The Chief Justice’s Instructions to the Jury

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

A grand jury acting under the instructions of Chief Justice Samuel Lecompte, a Pierce appointee and slaveholder, issued warrants to arrest Charles Robinson, Andrew Reeder, James Lane, and several other prominent free state men. The proslavery party now had the legal weaponry it needed to decapitate their enemies, end the free state government, and complete their paper conquest of Kansas Territory. No one could have mistaken Lecompte’s end, but his reasoning bears looking into. William Addison Phillips has the text of Lecompte’s “most remarkable charge”. It deserves a look.

Lecompte began with an ordinary statement of what a grand jury needed to do: look into any possible lawbreaking that came up and issue what indictments seemed proper. As it happened, the Chief Justice had one in mind.

Your attention will naturally be turned toward an unlawful, and before unheard-of organization, that has been formed in our midst, for the purpose of resisting the laws of the United States.

The jurors must proceed “calmly,” without concern for “the exciting state of affairs.” They had a duty to stick to their oaths and act without respect to party or person, taking only the law as their guide. In the unlikely event that someone thought Lecompte meant antislavery militia companies or some other threat to good order, he laid it out so no one could mistake him:

You will take into consideration the cases of men who are dubbed governors […] lieutenant-governors […] secretaries and treasurers, and men who are dubbed all the various other dubbs with which this territory is filling

When weighing the cases against such men, essentially the entire free state government, Lecompte told the jurors that they must take the territorial laws seriously. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, a federal statute, made the territory and established its government. The purloined territorial legislature and its officers, as well as federal appointees like Lecompte and Governor Shannon, derived their authority from that statute. The laws of the territory and acts of its officials thus inherited the authority of the United States itself. As Phillips puts it:

the United States makes laws by proxy, employing the borderers of Missouri to make the laws, inasmuch as being way out West it is inconvenient for her to come herself

To resist those laws meant to defy the Union, not some mere territorial government. To fly in the face of the authority of the United States made men disloyal and “guilty of high treason.” Thus, should the jurors find any such men who had defied the laws, by the strength of their oaths they had a duty to indict them. If the jurors found no active resistance, but organizations devoted to it all the same, then they must indict for the crime of “constructive treason”. Treasonable intention in itself sufficed.

We might take all of this as so much bluster. Talk about treason has permeated Kansas affairs in one way or another for as long as antislavery Kansans have chosen to resist their illegitimate government and Lecompte’s instructions to the jury fit neatly into that tradition. But we should not forget that he occupied a federal office of real authority. The Squatter Sovereign could gas about treason all it wanted and never have it come to much. When a federal judge deemed a person a traitor, they stood a good chance of soon decorating a gallows.


Judge Lecompte Steps In

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Given a proslavery sheriff got shot in Lawrence on the night of April 23-24, 1856, proslavery witnesses did not feel safe coming to the town to give their testimony to the Howard Committee. Business went on all the same, with the committee hearing from more than sixty witnesses in Lawrence before decamping to Tecumseh. That occupied them up through May 3, including an attempt to get Sheriff Jones’ testimony. At John Whitfield’s request, they sent a sergeant-at-arms off to Franklin to inquire if he had recovered enough to speak to the committee. Jones had not.

The committee promised to go about Kansas and find places where proslavery men might come confident of their safety, which they would do in due course. Antislavery witnesses had similar fears, backed by the well-established proclivity of proslavery settlements to harass and attack them. As John Sherman put it in his memoir

There was no difficulty in obtaining witnesses or testimony, but, as a rule, the witnesses on one side would only testify in Lawrence, and those on the other in Lecompton or Leavenworth. They were like soldiers in hostile armies, careful to keep outside of the enemy’s camp.

Both parties had good reason to distrust the other going back near to two years now, though Charles Robinson proved willing to brave the proslavery capital at Lecompton; Sherman noted his hostile welcome there. The committee’s work continued for some time, but soon faced a different obstacle. Just as a warrant for Samuel Wood’s arrest had led to Samuel Jones’ shooting and complicated the business of hearing witnesses, another set of warrants intervened.

