“A series of grave errors” : A Minority of One, Part Five

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Majority Report: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Reports with the Kansas petition here.


Felix Zollicoffer had about enough of all this talk in the majority report about the precedent for admitting Kansas’ wildcat, free state government. None of them held a bit of water for him, whatever his fellows on the Committee on Territories thought. On the contrary, he found controlling precedents the other way. The majority, he affirmed, did not simply find themselves on unexplored constitutional ground. They found themselves on explored ground decided against them.

Zollicoffer began at home. Before the Constitution, some people got together the State of Franklin, roughly coterminous with modern Tennessee. They had no lawful permission to do that and the land belonged to North Carolina. They pleaded

Indian hostilities were raging throughout its settlements, ‘making it absolutely necessary, in the apprehension of the settlers, to establish some sort of local government for themselves

Kansans could claim that they had Missourian marauders at the door all the liked. White Tennesseans had actual Indians coming after them. If the United States would protect white men from anything, it would protect them from Indians. They could even bring hostility on themselves and expect protection from the federal government. If anybody had a legitimate claim to statehood on those grounds, the people of Franklin did. They got none, so why should Kansas get better treatment when beset only by proslavery whites? Why shouldn’t they enjoy the same fate as Franklin did, “swept from existence”?

What about a government at odds with another government in the same jurisdiction, claim oppression? Zollicoffer didn’t have to go back to the eighteenth century for that one. Up into the 1840s, Rhode Island still operated off its antique colonial charter, leaving a great many Rhode Islanders entirely disenfranchised despite their white skin and male sex. Thus

the Dorr insurrection, as it was familiarly called, sought to set up, without the sanction of law, a State government in defiance of the existing State government of Rhode Island. But that movement was also promptly put down, and was from the beginning firmly discountenanced by the general government.

Kansans could claim their reasons, just as the Dorrites could, but everybody has reasons. Zollicoffer told the House that even if the complaints sounded plausible, they didn’t have the other side to hear and should take nothing on faith. Those free state Kansans had “committed a series of grave errors” which went all the way back to the start of the controversy when

active and noisy movements were set on foot to throw into Kansas a mass of voters from distant States for the avowed purpose of controlling its elections, and making it a free State. For this purpose, Emigrant Aid Societies were organized in the New England States; millions of money were subscribed; and with a vociferous agitation against slavery, large numbers of persons were procured to enter the Territory.

Zollicoffer had the facts on his side again, but as he did before in looking at precedents for statehood by population, he dodged the actual issue. Popular sovereignty meant that the people of Kansas got to vote slavery in or out. Those people constituted the actual settlers there, people who had come from afar to stay. While some who came on emigrant aid company subsidy did go home on finding Kansas not to their liking or voted after only a few days in the territory, it appears most went with the full intention of staying. The Border Ruffians could claim no such distinction. Some of them surely meant to come to Kansas and others did come and remain, but the vast majority clearly came over to vote with no intention of staking claims. Since they lived next door, that had that luxury. People from New England hardly came to Kansas for a day trip in the 1850s.


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