Today, the Connecticut and Kansas State Quarter Coins remember when Henry Ward Beecher made good his promise to provide bibles and rifles to the Connecticut men traveling to support freedom in Kansas.
His letter of March 28, 1856 is found in the Overland Monthly of April 1910, in an excerpt of the article Bibles and Rifles by Clara Holzmark Wolf:
On March 22, 1856, while the company was forming, a meeting was held in North Church, over which Mr. Beecher presided, and made a spirited address.
During the evening, someone spoke with much feeling, saying that these men were leaving their homes and their dear relatives and friends with the noble purpose to help save their country from the blight of slavery, and that they should not be allowed to leave without proper means of defense.
Whereupon one of the audience called out: “I’ll give a Sharp’s rifle.”
This aroused the audience to great enthusiasm, and was followed by donations of more rifles.
Mr. Beecher pledged twenty-five from his congregation in Brooklyn, and with the rifles came a bible and hymn-book for each member of the party, and a letter written in his study that is remarkable for its beauty, courage, strength and truth, of which the following is a copy:
(Published in the New York Daily Tribune. Friday, April 4, 1856.)
Brooklyn, Friday. March 28, 1856.
C. B. Lines. Esq., New Haven, Conn.
Allow me to address you, and through you the gentlemen of your company, on the eve of your departure for Kansas. I hope and believe that you will find a settlement there to be a means of great prosperity.
You are not like the early settlers of New Haven, going upon a doubtful enterprise, to a poor soil in a severe climate, the ocean on one side and the wilderness of a continent on every other side. You will not go far from us.
In our day, we measure by time, rather than distance; by hours, not miles. You will not be as far from your old home as one Sabbath is from another.
And yet you go upon an errand not one wit less Christian and less heroic than that of our common ancestors, who founded New Haven.
You are pioneers of towns and cities; you are the seed of Christianity — the germs of civilization.
You’ll put your feet down in a wilderness; in a year it will be a populous place.
And where the morning sun now rises on herds of wild buffalo, couched deep in the wild grass, in your own life-time it will bring forth the cry of multitudes and the noise of a city.
Nevertheless such perils have been coiled about the young State of Kansas that it is an act of courage to settle there, if a man goes with a true spirit of American institutions.
To go there determined to transplant to its soil the tree of liberty, which under God has in older States borne and shook down from its boughs all the fruits of an unparalleled prosperity, requires heroic courage.
It is a pleasure and honor to us to be in any way connected with such an enterprise by furnishing to the emigrant material or moral aid.
I have personally felt a double interest in your company, because it springs from New Haven, my father’s birthplace and the home of my ancestors.
A friend and parishioner, A. Stedwelf, desires me to present to you twenty-five copies of the bible.
This is the charter of all charters, the constitution of all constitutions, the source and spring of Christian manliness.
This book will be at the foundation of your State. It will teach you to value your rights, and inspire you to defend them.
The donor has caused to be inscribed upon them: “Be ye steadfast and immovable.”
It is a shame that in America, amidst our free institutions, anything else should be needed but moral instrumentalities.
But you do need more. You will be surrounded by men who have already committed the wickedest wrongs and the most atrocious crimes.
They have scrupled at nothing by which slavery may be fastened upon the young State.
To send forth companies of men with their families, amid those who are bred to regard helplessness as a lawful prey to strength, would be a piece of unjustifiable cruelty.
I send to you, therefore, as I promised, the arms required for twenty-five men. I have not the least fear that a hundred men bred under New England influences will be too eager or too war-like.
You have been taught to create wealth and not to rob it; to rely on intelligence and rectitude for defense.
And you will not be in any danger of erring on the side of violence.
But you are sent for the defense of great rights. You have no liberty to betray them by cowardice.
There are times when self-defense is a religious duty. If that duty was ever imperative, it is now, and in Kansas.
I do not say that you have barely the right to defend yourselves and your liberties; I say that it is a duty from which you cannot shrink, without leaving your honor, your manhood, your Christian fidelity behind you.
But this invincible courage will be a shield to you. You will not need to use arms when it is known that you have them, and are determined to employ them in extremities.
It is the very essence of the spirit which slavery breeds to be arrogant toward the weak, and cowardly before the strong.
If you are willing to lose your lives, you will save them.
If, on the other hand you are found helpless, the miscreants of slavery would sweep you from Kansas like grass on the prairie before autumnal fires.
If you are known to be fearless men, prepared for emergencies, slavery like a lion will come up, and gazing into the eyes of courageous men, will stop, cower and creep away into ambush.
I trust that the perils which a few months ago hung like a cloud over that fair State, are lifting and passing away.
May you find an unobstructed peace!
Then let these arms hang above your doors as the old revolutionary muskets do in many a New England dwelling. May your children in another generation look upon them with pride and say: “Our fathers’ courage saved this fair region from blood and slavery.”
We will not forget you. Every morning’s breeze shall catch the blessings of our prayers, and roll them westward to your prairie homes.
May your sons be as large hearted as the heavens above their heads! May your daughters fill the land as the flowers do the prairies, only sweeter and fairer than they.
I am in the bonds of the Gospel and in the firm faith of liberty, truly yours, H. W. Beecher.
With a Sharp’s rifle on the shoulder of every member of the company, and a bible in his pocket, the noble band of earnest, intelligent and educated men, one hundred strong, left New Haven amidst the applause of thousands, on their perilous journey to the “battle-ground of Freedom.”
The Connecticut and Kansas State Quarter Coins show with an image of the Beecher Bibles and Rifles Church in Wabaunsee, Kansas.