While the committee met in Tecumseh, the United States District Court met in Lecompton. Samuel (yet another Samuel) Lecompte, who lent his name to the town, presided. He had a grand jury and meant to use it. William Phillips reports that

Lecompte, at the opening of the court, delivered a most remarkable charge to the grand jury, in which he specified that they should indict those persons for certain offenses. He urged the grand jury to do so, and not to be deterred by the fear that the laws of the territory or the process under such circumstances would not be executed; assuring them that there would be force to execute them. He also told them they must not hesitate to indict these persons because they were sincere in their opinions, and cited the early witchcraft history of Massachusetts, to prove the impropriety of being regulated by sincerity.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

In later life, Lecompte would deny that he had gone above and beyond his authority or invented novel doctrines of treason, but his statement in Spring’s Kansas: The Prelude to the War for the Union makes his intentions clear:

in the madness of partisan strife, under the provocations of unprincipled leaders, when the laws of the territory were denounced as ‘bogus,’ their authority defied, and an opposing legislature, without semblance of authority, set up, when insurgent military forces were organizing, equipping, drilling-that, I say in such untoward circumstances, the judiciary should have felt called upon to instruct the grand jury upon the subject of treason, that the grand jury should have made presentments, and the district attorney preferred indictments, can hardly be a cause for wonder.

In other words, the free state leadership now had warrants out for their arrest, just as Samuel Wood had when the latest unpleasantness around Lawrence began. Samuel Jones might not serve them, but someone would soon come to town to follow in his footsteps and collect Charles Robinson, James Lane, and Andrew Reeder.

Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Twenty-five years later, John Speer and Samuel Jones could have a nice chat about the time Jones got shot. Speer wanted to know if Jones thought he did it. Jones reassured him otherwise. They slap each other on the back, talk about the crazy old days, and part as friends. At the time, neither Jones nor the people at Lawrence had that sort of detachment. The town had paid before for Jones’ mere frustrations, coming near to destruction. The sheriff had few fans, but fewer still wanted the violent wrath of proslavery Kansas and Missouri to descend upon them. The Herald of Freedom flatly denied that any antislavery man fired the shot and insisted more plausibly that

the public sentiment of this city condemns, in unmeasured terms, the assassination. No sympathy exists for the men who thus violently undertook to deprive Jones of his life. Not that there is any particular love for him-for he is hated as cordially as it is possible for men to hate a scoundrel-but there is a love of Order, of Law, of Justice and Peace in our people-and murder and outrage, assassination and brutality, meet with a prompt and unqualified condemnation, by whoever perpetrated.

One can hate a person a great deal and not want them dead, fair enough. George Washington Brown went on in that theme for a while, inveighing against “the Border Ruffian party” for “this last stroke of villainy?” What evil would prove too much for them? The next evil firmly in mind, Brown declared that no one could hold Lawrence responsible. The townspeople had nothing to do with the shooting except the misfortune of living near to it. Furthermore, they disavowed the shooting “immediately and unanimously” and condemned it “in the strongest terms.”

For proof of all that, the paper printed the proceedings of a public meeting. Jones caught his bullet around ten on the night of April 23, 1856. The next morning notice went out for the citizenry to meet in the hall over Faxon’s store, twelve and a half hours after the attack. The Herald reports a packed room, which elected Andrew Reeder to the chair. Reeder then gave a speech. Kansas first governor and latest would-be free state senator condemned the shooting as

an outrage on the individuals of this town, upon the public sentiment and reputation of the town, and a still greater outrage upon our cause. That cause was one which sought no aid or countenance at the hands of assassins, for it was too holy, too strong, and too just to need such assistance.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Self-involved or not, Reeder opened up on reasonable enough grounds. No one in Lawrence could change what happened to Jones. They had to worry about what would happen to them. Reeder proclaimed that the free state party

wanted the help of the Lord, and not the devil; the help of honest, well meaning men, not of murderers and assassins; the help of orderly, law-abiding, though determined men, and not of outlaws and murders. They wanted the sympathies of their friends in the Free States, who have stood up and justified them, and that sympathy they must obtain by pursuing such a course as would not give any one cause to charge them with wrongdoing and injustice.

One can read this as a piece of political propaganda and not go wrong. What Reeder said, he said for public consumption. He calls out the audience abroad in the free states as well as those in Lawrence that April morning. But this also sends a message to whoever did shoot Jones: You have put us in danger, not helped. It further honestly states the free state strategy. They did not want, and honestly feared, armed conflict. They had militias for self-defense and may have burned proslavery houses, but in the main they adopted a peaceable and careful strategy of circumspection. Even after they established their own government, they voted not to enact any laws until they had approval from Congress. At almost every turn, men like Reeder, Charles Robinson, and James Lane tried to work within the American, if not the Kansan, system.

