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Eli Thayer
Eli Thayer - Brady-Handy.jpg
A photograph of Eli Thayer by Mathew Brady. From the Library of Congress
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by Alexander De Witt
Succeeded by Goldsmith Bailey
Personal details
Born June 11, 1819
Mendon, Massachusetts
Died April 15, 1899(1899-04-15) (aged 79)
Worcester, Massachusetts
Political party Republican
Children John A. Thayer, Clara Thayer (Mrs. Charles H. Perry M.D.), Ida M. Thayer.
Alma mater Worcester Academy, 1840;
Brown University, 1845

Eli Thayer (June 11, 1819 – April 15, 1899) was an educator, reformer, legislator and founder of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. He was instrumental in the politics of Kansas during the period known as Bleeding Kansas. When Congress passed the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854, the question of whether Kansas would become a slave-state or free state was left to the voters of Kansas. pro-slavery supporters, abolitionists and free-staters all rushed to settle in the Kansas Territory. All were trying to gain power so as to determine the status of slavery in Kansas. Thayer is best known for his work in the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Their purpose was to rush as many Free-Staters as possible to settle in Kansas. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1857-1861. After serving in Congress Thayer became a businessman. Thayer died in Worcester, Massachusetts on April 15, 1899.

Early life

Thayer was born in Mendon, Massachusetts on June 11, 1819. He attended the local public school, then Bellingham High School. He attended the Academy of Amherst and in 1840 graduated from Worcester Academy. In 1845 he graduated from Brown University as salutatorian. Thayer returned to his college prepatory school, Worcester Academy, to teach. He was soon promoted to headmaster. From 1847 through 1849, Thayer was the principal of the academy. In 1849 he left Worcester Academy to found a women's college, Oread College (now Oread Institute).

Political career

Thayer had been admitted to the Massachusetts Bar Association, but never practiced law. He was an alderman in Worcester from 1852 to 1853. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1853 and 1854. While there he devised and obtained a charter for the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The purpose of the Company was to finance people from New England to settle in Kansas. Under the popular sovereignty doctrine they could vote it free of slavery if and when it became a state. Thayer received a percentage of all the money collected by the Company.

Thayer was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served two terms (March 4, 1857-March 3, 1861). He was an unsuccessful candidate for election to Congress in 1872.

Bleeding Kansas

Thayer and his New England Emigrant Aid Company played a key role in the border war on the Kansas-Missouri border that became known as Bleeding Kansas. The term was coined by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune. It described the violence happening in the Kansas territory during the mid to late 1850s.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an agreement that slavery to be banned from the Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36 degrees 30' north (also known as the Missouri Compromise Line), except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri. It admitted Missouri as a slave state to please the South and it also admitted Maine as a free state to please the North. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854, it reversed the Missouri Compromise and caused a wave of resentment in the North. Northerners believed it would cause Missourians to cross the border into the Kansas Territory and take all the good land leaving nothing for northern settlers. Northerners were pessimistic about the slavery issue. The President, his Cabinet, both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States were all pro-slavery. It was considered almost certain that slavery would dominate the United States.

Thayer promoted the idea of “business antislavery”. The idea behind Thayer's Emigrant Aid Company was to level the playing field with the southern pro-slavery advocates. The company was chartered under the laws of Massachusetts for the purpose of "assisting emigrants to settle in the West." Thayer's idea worked to both settle New Englanders in Kansas to prevent slavery and to remove the surplus of New Englanders and Immigrants. The plan was for settlers to start new businesses that would profit the Company. The towns of Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Osawatomie, Kansas were all settled by or with help from the Emigrant Aid Company. Thayer realized there was more money available in the North than in the South. By forming the Company he felt settlers would be well rewarded with the "comforts of civilization". The Company would be well rewarded with a good dividend on their investments. It was a win-win situation. He thought once Kansas was free, their attentions could be turned south and colonize it in a similar manner. By investing in the Company it would be the "snort of the steam engine instead of the crack of the blacksnake (whip)". Thayer's slogan became "Saw-mills and Liberty!" and was widely proclaimed in the New England press. Between 1854 and 1856, Thayer's Company sent about 2,000 emigrants to Kansas Territory. By May of 1857 many members of the Company felt it had reached its goals in Kansas. Thayer began other projects. He helped found the free labor colony of Ceredo, Virginia (now West Virginia). But after John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry many investors and potential settlers were scared away. The outbreak of the Civil War ended the project.

In the North, Thayer was credited with helping to make Kansas a slave-free state. He was also called a villain by others for having caused the bloodshed and violence that followed sending immigrants to Kansas. In the South, the Company was often called "Eli Thayer & Co.," and a price was placed on Thayer's head in more than one place. In Missouri and the South, Thayer was charged with the "crime" of making Kansas a free state. In 1887, Thayer wrote a book A History of the Kansas Crusade: Its Friends and Its Foes where he claimed a good deal of the credit for Kansas becoming free of slavery.

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