Big Springs Resolutions, Part Two

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

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

At Big Springs, the free state movement endorsed James Lane’s platform denying that they had anything to do with abolitionists and promising that they wanted slavery out of Kansas and Kansas alone, accepting the right of other places to decide for slavery just as they decided against it. They further committed themselves to aiding in the recovery of slaves who stole themselves into Kansas. They came together despite their natural partisan inclinations, combining against the imposition of slavery upon them alone and with the expectation that they would part company once Kansas had rendered its verdict. Of course, that meant that Kansans had to decide for Kansas and thus:

we will oppose and resist all non-resident voters at our polls, whether from Missouri or elsewhere, as a gross violation of our rights and a virtual disfranchisement of our citizens.

Lane’s condemnation could include new voters brought in by the Emigrant Aid Society, some of whom had come with intent to stay but then found Kansas not the promised land of milk and honey. In leaving, they retroactively made themselves into a kind of antislavery filibuster. But then one could only know that in after the fact, whereas the Missourians had made it clear from the start that most of them had no intention of remaining within Kansas.

The language of resistance should naturally be read in light of the violent seizure of past polls, but free soil resistance had heretofore confined itself to the field of rhetoric. If necessary, Lane’s resolution could expand that resistance to include military companies such as the one that Samuel Wood led and had featured into the Lawrence Fourth of July festivities. They had their rights as white American men to protect.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The quest to build a big tent movement required many concessions which some antislavery men would bear only reluctantly, such as Lane’s proposed black law:

The the best interests of Kansas require a population of free white man, and that in the state organization we are in favor of stringent laws excluding all negroes, bond or free, from the territory. That nevertheless such measures shall not be regarded as a test of party orthodoxy.

I know I’ve talked about this provision before, but Lane wrote it into the platform. However, the final sentence gave some leeway to the less committed racists. Men like George W. Brown could condemn the resolution and remain members in good standing of the party, despite its including in the platform and the generally mandatory nature of such affirmations. I don’t have the sources to say this with confidence, but the measure reads like one that came originally without the proviso and received it in the course of deliberations.

The black law’s proponents could naturally point to their measure as one sure to keep slavery from Kansas. Likewise they could calm fears that blacks required slavery to prevent them from becoming horrid menaces to society. Neither would present any problem in a Kansas free from black Americans. But what of the enslaved people already in Kansas? Lane had a resolution for that too:

we will consent to any fair and reasonable provision in regard to the slaves already in the territory, which shall protect the masters against injustice and total loss.

In short, the free state party would consider some form of compensated, gradual emancipation as had been undertaken in the northern states between the 1780s and 1804. Thus Kansas’ resident slaveholders need not fear for their investment in lives. If they wished to remain, they could recoup at least some of their capital. Or they could take the far easier route and sell their human property across the line in Missouri. Many northern slaveholders had opted for that strategy as days of emancipation drew near, even in defiance of laws to the contrary.

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