More resolutions and another convention

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The free soil men of Kansas got together at Lawrence. They resolved differences amongst themselves, approved a protest to send along to Washington, and published a set of resolutions. Along the way, they also considered the questionable loyalty of James Lane to their cause. I don’t know that they resolved the last question all that well in their own minds, but apparently not enough doubted him to consider excluding him from their or future proceedings.

But the antislavery party still had some division. A General Pomeroy

being loudly called for took the stand, and thought the time had not arrived for forming a State government. He was not without hope of the new Governor. He thought it possible our best hopes might be realized. Let us not embarrass the new powers.   I believe there is yet light, though all now is dark as night. I have just come from the East, and have traveled through the free West, and I know that a determined and firm course will meet with the support of every freeman in the nation, and many of the best men of the South.

Surely the better angels of their countrymen’s natures had to come to the fore eventually. Every other kind had put in an appearance. Quite how Pomeroy thought that Franklin Pierce would appoint an impartial or antislavery governor, I can’t say. Even Lane, who had just pledged that Pierce would do right by them, didn’t suggest that much. He rose to speak against Pomeroy.

But for the moment, the free soilers showed their commitment to precedent. They would not undertake to write a constitution at their convention. They would go so far as resolutions and speeches, including endorsing their previous Lawrence convention and its resolutions, but no farther.

At this point, men like Cyrus Holliday must have deprived their barbers of some business. The convention had done just what its predecessor and every other free state gathering had done. When would they get the lead out and take action? Did they convene to any end other than to commiserate and express their righteous indignation?

Well, yes. The Herald of Freedom reports

Allusion was made to a Free State Delegate Convention, called at Big Springs, on the 25th of September next. The bills were exhibited, and the movers for that Convention-several of whom were present-expressed a desire that there should be a union of effort of all Free State men, and hoped that those in attendance at this Convention would act in concert with that.

The convention voted through a unanimous resolution to that effect.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

It bears noting that, despite an overlap in attendance, the Big Springs gathering did not flow from the Lawrence convention. The movement arose independently. In Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, Nichole Etcheson explains:

By doing so, the New Englanders joined forces with westerners who, in what they called the Sand Bank convention, had called for the convention at Big Springs. One a sand bank of the Kansas River, some Lawrence men had held an impromptu gathering on July 17, 1855. Worried that Charles Robinson’s July 4 oration had been too extreme, they chose Big Springs […] Fifteen miles west of Lawrence, it was a convenient distance from the extremists there.

Despite others echoing it now and then, not everybody cared for Robinson’s rhetoric about white men enslaved, or bought his questionable assertion that he had not come among them to preach his abolitionism. But if they hoped to succeed, the free state men could not spend all their time fighting one another. It might very well come to nothing but another gathering, but at least the convention’s members had gone beyond suggesting the formation of a free state movement amongst themselves and taken an affirmative step toward building one.

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