The Journey to Kansas, Part 1

John Brown

John Brown and North Elba: parts 1, 234

According to Stephen Oates’ biography, John Brown felt conflicting urges to go ahead with his plan to relocate to North Elba and to go with his sons to Kansas. He had a prior commitment to New York and most of his family already lived there, but Kansas did beckon. He asked advice from friends and gave the black community in the Adirondacks potentially the deciding vote. By November of 1854, Brown had settled on the point. He would stick with his first plan.

That same month, Owen, Salmon, and Frederick Brown drove their herd of eleven cows and three horses into Illinois for the winter. Come spring, 1855, they continued on and staked claims near Osawatomie. That put them some thirty miles south of Lawrence and near to where Samuel Adair set up his homestead.

While Owen, Salmon, and Frederick moved their stock and wintered over, Jason and Brown’s namesake son sold their Ohio farms and readied themselves to follow. Not burdened by herds, they expected to travel across Missouri by riverboat. Brown himself kept on making arrangements and trying to scrape together the money to remove permanently from Ohio to North Elba. By February, he hoped that he could quit the state sometime in the next month and also

I got quite an encouraging word about Kansas from Mr. Adair the other day. He had before then given quite a gloomy picture of things. He and family were all well.

On the same day, February 13, he wrote another letter where he declared his interest in Kansas as considerably beyond the abstract:

Since I last saws you I have undertaken to direct the operations of a Surveying; & exploring party to be employed in Kansas for a considerable length of time, perhaps for some Two or Three years.

Contrary to his first biographer, James Redpath, Oates found evidence that Brown intended to do more than survey a bit. He would look into land speculation and business opportunities. If any of those appeared promising, and Brown tended to find most business opportunities promising, then he could relocate his whole family to Kansas. John Brown would go to Kansas, at least for a few years and maybe for good, sometime in the summer or fall of 1855.

The other Browns had already gotten underway. Jason and Ellen, with their son Austin; and John Jr, Wealthy, and their son John Brown III went by boat as planned. They loaded up on supplies in St. Louis: “two small tents, a plough, and some smaller farming-tools, and a hand-mill for grinding corn.” In April they got going aboard the New Lucy,

which too late we found crowded with passengers, mostly men from the South bound for Kansas. That they were from the South was plainly indicated by their language and dress; while their drinking, profanity, and display of revolvers and bowie-knives -openly worn as an essential part of their make-up- clearly showed the class to which they belonged, and their mission was to aid in establishing slavery in Kansas.

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“Harassed, plundered, threatened, and insulted” The Browns go to Kansas, Part 2

John Brown

We left some of the Brown boys in Southern Illinois, where they came from Ohio with their livestock for the winter. Between physical ailments, the rigors of a winter lived out of doors, and the theft of some stock they had a rough time of it. They planned to strike for Kansas in the spring and Solomon Brown, age eighteen, joined them for the trip. According to John Brown’s own testimonial in James Redpath’s biography, The Public Life of Captain John Brown, all across Missouri

they heard much from her people of the stores of wrath and vengeanace which were then and there gathering for the free state men and abolitionists gone or going to Kansas, and were themselves often admonished, in no very mild language, to stop ere it should be ‘too late.'”

The younger Browns crossed Missouri in the spring of 1855, roughly contemporaneous with Missourian intervention in the Kansas legislative elections of March. With so many men on the move, money and cannons flowing, and all Kansas news the talk of the Show Me State, they couldn’t have missed the news if they tried. Since they came all this way, at such great expense, specifically to oppose the proslavery men, the Browns ignored their warnings and pressed on. They found a spot near Pottawattomie, which Redpath locates “about eight miles distant” from where John Brown himself would go to live.

