Jim Lane’s Moderation

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The Lawrence Convention of August 14 and 15, 1855, had virtually every prominent free state man in Kansas put in an appearance. They elected their officers, made a few speeches, and got to work. For a nineteenth century mass meeting, this meant producing resolutions for publication.

But not everyone rushed to the revolutionary banner. As George W. Brown reported in his Herald of Freedom for August 18, they had disagreements amongst themselves. One of particular note came in the afternoon session, when a Colonel James H. Lane spoke.

Lane rose to make a curious argument to a decidedly put-upon minority, albeit one far too common:

If I believed a prayer from me, for you, would do any good, it would be that you might be imbued with the wisdom of Solomon, the caution of Washington, and the justice of Franklin. I am glad to see so many here this inclement day. It requires wisdom-it requires manhood to restrain passion. I say it as a citizen fo Kansas, I wish we had wisdom to-day. There is the existence of a nation hanging upon the action of the citizens of Kansas. Moderation, moderation, moderation, gentlemen!

What would moderation even mean at this point? Doubtless well aware that his reputation preceded him, Lane had to deal with it if he expected anybody to take his advice seriously:

It is represented that I came to Kansas to retrieve my political fortunes; but gentlemen should know that I was urgently solicited to be a candidate for another term to Congress, but I positively declined. I would vote for the Kansas-Nebraska bill again. I desire Kansas to be a free state. I desire to act with my brethren, but not in a manner to arouse the passions of the people of other States. It would not repudiate the Legislature, but the acts of that Legislature which contravene the right of popular sovereignty.

But James Lane had voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He then represented Indiana in the House. I would not take his protests that people wanted him to run for Congress again too seriously, considering the beating he and his fellow Democrats in the North took for their votes. Only seven Democrats who, like Lane, voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act and represented the North retained their seats. One can’t blame a calculating man for not wanting to run those odds.

Lane came to Kansas and immediately set about organizing a Democratic party. This drew opprobrium from the previous Lawrence convention. Alice Nichols quotes him in Bleeding Kansas as equally willing to “buy a nigger as a mule.” Only when he learned that Kansas would probably not become a slave state, if her people had any say, did he change sides. One should keep in mind that moderation, of whatever form one could find in a time when the mere existence of free soil Kansans aroused the passions of both proslavery Kansans and Missourians, would give him fewer difficulties in a revived political career.

The appeal for moderation went over about as well as Lane’s attempts to get the Kansas Democratic Party going. Brown reports:

The President was loudly called for and replied to the remarks of Col. Lane. The sheet containing his and perhaps other remarks, was mislaid or lost.

Mr. Bronson made some very pointed remarks by way of a rejoined, to the last speaker, which was loudly cheered.

I wish we had those remarks, but we work with the sources we have. Lane asked the free state movement to discard the strategy they had developed over the past summer. Furthermore, if he stood on the Kansas-Nebraska Act then his embrace of a legislature that owed its membership to massive election fraud seems decidedly perverse. He would soon decide that this moderation suited neither Kansas nor Jim Lane.

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