Press Coverage

The Bogus Legislature was concerned about press coverage. Early in the session, the House passed a resolution, attempting to control newspaper reporters:

"Resolved that any reporter of any newspaper who has been granted the privilege of reporting the proceedings of this House, shall confine himself strictly to a report of our proceedings in business only, and shall not be allowed to traduce and villify its members, (as has been done by some newspaper reporters heretofore); and such reporter thus offending shall be immediately thereupon expelled the lobby." [House Journal, 35]

Horace Greeley (1811-1872)

In 1841 he launched the New York Tribune, the most widely read paper of the era.

Only three reporters were allowed in House sessions; H.C. Pate of the (Westport) Frontier News, and Mssrs. Finley and Redpath of the St. Louis Democrat. [House Journal, 32] Only one reporter was allowed in the Council, G. W. McKown of the New York Herald and the Missouri Republican. [Council Journal, 137]

Pate was a safe choice for the pro-slavery advocates. An activist not content simply reporting the news, Pate made news himself in "Bleeding Kansas." Captain of a company of Missourians, called "Westport Sharp Shooters," in the "Sack of Lawrence," Pate later captured two of John Brown's sons near Osawatomie. John Brown raised a company of 30 free-state men to pursue Pate and captured the newspaper man in turn near Palmyra (Baldwin City) in early June 1856. Everyone on both sides was released. [Gihon, Geary and Kansas, Ch. 14]

McKown might not have been so safe. The New York Herald was James Gordon Bennett's paper, and the Missouri Republican was Thomas Hart Benton's old paper. Neither could be expected not to be tempted to "traduce and villify" the members of the Bogus Legislature.

But the most dangerous reporter was James Redpath. Born in England in 1833, Redpath moved with his family to a Michigan farm in 1849. He soon began writing impassioned anti-slavery copy for a Detroit paper under a pseudonym. Horace Greeley discovered his work and hired him as a correspondent for the New York Tribune. Redpath decided to examine slavery at first hand, and in March 1854, he began the first of three journeys to southern states. From these visits he wrote a highly critical book, The Roving Editor, or, Talks with Slaves in the Southern United States (1859). Redpath was also a biographer of John Brown, having stumbled upon the abolitionist in his travels on the prairie. His favorable book, The Public Life of Captain John Brown (1860) was the public's first look at Brown.

Writing for the St. Louis Democrat on August 15, 1855, Redpath came close to "villifying" the legislators in his satirical description of the members at dinner:

"As soon as the honorable members hear the dinner bell ring, there is a sudden stampede from the Manual Labor School to Mr. Johnson's house, in which the dining room, kitchen and lounging room is situated.As soon as the solons reach it, they proceed to the front door and sit on forms and chairs under the veranda...til a second bell rings. When the dining room door opens, there is a rush.The dining room is a long, dingy apartment, at the further end of which (one smells on entering it) the kitchen is situated. Two parallel tables support the fare, and form to support the consumers of the head of the left hand sits Governor Reeder, but since the last memorable veto, he seldom enters until nearly all the others have left. At the head of our table sits the president of the council, our host the Reverend Mr. Johnson. As soon as all are seated, he gives a "thump" with the handle of a knife on the table. Silence ensues. A grace is then asked by himself. Now comes the tug of war. Knives and forks ply, and corncake, milk and breads of various sorts disappear with a rapidity unparalled.Our fare is good, but simple and toujours la meme..corn-bread, boiled or roast beef, boiled ham, potatoes, tomatoes, boiled cabbage, cucumbers, boiled corn, sometimes a blackberry pie, but generally not."

Redpath describes the legislative chamber as a dingy square schoolroom, with five windows on one side and four windows on the other. A raised platform, on which the speaker sat, replaced the other window. The desks of the members were ordinary school desks. From Redpath we learn that half the legislators stayed overnight at the Mission and half at a hotel in Westport and that those who wished to "dine very well" took their noon meal in Westport as well. There were three or four stage coaches making the trip between Westport and the Mission several times a day, charging 25 cents per trip. [Caldwell,Annals, 87]

Charles Clark