The Remedy of Injustice and Civil War: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 13

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12Full text

We left Charles Sumner telling the Senate that the Remedy of Folly, to disarm the antislavery Kansans and tell them to make do, would not fly. To this point, Sumner has answered the non-solutions of his foes to Kansas’ troubles with a mix of ridicule and reasoned debate. His contempt shines through. For the next non-solution, he had a threat. The new remedy committed an injustice and risked civil war.

The remedy of Injustice and Civil War came in a handy carrying case, a bill before the Senate which would authorize the governor and legislature of Kansas to conduct a census. When that census turned up 98,420 people, they could go ahead and hold a constitutional convention. From there they would write a state constitution and apply for admission to the Union like any other territory did.

In ordinary times, no one would raise an eyebrow at that. Sumner objected on the grounds that, while the proposed law followed normal procedures, it left every judgment in the hands of the proslavery governor and his proslavery legislature. By doing so, the bill’s supporters “recognize the very Usurpation in which the crime ended, and proceed to endow it with new prerogatives.” How much could you trust a census run by the bogus legislature?

Furthermore, the proslavery government of Kansas need not take those steps at all. Nothing in the law obligated them to run the census and move ahead, fairly or otherwise. Since the legislature would not meet again until January of 1857, this solution to Kansas’ troubles promised they would continue at least until January, plus whatever time the census and constitutional convention required, if the legislature chose to go ahead. All that kept Kansas in the spotlight, “this great question open, to distract and irritate the country.”

Even by the standards of Sumner’s foes, this just did not do the job. If they wanted Kansas over and done with, they should not embark on a plan that would leave the question untouched and invite further mayhem for more than half a year. Sumner, understandably, cared less about that detail than they might. He moved on to note the real problem: the Senate bill consolidated proslavery control of the territory.

Pass this Bill, and you enlist Congress in the conspiracy, not only to keep the people of Kansas in their present subjugation, throughout their territorial existence, but also to protract this subjugation into their existence as a State, while you legalize and perpetuate the very force by which slavery has already been planted there.

To underline the point, Sumner noted that the bill endowed a legislature which as a practical measure outlawed political antislavery with the power of decision. It might have set aside the legislature’s test acts to vote in delegate elections to the constitutional convention, but in admitting their injustice for that the Senate only raised the question of why to keep them for anything? Many genuine Kansans lost the franchise under those laws. Many Missourians could come over and vote untroubled by them. In effect, the Senate didn’t mind that but set up a fig leaf to obscure the fact.

In characterizing this Bill as the Remedy of Injustice and Civil War, I give it a plain, self-evident title. It is a continuation of the Crime against Kansas, and as such deserves the same condemnation. It can only be defended by those who defend the Crime. Sir, you cannot expect that the people of Kansas will submit to the Usurpation which this bill sets up, and bids them bow before-as the Austrian tyrant set up his cap in the Swiss market-place. If you madly persevere, Kansas will not be without her William tell, who will refuse at all hazards to recognize the tyrannical edict; and this will be the beginning of civil war.

 

The Remedy of Tyranny: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 11

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10Full text

Charles Sumner ran down and dismissed every excuse given for lawless proslavery extremism in Kansas. He would have nothing of their apologies, tyrannical, imbecile, infamous, or absurd. But as the musical tells us, lacking a plan of one’s own and just hating the alternatives doesn’t make for the best politics…at least if one actually wants to address the question. Obstruction alone serves admirably if one prefers the status quo on a subject. Thus Sumner moved on, in the second day of his speech, to “the TRUE REMEDY”. A true remedy had to do a lot of work, because Stephen Douglas and company had screwed up Kansas so badly. To fix Kansas, Sumner argued they needed a solution that also worked for “Nebraska, Minnesota, Washington, and even Oregon.” He believed, at least for the purposes of the speech, that the entire free territory of the United States now stood open to slavery. I don’t know about Minnesota on that count, but for the rest he has a reasonable claim. Reinstating the Missouri Compromise would at once settle things. Naturally, no one in Congress proposed to do such a thing.

To salve the nation’s wounds, Sumner reviewed four options: First we have the Remedy of Tyranny; next, the Remedy of Folly; next, the remedy of Injustice and Civil War; and fourthly, the Remedy of Justice and Peace. These are the four caskets; and you are to determine which shall be opened by Senatorial votes.

