Governor Robinson preaches forbearance

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Kansas had a free state government seated at Topeka. Its members, sober or otherwise, now had the task of organizing a state ahead of them. Their governor, Charles Robinson, came to a joint session of the legislature at five o’clock on March 4, 1856, and received (PDF) “three hearty cheers”. He took his oath of office and made some introductory remarks. The antislavery Kansans had a big job ahead of them, with the eyes the whole territory looking on. The people would want “wise and wholesome laws and faithful administration of the Government”. But the wildcat governor knew that his wildcat government occupied a “peculiar” position in that the President of the United States had declared it illegal and treasonable. The Kansas-Nebraska Act might have promised the Kansans and Nebraskans a free hand, but neither the Missourians nor Franklin Pierce cared to see any such thing happen:

some of the people of an adjoining State unite with the President in opposing the people of Kansas in forming and regulating their own Government, and threaten our destruction if we do not conform to their dictation. Should the course indicated by the President and the people of another State be persisted in, and our rights again be trampled in the dust by official interference or lawless invasions, the people would be justified before the civilized world in asserting their rights by revolution

Having said that, Robinson immediately pulled back. Kansas might have it very bad, but the Congress would come to their rescue. In the meantime, they ought to suffer with what dignity they could muster rather than attempt “hasty resort to extreme measures.”

Forming your own illegal government and militia didn’t count as extreme to Robinson just then. He offered up even the hope that the Missouri border ruffians might clean up their act:

good policy would still dictate that every honorable effort be made to establish and cultivate friendly relations with our oppressors, especially with the people of our adjoining sister State. Nothing should be done in a spirit of retaliation, but rather of conciliation. Although our own rights have been repeatedly invaded and wrested from us, let us show that we respect the Constitution and laws of our own country and the rights of the people of the respective States

Robinson had advised peace in the past; he might even have believed it. The odds of the scales truly falling from the Missourians’ eyes, he must have rated very low. But sudden freelance action by antislavery Kansans had brought the movement near to ruin, bringing an army over from Missouri that wanted very badly to destroy Lawrence and, at the least, run Robinson and his ilk out of the territory. More likely, they wouldn’t have left Kansas alive. Given such close calls, and real fatalities suffered by others, the Governor had reason to hope, if not necessarily a strong expectation, that tempers would calm and if Kansas could just get through a few months without another confrontation.

But still, Charles Robinson knew that everyone had a breaking point. He advised “forbearance” until it “ceases to be a virtue and becomes cowardice, and the oppression becomes insufferable”. At that point, antislavery Kansans might no longer consider themselves “loyal citizens of the government.”

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