We recently came across a write-up about early Missouri called, “Affairs of Government, etc.,” and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to pass it along because of the breezy way it was written, which was unusual for the time, and because some of the things it said seem familiar to those of us who watch affairs of government, etc.
Besides, how can a person avoid finding literary treasures in a book called, A History of the Pioneer Families of Missouri, With Numerous Sketches, Anecdotes, adventures, etc., Relating to Early Days in Missouri. Also the Lives of Daniel Boone and the celebrated Indian Chief Black Hawk With Numerous Biographies and Histories of Primitive Institutions.
You can take a breath now.
The book was written by William S. Bryan and Robert Rose and published in 1876. The author’s acknowledge, “We do not expect the reader to believe all the remarkable yarns related under ‘Anecdotes and Adventures.’ Some of them were given to us merely as caricatures of early times, and they can easily be distinguished from the real adventures.’”
Here is their Affairs of Government, Etc.
“The pioneers of Missouri…were not a lawless or vicious class of people, but, nevertheless, some sort of a government was required to restrain the reckless characters that lived in the country. When the territory came into possession of the United States, one of the most intelligent and influential men in each community was appointed Justice of the Peace, before whom all transgressions were tried and all legal disputes adjusted. Very few of these men knew anything about law, and some of their decisions and legal documents would be regarded as curiosities in these modern times. But if they knew but little law, they understood the meaning of justice, and their decisions did not often miss the mark.
“As there were no jails to confine offenders in, breaches of the peace, thefts, and other light misdemeanors were punished by fines, or if flagrant in character, by whipping. The fined were generally paid with furs and peltry, which were sold for the benefit of the government; but where whipping was the penalty, it was administered in a summary manner, and the offender was permitted to go about his business as though nothing uniusual had occurred. On one occasion a man who had stolen a hog was taken before Daniel Bone for examination. His trial and the infliction of the punishment occupied half an hour, and while returning home he was met by an acquaintance, who inquired how he had come out. ‘Eh gad! Whipped and cleared,’ was his laconic reply. In those days when men fell out of and fought, they never thought of taking their cases into court, but the one who got whipped yielded with as good a grace as he could command, to the superior strength or dexterity of his, and after taking a drink and shaking hands in token of friendship, let the matter drop until he got an opportunity to pay off his score with interest.
“But few murders were committed, and generally the murderer made his escape, and was never heard of again; for it he remained in the community he was almost certain to be killed by the friends of the man he had murdered, even if he escaped immediate lynching.
“We give below a literal copy of the first indictment found in St. Charles county, by the first American grand jury that sat under the United States government, in the territory of Louisiana. It was signed by twelve men, all of whom, except the foreman, had to make their marks being unable to write. It will be seen from the wording of the instrument that considerable effort was made to give it a legal and solemn sound, in order, no doubt, that it might make a deep impression on the minds of all concerned. It reads as follows:
‘That one James Davis, late of the District of St. Charles, in the Territory of Louisiana, Laborer, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 13th day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and four (1804), at a place called Femme Osage, in the said District of St. Charles, with force and arms, in and upon William Hays, in the peace of God and the United States, there and then being Feloniously, willfully, and with his malice aforethought, did make an assault, andthat the said James Davis, with a certain rifle gun, four feet long, and of the value of five dollars, then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder one leaden bullet, with said rifle gun the said James Davis, then and there in his hands had and held, fired and killed William Hays.’
“Davis gave bond in the sum of $3,000 for his appearance at court, and Daniel Boone went his security. He stood his trial and was cleared.
“As the country settled up and the population increased, the number of civil suits grew larger, and people began to feel the need of educated attorneys. At first, a few pettifoggers, possessing a little learning and vast pretensions, were imported from other localities, and they came expecting to have everything their own way, and to astonish the natives by their profundity. But they soon found themselves eclipsed by the practical, common-sense backwoodsmen, and very naturally settled down to their proper places. There were others, however, who possessed fine talents and a liberal amount of learning, and these were respected by the people, and soone gained a large influence. Among the first prominent attorneys was Edward Hempsted, an unlettered man, but one who possessed strong sense and a fine talent for special pleading. He had a sharp, fierce, and barking manner of speaking, which had a great effect upon jurors, and generally awed them into acquiescence with his own views. His style became very popular, and was widely imitated by young attorneys. At the head of the profession stood Col. Thomas H. Benton, whose fame afterward extended over the whole country, and who represented Missouri for thirty years in the U. S. Senate. One who knew him in the early days of his practice here, thus described him: ‘He is acute, labored, florid, rather sophomorical, but a man of strong sense. There flashes ‘strange fire’ from the eyes and all that he does ‘smells of the lamp.’
“Edward Bates also became prominent at an early day, and he was probably the most learned of any of the lawyers of that time. He was a classical scholar, and exhibited the fruits of his attainments in his arrangement and choice of language. His manners were gentlemanly and pleasing, and his language concise and to the point; but these were often thrown away upon the jury in a region where noise and flourish were sometimes mistaken for sense and reason.
“Unlimited puffing was resorted to then as now, and with like success. The man who could make the finest show and induce the greatest number of people to talk about him, in the right way, generally won fame and distinction, and became the leader of his portion of the country. But these things gradually passed away as the country became more enlightened, and men were esteemed for their real worth and integrity rather than for shallow display and great pretensions, unsupported by genuine merit.”
Unlimited puffery, noise and flourish that is mistaken for sense and reason, and the need to find candidates or elected officials whose shallow displays and great pretensions are unsupported by genuine merit remain part of our political fabric today.
Are we any closer to finding or demanding leaders who are esteemed for their real worth and integrity than those pioneer families were almost fourteen decades ago?