At this point, Redpath offers me frustration. As you’ve probably noticed, Gentle Readers, most of my Kansas sources come from in and around Lawrence or the territorial government. They give a sense of what goes on further abroad, but naturally focus on what happens near home. The Browns settled a considerable distance from there and might add some variety. They claimed various difficulties at the hands of proslavery locals which

their father, in the paper above quoted, gave a detailed account; but as to have published it would have damaged the democratic party in the elections then pending, we are told that “a portion of the manuscript was lose,” and that “the history was of considerable length, but did not further possess special interest.”

We have this from Brown, writing before Harper’s Ferry but some years after. Reading the lines closely, it seems that he referred to a document he wrote while still in Kansas. It wouldn’t make any sense to worry about damaging the Democracy in 1859, but during the Kansas days Brown’s antislavery party had a large Democratic contingent. He might have destroyed it in order to help the free state cause or, to read between the lines, Brown may have written about his sons taking vengeance upon their proslavery neighbors for those troubles in a way that could discredit the movement.

Without Brown’s own words, Redpath relies on “a friend of the family.” Said friend tells that the Browns did not come to Kansas armed. The unarmed men

were harassed, plundered, threatened, and insulted by gangs of marauding border ruffians, with whom the prime object was plunder; and noisy pro-slavery partizanship was equivalent to a free charter to do so with impunity.

The Browns go to Kansas, Part 1

John Brown

The last time a proslavery army departed from the environs of Lawrence, they left disappointed. Having come all that way to destroy the town and kill abolitionists, they went home with all the buildings still standing and only one of their enemy dead. The free state leadership pronounced themselves delighted in the outcome, but many of the men who flooded into Lawrence to defend the town also came for a fight and didn’t appreciate the negotiated settlement. Given James Lane’s questionable past and Wilson Shannon’s involvement, they had some cause to suspect their own leadership. Had they made concessions, rather than fight it out?

Free state sources speak to the widespread discontent at the end of the Wakarusa War. That affair at least ended with something like the status quo, which no one could claim of the sack of Lawrence. Among the most discontented the first time, one must count a new arrival to Kansas. According to James Redpath’s hagiographic 1860 biography, John Brown came to Kansas after some of his sons did. Redpath quotes at length from a manuscript that Brown wrote sometime before he went off to his destiny at Harper’s Ferry on how the abolitionist came to Kansas.

In 1854, the four eldest sons of John Brown, named John, Jr., Jason, Owen, and Frederick, all children by a first wife, then living in Ohio, determined to remove to Kansas. John, Jr., sold his place, a v ery desirable little property near Akron, in Summit County. The other two sons held no landed property, but both were possessed of some valuable stock, (as were also the first two named,) derived from that of their father, which had been often noticed by liberal premiums, both in the State of New York and also of Ohio.

Brown wanted posterity to know that his sons gave up a considerable amount of wealth in the name of Kansas’ freedom. Jason also had “a very valuable collection of grape vines, and also of choice fruit trees” which he opted to box and ship out. John and Jason both had families to move with them. The summer of 1854 did not cooperate with their resolve to strike for Kansas and crop failures prompted a plan for the the two younger brothers to take the livestock to southern Illinois for the winter at “very considerable expense” and with some of the animals stolen along the way. From Illinois, they could reach Kansas easily come spring of 1855.

Nor did the two Brown boys without families fit the image of a hardy frontiersman. Owen had a disabled right arm courtesy of childhood injury. Frederick, “though a very stout man” suffered from chronic illness “attended with insanity.” Brown sharply defended his some from accusations of mental disability and instead referred Frederick braving some sort of near-fatal surgery shortly before his departure. One disabled Brown and one debilitated and recovering Brown thus spent the winter husking corn, outside, to feed their animals. Sometime thereafter, Solomon Brown followed along to help them reach Kansas.

“A perfect levee” The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 23, 4

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder began his flight from Kansas, ahead of an order for his arrest and in fear for his life at the hands of his would-be captors, on May 9, 1856. He did not cross the Mississippi to Illinois until the night of May 26, landing a ways above Alton. There Reeder, no longer disguised, got a ride to Jerseyville, arranged a hotel room in the open and spent mercifully just the one night instead of the near two weeks he had hidden in a Kansas City hotel. At Brighton, he boarded a train for Chicago.

