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Friend of Abraham Lincoln’s carried GOP zeal to the grave in Kansas

  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 10:31 p.m.

Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating the state’s history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.”

One hundred and twenty-three years after he died, Nathaniel Grigsby’s epitaph has gone viral.

It’s made the rounds on Facebook and has been the subject of countless stories on the Internet.

No wonder. It is all about politics.

Grigsby was an ardent Republican.

From Kansas.

“Through this inscription I wish to enter my dying protest against what is called the Democratic party I have watched it closely since the days of Jackson and know that all the misfortunes of our nation has come to it through this so called party therefore beware of this party of treason.”

The above inscription is carved on his tombstone in the Attica Cemetery in Harper County.

Grigsby was a product of the times. He had reason to feel passion for his party.

Long before he’d moved to Kansas – and certainly long before any guns were fired in the Civil War – Grigsby personally knew Abraham Lincoln. They attended the same school.

His brother Aaron married Lincoln’s oldest sister, Sarah.

Grigsby was born on Oct. 11, 1811, in Nelson County, Ky. The family moved to Indiana while Grigsby was still a child. In 1816, Thomas Lincoln also moved his family to Indiana. When Nancy Lincoln, Sarah and Abraham’s mother, died in 1818, Sarah helped raise the young Abe Lincoln. She married Aaron Grigsby in 1826. Sarah Lincoln Grigsby died a few years later during childbirth.

By 1830, Abraham Lincoln had moved to Illinois, and, in 1855, Nathaniel Grigsby moved to Missouri.

As political tensions began to surface in the late 1850s, Kansas became a political hot spot in the national debate over many issues, including slavery.

And when Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln came to Kansas in December 1859, he knew he was coming into a charged situation.

For five years, Kansas Territory had been nicknamed “Bleeding Kansas” for the border clashes between Missouri and Kansas over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state.

Lincoln was in John Brown territory. The fiery abolitionist Brown had just been hanged by federal authorities. Lincoln was invited to Kansas Territory by his cousin Louisiana Hanks Delahay.

By 1860, Nathaniel Grigsby was campaigning for Lincoln. In Missouri, Grigsby’s life was threatened for such political beliefs.

Nevertheless, when Lincoln won and the first sparks of the Civil War began, Grigsby moved back to Indiana along with four of his sons. Together, they enlisted in Company C 10th Indiana Cavalry. Grigsby was made a 2nd Lieutenant.

By the war’s end, one of his sons had died, as well as countless friends, including Lincoln.

In 1885, Grigsby moved to Kansas and started farming in Harper County.

By then, Nathaniel Grigsby was nearly 75.

He made his family promise to carry out his last wish. He wanted to be buried in the Attica Cemetery, a quarter-mile west of Attica.

Thomas Allen McNeal, in his book “When Kansas Was Young,” published in 1922, wrote of Grigsby: “He was a Republican without variableness or shadow of turning. … With most men, political activity stops with the grave but old Nathaniel Grigsby, knowing that his years were nearly numbered, devised a plan by which his political opinions might be transmitted to coming generations.”

Indeed, when Grigsby died on April 16, 1890, the sparks of the Populist Party were beginning to ignite in Kansas. The grassroots movement began with dissatisfied farmers protesting banks, railroads and the wealthy.

Grigsby held true to the Republican Party.

“If the disembodied spirit of the old veteran was able to view the things of earth from another world he must have viewed with astonishment the political revolution which swept over the state of his adoption and observed the strange political bedfellows resulting,” McNeal wrote.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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