Big Springs Resolutions, Part Five

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Resolutions: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

R.G. Elliott told posterity that Andrew Reeder’s resolutions did not meet with his approval at all. He had conservative delegates at Big Springs trying in vain to modify them into something less incendiary. They found that necessary even after the resolutions came from a committee devoted to the production specifically of rhetorical fireworks rather than a party platform. Even in 1902, Elliott resented that the proslavery party ignored that distinction and took Reeder’s work as the free state movement’s manifesto. Yet Reeder’s first two resolutions did little more than restate his case that the proslavery legislature convened illegally, consisted of members elected by fraud, and then generally behaved not so much as Kansas’ territorial government as its occupying authority. Those resolutions do not seem materially more radical than the platform itself.

But Reeder did not end there. He further damned the “miscalled legislature” for their “reckless disregard” of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and other laws

in expelling members whose title to seats was beyond their power to annul, in admitting members who were not elected, and in legislating at an unauthorized place, by their refusal to allow the people to select any of our officers, bu imposing upon us their own appointees down to the most insignificant offices, many of whom were unquestionable residents of Missouri at the time, by leaving us no elections save those prescribed by Congress, and therefore beyond their power to abrogate, and even at these selling the right of suffrage at our ballot-boxes to any non-resident who chooses to buy and pay for it, by compelling us to take an oath to support a United States law invidiously pointed out, by stifling the freedom of speech and of the press, thus usurping a power forbidden to Congress, have trampled under foot the Kansas bill, have defied the power of Congress, libeled the declaration of independence, violated the constitutional bill of rights, and brought contempt and disgrace upon our republican institutions at home and abroad.

That sounds marginally more radical. Lane’s platform confined itself to indicting non-resident voters, leaving the attack on the formally constituted government of Kansas implicit. Reeder saw fit to draw up a list of charges and then took the argument to its logical conclusion:

we owe no allegiance or obedience to the tyrannical enactments of this spurious legislature; that their laws have no validity or binding force upon the people of Kansas, and every free man amongst us is at full liberty, consistently with all his obligations as a citizen and a man, to defy and resist them, if he chooses to do so.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The Lawrence convention had said much the same, but the Lawrence radicals stood generally somewhere to the left of the rest of antislavery Kansas. Elliott and others might have fancied a free state movement that somehow existed beside and then peacefully supplanted the territorial government without collision. People have dreamed of less probable things. By declaring their freedom from the legislature’s laws, the antislavery party set themselves up as something more like an antagonistic opposite than a preferred alternative.

Did that distinction make a real difference? Surely not to proslavery Kansans, who committed themselves to purging the territory well before anybody met at Big Springs. It probably did matter to the Kansans who had serious doubts about this wildcat government, though. From a certain perspective, which did not require proslavery beliefs to hold, the free state movement looked very much like an insurrection in the making. An insurrection, in turn, would make available means of suppression otherwise controversial. The proslavery men already had a violent streak a mile wide, but their acts of terror heretofore involved only local elements and freelance violence. An actual rebellion might give Franklin Pierce cause to unleash the United States Army against them.


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