Cass Answers Sumner

Lewis Cass (D-MI)

The Crime Against Kansas: Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15Full text

On May 20, 1856, Charles Sumner finished his Crime Against Kansas speech and sat down. For all the hours he spoke, no one interjected to call him to order. He inveighed against slavery, against South Carolina, against his fellow senators, and ultimately against the Northern Democracy for serving as slavery’s eager lapdogs. He preceded his last volley of insults by citing the precedent of Michigan to argue that Kansas’ free state government deserved admission to the Union. Through all of it, Sumner’s invective struck at the notion of popular sovereignty first advanced by Lewis Cass and later adopted by Stephen Douglas to legislate slavery into Kansas. Cass, as a member of the Jackson Cabinet when Michigan’s statehood came before the nation, as a northern Democrat, and as Michigan’s former territorial governor and present senator, not to mention President Pro Tempore of the chamber, had a few things to say about all that. He rose to give the first answer to Sumner:

I have listened with equal regret and surprise to the speech of the honorable Senator from Massachusetts. Such a speech-the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grate don the ears of the members of this high body-as I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.

Yet Cass rose not to take this out on Sumner, however much he deserved “the highest censure and disapprobation.” Instead, he wanted to check Sumner’s history, which the Massachusetts senator “has so misunderstood and misapplied.” Sumner claimed for the people a right “to form conventions with a view to obstruct the authorized laws of the country.” Cass would have none of that, denying such a right to “any portion of the American people.” Conventions Americans might form, but not to array themselves against the established laws. To do that, “unless they succeed” put one right over into “rebellion.”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

Here Cass makes what must read as a strange proposition today, but in nineteenth century America the right of revolution had a high cachet. You could rebel and make heroes of yourselves in the doing, as the founders did, fair enough. Had the founders failed, they might have ended on the end of a rope. The right of revolution appears always in retrospect, granted to history’s winners. So far, Kansas had not overthrown the territorial government or the United States. Thus Cass felt no obligation to yield to the demands of an illegal assembly of rebels.

But back to history. Michigan, sixty thousand whites strong, asked admission to the Union. Its constitutional convention, however, originated in an act of the legislature. The people in some vague, abstract sense, had nothing to do with it. The Wolverine State did things properly, thank you. The only difficulty came when Michigan claimed its boundary as set by Congress, rather than the one set by Ohio. Ohioans surveyed their northern boundary and helped themselves to Toledo. The tensions came close to a proper battle, with militias called out on both sides. Cass recalled how the Jackson administration feared a war. To defuse things, Congress agreed to admission contingent on a convention of Michiganders signing off on Ohio’s version of the boundary. They refused.

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

William Seward pressed: Just how did that first convention come together? Cass thought the governor and legislature did the work. Then coloring outside the lines ensued:

By a spontaneous act of the people, a second convention was called-not to oppose the laws, like the Kansas convention-not to establish another government-not to get up and oppose acts of Congress, or of the Territorial Legislature-not to make a revolution, but to escape from a civil war, to get out of a difficulty merely by saying that the people of the State were willing to accept the proposition of Congress.

They did so unanimously and everyone went home happy, hint hint. If Michigan could suffer a wrong -and Cass admitted the state did, as it had every right to insist on the original border- then Kansas could take a lump or two as well.

“This last appeal,” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 15

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14Full text

Charles Sumner told the Senate that they could deny Kansas’ free state movement its statehood only by bastardizing Michigan’s. Both states had wildcat constitutions and state governments that presented themselves to Congress and asked admission to the Union. If Michigan could come in to general approval, pending the revision of some boundary disputes, when why not Kansas? Nobody held it against Michigan that the state colored outside the lines a little bit, so any reasonable person could see that admitting the Topeka government as Kansas would come and go to no great harm. By contrast, denying it cast doubt on the wisdom of admitting the Wolverine State.

