survey in Retrospect: A Letter of Elliott V. Banks,
by Paul R. Wilson, The University of Kansas Law Review, v. 10, no. 2
(December 1961), pp. 123-132.
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