Reeder found Fogg and his baggage on the train, as planned. It turned out that luck had kept him from most of his belongings. While the ex-governor and his escort skulked through the Missouri woods the night previous,

the ruffians had broken open my trunk at Lawrence, stolen and put on my clothes, and chased Chapin, of Ohio, as he came out of the hotel, calling out that it was me, firing at him, and threatening to kill him; and there was a universal determination expressed among them to kill me.

Good for Reeder that he’d fled when he did.

At Chicago, Reeder got a hero’s welcome:

People came in crowds to look at and welcome me. In the evening, as I lay asleep on a sofa, a gentleman waked me up to say that there were a thousand people in front of the hotel calling for me. Went out on the balcony, was received with cheers upon cheers, made them a speech, and was kept all evening shaking hands. Had a perfect levee.

All of this makes Reeder sound a bit like a rock star to us, but the nineteenth century had the idea first. they called assembling where a politician you liked stayed and calling on him to come out and give a speech a serenade. Terming the ensuing reception a levee goes back at least to the Washington administration, where the first president endured them almost endlessly.

The 29th caw Reeder in Bloomington, where Illinois’ Kansas movement held a convention. There he met Sara Robinson, to his understandable surprise given her husband remained in proslavery custody, and addressed the assembly for two and a half hours. On the thirtieth and back in Chicago, Reeder went out and got his picture taken in his disguise “for my dear wife.” Reeder’s disguise, a footnote on his diary informs us, came in the original except for the hat and ax. Those he bought in Chicago.

The cause beckoned. At both Bloomington and Chicago, Reeder called for ten thousand free state men and two hundred dollars each “to equip and provision them for a year.” He hoped to see Illinois provide a thousand of them, half from Chicago and half the rest of the state. Afterwards, Reeder heard from a Major Jones that if the cash appeared, he could guarantee three hundred.

Heartened by that good news, Reeder

Slept to-night in a good bed – the first time I have done so, or had my clothes off, since the 22d.

The next day, Kansas fugitive ex-governor went to Detroit by rail and promptly got mobbed by admirers “who pressed all kinds of good offices upon me.” The Attorney General and Treasurer of Michigan called on him. Considering Reeder joined up with the antislavery cause to revive his political career and had just suffered so lengthy and trying a flight for his troubles, he must have found the reception incredibly gratifying.

A Dark and Stormy Night: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Four

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2, 3

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had a new problem. He had made it to a steamboat and gone down the Missouri river nigh unto St. Louis, but his proslavery bedmate may have seen through his ax-wielding disguise. Said nocturnal companion, a man named Ross, left the boat before St. Louis despite having paid all the way through. Reeder saw him go straight to the train station and put two and two together: Ross aimed to catch a train and get to St. Louis ahead of him. Then he could meet Reeder with a warrant in hand and the fugitive governor-turned-delegate would end up back in Kansas, possibly killed before a treason trial could sentence him to hang.

Reeder conspired with the captain of the boat, first to transfer him to another vessel, then to find a guide to take him of to Illinois by land. At this point, the Mr. Fogg that Reeder had spent the past few days avoiding enters into the story. Fogg knew Reeder by sight and the ex-governor suspected that his disguise did nothing to change that. Reeder went to him and so finally tells the reader Fogg’s deal. For once, Reeder had ducked an ally rather than a proslavery man:

Saw Fogg, who says two young men from Lawrence are upstairs, who will go with me. Captain could get no guide, but had the route described.

If Reeder couldn’t get a guide, at least he could get a few bodyguards. Arrangements made, he went out and waited on the deck. With the boat crowded, Reeder “Had great difficulty” getting to where he could change. Even with Ross gone and Fogg an ally, he had other men giving him the hairy eyeball. Finally, Reeder tried feigning sleep and that convinced two of his watchers to call it a night.

