The Lawrence Convention: Resolutions, Part One

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

The free state men in Kansas had a problem: The proslavery men hijacked their territorial government and, by the letter of the law, had their seats in the legislature fair and square. They broke the law to get there, but did constitute the legal legislature of Kansas. The residents of Lawrence thus called together a convention to discuss how they should respond to the problem. The body to meet in Pawnee just a week after they did consisted of Missourians and Missourians’ anointed candidates, thoroughly committed to an enslaved Kansas and thoroughly hostile to any real or imagined abolitionists. It did not represent a majority of Kansans. What could they do? The Lawrence Convention, which included some of the free state minority who would head off to Pawnee the next week, had some ideas.

They declared themselves in favor of a free Kansas and

urge upon the people of Kansas to throw away all minor differences and issues, and made the freedom of Kansas the only issue.

No Democrats, no Republicans, no leftover Whigs for Kansas. The politics of the territory should and would hinge entirely upon the slavery question.

we claim no right to meddle with the affairs of the people of Missouri, or any other State, but that we claim the right to regulate our own domestic affairs

On first read, that might look like a simple disclaimer to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the Missourian filibusters who controlled Kansas’ elections did so on the grounds that Kansas, abolitionized, would serve as a base for the underground railroad and potentially for actual raids into Missouri to steal slaves. The free state men did articulate a consistently principled position, but the resolution also demonstrates an understanding of Missourian concerns and at least a rhetorical attempt to defuse them. They would make themselves good neighbors to slavery of the Missourians could extend the same courtesy to freedom.

we look upon the conduct of a portion of the people of Missouri, in the late Kansas election as a gross outrage upon the elective franchise and our rights as freemen, and a violation of the principles of popular sovereignty; and inasmuch as many of the members of the present Legislature are men who owe their election to a combined system of force and fraud, we do not feel bound to obey any law of their enacting.

This took things a step farther. The free state men had called the legislature illegitimate, and would eventually settle on terming it the bogus legislature, but now resolved that a bogus legislature amounted to no legislature at all. It had no authority over them, whatever its legitimate legal forms, due to its fundamentally illegitimate constitution.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Such a resolution at least flirted with revolution. If the free state party did not recognize the authority of the legal legislature then what authority did they recognize as governing the territory? Andrew Reeder would make for a poor figurehead, as he seems still resolved to carry out his official duties. Those would require him to work with the legislature.

What about the eleven free state men who would have seats at Pawnee, at least for a few days? As some of them attended the convention and one, John Wakefield, chaired it, they had a suggestion:

Resolved, That the legally elected members of the present Legislature be requested, as good and patriot citizens of Kansas, to resign and repudiate the fraud.

Their very presence in the company of the others granted the latter legitimacy. For them to resign as a group would demonstrate thoroughly that the free state party had nothing to do with the bogus legislature and give further rhetorical cover to resisting its laws.

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