The Lawrence Convention: Resolutions, Part Two

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

We left the Lawrence convention of free state Kansans with its grievance stated and its first few resolutions. These addressed fellow Kansans, urging them to set aside other issues and unite on the slavery question, but also struck a conciliatory note toward the Missourians who might invade to stop them by pledging that they had no designs to meddle with the Show Me State’s slavery. For matters within Kansas bounds, the convention had less conciliation in mind and more resistance. They did not and would not view the bogus legislature as a legitimate body and thus would not feel any obligation to follow its laws. Legally elected members should resign their posts to emphasize that and further deny the legislature to meet in Pawnee its legitimacy.

They did had more still to say. If the Missourians would not accept Kansas for the Kansans

in reply to the threats of war so frequently made in our neighboring State, our answer is, WE ARE READY.

Bring it on, Missouri. At this point they adopt a course reaching beyond mere passive resistance. The free state men declared themselves ready to fight. As resolutions themselves don’t shoot guns or throw punches, they laid out a more affirmative program:

Kansas has a right to, and does hereby invoke the aid of the general government against the lawless course of the slavery propaganda with reference to this Territory.

I don’t know what they expected Franklin Pierce and his very southern cabinet to do, even if they somehow prodded him to action without Jefferson Davis there to twist his arm. But they did try. If they flirted with revolution in declaring themselves unbound by territorial law, then they also reached out through more official channels for help. Maybe they only meant to give cover to their resistance, falling back on the claim that they had tried to do things the proper way and found the government deaf to their pleas. But if Pierce did stir himself to beneficial action, so much the better.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

That said, nobody waited on the president. The free staters set themselves to organization building:

a Free State Central Committee be appointed, and that each election district shall be entitled to one member, and each district having two councilmen, shall be entitled to two members.

This committee might have come out of the resolutions meant as the nucleus of a political party, but it could easily transform itself into more. The proslavery party had its blue lodges in Missouri from the very start, but their opponents could build organs in Kansas itself to work through.

More than the convention-goers recognized the potential for such an organization. This notice ran immediately beneath the resolutions in the June 30 Herald of Freedom:

We regret to learn that measures were taken by a few persons on Wednesday evening last, to organize the Democratic party in this Territory. Such a movement can result in no good to any one, but may do much damage. There is but one issue pending in Kansas, and that issue must be settled before others are precipitated upon us. The movement looks to us like an effort to suppress the public will, and we hope it will not be successful.

While Democrats might have a passively proslavery ideology, that did not make every Democrat a slavery enthusiast. Nor did every free state man in Kansas feel a paramount commitment to the cause. The organization of a separate party, especially the Democrats, presented a significant risk. They might very well siphon off a fair number of presently free state men and take them back closer to the national mainstream.

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