We left the Big Springs Convention on a decidedly low note: ninety-nine votes to one approval of a constitutional ban on allowing black Americans into their free state of Kansas. George W. Brown spent a long paragraph condemning the measure, but he knew all too well that such laws had passed in other western states. He opposed them when back East, but in the end accepted that he and others could only expect so much from an antislavery movement chiefly concerned with the peculiar institution’s negative effect upon whites. In that he made the same calculation that many had, including a homely failed politician who had taken pains to never set himself openly against the racism of his fellow Illinoisans.
That Brown made this calculation becomes evident immediately thereafter:
A determination was apparent with every delegate to the convention that the Free State party should unite. Division, it was evident, was defeat. A united front was victory. The result of that day’s procedure will be felt for ages. – The union and harmony which finally characterized the proceedings will give to the American galaxy another star, which will ultimately be the brightest in the constellation-one which will not be dimmed in the least by the foul stain of slavery.
Principles can get in the way of successful politics, even if one hopes that the desire to do politics flows from the principles. While Brown could only hope that unity would bring victory, he didn’t need to speculate as to what the proslavery party would do if faced only by divided, ineffective opposition. He could just look outside.
Building an alternative politics for Kansas required a candidates to run for office just as much as it did resolutions, platforms, and conventions. The thirty-third Congress had ended its term back in March. The thirty-fourth would convene starting in December. That meant Kansas would have to elect a new delegate. For that job, the free state movement had in mind their first martyr of national standing: Andrew Reeder.
When the nomination was made by acclamation it seemed as if the heavens were vocal with applause; and Governor Reeder’s appearance on the stand, in answer to the long and repeated calls, was received with the most boisterous shouts of satisfaction. Had a General returned in triumph from the battle-field, bearing the trophies of a thousand victories, he could not have been greeted with a more hearty welcome than was extended to him on this occasion.
Reeder gave a good speech, which Brown called “replete with important ideas” and “every word had a meaning.” The crowd ate it up. The Herald of Freedom does not include Reeder’s words in full, due again to Brown’s shoulder, but he fully appreciated the significance of choosing the deposed governor:
We expressed a wish that Frank Pierce could have looked out upon that collection of “squatter sovereigns,” and seen the man he had attempted to put down, and the manner the PEOPLE were disposed to take him up. Frank Pierce, with the nation at his heels, was never as popular or so deeply enshrined in the affections of the people, as is our own late Chief Magistrate, in the hearts of the American people.
The Free State Party had its convention, yet again, but now it also had a candidate to rally around. But they had still more divisions to resolve before they concluded their work that September day.