I thought all had turned in, and was thinking of soon slipping out, having arranged with the captain that the steward should be on the watch if anyone got up to follow me, when, to my great chagrin, the captain came noisily along the cabin, and up to my berth, and nudged me to get up. I was vexed, as I was sure this would attract the attention I had taken so much care to elude.

With no helping it, Reeder pretended to go looking for another spot to sack out and then slipped upstairs. There he found the promised guard absent. Andrew Reeder just could not catch a break. Making the best of it, he went to the cabin of his guards, Bassett and Brackett.

To add to the chance of detection, the captain followed me there.

Of course he did.

Reeder changed his clothes and got the news from his new companions that a pair of men on the deck stood guard.  He had had quite enough and resolved to go anyway, “and if followed to fight it out.” His guards had no weapons, but Kansas’ first governor had a pair of revolvers and a knife that he shared around.

A violent thunder storm came up, and in it, toward the close, we put out the lights and started. The woods being close to the share we stopped in them to see if we were followed. Waited a short time; no one came off the boat, and we struck through the woods; lost the road twice; traveled on, and finally, at 8 o’ clock A.M., struck the Mississippi river fifteen miles above Alton. Got a man to take us across in a skiff.

 

 

A Troublesome Bedmate: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had come a long way from Easton, Pennsylvania. Franklin Pierce made him governor of Kansas Territory, where he tried to enact popular sovereignty. His limited, ultimately futile quest to let the white men who lived in Kansas decide the territory for or against slavery ended with the proslavery Kansans getting President Pierce to fire him. The deposed governor then meant to quit Kansas for good, but the free state movement approached him to serve as their spokesman in Washington. Reeder dictated terms, but ultimately agreed. He would start out as their delegate, to become Senator when they secured admission as Kansas sole government. That put him in Washington with credentials from an illegal government that most Kansans supported. There he collided with John Wilkins Whitfield, who had delegate’s credentials from the legal government that most Kansans rejected. To sort this all out, the House of Representatives dispatched a committee to investigate on Kansas’ troubles, with Reeder and Whitfield arguing their respective cases.

Judge Samuel Lecompte put an end to Reeder’s tenure with the committee by getting a grand jury to order him taken in for questioning and optional murder before his likely treason trial, which would surely have put him at the end of a rope. Reeder, like other free state leaders, promptly fled. A series of close calls and frustrating waits had at last put Kansas’ first governor on a steamboat headed for St. Louis, from which he hoped to get the word out that the Missourians had come to Kansas again, this time for blood, and the free state movement needed all the men, money, and guns that the North could spare.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Reeder boarded his boat disguised as an Irish woodchopper, complete with axe. There he found himself in trouble again. Border Ruffians occupied much of the boat, including the comfortable parts. Thus Reeder had to sleep on the deck, sharing his berth with a proslavery man who he thought saw through his disguise. Worse still, a Mr. Fogg shared the boat with them and seems to have known Reeder on sight. Three or four others might also have suspected they had a false Irishman on their hands.

Monday, May 26, 1856, brought another close call. Fogg tried to chat the fugitive delegate up. Reeder “walked away from him.” Fogg didn’t force the matter, but so visibly giving him the cold shoulder can’t have made Reeder stand out any less. On top of that, Reeder expected the boat to reach St. Louis that night, so he wanted to change into his proper clothes. The captain of the boat knew all about Reeder’s situation and one of the governor’s allies had his valise and a trunk on board for just such an occasion.

Reeder doesn’t say why he wanted to change. He may have had people who expected him in St. Louis but didn’t know him by sight. A dirty-faced woodsman might have trouble proving himself a recipient of past Democratic patronage.  Whatever his reasons, Reeder’s plan again hit a snag. The boat stopped at Jefferson City and Reeder watched people coming and going. There he saw Ross, his bedmate, disembark with carpet bag in hand.