“Two to five years in the penitentiary” The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Five

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4; Report with the Kansas petition here.

The Committee on the Territories, chaired by Galusha Grow, reported to the House that the Congress had caused all Kansas woes by opening the territory to slavery. Now the Kansans had gone to work to fix that, establishing a free state government in defiance of the proslavery territorial regime, and petition for admission under a free state constitution. However irregular, their situation had precedent in the cases of Arkansas and Michigan. Congress had the sovereign power to admit states whenever, however it liked. The expediency and morality of admitting a free Kansas mattered, not the details. Would the Congress do Kansas a favor to make it a state?

Grow’s committee thought it would, as Kansans had suffered the domination of their polls by violent Missourian invaders. He had this information not from abolitionist newspapers or antislavery rumor mills, but straight from no less a solid proslavery man than Franklin Pierce. The report cited minutes of the Kansas governor’s office, as forwarded to the House by the president. They had highlights:

In the third representative district, two of the judges of election

were driven from the room by a company of armed men from the State of Missouri, who threatened their lives, and commenced to destroy the house and beat in the door

In the tenth representative district, Missourians

surrounded the window and obstructed the citizens of the Territory from depositing their votes

In the first election district, “Six or seven hundred armed men” camped by the polls and obstructed them most of the day. Petitioners told Andrew Reeder that someone set up a polling place at an unauthorized location and “non-residents surrounded the polls with firearms and voted indiscriminately.”

All of this in a territory where the local inhabitants, bona fide settlers, had promised to them the right to decide for or against slavery for themselves? The census of February, 1855, counted 2,905 legal voters. Not quite a month after, 6,351 men voted in the legislative elections, 5,664 for the proslavery ticket. New territories could grow fast, but you’d have to grease up all Missouri, fold it into a funnel, and pour it on Kansas to pile on so much growth so fast. As a result, only one free-state man won election. The petitions he got inspired Andrew Reeder to set aside a few more elections and hold mostly clean ones, but the legislature expelled those men and seated the originals. Then it enacted a stringent set of laws effectively outlawing antislavery activity.

As a remedy for these evils and a redress of such wrongs, it is proposed by their apologizes to authorize the people, at some future time, to form another constitution, to be again submitted to Congress, with a new application for admission as a State.

Why should their present application be rejected, and they be forced to pass through the mockery of another election, under the authority of this Territorial legislature and subject to another invasion of non-residents? Immediate action is necessary in order to put an end to the strife in the Territory, which, the President informs us, threatens the peace not only of Kansas, but of the Union.

Why indeed? No reasonable person could deny that giving Kansas a do-over would invite Missourian filibusters to have another go. And they had a government supported by a majority of Kansans, constitution in hand, right there. What could one expect? Either the Missourians would have their way again and it would solve nothing, or James Lane would go home and come back with a similar petition in a year.

In that year, more militants would surely come to Kansas. Delay would only give more chance for armed clashes and let tension boil higher. Only settling the slavery question, Grow’s report affirmed, would give Kansas any peace. Admission at once would do the job. Forcing Kansas to endure “two to five years in the penitentiary” would only punish them. They had suffered enough.

“Left entirely to the discretion of Congress” The Committee on Territories Weights in, Part One


Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

The Senate took a look at the memorial to Congress that James Lane brought back with him and Lewis Cass presented to the body. It took no time at all for the senators to recognize all the scratched out and rewritten bits of the memorial and the curious fact that all the signatures at the end came in the same hand. Clearly, Lane had perpetrated a fraud on the Senate of the United States. That he swore an oath to the contrary, and we know that the free state government actually did send him off with a memorial, didn’t matter. When he challenged Stephen Douglas to a duel for satisfaction, Douglas fobbed him off with senatorial privilege. Cass withdrew the petition and the Senate moved on.