The Remedy of Tyranny meant doing as Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce wished. Concede Kansas, and the rest of the nation’s posterity, to slavery and call it good. The territorial government and its oppressive laws must stand. The first chance to do that would come in the contested House election for Kansas’ delegate. If Andrew Reeder prevailed, then so might freedom. If James Whitfield did, slavery followed. Sumner left that to the House, because Senators should mind their own business and respect the other chamber’s prerogatives

But now, while dismissing it, I should not pardon myself, if I failed to add, that any person who founds his claim to a seat in Congress on the pretended votes of hirelings from another State, with no home on the soil of Kansas, plays the part of the Anarcharsis Clootz, who, at the bar of the French convention, understood to represent nations that knew him not, or, if they knew him, scorned him

Sumner then spent the better part of a page likening the advocates of the Remedy of Tyranny to King George, venting against the American colonists.

A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison looms large in the story of Bleeding Kansas. A man of his beliefs and inclinations, living just across the line in Missouri, would have probably taken part regardless of his national prominence. Though all but forgotten today, except for the false trivia about his serving as president for a day, in his time Atchison enjoyed a national following. After Calhoun’s death, he served as one of the most high-profile spokesmen for extreme proslavery politics. He had the high esteem of his peers in the Senate, who elected him president pro tempore, unanimously, during what many consider that body’s golden age. He appears in antislavery sources as a crude drunkard, probably with some justice, but Atchison also received a fine education and served ably as a lawyer and judge before his political career. In the former capacity, he worked to defend the Mormons from their hostile Missourian neighbors. We may know far more about him, except that most of his papers went up in smoke in a house fire. Thus when William Earl Parrish took Atchison as his subject, he produced a spare monograph that remains the Senator’s lone biography. Parrish leans heavily on Atchison’s ease in making political friends to underline his abilities, while not neglecting that Bourbon Dave put them to work in the service of slavery.

Parrish traces Atchison’s involvement with filibustering Kansas from its start. He joined with the Stringfellows, close friends of his, in calling for a meeting to discuss Kansas matters and plan a response to the Emigrant Aid Company in the summer of 1854, with the ink barely dry on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That meeting formed the Platte County Self-Defense Association, which accepted B.F. Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil. as its manifesto. As soon as Atchison got home from Washington, he took up control of the Self-Defensives. They used their group as a model in establishing the blue lodges that spread across Missouri and joined with a separate group Parrish calls the Kansas League, which operated inside the territory. Then the Senator came into Kansas to speak at his namesake town, just before they began selling off lots.

Atchison’s organization did not elude national notice. Amos Lawrence wrote him in March of 1855, asking the Senator to rein in his followers. Lawrence made no bones about their conflicting purposes: Atchison wanted slavery in Kansas and Lawrence wanted it out. But he asked that the two sides have a fair fight of it and assured Atchison that his organiztion did not actually have a vast legion of militant Yankees bent on conquest. If his side failed, Lawrence promised that antislavery Kansans would accept a loss in good grace “but they will never yield to injustice.”

Amos Adams Lawrence

Atchison answered in April, two weeks after the legislative elections where he and his conducted one of the largest and most flagrant frauds in American electoral history. He had no regrets:

You are right in your conjecture that I and my friends wish to make Kansas in all respects like Missouri. Our interests require it. Our peace through all time demands it, and we intend to leave nothing undone that will conduce to that end and can with honor be performed. If we fail, ten we will surrender to your care and control the State of Missouri. We have all to lose in the contest; you and your friends have nothing at stake. You propose to vote or to drive us away from Kansas. We do not propose to drive you and your friends from that Territory; but we do not intend either to be voted or driven our of Kansas, if we can help it; for we are foolish enough to believe we have as much right to inhabit that country as men from New England. Neither do we intend to be driven from Missouri, or suffer ourselves to be harassed in our property or our peace, if we can help it. At least we will try and make you and your friends share some of our anxieties.

At the time of the first delegate election, Atchison stumped across western Missouri. He told the people of Weston in to do their duty, anticipating what he would write to Lawrence in the spring:

When you reside within one day’s journey of the territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property depend upon your action, you can, without an exertion, send 500 of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions.

That day or shortly thereafter, Atchison ran a convention of the various blue lodges in Weston which nominated John Wilkins Whitfield as delegate.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Bourbon Dave didn’t leave things sit with that, of course. He skipped the first few weeks of the new term of Congress that began in December of 1854. Instead of Washington, Atchison went to Independence where he presided over a meeting to choose blue lodge emissaries to fan out across the South and replicate his work. Some would send men, but Atchison would take money and propaganda too. B.F. Stringfellow drew Virginia (his home state) and Maryland as his assignment. Platte and Buchanan counties would pay his travel expenses. He traveled back east with the Senator.