Watching, I observed that he went direct to the railroad depot. This being about 11 A.M., it was plain that he could get to St. Louis before evening and have a warrant for me so as to arrest me at once.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

No one could blame Reeder for paranoia after so long on the run, but that does look like bad news. Reeder consulted the captain and learned he couldn’t get to St. Louis before seven in the morning; he planned to stay the night at St. Charles. The two men hatched a plan to get Reeder into the cabin that night, then transfer him to a boat that they would meet in the morning which could take the former governor by St. Louis and over to Alton, on the Illinois side.

On further reflection, concluded this was not safe, as, if a warrant was out, they would look for me on that boat or at Alton.

Reeder may not have known that a mob out of St. Louis killed Elijah Lovejoy in Alton a few decades back. He doesn’t mention it and proximity alone would give adequate cause for concern. Either way, Reeder didn’t want to risk it and saw the captain again. This time he wanted the captain to see a fellow at the woodyard where the boat had laid up for the night about a guide to get Reeder through to Alton by land and beat the boat, which would let him hop on a train and make his getaway.

Southern History? It’s Complicated.

Gentle Readers, some time back an acquaintance of mine described my abiding interest in southern history. That didn’t sound quite right to me. I spend a fair bit of time studying the American South -mostly the ugly bits I admit- but when I name it for myself, I use “history”. The exact label doesn’t matter that much for my internal monologue, but I do aim for precision when asked by others. Depending on the context, I’ve told people that I study slavery, the nineteenth century, or the Civil War. I have lately moved away from the last one, as if one says one studies a war then one tends to get questions about battlefield tactics or other very explicitly military matters. I don’t object to that kind of question and, if it requires saying, accept that they have an important role in historical inquiry. But they don’t interest me as much as many other questions. None of my standard answers quite satisfy, but they get close enough for most conversations.

I never considered, until the acquaintance suggested it, calling the whole business southern history. I knew the term existed, but hadn’t until then connected it with my own efforts. I still don’t, which probably sounds either silly or thick-witted of me. I don’t spend hours reading books about the lumber industry in Maine, Puritan Massachusetts, or Michigan during the fur trade. The stars of my bookshelves owned people, wanted to, or suffered under the attentions of the previous. Their business most often takes place within the confines of the slave states of 1860, or very closely adjacent and directly connected to slave state concerns. One cannot get much more southern than all that, given how completely slavery marks the South out from the rest of the nation. Where slavery went, the South went. Where white supremacists rode by night, there you find the South. The beating heart of Dixie pulses with the blood of stolen lives.

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

If you grew up in the United States, you probably heard some version of that often enough. Study a little and you find Ulrich Bonnell Phillips telling you just the same. Southern history has a central theme: white supremacy. Most Americans from outside the region probably agree. They do things differently down there, if you know what we mean. This all has more than a whiff of the stereotypical crazed relative kept locked in the attic. We have a secret national shame which we dare not acknowledge, even if the whole world knows already.

The more I have thought on this, the more apt that stock character from an age less considerate of the mentally ill has seemed. The good family squirrels away the human disgrace, which cannot bear the light of day. Some people shun society willingly, probably all of us have now and then. But the stock character doesn’t hide up in the attic entirely out of choice. Rather the family put him of her up there, away from prying eyes and so conveniently unacknowledged. We have a perfectly normal, healthy family, and you can’t prove otherwise.

A fair observer of all this might suspect that we have tried too hard to make the case. Crazed relations don’t just fall from the sky; they grew up somewhere. Someone put them in the attic or, in later decades, had them committed. Who else but family? Stock characters don’t go around locking up someone else’s relations to spare them the stigma of mental illness. They do it for themselves. In confining their relatives, they push the whole of the burden on the afflicted. If something went wrong, it went wrong with that person, there. It has nothing to do with us. Look all you will, you will find no hint of strangeness about us.

