The Topeka Convention

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

George Washington Brown published C. Stearns’ sometimes insulting, sometimes confused, and sometimes practical dissent from the free state party’s move to establish their own government for Kansas. I learned of it from Brown’s declaration, on a different page of the same paper. There Brown tells his readers that he planned to reply to Stearns fully but the business of the Topeka Convention had him out of town and then returned full of news that took precedence. He promised an answer in a later issue. I have run through most of the Herald of Freedom for October and not found it. I suspect events overtook Brown and Stearns’ letter seemed less important as time passed.  The search brought to light some other incidents of interest, but they will wait for now. I do my best to keep things chronological here and the next significant event for the Free State party comes with their convention at Topeka on September 19 and 20, 1855.

Yes, another convention. R.G. Elliott reported on a whole slew of public meetings preparatory to the Big Springs convention. Organizing movements takes a great deal of work and people in the 1850s couldn’t do anything by phone or email. These preliminaries seem the norm rather than the exception.

Like Big Springs, and unlike some other gatherings, the convocation at Topeka represented another step forward for antislavery Kansans. They had agreed to support a statehood movement at Big Springs, but that convention properly concerned itself with organizing their party. Thereafter, the free state men had a party not just in the sense of sharing an interest and acting together in those ends, but also in the proper sense of an organization with recognized leadership. At Big Springs, they adopted a platform to establish a government of their own, write their own constitution, and petition for admission into the Union. They did not go forward and actually write the constitution or implement some kind of provisional government until they could.

At Topeka, the free state men aimed to turn their party agreement into an agreement by Kansans in general that they should have a constitution. This does make it a preparatory gathering, but one somewhat more advanced and involved than previous occasions.

George W. Brown came to Topeka as a delegate. His reporting on events there helped crowd out any answer to C. Stearns. But that reporting included an implied rebuff of unorthodox antislavery men like Stearns all the same:

The people have decided in favor of forming a State Government, and no free State man will now hesitate as to his duty. We must be united, and pull together. To attempt to frustrate the movement will be throwing obstacles in the way, which it will require labor, demanded in another sphere, to remove.

This emphasis on unity, a frequent feature of Brown’s reports on antislavery activity, testifies that the party did not have the preferred degree of unanimity. The editor turned delegate admits as much:

Differences of opinion were entertained by delegates. – Some were their [sic] instructed to oppose the formation of a State government, but a majority of the Convention decided in favor of the movement; the small minority waved their objections, and joined heartily and with much enthusiasm with the majority. As must be the case in all deliberative bodies, as soon as the minority saw that they were not in the ascendant, they gracefully lent their energies in perfecting the arrangements of the majority.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

And if you didn’t want to take Brown’s word for it, he then published the proceedings of the convention for all to see. The perfection of their work would, naturally, convince all that it came from a party of a singular purpose. In time, it would delight Washington. Congress would rush to embrace a free Kansas. Franklin Pierce would sign with relief at having the matter taken from his hands. More settlers would come. Peace and prosperity would reign. If Missouri tried something, Kansas would raise an army against them.

What could possibly go wrong?

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