Jim Lane’s Purity

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The free state party met in convention at Lawrence, Kansas on August 14 and 15, 1855. The first day saw the reading of proposed resolutions and debate over them. Despite their shared revulsion at the proslavery part’s impositions by fraud, intimidation, and violence over them, they did not all agree on the best course of action. Aside the split between abolitionists and antislavery men, they differed on practical strategy, the wisdom of writing a constitution at a party meeting, organizing military companies, and whether or not the entire effort had any point if they continued as they ad. No amount of resolutions and indignation had yet freed Kansas from proslavery domination. But they could all agree that they opposed slavery in Kansas, right?

Over the night of the fourteenth, the free state men did resolve many of their differences. At least one problem remained, however. Not everyone believed that newcomer James Lane, a former congressman from Indiana who voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, spent the summer trying to organize a Democratic party, and appeared to only sign on to the free state movement when he realized most Kansans either hated slavery or hated proslavery men, really belonged among them. This came up Wednesday morning, when discussing whether or not the convention should go ahead with writing a constitution for Kansas then and there or call for a separate constitutional convention. Lane rose to speak on the subject, giving

assurances that Attorney General Cushing and President Pierce were as anxious to make Kansas a free State as any of us. “I will say more: Frank Pierce would give his right arm to-day, to insure freedom to this Territory.” He differed as to the propriety of this resolution, and would vote against it, but he had not said anything in favor of sanctioning the acts of of this Legislature; but he would go for resisting to the last extremity every enactment of that body which would be in violation of the constitution and the organic law.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Lane clearly wanted it both ways. He agreed with the free state movement and would resist with them, but not quite like this. Furthermore, he knew that the White House supported them. An anachronistic peer might have inquired as to how much of what one had to smoke to gain such knowledge. Everybody knew that “Frank” Pierce had just fired Andrew Reeder for, official explanation aside, the governor’s fidelity to the stated aim of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

A Mr. Foster rose to name to the leavings of the male bovine:

Mr. Foster reviewed the position of Mr. Lane, and said within ten days Mr. lane had declared, on certain conditions he was in favor of making Kansas a slave State. (Mr. Lane begged leave to correct the gentleman, which he did, concluding by stating that he would prefer to see Kansas a slave State in preference to seeing it an abolition State.) Mr. Foster said he would not push his charge against the gentleman further, as he was satisfied to leave the explanation with the convention.

One wonders how much good Lane’s “correction” did him. Calling on the revulsion of abolitionists at a free state meeting makes good nineteenth century sense, as most who opposed slavery’s expansion viewed them as dangerous fanatics, but it seems a strange way to establish one’s antislavery bona fides. The Herald of Freedom, regrettably, does not give the conditions under which Lane would accept a slave Kansas.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Lane might have persuaded the convention that he really did oppose slavery in Kansas all along. He might have argued against the methods of the proslavery men rather than slavery qua slavery. Either position would have spoken for other men present. Regardless, the Herald of Freedom drops the matter so presumably Lane’s purity did not constitute a deal breaker for the assembly.

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