Republicanism in Kansas, and in Jim Lane

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Charles Stearns wanted everybody to know that they should disregard the supposed Anti-Abolition free state ticket in the January elections. Its advocates used to be for abolition, but changed their minds and swung right. He left it to implication that they did so for base and venal reasons. But in swinging right to oppose the main free state slate, the Anti-Abolition men went further. Their opposition, after all, included a heterodox collection of National Democrats, Whigs, Republicans, National Sovereignty, and Squatter Sovereignty types. They hailed from states North and South. They had voted to keep free blacks as well as slaves out of Kansas. Little united them save their opposition to slavery in Kansas, and even that common cause rested on a tangle of meaningful contradictions. Most notably, while many free state men opposed slavery itself, others would have accepted it if only Kansans had the chance to settle the issue for themselves and only crossed over after repeated Missouri-based interventions.

The platform of the other dissenting free state ticket, Young America, appear even more opaque. They wanted the same men to hold the same offices as the free state convention had agreed to, but with two revisions. While both tickets insisted that some men they aimed to replace had withdrawn fro the election, the Young Americans particularly stressed it. Their name suggests a strong Democratic alignment, which their contemporaries could not have missed. Young America, in the middle nineteenth century, stood for an aggressive, expansionist United States. The nation might spread through wars or the exploits of filibusters like William Walker and John A. Quitman, but it would expand and so bring freedom to a waiting world.

If the Young Americans had a point beyond that their men wanted offices badly enough to split from the free state party to do it, then they might have seen the groundwork laid for a development unfolding very before after the January 15, 1856 election that rejected their nominees. George Brown’s Herald of Freedom for January 19, reports that on Saturday last (January 12, the date of his previous edition)

The great Republican party of the North, whose battle cry is “No more Slave States,” with whose political success the material welfare of Kansas and all our hopes for an immediate admission are inseparably united, was organized in this city […] at a large and enthusiastic mass meeting

This did represent a change from past the past strategy of claiming no party but antislavery for Kansas, but it can’t have surprised many. Prominent free state leaders had identified with the Republicans for some time, if by no means all of them, and the GOP had taken in dissenting Democrats. That didn’t mean they forgot their old politics on issues aside slavery, but by the start of 1856 they had to know that a place existed for them in the new coalition. The party of no new slave states and the party of no slave state of Kansas would naturally run together.

Brown notes the platform emphatically endorsed Congress’ power over slavery in the territories. James Lane, among others, endorsed it. These men

all National democrats-endorsed the platform as reported, and thus repudiated Squatter Sovereignty the cardinal doctrine of the “National” Democracy! -Kansas evidently is a healthy climate for the mind as well as body!

Brown used the occasion to remind his readers of Lane’s dubious history. He came to Kansas after having voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Once there, he tried to set up a Kansas Democracy. By accepting the creed of congressional power to decided slavery for the territories, he had come a long way indeed.

 

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