The Business of the Topeka Legislature with Respect to “that Ninney Frank Pierce”

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

The free state men had their illegal government up and running. Every district had its representatives, every office its occupant. The might not enjoy the blessing of the national government, from Franklin Pierce on down, but the United States had accepted wildcat state governments before. California entered the Union in late 1850 after establishing a similarly unauthorized operation. But California had no great internal dispute over slavery, which in itself contributed mightily to the controversy over its admission. Nor did it have proslavery neighbors bent on controlling its future for their own security or a federally-established territorial government to disregard. Still, the free state party in Kansas could reasonably claim that the territorial government had, at best, left them to the mercy of oft-violent and occasionally murderous Missourian invasions. More often, it seemed to act as an accessory to those invasions.

With the legislature in session and much work before it, one might expect the Topeka government to get right to business. They obliged, but only in part. As Charles Robinson’s government expected statehood in short order, the legislature named two senators. James Lane and Andrew Reeder, the latter already out of the territory to take up his post as its delegate to Congress, would serve nicely. They would come to Congress with a memorial explaining just what had happened in the nation’s most troubled territory.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The March 8 Herald of Freedom told its readers, under a testy note that people ought not come and loaf about in the editor’s office while he tried to work, that new news had come from the legislature. George Brown speculated that the legislature would adjourn by the middle of the week to come, with an eye toward drafting a basic code of laws and then coming back into session to consider them. Brown credited them legislators with more a little more ambition and daring than they then possessed. Nichole Etcheson relates in Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era that the Topeka revolutionaries, while very much impressed with themselves, opted for some prudence:

The new attorney general, H. Miles Moore, recorded in his journal on March 4, 1856, “Today has a new era dawned upon us today have the new State of Kansas been ushered into existence, & now having taken upon our slaves the oath to support that constitution in the mind of that ninney Frank Pierce we have committed the overt act of treason, and in the language of another, “if we do not all hang together we shall hang separate,’ so mote it be.” Although Moore was attorney general, neither he nor anyone else seemed sure of the legality of their actions. Both houses of the Topeka legislature passed resolutions deferring any enactment of laws they passed until after Congress’s acceptance of statehood. This deferment was done to avert the charges of treason for which they expected to be arrested.

Ninny or not, no one wanted to pick a fight with Frank Pierce’s army.

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