Governor Robinson and Kansas’ Other Governments

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Robinson continued his message (PDF) to the free state legislature, leaving the American Indians behind in favor of the problems of white men. The territorial government came in for the usual castigation as a tool of Missourians accountable to them and to distant Washington, but not to actual Kansans. Then he moved on to a less abstracted and philosophical objection to the territory’s legal administration:

The Territorial Government should be withdrawn because it is inoperative. The officers of the law permit all manner of outrages and crime to be perpetrated by the invaders and their friends with impunity, while the citizens proper are naturally law-abiding and order-loving, disposed rather to suffer than do wrong. Several most aggravated murders on record have been committed, but as long as the murders are on the side of the oppressors no notice is taken of them. Not one of the whole number has been brought to justice, and not one will be by the Territorial officers.

If the government will not protect you from murder, why have it? Why respect its edicts when it does not respect your life? What legitimacy could a government made up of your attackers and those who stood by and let them rampage possibly have? Robinson told the legislators that Americans would suffer death, but not the dishonor of submitting to such a state. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, the Governor cast himself and his fellow white men in the role of slaves: expected to obey without consent, to respect that very state which seeks to destroy their lives.

And what hope could free state Kansans have for legal redress? Franklin Pierce declared against them. The ballot box? Between laws restricting the franchise to those willing to ‘bow the knee to the dark image of Slavery” and the President’s avowal of his own perfect impotence to protect the polls, they could forget it. In such a situation, Kansans had the right to create their own vehicle for self-government. Pierce could threaten them with the Army and the militias of other states

Undoubtedly one-half of this force will be all-sufficient to enable him to enforce any process, or to chop, shoot, and hang all the inhabitants. But all the armies and navies in the world could not make the people believe he had a right to do it.

If popular sovereignty meant that Washington could not intervene in the affairs of Kansas to decide on slavery, then why would it permit the marching of an army to settle other domestic political questions? By the official doctrine of the Democracy, the nation ought to let the free state government alone except so far as necessary to at once admit it to the Union.

Nor would Robinson hear any of Pierce’s complaints about his movement arising out of a single party, not representative of all Kansans like past territories had done when drafting their constitutions.:

If the people, or any portion of them, failed to participate, it was their own fault, and not the fault of those who were active. Democrats, Hards and Softs, Whigs, Hunkers and Liberals, Republicans, Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery men of all shades participated in the formation of the State Government, and if it be a party movement at all, it certainly cannot be a movement of one party alone.

Just who Robinson meant to call a proslavery man, I suspect few then knew. But everyone else had a say and if the proslavery men hadn’t voted then why should the antislavery men bear the burden of their refusal? The rule in the United States, and of Republics in general, demanded that the few yield to the wishes of the many. If they did not, why even have an election?

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