Sumner moved on to argue from principle as well as precedent:

the fundamental principle of American institutions, so embodied in the Declaration of Independence, by which Government is recognized as deriving its just powers only from the consent of the governed, who may alter or abolish it when it becomes destructive of their rights.

Stephen Douglas

The territorial government of Kansas prosecuted an organized campaign of destruction to the rights of antislavery whites, to say nothing of the rights of black Americans. It lacked the consent of the governed, who attended the free state polls regularly but largely ignored the government’s elections. By the American creed, Kansans had every right to cast it off and make their own. Nowhere in the Declaration of recent history could Sumner find an American precedent for choosing the other path, to endorse tyranny over whites as a principle for the foundation of government. He could find one only by looking abroad, or across the Senate floor at Stephen Douglas.

Douglas and the other proslavery men in the Senate stood, Sumner argued, on the ground of the Holy Alliance,

which declares that “useful and necessary changes in legislation and in the administration of States ought only to emanate from the free will and the intelligent and well-weighed conviction of those whom God has rendered responsible for power.”

Sumner put this principle against the Declaration “and bid them grapple!” With the propositions carried forth by Seward’s bill for free Kansas and Douglas’ for the proslavery government, they needed too the grapple on the floor of the Senate. In an era that took political contention as a source of popular entertainment, some constituency probably existed which would delight in seeing Seward and Douglas literally throwing each other around.

William H. Seward in 1851

From that metaphor, Sumner moved on to his summation. He repeated his insults against Butler, “incoherent phrases, discharged the loose expectoration of his speech,” and lines about South Carolina’s “shameful imbecility from Slavery”. Then Douglas came in for a review, adding “the superior intensity of his nature.” Sumner checked in with James Mason over the Fugitive Slave Act before finishing:

The contest, which, beginning in Kansas, has reached us will soon be transferred from Congress to a broader state, where every citizen will be not only spectator, but acting; and to their judgment I confidently appeal.

In other words, vote Republican in 1856 and this problem will get sorted

In just regard for free labor in that Territory, which is sought to blast by unwelcome association with the slave, whom it is proposed to task and sell there; in stern condemnation of the Crime which has been consummated on that beautiful soil; in rescue of fellow-citizens, now subjugated to a tyrannical Usurpation; in dutiful respect for the early Fathers, whose inspirations are now ignobly thwarted,; in the name of the Constitution, which has been outraged-of laws trampled down-of Justice banished-of Humanity degraded-of Peace destroyed-of Freedom crushed to earth; and in the name of the Heavenly Father, whose service is perfect Freedom, I make this last appeal.

The Remedy of Justice and Peace: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 14

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13Full text

If the Senate wanted Civil War, Charles Sumner told them how to get it. They need only take the present territorial government of Kansas in as its legitimate government, rendering permanent the proslavery usurpation of its elections. The proslavery men on the ground, already not shy about violence, would surely step up their campaign to purge the land of dissenting whites. Antislavery men in turn would look more ardently to their defense. Money and guns would flow into the state from both sections and soon the violence would spread.

Should the Senators wish to avoid that, they had a solution on hand. William Seward proposed junking Stephen Douglas’ bill to take the present government of Kansas and make it a state. Instead, the Senate should recognize the free state movement and its Topeka Constitution. They had all the officers of a proper government ready to go the moment Congress gave the word. Sheriff Samuel Jones kept a list.

Rarely has any proposition, so simple in character, so entirely practicable, so absolutely within your power, been presented, which promised at once such beneficent results. In its adoption, the Crime against Kansas will be all happily resolved, the Usurpation which established it will be peacefully suppressed, and order will be permanently secured.

Senator William H. Seward (Republican-NY)

The country should thank William Seward for saving the Union. Sumner spent a brief paragraph praising him that must have gone over well during the rehearsal, then moved on to why Kansas deserved statehood. First, the Kansans asked for it and statehood would take Washington off the hook for Kansas’ expenses. Those included expenditures for keeping the peace, which Sumner attributed with considerable justice “on account of the pretended Territorial Government.” Second, Kansas showed the ability to defend itself during the Wakarusa War. That argued for its passing the stage of an enfeebled state in need of a direct patron. Third and last, Sumner pointed out that Kansas had “the pecuniary credit” to afford to run its own affairs.