Stock characters don’t know their genetics or any of the other ways someone can end up ill. They don’t know much history either, except maybe a handed-down story about how now and then you get one of those sorts. But they know, at least implicitly, that if you get too close then the crazy might rub off on you. Often it already has. Our families don’t necessarily define us, but they try awfully hard.

De Tocqueville could sail down the Ohio river and see enslaved dock workers on one side, free on the other, and imagine a vast rift separated them. I wouldn’t try to leap or swim the Ohio myself, and not only because I do better at drowning than floating, but his chasm tells only half the story. The distinctions between North and South deserve consideration, both on their own and as expressions of their principle source: slavery. No one can fairly look at the United States and say they have found uniformity. We really do have different ways of doing things.

De Tocqueville’s Ohio separated the sections, but it also linked them. Farm products from the Midwest flowed down the Ohio to their markets. Southerners from Kentucky, including the Lincolns, moved across the same river to occupy the opposing shore. There they remained a powerful constituency, powerful enough to nearly make Illinois a slave state. They supported northern politicians who tilted South and constituted a significant check on the Republican party’s electoral success. The Grant Not-Yet-Old Party knew it had no hope in the South, so winning the White House required a great deal of support in the border North. Most of the butternut districts might have voted Democrat anyway, but their strength meant that the party needed a candidate with a more moderate reputation than party stalwarts of national standing, like William Henry Seward. The homely guy from Illinois worked out pretty well.

This story doesn’t end in 1860 or 1865. The first Klan, and allied groups, murdered and terrorized their way across the South to fight black equality even in the limited form tolerable to most nineteenth century whites in the North. When black Americans left the region of their birth, as much refugees as immigrants, they came North to cities with factories hungry for labor. Many of the children and grandchildren of idealistic abolitionists, as well as newer white arrivals, didn’t like that one bit and consequently signed on for the second Klan. That national organization had little trouble finding recruits outside the South and for a time controlled the government of Indiana. In many places, near enough every white man joined up. Did all those communities, and the state of Indiana, join the South for a while?

The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement punctuate Southern history. They set the section apart from the rest of the nation. Those things happened down there, involving those people. Then the rest of us knocked some heads together and it all worked out. Integration for everyone. It all sounds plausible enough, if you leave out the rest of the nation. If a generation of civil rights activists suffered losses, many of them tragic, then they had some wins too. When the movement swung north those dried up fast. My own state, Michigan, successfully defended segregation before the Supreme Court. White Bostonians rioted against the possibility of their children sharing a classroom with black children in the 1970s, not the 1850s. By that point, Southerners had done most of their rioting on the subject and restored segregation through private schools. And I don’t see southern states going out of their way to poison majority-black cities.

If we take white supremacy, or even just especially virulent and unrepentant white supremacy, as the defining trait of the South then we have a real problem. We have the South, sure enough, but on a fair examination it might take us a long time to find the North. We might not find it at all. With this in mind, I think that calling the subject Southern history gets close to the truth, but so close that one can miss the forest for all the damned trees in the way. Places outside the South’s traditional bounds do differ, but not nearly so much as those traditional distinctions might lead us to believe. Southern history is American history.

Dark Days for the Democracy

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

When Lincoln and Douglas met at Springfield and Peoria, they debated the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln also made his return to political life and could have done worse than to do it by sharing a stage with and showing up one of the most famous, if also now infamous, men in the nation. But the two men met in the fall of 1854, an election year. Each spoke both for himself and for his party. Though Illinois had a Republican party, Lincoln kept away from them and announced himself still a Whig.

That year began with the reintroduction of a clean, Missouri Compromise affirming Nebraska bill that rapidly mutated through four versions into the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It passed the House only thanks to Alexander Stephens’ firm whip hand. Just as the bill hit Franklin Pierce’s desk, the Anthony Burns (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) affair erupted in Boston. All of this tumult merged with the growing anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic nativist movement. Any one of those could have made for a wild election season. All three together generated a political firestorm of the kind rarely seen in American history.

