The Kansas Slave Code, Part Three

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Parts 1 and 2

Acts of the Bogus Legislature:

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Greeley’s pamphlet

The Assembly of Kansas had busied itself in writing a remarkably thorough code of laws to suppress antislavery activity and to preserve slavery in the territory’s bounds. They, in the words of Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas, made a territory where Kansans

could be jailed for reading a paper of free-soil sentiment; they could lose their vote by refusing to take the oath supporting the Fugitive Slave Law, their property for questioning the right of slaveholding, and their lives for aiding a slave to escape.

The test oaths that the bogus legislature preferred demanded fealty to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or rather their selective interpretation of it. Greeley highlights one stark contradiction in particular, in a law governing writs of habeas corpus:

No negro or mulatto, held as a slave within this Territory, or lawfully arrested as a fugitive from service from another State of Territory, shall be discharged, nor shall his right of freedom be had under the provisions of this act.

This ancient freedom, the great writ itself, did not extend to any slave. If it did, then slaves might petition for relief on the grounds of their wrongful imprisonment. Such devices had freed fugitives in the North. The proslavery men could not allow that, even if their grandfathers had written habeas corpus into the original Constitution. The right which secured all others could not extend to people who deserved no rights.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Greeley went back into the Kansas-Nebraska Act and shared what it said on the subject with his readers:

Except also that a writ of error or appeal shall also be allowed to the Supreme Court of the United States, from the decision of the said supreme court created by this act, or of any judge thereof, or of the district courts created by this act, or any judge thereof, upon any writ of habeas, involving the question of personal freedom.

That section of the law, like the one requiring voters to actually reside in Kansas, went right out the window. With it, at least on paper, went the last hope of freedom even on the most personal scale for black Americans in Kansas.

Across the border in Missouri, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow looked on the work of his brother John, Speaker of the House, and others with great admiration. One can imagine him rubbing his hands in delight like the black-caped villain of the proverbial silent movie did as he put the screaming woman down on the train tracks. Such comic fancies aside, he felt quite proud enough to boast of his movement’s success to the Montgomery, Alabama Register, as Nichols relates:

They now have laws more efficient to protect slave property than any State in the Union.l These laws have just taken effect, and have already silenced the Abolitionists; for, in spite of their heretofore boasting, they know they will be enforced to the very letter and with utmost vigor. Not only is it profitable for slave holders to go to Kansas, but politically it is all-important.

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