Anticipating objections, Sumner ran down them in short order. The Constitution left admission of states entirely to the whim of Congress, placing no test upon them save for not making states by carving land out of existing states without leave. (To answer the obvious question, West Virginia’s formation had the assent of the then-recognized government of the state.) Nor did precedent of law insist on a minimum population, though folk wisdom often thinks so. Even if it did, Kansas had more people in 1856 than Delaware or Florida and so easily matched the customary bar. One might object that Kansas did not have enough people to qualify for a single member in the House, according to then-current ratios. Florida gained admission despite that. Furthermore, the ratio of representation changed regularly until unwise capping of the size of the House in the early twentieth century. With that the case, Sumner argued that a controlling precedent found in the ratio at the time of the Louisiana Purchase ought to apply.

Thomas Hart Benton

Likewise, while Kansas had a wildcat state movement Sumner could point to prior occasions where the Congress had respected such organizations and given them statehood. Most recently, California got that treatment. Previously, Michigan “now cherished with such pride as a sister state” did. Michigan, like Kansas, presented itself to Congress with all the usual officials and a constitution adopted without prior approval. Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Benton, and James Buchanan all endorsed Michigan’s statehood at the time, a fact remembered on the state’s maps. In the end, only eight Senators voted against Michigan and the chamber even voted full compensation for the senators forwarded with Michigan’s application retroactive to the start of the session. To deny Kansas now would “bastardize Michigan”.

The Remedy of Injustice and Civil War: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 13

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12Full text

We left Charles Sumner telling the Senate that the Remedy of Folly, to disarm the antislavery Kansans and tell them to make do, would not fly. To this point, Sumner has answered the non-solutions of his foes to Kansas’ troubles with a mix of ridicule and reasoned debate. His contempt shines through. For the next non-solution, he had a threat. The new remedy committed an injustice and risked civil war.

The remedy of Injustice and Civil War came in a handy carrying case, a bill before the Senate which would authorize the governor and legislature of Kansas to conduct a census. When that census turned up 98,420 people, they could go ahead and hold a constitutional convention. From there they would write a state constitution and apply for admission to the Union like any other territory did.

In ordinary times, no one would raise an eyebrow at that. Sumner objected on the grounds that, while the proposed law followed normal procedures, it left every judgment in the hands of the proslavery governor and his proslavery legislature. By doing so, the bill’s supporters “recognize the very Usurpation in which the crime ended, and proceed to endow it with new prerogatives.” How much could you trust a census run by the bogus legislature?

Furthermore, the proslavery government of Kansas need not take those steps at all. Nothing in the law obligated them to run the census and move ahead, fairly or otherwise. Since the legislature would not meet again until January of 1857, this solution to Kansas’ troubles promised they would continue at least until January, plus whatever time the census and constitutional convention required, if the legislature chose to go ahead. All that kept Kansas in the spotlight, “this great question open, to distract and irritate the country.”

Even by the standards of Sumner’s foes, this just did not do the job. If they wanted Kansas over and done with, they should not embark on a plan that would leave the question untouched and invite further mayhem for more than half a year. Sumner, understandably, cared less about that detail than they might. He moved on to note the real problem: the Senate bill consolidated proslavery control of the territory.

Pass this Bill, and you enlist Congress in the conspiracy, not only to keep the people of Kansas in their present subjugation, throughout their territorial existence, but also to protract this subjugation into their existence as a State, while you legalize and perpetuate the very force by which slavery has already been planted there.

