Of course, I took exception to the documentary for some of the same reasons as you and Chuck did. I will pass on a commentary I made about the documentary in an email I sent to author, Paul Petersen, a friend:
In a message dated 3/4/2007 9:02:58 PM Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Don. I'm sorry but I missed this documentary. I just got home. Please let me know about it as soon as you can. Thanks, Paul.
Yes, I just finished watching it. It basically tells only of the Kansas Territorial period, and it doesn't go into the 1861-1865 Civil period in Missouri, except as a sort of afterword at the very end of the documentary.
The documentary is more balanced than some I've seen, and I think it was because those pursuing a Union interpretation of the Border War are now fearful to get too partisan in this area with our two books out recently. Director Pam Reichart even admitted she changed horses in midstream. I saw a lot of my pictures and some of my quotations used, and I wondered if this was coincidental or if they were borrowing from me and then not giving me any credit for it, which is what I assume they did.
The program starts out with the stilted declaration: "The truth is here to be told," a promise that no one could live up to and talk about the Border War because, as you know and I know, there are two sides to the issue, and the Southern one is usually ignored.
They referred in the program, as part of their narration, about "the radical theory of 'Popular Sovereignty.' " This made me wonder: just who believed the theory of "Popular Sovereignty" was "radical" since it basically states that in deciding for or against slavery being included in a new state or territory, the popular vote, the democratic vote, should decide the issue. I didn't know that democracy was "radical." I wondered if this was a case of "The truth is here to be told" as they boasted at the outset of the program.
In one narration, while the speaker talked, you heard the cracks of whips in the background, or at least that's what it sounded to me like. So am I supposed to absorb the notion that in the background of these speakers voices are whips being laid on the back of black slaves?? Now, we are talking about "The truth is here to be told," or is this an attempt to subcconsciously affect the listener without him even being aware of it?
Of course, as I expected, the Missouri elites and their colleagues, throughout the program, were described as "Border Ruffans," a typical Unionist propaganda ploy, because this term was coined by master propagandist Horace Greeley in the nineteenth century, and this practice of using this propaganda term continued nonstop from start to finish. The documentary also maintained, without credible evidence, throughout the program, that abolionists outnumbered the proslavery people in Kansas during all periods. At the start, they admitted the proslavery people won the first territorial-wide election, but failed to say that they did so even excluding the illegal votes; then, afterward the narration began pushing the notion that the abolitionists were being cheated out of power in all of the elections, which they clearly weren't. My data, from Kansas State Historical Society publications proves that in 1855 and likely through 1857, the proslavery people clearly outnumbered the abolitionist voters in the territory.
Another questionable practice was using narrators during the program to promote abolitionist propaganda without telling us who was speaking and what ax they had to grind or whether they were even telling the truth. In fact, I was under the impression that it was the program's producers and directors speaking, promoting the abolitionist cause. So I think they were taking abolitionist examples and narrating them without telling who was saying what and making it appear that it was the director and her mouthpiece who were "telling the truth is here to be told" once again
The story of the abolitionists in the founding of Lawrence and their heavy-handed, armed intimidation of the proslavery people in the area is left untold. When James Lanes submitted a territorial constitution to the U.S. Congress and it is rejected, Producer Pam Reichart neglects to say through her narrator why it was rejected. That was because all the signatures were forged in one man's handwriting.
When Lawrence, Kansas, was sacked in 1856, Reichart tells through her narrator that Samuel Jones is present, gives him some bad press, but fails to say he was a Federally appointed sheriff of Douglas County and therefore anyone resisting him with arms was committing treason against the federal government who appointed him (although she uses "treason" in a heading). She fails, also, to mention that United States Marshall Israel Donalson is with Jones, demonstrating that the invasion is a Fedeally sponsored operation with the proper dignitaries present to enforce law and order in the name of the United States governement.
Reichart et al. downplay tremendously the actions of Montgomery in southeast Kansas in 1858-1861 when he continually raided across the border into Missouri, and when discussing John Brown's killing of the Doyles fails to mention that the reason he chose the Doyles was not an accident. Doyle and his sons carried warrants for Brown's arrest for recently intimidating a Supreme Court judge in the area, a Federal appointee. It is mentioned that John Brown leaves Kansas after the Pottawatomie Masscre, which, incidentally, is never called a massacre. The narration doesn't mention that he left because he was wanted for murder, and it doesn't say that he was harbored in the east by members of the Conspiracy of Six, who funded him, who were also committing treason, but says Brown went east to "raise money." The Conspiracy of Six also funded the attack on Harpers Ferry. Absolutely no mention is made of the large scale conspiracy to break John Brown out of jail by some twenty-two Kansas notables, a Who's Who in Kansas Abolitionism. This wasn't worth mentioning, no whips in the background.
My main complaint with the documentary is that 98 percent of it was a discussion of Territorial Kansas, as if telling that would be a history of the Border War, while at the same time ignoring the atrocities and carnage in Missouri in 1861-1865 when the entire border area was destroyed. You can't really write a comprehensive account of the Border War without writing about Territorial Kansas (1854-1861) and the Civil War in Missouri (1861-1865)at the same time. You have to combine the two for a history to make any sense. Maybe this will come later in another episode, but by excluding it in this documentary, it slanted the story immensely. Finally, it is clear there is no neat way to tell the story of the Border War or avoid the natural bias by partisans on both sides. You will notice that when marketing this documentary to schools in Kansas and Missouri, extra material from historians Nicole Etcheson, a professor ardently supportive of the abolitionists, will be added as well as that of a KU professor. Where's the balance there? I don't recognize it. Anyhow, Paul, that was the gist of it. I guess for Reichart, it was a "good try."