An Antislavery Dissent, Part Two

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

We left C. Stearns in the pages of the September 22 Herald of Freedom telling us that not every antislavery Kansan went all out for the radicals’ plan to make their own government and strike at once for statehood. To bolster his credibility as a genuine free soil man, Stearns quoted a letter he had from a friend in Boston. If a Boston lawyer, who Stearns left anonymous, could not sign on from the safety of Massachusetts, then surely antislavery men in Kansas could voice their strong opposition.

Stearns continued, in his own voice, to explain the problem facing the free state movement. After telling a folksy anecdote about a guinea (the English coin, not the adorable rodent) blocking the view of a man who opposed reform, he explained

It is not always guineas that prevent men from seeing the truth, but sometimes it is the American’s other ruling passion, viz: love of office.

I trust that your readers will not consider that in my opinion, if fewer persons here were seeking for office we should hear less about a State Constitution than we do now. If any person takes offense at this remark, he will prove himself the identical office-seeker in question.

One hears this kind of argument a great deal. People who object to injustices are simply grandstanding for their own gain. Just look how many have political aspirations for themselves. One would never expect any kind of natural overlap between the politically ambitious and the leadership of political movements. With this argument one can indict any movement on behalf of any cause. All human endeavors will attract their share of the self-aggrandizing. The free state movement had one in James Lane and probably others. Not satisfied with that, Stearns happily went on to declare that anybody disagreeing with his accusations of bad faith simply proved them true.

Insult posing as argument out of the way, Stearns proceeded to more substantive charges. He argued that

it is extremely foolish to talk of forming a State Constitution, as we would write a newspaper article or make a stump speech. I question whether a year would be time enough to form such a Constitution as the wants of the age would require. We must go about such a measure free from all excitement, and with the utmost deliberation. The very short time left for us between the first of October, and the session of Congress, would hardly suffice to elect delegates.

I can’t argue much with the plea for deliberation in crafting something so weighty as a constitution, but what Kansas did C. Stearns live in? His opponents had not accepted delay, but struck early and often. It gained them much, however thoroughly it alienated most Kansans. Proceeding in haste might have its own risks, and the delegate election would come before a constitutional convention could assemble, but patience and restraint had poorly served Kansas’ antislavery party to date.

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