It happened differently in the House, with its anti-Nebraska majority. They referred the report and its attached materials, including the Topeka Constitution, to the Committee on Territories on April 7, 1856. The Committee’s report doesn’t come dated in my version and I can’t find when they reported back, but it seems to have taken them at least into May. As usual, the Committee released a majority and minority report. They give us a useful window into what actual, if partisan, nineteenth century lawmakers thought of Kansas’ irregular situation.

Galusha Grow, a Democrat turned Republican from Pennsylvania, presented the majority’s findings. The accepted practice involved a territory organized by Congress, as Kansas and other places had been. That territorial government then received permission to write a constitution, which it did. It then forwarded the constitution to Congress, which approved or disapproved. Grow consideration of Kansas’ petition for statehood with a chronicle of past departures from that line that the Congress had seen fit to accept or overlook.

Of the eighteen states admitted to the Union, Grow’s committee reported that five skipped the territorial stage entirely. Among the thirteen others, five gained admission under constitutions they had no permission from Congress to write. Furthermore:

The power of Congress to admit States is of the most plenary character, and is conferred by the constitution (sec. 3, art. 4) in these words: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union.” The time, mode, and manner of admission, therefore, is left entirely to the discretion of Congress.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The conventional way of making states amounted to only that, a convention. Congress had no obligation to treat them as binding precedent, but could do as it liked. The letter of the Constitution demanded only that states have a republican government. If someone named themselves King of Kansas and asked for admission, Congress would have to tell them no. Whatever high opinions they might hold of themselves, no one in Kansas seems to have thought themselves royalty. So did Kansas have a republican government? If so, Congress didn’t have to make it a state but might do so if that appeared the best course for Kansans and for the nation.

Grow noted that the territorial form of government denied the people the full range of self-governance that state possessed in the American system. They could not choose their governors and the Congress had a full veto over any enactments of their legislature. The plight of the initial settlers:

few in numbers, and widely separated […] contest[ing] with the savage and the wild beast, the dominion of the wilderness, and […] not of sufficient numbers, strength, or wealth to protect themselves alone against the uncivilized influences that surround them.

Hard times and meager means required federal subsidy, paying salaries, arranging the construction of public buildings, and otherwise facilitating the development of the territory justified “supervisory power.” Otherwise, Congress might end up on the hook for endless expenses and laws with which “it entirely disapproves.” One obviously couldn’t have that. The people who went to territories did not lose their capacity for self-governance or somehow diminish their moral strength, but they did put themselves in this situation willingly. They chose to leave states and hazard what the Congress might do with a territory.

But when the white settlers had the numbers and the money, and wanted it, they could upgrade to a state government. When they could, Grow’s report averred, they ought to as

there is no longer any occasion for the guardianship of Congress, and no reason why their request should be delayed or refused.

Editing, Liars, and Almost a Duel: The Free State Memorial to Congress, Part Two

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

James Lane came to Congress in April of 1856 with a memorial in hand from the Topeka legislature. It explained that repeated abuses and usurpations of the rights of white men to set their own institutions, rights promised to them by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, had driven the free state men to the extremity of setting up their own state government. The Congress ought to see foot to admit that government to the Union as the sole, legitimate government of Kansas.

Nobody could have expected this to go well, but a shift of just a few senators might have sufficed to get something done. The Congress already had Kansas settlements under discussion, a topic which I plan to return to in future posts. Michigan’s Lewis Cass, the original popular soveriegnty booster, presented Lane’s memorial to the Senate on April 7. Antislavery Kansans might have hoped for a warm reception from Stephen Douglas, who Lane knew from back in the day and on whose popular sovereignty ground the free state movement made its stand.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The Little Giant would have none of that. He looked over the memorial and called out some curious traits. Someone had crossed out passages and written in others, hardly the mark of a fine state paper suited for a grave situation. Maybe your high school English teacher would let that slide in moderation, but the United States Senate had to wonder if the men who put their names on the memorial had seen the final version. Did someone collect the signatures and then alter the text? Had someone (read: Lane) edited things after the fact to make the memorial a better fit for the political circumstances in Washington? For that matter, why did all the signatures appear in the same handwriting? Just what was James Lane trying to pull?

Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass

Douglas laid out the faults and decided that Lane had come to the Senate with an amateurish fraud. Lane explained that the alterations happened with the approval of Governor Robinson, and the handwriting came from simple re-copying because the original signature page had gone missing. Everybody really signed it; trust him. To prove the point, Lane took an oath administered by a justice of the Supreme Court that he transmitted to the Congress a genuine memorial.

