Big Springs Resolutions, Part One

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Big Springs Convention Proceedings: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The Big Springs Convention decided on nominating Andrew Reeder for delegate to Congress. They, despite initial reluctance on the part of some, signed themselves up for the Lawrence radicals’ plan to create their own government. They nigh-unanimously committed themselves to keeping black Americans out of Kansas. But a nineteenth century mass meeting had to have its resolutions. The resolutions on the platform, the work of James Lane’s committee, constituted a proper manifesto which the convention-goers considered binding on the party as a whole. Other resolutions, reported out of a separate committee and authored by Andrew Reeder, came as the price of involving Reeder in the movement and, the convention hoped, readers would understand them as more polemic than policy. R.G. Elliott further adds that Reeder intended those resolutions as a way for him to defend himself against the various attacks on his land speculations and disputes with the legislature.

Elliott’s article includes what look like the complete texts of both sets of resolutions in a rather long footnote. Lane’s platform begins in classic big tent form, articulating the by now canonical grievances against the proslavery party’s election stealing and otherwise tyrannical attack on white male liberties. It then proceeds to the urgency of unity among Kansas disparate antislavery groups:

setting aside all the minor issues of partizan politics, it is incumbent upon us to proffer an organization calculated to recover out dearest rights, and into which Democrats and Whigs, native and naturalized citizens, may freely enter without any sacrifice of their respective political creeds, but without forcing them as a test upon others.

The free state movement declared itself an antislavery party for Kansas and nothing more. While Kansas had no issue save the slavery question, they would remain so. But the resolution foresaw a time when the state of Kansas would have its institutions settled. Then Lane foresaw the movement disbanding back into its constituent parts and resuming politics as usual. By expressing their unity in such a contingent manner, Lane emphasized how the movement understood themselves as forced together by necessity and thus, in a sense, their own thing that arose out of the particular circumstances in Kansas and in reaction to the abuses of the border ruffians and their Kansan compatriots. They had nothing to do with antislavery movements in other states:

the stale and ridiculous charge of abolitionism, so industriously imputed to the free-state party, and so pertinaciously adhered to, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, is without a shadow of truth to support it; and that it is not more apparent to ourselves than it is to our opponents, who use it as a term of reproach to bring odium upon us, pretending to believe in its truth and hoping to frighten from our ranks the weak and timid, who are more willing to desert their principles than they are to stand up under persecution and abuse with a consciousness of right.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Lane’s platform continued with another concession that, while also made by the conventions in Lawrence, had to rankle the more committed abolitionists in their number:

we will discountenance and denounce any attempt to encroach upon the constitutional rights of the people of any state, or to interfere with their slaves, conceding to their citizens the right to regulate their own institutions and to hold and recover their slaves, without any molestation or obstruction from the people of Kansas.

Few abolitionists ever proposed to raid into the South and steal slaves away to freedom, but probably none would have happily committed themselves to permitting the recovery of slaves who stole themselves from free soil. While they surely inflated their exploits after the war rendered them the heroes of the day, plenty considered it a point of honor to help runaways who made it to their doorsteps. Here they agreed, at least for the moment, to abide by even the odious Fugitive Slave Act.

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