Emigrant Aid Company

Emigrant Aid Company, organization formed in 1854 to promote organized antislavery immigration to the Kansas territory from the Northeast. Eli Thayer conceived the plan as early as Feb., 1854, even before the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, and in April, Massachusetts chartered the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company. This organization, however, proved defective and was soon superseded by the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Many other Kansas aid societies were subsequently formed throughout the North (e.g., the Kansas Emigrant Aid Society of Northern Ohio and the New York Kansas League), but the New England group was preeminent in the field and the name Emigrant Aid Company is associated exclusively with it. Amos A. Lawrence served as treasurer of the company, which, despite its earnest soliciting of the support of clergymen throughout New England, remained in bad financial condition until Nov., 1855, when a notably successful campaign to raise money was launched. For Thayer, who was vice president of the company, the venture was not only philanthropic but profitable. As stock subscription agent he received 10% of all the money he collected, provided he gathered $20,000 or more. Thayer easily exceeded that figure, for by May, 1856, the company had received over $100,000. The company sent out an aggregate of 1,240 settlers under agents such as Charles Robinson, who founded Lawrence and other towns in Kansas. Southerners, at first confident that Kansas was safe for slavery, were moved to organize similar, though proslavery, societies of their own. However, such ill-advised actions by the proslavery societies as the sacking (May 21, 1856) of the town of Lawrence only stimulated the Kansas aid movement further. Delegates from 12 states and Kansas convened at Buffalo, N.Y., in July, 1856, and formed a National Kansas Committee. Its goal of establishing Kansas aid committees in every state, county, and town throughout the North was never realized. For one thing the national committee was divided; one group, in which Amos Lawrence was most conspicuous, advocated peaceful protest against proslavery excesses in Kansas and financial help to the free-staters, while the other, led by extreme abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith and the Rev. Thomas W. Higginson, urged the creation of state military forces to be used against Union troops in Kansas if necessary. This group also proposed disunion at a convention in Worcester in Jan., 1857. Although the New England Emigrant Aid Company continued in existence for some years, its real work was over and the whole Kansas aid movement was virtually ended by 1857. Actually, the company and its counterparts in other states had little to do with making Kansas a free state (that was mainly accomplished by settlers from the Western states), but the movement made a deep impression on public opinion, North and South, and it is claimed that the bitterness and hate it engendered helped bring on the Civil War.

See S. A. Johnson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (1954).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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