To underline the point, Sumner noted that the bill endowed a legislature which as a practical measure outlawed political antislavery with the power of decision. It might have set aside the legislature’s test acts to vote in delegate elections to the constitutional convention, but in admitting their injustice for that the Senate only raised the question of why to keep them for anything? Many genuine Kansans lost the franchise under those laws. Many Missourians could come over and vote untroubled by them. In effect, the Senate didn’t mind that but set up a fig leaf to obscure the fact.

In characterizing this Bill as the Remedy of Injustice and Civil War, I give it a plain, self-evident title. It is a continuation of the Crime against Kansas, and as such deserves the same condemnation. It can only be defended by those who defend the Crime. Sir, you cannot expect that the people of Kansas will submit to the Usurpation which this bill sets up, and bids them bow before-as the Austrian tyrant set up his cap in the Swiss market-place. If you madly persevere, Kansas will not be without her William tell, who will refuse at all hazards to recognize the tyrannical edict; and this will be the beginning of civil war.

 

The Remedy of Folly: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 12

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11Full text

 

Charles Sumner would have none of this notion of fixing Kansas by calling it all a fait accompli and castigating antislavery Kansans for protesting the illegitimacy of the government erected over them by proslavery men out of Missouri. They had sacred rights of self-government, the patrimony of all white American men freshly promised to them by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. To cede that meant knuckling under to tyranny, just as bad King George demanded of Americans.

The second solution Sumner’s foes offered, “which, indeed, is also a Remedy of Tyranny; but its Folly is so surpassing as to eclipse even its Tyranny.” This time around, perfidy came not from Franklin Pierce -he must have needed a break; few presidents have done better at doing worse- but Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Butler’s “single contribution” deserved to have his name on it, but Sumner gave it “a more suggestive synonym.” In other words: Butler, thy name is folly.

Sumner quoted the other Senator directly:

The President of the United States is under the highest and most solemn obligations to interpose; and if I were to indicate the manner in which he should interpose in Kansas, I would point out the old common law process. I would serve a warrant on Sharpe’s rifles, and if Sharpe’s rifles did not answer the summons, and come into court on a day certain, or if they resisted the sheriff, I would summon the posse comitatus, and would have Colonel Sumner’s regiment to be a part of that posse comitatus.

Butler wanted Pierce to order the seizure of antislavery arms and send the Army and militia down upon them if they refused, largely as happened in Kansas even as Sumner spoke. He proposed Wilson Shannon’s solution: disarm the antislavery side and leave them at the mercy of the proslavery party.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Per Sumner, that would deprive antislavery Kansans of their “tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest.” They had a Second Amendment right on top of that, which a former judge of many years ought to know. Had Butler forgotten his law? His past honors could not make it look any better: Andrew Butler wanted freedom’s friends in Kansas stripped of the means to defend themselves before savage foes. Sumner reiterated nineteenth century racism in putting the Native Americans among them and in the company of wild animals. He went a step further, by implication, and lumped the proslavery whites in together with the lot. Maybe Sumner didn’t view them as exactly equivalent -they had white skin, after all- but he took enough care in his writing to mean the audience to draw the inference.

The Remedy of Tyranny: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 11

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10Full text

Charles Sumner ran down and dismissed every excuse given for lawless proslavery extremism in Kansas. He would have nothing of their apologies, tyrannical, imbecile, infamous, or absurd. But as the musical tells us, lacking a plan of one’s own and just hating the alternatives doesn’t make for the best politics…at least if one actually wants to address the question. Obstruction alone serves admirably if one prefers the status quo on a subject. Thus Sumner moved on, in the second day of his speech, to “the TRUE REMEDY”. A true remedy had to do a lot of work, because Stephen Douglas and company had screwed up Kansas so badly. To fix Kansas, Sumner argued they needed a solution that also worked for “Nebraska, Minnesota, Washington, and even Oregon.” He believed, at least for the purposes of the speech, that the entire free territory of the United States now stood open to slavery. I don’t know about Minnesota on that count, but for the rest he has a reasonable claim. Reinstating the Missouri Compromise would at once settle things. Naturally, no one in Congress proposed to do such a thing.