Douglas, of course, wanted to see his fellow Democrats succeed. They had the Presidency. They had the Congress. During the Second Party System, they had governed the nation almost without interruption. The party might have its problems, and serious ones at that, but things generally worked out for it. The Democracy ran Washington. Then came 1854. Allen Nevins details the Democracy’s many reverses and the following relies heavily on his Ordeal of the Union.

In the Mid-Atlantic states, between strongly antislavery New England and the Border South, New York found the Democracy split and let a Whig, Myron H. Clark, slip into the governor’s mansion. Twenty-nine of the state’s districts elected an anti-Nebraska congressman.  Pennsylvania, home to James Buchanan and other politicians far more compromising than its other famous son, David Wilmot, delivered the Whig-Know-Nothing coalition a governor and control of the legislature. Pennsylvania’s House seats went twenty-one to four in favor of the anti-Nebraska men.

Up in New England, the news predictably came in more of the same. Sixty-three percent of Massachusetts’ votes went to the Know-Nothing-Free Soil coalition. They had plenty of help from the Massachusetts Democracy, which passed what Nevins bluntly calls an asinine resolution proclaiming that Pierce and his administration “confirmed the fraternal feeling among the States.” What kind of families did they come from? Who could they possibly think they would fool? The Bay Sate went completely over to the anti-Nebraska bloc. It’s one-time possession, Maine, had been for the Democracy happily for years but now joined its parent in throwing the Nebraska men out of office.

John Hale

John Hale

 

The Northwest had no better news for Douglas. Salmon P. Chase’s Ohio gave the Democracy not a single House seat in its October elections. Indiana gave up only two in the same month. Just two years earlier, Ohio favored the Franklin Pierce 47.83% to 43.18 and Indiana 52.05% to 44.17%. Illinois soon followed, surrendering five of its nine House seats to anti-Nebraska candidates. The state legislature fell to the same deluge. Douglas’ fellow Illinois Democrat, James Shields, would soon find himself no longer a senator. Across the Mississippi, Iowa turned on the Democracy too, electing an anti-Nebraska governor who promised continual war against slavery’s expansion. Its anti-Nebraska legislature signaled that Douglas’ compatriot Augustus Caesar Dodge would soon join James Shields in the ex-senator club.

The 33rd Congress, which passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, had 162 Democrats, 91 from free states and 67 from the slave states. The Democracy had never had a better showing. By the time the dust settled, the Democracy lost 4 (5.97%) slave state seats but held only 25 (27.47%) of their 91 free state seats, 66 (40.74%) down from two years earlier. Forty-four members of the Democracy’s northern wing voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. A mere seven (15.90%) of them had jobs in the 34th Congress. Those who defied the party to vote against it, 48 in all, saw only 15 (31.25%) of their number kicked to the curb by angry voters.

The Democracy might have one more president to elect, and did regain control of the House when it put James Buchanan in the White House, but its days as the nation’s natural party of government had ended. From 1854 onward, the Democracy served as a southern party with a minority wing in the North almost completely at the mercy of the South’s proslavery politics. The party that once commanded majorities in both sections as a matter of course would not do anything of the sort again until Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Stephen Douglas had done to his own party what his successes in 1850 and subsequent increasing antislavery agitation had done to the Whigs, only with the sections switched.

Lincoln at Peoria: The Short Version

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. Full text.)

I have no doubt exhausted the patience of even the most generous reader in picking my way through Lincoln’s Peoria speech. It encapsulates antislavery thought so completely that I find it difficult to resist going paragraph by paragraph. But the remainder of the speech repeats largely the same themes as the first half, if with new wrinkles here and there. I think the time has come to move on. But before doing so, I wanted to revisit the speech as a whole in a high-level summary.

