Big Springs Resolutions, Part Six

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Resolutions: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

If Andrew Reeder’s resolutions, which R.G. Elliott insisted we not think of as the free state party’s platform, verged on advocating open rebellion against the formally lawful government of Kansas, then Reeder knew the risk. He might not have been around the political block many times, but he noticed that. Thus immediately after declaring that free state men would not consider themselves bound by the legislature’s enactments, which itself came on the heels of declaring the same legislature no legislature at all, he drew back a small measure. He promised that the free soilers would resist “primarily” by legal means. Given how things had gone in Kansas up to that point, one can’t fault him too much for the qualifier.

However, that forbearance went only so far. Specifically

until we can elect our representatives and sweep [the proslavery laws of the bogus legislature] from the statute-book; and that as the majority of our supreme court have so far forgotten their official duty, have so far cast off the honor of the lawyer and the dignity of the judge, as to enter with the judicial ermine into a partizan [sic] contest, and by an extrajudicial decision given opinions in violation of all propriety, have prejudged our case before we could be heard, and have pledged themselves to these outlaws in advance to decide in their favor, we will therefore take measures to carry the question of the validity of these laws to a higher tribunal, where judges are unpledged and dispassionate, where the law will be administered in its purity, and where we can at least have the hearing before decision.

Per Reeder, the antislavery party would behave itself until it had its own rival government constructed. That government would then strike down the Kansas slave code and other enactments of the present legislature. If the Kansas Supreme Court, which had ruled against Reeder on locating the seat of government, got in the way, then they would appeal to the Taney Court.

One could read this as a very thorough pledge of restraint. On paper, it looks like Reeder said that they would be good citizens right through achieving all their goals. But by reserving the right to act violently thereafter, Reeder might have anticipated a proslavery rump trying the same thing as they had. If antislavery men could create their own government and declare it the sole legitimate authority in Kansas, then so could their opposites. The moderation comes especially qualified in light of the next resolution:

we will endure and submit to these laws no longer than the best interests of the territory require, as the least of two evils, and will resist them to a bloody issue as soon as we ascertain that peaceable remedies shall fail and forcible resistance shall furnish any reasonable prospect of success; and that, in the meantime, we recommend to our friends throughout the territory the organization and discipline of volunteer companies and the procurement and preparation of arms.

It took a while, but we come at least to something that R.G. Elliott could fairly see as dangerously radical, both then and in hindsight. He titled his section on the resolutions after the bloody issue phrasing. He had this to say about them:

“Resistance to a bloody issue” gave a crimson color in the eyes of the adversaries of the state movement. The phrase was echoed in derision from the halls of Congress; and in the Fremont campaign, Kansas being the paramount issue, the convincing story of her wrongs was offset by the charge of insurrection, and the grossest outrages of the pro-slavery party were condoned by these resolutions.

One gets the sense that Elliot saw this as the point of no return. He might have had it right, but I suspect that given the proslavery party’s prior and enthusiastic commitment to violence they hardly required rhetorical justification from their foes. We know from reports of the Lawrence Fourth of July that the antislavery party already had at least a few bands of militia organized which could equally well have supplied whatever excuses their enemies wanted by simply existing.

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