To salve the nation’s wounds, Sumner reviewed four options: First we have the Remedy of Tyranny; next, the Remedy of Folly; next, the remedy of Injustice and Civil War; and fourthly, the Remedy of Justice and Peace. These are the four caskets; and you are to determine which shall be opened by Senatorial votes.

The Remedy of Tyranny meant doing as Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce wished. Concede Kansas, and the rest of the nation’s posterity, to slavery and call it good. The territorial government and its oppressive laws must stand. The first chance to do that would come in the contested House election for Kansas’ delegate. If Andrew Reeder prevailed, then so might freedom. If James Whitfield did, slavery followed. Sumner left that to the House, because Senators should mind their own business and respect the other chamber’s prerogatives

But now, while dismissing it, I should not pardon myself, if I failed to add, that any person who founds his claim to a seat in Congress on the pretended votes of hirelings from another State, with no home on the soil of Kansas, plays the part of the Anarcharsis Clootz, who, at the bar of the French convention, understood to represent nations that knew him not, or, if they knew him, scorned him

Sumner then spent the better part of a page likening the advocates of the Remedy of Tyranny to King George, venting against the American colonists.

The Apology Infamous: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 10

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9Full text

Dispensing with the Apologies Tyrannical and Imbecile, Charles Sumner moved on to the Apology Absurd. Absurdity meant claiming that proslavery filibusters who seized control of the Kansas territorial government by force acted in self-defense. More than usual, Sumner’s contempt for the argument shows through the refined nineteenth century prose. I can only imagine how it came across when performed before the Senate. That left only one apology to go: Infamous.

That apology arose from

false testimony against the Emigrant Aid Company, and assumptions of duty more false than the testimony. Defying Truth and mocking Decency, this Apology excels all others in futility and audacity, while, from its utter hollowness, it proves the utter impotence of the conspirators to defend their Crime.

Sorry, Proslavery Senators. Chuck has had it up to here with you. Painting the Aid Company’s mission as one “of sincere benevolence” which aspired to no fortifications beyond “hotels, shcool-houses, and churches” attended by implements of war such as “saw-mills, tools, and books”, would not fly. Eli Thayer’s effort meant for peaceable settlement of the frontier and not a thing beyond it. To damn them as pauper mercenaries, the dregs of the North, “sacrificed” the “innocent”. Those who walked in Christ’s footsteps in Kansas found themselves “scourged and crucified, while the murderer, Barabbas, with the sympathy of the chief priests, goes at large.”

Left to his own devices, Sumner claimed that he would just dismiss the Apology Infamous with sneering contempt. He aimed to do that, but since he had the Senate there and others took it seriously, he felt obliged to do more. He defended the Emigrant Aid Society as an ordinary benevolent association, just like countless others. Americans joined together to build churches and schools, sell thread, sail ships, and make toys. Voluntarily associations sought

to guard infancy in its weakness old age in its decrepitude, and womanhood in its wretchedness; and now, in all large towns, when death has come, they are buried by organized societies

If “emigrants to another world” could have their places readied by a corporation, then why not emigrants to Kansas? People had come together in common purpose since Antiquity, when Greeks colonized the Mediterranean and then the Romans followed. Every nation of the white world did such things not merely through private office, but under the aegis of the state. Furthermore, Emigrant Aid Companies settled Plymouth, Virginia, and Georgia. Did the proslavery Senators have something against America?

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Sumner conceded that people moving west within the United States usually didn’t have any organization backing them. You got together your money and moved, on your own or with the help of friends and family. “Tens of thousands” went west that way, but they ventured forth “with little knowledge, and without guide or counsel.” To remedy that, and because the fate of freedom hung in the balance, Massachusetts opted for an improvement and chartered the company.

