Big Springs Resolutions, Part Four

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Resolutions: parts 1, 2, 3

James Lane’s condemnation of slavery as bad for whites, even if he saw it as good for blacks, brings us to the end of his platform. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the Big Springs Convention had other resolutions that it deliberately excluded from the platform. These came from the pen of Andrew Reeder, who R.G. Elliott paints as eager to continue his disputes with Franklin Pierce and the Assembly of Kansas. Elliott characterizes these resolutions as “elements too dangerous to be inserted in the platform and too radical to be imposed upon the masses.” One should read the talk of imposition somewhat literally, as in the nineteenth century they very much expected that politicians would as a matter of course vote for measures endorsed in their party platform. Conservatives, Lane included, tried to turn Reeder’s resolutions into something less radical but a majority of members, incensed at the late slave code, backed Reeder all the way.

One expects something remarkable with all Elliott’s preamble. Reeder opened with this:

the body of men who, for the last two months, have been passing laws for the people of our territory, moved, counseled, and dictated to by the demagogues of Missouri, are to us a foreign body, representing only the lawless invaders who elected them, and not the people of the territory; that we repudiate their action as the monstrous consummation of an act of violence, usurpation and fraud unparalleled in the history of the Union, and worthy only of men unfitted for the duties and regardless of the responsibilities of Republicans.

and this:

having, by numerical inferiority and want of preparation, been compelled to succumb to the outrage and oppression of armed and organized bands of citizens of a neighboring state-having been robbed by force of the right of suffrage and self-government, and subjected to a foreign despotism, the more odious and infamous that it involves a violation of compacts with sister states more sacred than solemn treaties, we disown and disavow with scorn and indignation the contemptible and hypocritical mockery of a representative government into which this infamous despotism has been converted.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Both resolutions have a stridency to them largely absent from Lane’s platform, but their radicalism so far seems to come more in matters of tone than content. Lane’s platform implicitly repudiated the bogus legislature, at his insistence and over Elliott’s objections. Reeder simply made that explicit. However, Elliott appears to have occupied a position well to the right of most of the delegates. We might better read his position as seeing the platform as radical to an acceptable, if regrettable, extent. The resolutions went beyond that into gratuitous radicalism. If this initial pair did not cross any lines, Reeder still has five more to go.

Of course, Elliott also wrote this all decades later and expresses considerable remorse at the violence which came to Kansas after the convention. The Elliott of 1855 might not have thought things so far out of hand as the Elliott of 1902. He would hardly originate the art of regretting youthful choices in old age, nor that of retroactively placing himself further on the side his older self identified as that of the angels.

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