Stephen Douglas called Lane a liar. Lane demanded satisfaction on the field of honor. Douglas wrapped himself in senatorial privilege and refused Lane’s challenge. Lane accepted the refusal in ill grace, implying that Douglas really refused on grounds of cowardice. Few found Lane’s oath or his challenge persuasive. The Senate rejected the Topeka memorial on a party line vote.

“Neither the spirit of servility nor arrogance” The Free State Memorial to Congress, Part One

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Jefferson Buford and his few hundred men reached Kansas in May, 1856. That takes us rather ahead of where we left Kansas, with the opening of the Topeka Legislature and some piracy on the Missouri river. That left us in early March. As we followed Buford and company into Kansas, we ought to turn around and follow two free state men out. The Topeka government drew up a memorial to present to Kansas and sent it along with one of the free state of Kansas first senators, should the Congress opt to admit the territory to the Union. Thus James Lane returned to Washington City.

The memorial insisted that the “law abiding citizens” who were “proud of their attachment to the constitution” accepted the government that the Kansas-Nebraska Act created for them, right up until such time as they had enough people on the ground to qualify for statehood. When that time came, “they were willing to be governed by the will of the majority.”

They might have set up a wildcat state government opposed to that territorial government now, but they had reasons. The free state legislature continued by recapping those reasons: from the very first election, Missourians had crossed the border to vote illegally. Real Kansans had put up with that three times in a row, in the name of peace and quiet. Only the adoption of Kansas’ slave code, with its attack on white freedom, did they decide they must take things into their own hands. Submitting to those laws

destroys the freedom of speech, controls the liberty of the press, and is an innovation upon those rights guaranteed by the constitution. Obedience to it would be an act unworthy of an American citizen.

I don’t make it my business to deem acts worthy or unworthy of Americans, but having read those laws I can’t argue with the account of their effects. Presented with dire assaults on sacred rights, including even the right for antislavery people to sit on juries, they felt they had to strike for statehood on their own.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

If that didn’t suffice, then the memorialists reminded the Congress that

Late in November, about two thousand armed men, with seven pieces of artillery, made an attack upon the town of Lawrence, and held it in a state of siege for about two weeks. […] The enemy declared their intentions to destroy the town and slaughter its inhabitants

All that happened. Expecting, quite rightly, no help from Franklin Pierce’s White House, they had to do something. Thus the memorialists

come to you in neither the spirit of servility nor arrogance, but as American citizens, knowing their own rights, and asking them at your hands; and in requesting the attention of your honorable bodies to the constitution adopted by them […] your memorialists respectfully pray for the admission of Kansas as a State into the confederacy

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.

Sheriff Jones Goes to Topeka With the Devil’s Eyes

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

At the end of January, the free state party had in hand a constitution for Kansas. They had elected men to serve under that constitution. If they had garnered rivals from within their movement, then they won handily at the polls all the same. Along the way, they had also come near to a pitched battle with proslavery forces, to say nothing of the many clashes between proslavery and antislavery Kansans on an individual level. They had the governor’s blessing for their militia and the president’s condemnation. Laurels like these might prompt some of us to take a break, but they knew that they remained under the gun.

That fact must have been on many minds as a result of the late elections. Come March 4, 1856, the officers of the free state government would take office. That would put the leadership in one convenient spot doing the very thing that Franklin Pierce had told them they should not do, under threat of military intervention. Someone might try something.

March 4 came on a Tuesday in 1856. Monday that week, according to the pamphlet Organization of the Free State Government in Kansas (PDF),

the “big guns” of the Free-State party were fired off with great effect in Constitution Hall-the room in which the Free-State Constitution was framed-at Franklin Pierce and other creatures of the Slave Power at Washington city. Mr. Stephen Sparks off Easton-a member of the House and leader of the fight in defence of the ballot-box there on the 15th of January-was called to the chair and presided.

The pamphlet related a very brief version of Sparks’ travail, getting the date wrong. Sketches of each principal followed. Charles Robinson, the author tells us, cut the figure of a perfectly disinterested statesman with questionable oratorical skills. James Lane, “a beau ideal of the political intriguer” cut a military figure and undercut his “fluent” speaking with “want of earnestness”. Lieutenant Governor Roberts had an “uncommonly hard, and dull” voice. He would not “set the Missouri river on fire.” The author made it clear that the intriguer Lane and flame-retardant Roberts hailed from the Democracy.