The conspirators against Freedom in Kansas now shook with tremor, real or affected. Their wicked plot was about to fail. To help themselves, they denounced the Emigrant Aid Company; and their denunciations, after finding an echo in the President, have been repeated, with much particularity on this floor

Sumner told a slanted version of events. He denied military organization in Kansas by antislavery forces in the Apology Absurd. Now he doubled down and made the Emigrant Aid Company into a pacific institution of philanthropy. He may have had that technically right, in that the Company itself doesn’t seem to have shipped guns to the territory in its own right, but its agents on their own did that work in parallel and with knowledge of the bosses back home. That notion, Sumner called “absolutely false” and said he had permission from the Company to say so on their behalf. At its most extreme, the Aid Company simply planted capital in Kansas, largely in the form of sawmills, and encouraged men to go chase after it. Eli Thayer’s outfit had more in common with a Bible Society than a paramilitary, to hear Sumner tell it.

The Apology Absurd: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 9

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8Full text

Charles Sumner did not have a high opinion of the defenses that Stephen Douglas and others had for all the injustice and mayhem that had taken place in Kansas. The seizure of the territorial government by force, threats, and massive voter fraud by Missourians entirely disqualified it as a legitimate organization to his mind. But Douglas, Andrew Butler, and other senators defended them all the same. It thus fell to Sumner to pick their defenses apart. First he dismissed the Apology Tyrannical, which held that once governor Andrew Reeder recognized the election results they had to stand. Then he cast aside the Apology Imbecile, where the proslavery senators averred that -whatever happened in Kansas- the Congress and Presidency had no power to intervene.

That brought Sumner to what he called the Apology Absurd

which is indeed, in the nature of a pretext. It is alleged that a small printed pamphlet, containing the “Constitution and Ritual of the Grand Encampment and Regiments of the Kansas Legion,” was taken from the person of one George F. Warren, who attempted to avoid detection by chewing it.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Gentle Readers, I wish I could tell you more of this story. A spot check revealed other references, but only to the bare fact of Warren chowing down. You may remember the Constitution and Ritual from past posts. The Kansas Legion, aka the Kansas Regulators, organized as a paramilitary force to defend antislavery Kansans and occasionally burn down proslavery homesteads. Jacob Branson and Samuel Wood served in it. The Free State leadership denied knowledge or approval, officially. Maybe that passed scrutiny in Washington and among people sympathetic to the cause, but their connection appears more like an open secret in Kansas.

Sumner’s foes argued that the Legion justified harsh measures on the part of proslavery men. They had something like a terrorist organization about and it required dealing with. That position makes perfect sense for a proslavery Missourian or Kansas who equates opposing slavery with incitement to race war. They had to do what they did to save the community from ruin, essentially in self-defense.

To answer that, Sumner first dismissed the Legion as a “poor mummery of a secret society, which existed only on paper.” If it did exist, though, it proposed only to enlist antislavery men to defend the Constitution of the United States. How could any patriotic American object to such a goal?

Secret societies, with their extravagant oaths, are justly offensive; but who can find, in this mistaken machinery, any excuse for the denial of all rights to the people of Kansas? This whole “cock and bull story” never really happened to begin with, but if it did then so what? Sumner dismissed the Apology Absurd with “the derision which triviality and absurdity justly receive.”

 

The Apology Imbecile: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 8

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7Full text

Charles Sumner explained to the Senate what he meant by the Apology Tyrannical: the insistence that whatever happened in Kansas elections, they stood because Andrew Reeder signed off on them. Reeder made a mistake, but since those elections lacked all reasonable legitimacy due to the massive fraud and intimidation campaign that attended them, ratifying his error would only compound it. Even Reeder accepted that now.

This brought Sumner to the Apology Imbecile,

which is founded on the alleged want of power in the President to arrest the Crime. It is openly asserted, that, under the existing laws of the United States, the Chief Magistrate has no authority to interfere in Kansas for this purpose.