The Setting

Lincoln came to Peoria to debate Stephen Douglas on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened the great plains to slavery more than thirty years after the Missouri Compromise banned the institution from their soil. Though Douglas had reaped quite the whirlwind from his authoring of and advocacy for the law, his tours of Illinois and the favor of the Democracy’s party establishment had helped blunt some of the outrage. Lincoln shared space with Douglas to give their audience the newly popular antislavery movement’s view alongside Douglas’ version of the story.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Douglas’ Argument

Douglas held that the Missouri Compromise required repeal because:

  1. Nebraska, not just the modern state, but all the lands bounded by Canada to the north, the southern line of Missouri to the south, the territory of Minnesota and the states of Iowa and Missouri on the east, and the Rocky Mountains to the west, imperatively required a territorial government to facilitate white settlement.
  2. The public had repudiated the Missouri Compromise and demanded its repeal by various means, including the Compromise of 1850 and party resolutions endorsing its finality.
  3. The Kansas-Nebraska Act demanded only that the people govern themselves, by their own consent, and so embodied the best and most ancient principles of American democracy.

Lincoln’s Rebuttal

  1. If Nebraska required a territorial government, it could have one without repealing the Missouri Compromise. Iowa and Minnesota had them without any such repeal. Just the year prior, Stephen Douglas himself put forward a bill to organize Nebraska under just those terms. Even in 1854, when the first version of the bill that finally passed came to the Senate, it contained no repeal.
  2. The public did not demand the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, either in 1850 or at any other time. Rather the Compromise measures applied to the Mexican Cession and it alone. No one at the time understood it as touching the Missouri Compromise and no such provisions existed in any of the Compromise laws, either stated outright or by implication. When the parties signed on to the finality of the Compromise, they understood that the Missouri Compromise continued its operation, to the point where even proslavery men only a year prior saw it as a fixed part of American law. Stephen Douglas agreed with them, then.
  3. Douglas’ act did not embody self-government, as it would permit none for any black man. Rather whites would have self-government and also govern blacks, who would have no power to consent or shape their governance in any legal way. Furthermore, the expansion of slavery flew in the face of the intentions of the Founders. They always took pains to exclude it and set it on a path to extinction whenever politically possible, tolerating it only where they must. Lincoln and the rest of the antislavery movement inherited their principles and goals.

 

Lincoln on Popular Sovereignty

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Full text.)

This post serves as the twenty-first part of my dissection of Lincoln’s Peoria speech, but I think it speaks to important enough ideas of his to give it its own title.

After pounding on Douglas’ weakest points for some time, Lincoln came down to the hard stuff. Whatever Douglas’ laughable claims about recent history, whatever he tried to tell the public about how slavery would never go to Kansas or Nebraska anyway, popular sovereignty amounted to American democracy. Even if Lincoln disagreed with the Missouri Compromise repeal, did he really disagree with the idea that people should govern themselves?

Quite to the contrary, Lincoln proclaimed self-government “absolutely and eternally right”. But then, shouldn’t the people get a vote? If he really believed that, why would he deny self-government to the white settlers who would flood into the new territories? Did he think them a lesser species of man? Certainly not. Rather self-government

has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that “all men are created equal;” and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.

Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm, paraphrases our argument by saying “The white people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good enough to govern a few miserable negroes!!

Well I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are, and will continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I do not say the contrary. What I do say is, that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.

And Lincoln went on to quote the article of his ancient faith, the opening of the Declaration of Independence, to prove it. Slaves receive government. Even the most radical slaveholder agreed with that. They wrote volumes on how to govern slaves and worried over the subject constantly. But a slave, by definition, could never consent. Thus any governing of slaves could not stem from the consent of the governed. In other words, the creed of America forbade slavery even if its laws permitted the same:

Let no one be deceived. The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms; and the former is being rapidly displaced by the latter.