The free state men denounced Pierce and spent some time Monday discussing what they ought to do with their new government. Tuesday brought Lane, as chair of the executive committee, swearing them in. All the while, they had an audience:

The immortal bogus Sheriff Jones, a tall, muscular, athletic loafer, with a cruel Mephistophelean expression, clad in the Border Ruffian costume-blue military overcoat, large boots, a skull cap and a cigar in mouth-was present at the organization, and amused himself and the members both, by writing down the names of the Senators and Representatives as they took the oath.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

One has to account for the performance of manly bravado in these things, but everyone had to know that Jones wouldn’t arrest them then and there. In the midst of scores of free state men -more than thirty Representatives and eleven Senators alone- Jones could hardly make a credible threat. He and the new legislators might very well have cracked plenty of jokes at one another’s expense. The author had the last word. He had seen the legal legislature meet as well and, unsurprisingly, found the present gathering far superior to to that band of

drunkards, blasphemers, and gamblers […] personally as ignorant and unpolished as their “acts” demonstrated they were unprincipled and violent

Jones, with Satan as his copilot, could sit there and scribble names all he liked. Kansas had a government, however illegal, of sober and principled antislavery men now.


Republicanism in Kansas, and in Jim Lane

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Charles Stearns wanted everybody to know that they should disregard the supposed Anti-Abolition free state ticket in the January elections. Its advocates used to be for abolition, but changed their minds and swung right. He left it to implication that they did so for base and venal reasons. But in swinging right to oppose the main free state slate, the Anti-Abolition men went further. Their opposition, after all, included a heterodox collection of National Democrats, Whigs, Republicans, National Sovereignty, and Squatter Sovereignty types. They hailed from states North and South. They had voted to keep free blacks as well as slaves out of Kansas. Little united them save their opposition to slavery in Kansas, and even that common cause rested on a tangle of meaningful contradictions. Most notably, while many free state men opposed slavery itself, others would have accepted it if only Kansans had the chance to settle the issue for themselves and only crossed over after repeated Missouri-based interventions.

The platform of the other dissenting free state ticket, Young America, appear even more opaque. They wanted the same men to hold the same offices as the free state convention had agreed to, but with two revisions. While both tickets insisted that some men they aimed to replace had withdrawn fro the election, the Young Americans particularly stressed it. Their name suggests a strong Democratic alignment, which their contemporaries could not have missed. Young America, in the middle nineteenth century, stood for an aggressive, expansionist United States. The nation might spread through wars or the exploits of filibusters like William Walker and John A. Quitman, but it would expand and so bring freedom to a waiting world.

If the Young Americans had a point beyond that their men wanted offices badly enough to split from the free state party to do it, then they might have seen the groundwork laid for a development unfolding very before after the January 15, 1856 election that rejected their nominees. George Brown’s Herald of Freedom for January 19, reports that on Saturday last (January 12, the date of his previous edition)

The great Republican party of the North, whose battle cry is “No more Slave States,” with whose political success the material welfare of Kansas and all our hopes for an immediate admission are inseparably united, was organized in this city […] at a large and enthusiastic mass meeting

This did represent a change from past the past strategy of claiming no party but antislavery for Kansas, but it can’t have surprised many. Prominent free state leaders had identified with the Republicans for some time, if by no means all of them, and the GOP had taken in dissenting Democrats. That didn’t mean they forgot their old politics on issues aside slavery, but by the start of 1856 they had to know that a place existed for them in the new coalition. The party of no new slave states and the party of no slave state of Kansas would naturally run together.

Brown notes the platform emphatically endorsed Congress’ power over slavery in the territories. James Lane, among others, endorsed it. These men

all National democrats-endorsed the platform as reported, and thus repudiated Squatter Sovereignty the cardinal doctrine of the “National” Democracy! -Kansas evidently is a healthy climate for the mind as well as body!

Brown used the occasion to remind his readers of Lane’s dubious history. He came to Kansas after having voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Once there, he tried to set up a Kansas Democracy. By accepting the creed of congressional power to decided slavery for the territories, he had come a long way indeed.