Pierce made that claim himself when push came to shove. Sumner began by noting that this defended the state of affairs in Kansas with no more than a shrug. Stuff happens; what can you do? This “ostentatious imbecility” appeared in no other situation. Impotent Pierce had little trouble dispatching a naval vessel to punish “the cannibals of the Fejee islands” for offenses against Americans. Whatever the Fijians did paled before the enormities worked by Americans upon Americans and Franklin Pierce would not have to reach around the world to set things right. He needed only to stand against Slavery.

For that matter, Sumner noted that the Senate received regular news of filibustering efforts set to sail from New York. Given the time and location, Sumner probably means John Quitman’s Cuban junta. The United States had no difficulty stepping in to preserve American neutrality and its honor among nations, so why would it have such trouble policing affairs within its own limit? Even the Slave Power didn’t mind too much when filibustering got shut down.

The pattern could escape no one:

where the Slave Power is indifferent, the President will see that the laws are faithfully executed; but, in other cases, where the interests of Slavery are at stake, he is controlled absolutely by this tyranny, ready at all times to do, or not to do, precisely as it dictates. Therefore it is, that Kansas is left a prey to the Propagandists of Slavery, while the whole Treasury, the Army and Navy of the United States, are lavished to hunt a single slave through the streets of Boston.

Sumner went on to remind the Senate of the enslaved man he had in mind, Anthony Burns. He quoted to the chamber correspondence between the Marshal in charge of Burns’ rendition, including Pierce’s two-sentence order to use the Army and Navy to carry him back to slavery and a note from his personal secretary checking up on the situation the next day. And now people from the President on down, said he could do nothing for the mere territory Kansas over which Washington held unlimited power, despite his easy ability to reach into the heart of Boston with the armed might of the nation to seize a single man. If Pierce honestly believed a word of that, Sumner found him guilty of “not merely imbecility, but idiocy.”

The Apology Tyrannical: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 7

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6Full text

Charles Sumner laid it all out for the Senate: The crime against Kansas admitted no denial, so instead his fellow senators had offered defenses. The Massachusetts Senator broke them down into four categories, the Apologies tyrannical, imbecile, absurd, and infamous. He went from the top:

The Apology tyrannical is founded on the mistaken act of Governor Reeder, in authenticalting the Usurping Legislature, by which it is asserted that, whatever may have been the actual force or fraud in its election, the people of Kansas are effectually concluded, and the whole proceeding is pleaded under the formal sanction of law.

In other words, Kansas’ first governor had the legal power to set aside bad elections and call for new ones, at least until the moment that the territorial legislature assembled at Pawnee. He failed to throw out the whole slate, or enough of it, so the apologists argued that the legislature’s formal legitimacy trumped all. Reeder accepted it and that made the bogus legislature the true government of Kansas, end of story. Congress had no business changing things, just

as the ancient tyrant listened and granted no redress to the human moans that issued from the heated brazen bull, which subtle cruelty had devised, This I call the Apology of technicality and inspired tyranny.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Of course that didn’t mean that Sumner let Reeder off. He criticized the governor for only permitting five days for election complaints to reach him. Reeder erred then and erred in accepting the great majority of the elections as-is. But his endorsement could not make a wrong into a right, “violence and fraud, wherever disclosed, vitiates completely every proceeding.” Furthermore, Sumner admitted that Reeder went to Kansas as Franklin Pierce’s proslavery “tool”. There, the governor’s “simple nature” and Pennsylvania upbringing worked to rouse his conscience to his proper duty. By turning on the legislature and serving the free state movement, Reeder atoned for his past errors.

Something certainly happened with Reeder, and he does come across as a man in over his head. He had no political experience to take with him to Kansas and he did repudiate the territorial government, though most probably he cared far less for slavery than he did for vindicating himself. The free staters came to Reeder, almost literally with his bag in hand and set to depart the territory for good. In exchange for joining them and serving as their spokesman, he demanded that their movement endorse his personal grievances against the legislature.