At Atchison’s request the Senate had elected Jesse D. Bright, a friend of Atchison’s from university days and who represented Indiana whilst owning slaves and a plantation in Kentucky, as his replacement. Bright offered to resign in Atchison’s favor, but the Missourian turned him down. He did little in the Senate, and missed sessions entirely toward the end of January. Parrish couldn’t find proof of it, but suspected that Atchison went with Stringfellow to lobby Virginia and Maryland. The Senator likely last served in his official capacity in Washington on February 2, 1855. Afterwards, he drops off the radar for about twenty days again. The papers, national and Missourian, took no note of him except for the latter complaining that he had vanished.

The absence drew some attention after the fact. Gideon Welles confided to his diary (in a volume I can’t find online) that he asked Lewis Cass after Atchison in that time. A mutual friend told Cass that Atchison had gone

on a tour through the Southern States, concocting measures with the Governors and leading men at the South to make Kansas a slave state.

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.

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.

The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee had a problem. They had come all the way out to Lawrence to gather testimony on how Kansas had gone so badly wrong as to end up with two governments, both of which elected a delegate to Congress. They put the dueling delegates, John Whitfield and Andrew Reeder, in charge of making the case for their respective parties. The night after their first meeting in the unofficial free state capital, someone shot Samuel Jones in the back. The attempted assassination of one of the proslavery party’s most militant field leaders in Lawrence did not make a visit appealing to many proslavery witnesses. John Whitfield gave notice that his people, understandably, no longer felt safe in coming to town.

In response Mordechai Oliver, the member from Missouri, moved

On account of the excitement now prevailing in the city of Lawrence and the surrounding country, growing out of the assassination of sheriff Jones when engaged in the lawful discharge of his duty, which assassination and consequent excitement he believes will deter parties and witnesses from coming and appearing before the committee, he objects to proceeding with the investigation further at this time at this point, and suggests that the committee adjourn to Fort Leavenworth

The Committee met in the Free State Hotel, literally discussing the assassination attempt on Jones under the same roof where he had convalesced. A note in the minutes relates that they met in the morning, but adjourned at once out of respect for his plight. They came back together to answer Whitfield’s letter and weigh Oliver’s motion. The majority went against Oliver’s motion for removal and they answered Whitfield in writing. They understood the plight of his proslavery witnesses and would accommodate them

at their earliest convenience, at any suitable place, giving you ample notice and the benefit of our subpoena to collect as many witnesses as you may desire, at such place as you may designate.

Name the place and the committee would come to hear Whitfield’s evidence. They could hardly deny the safety concerns for his people after what happened the night before and meant to go around Kansas for the convenience of witnesses anyway. However, they would not just abandon Lawrence and informed Whitfield that he ought to stay around. They had antislavery witnesses who also deserved a hearing, who had no safety concerns about the town, and Whitfield needed to come along so he could cross-examine them and help the committee learn the truth of things. If Whitfield didn’t feel personally safe enough, he could send his lawyer instead.

The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Arrivals and returns have shaped much of Kansas history so far in 1856. The Buford Expedition and Howard Committee arrived in the territory to do their work. Pardee Butler and Samuel Wood came back to Kansas after time away. Just as some of Buford’s men, or a similar group, met Butler’s return to Kansas so did the Howard Committee find itself in Lawrence when Samuel Jones came to serve the warrant he had on Samuel Wood dating back to December. Jones’ subsequent arrests of six men who helped Wood escape him got him shot in the back. This naturally had an effect on the committee’s business in the town.

The Committee might not have gone to Lawrence. They received a letter from E.V. Sumner, in command at Fort Leavenworth, suggesting they meet there. He promised that

There may be no excitement if you assemble elsewhere, but there will certainly be none here.

They answered that they intended to conduct its business at various points in Kansas, but would happily take Sumner up on the offer when they came around his way. The first business in Kansas took place at Lecompton, where they ordered copies of various documents and agreed on the rules for examining witnesses. April 23 found them in Lawrence.

Decades later, John Sherman remarked on the great development of the region that had since taken place. They came to a different Lawrence, one

in embryo, nothing finished, and my wife and I were glad to have a cot in a room in the unfinished and unoccupied “Free State Hotel”

In those modest settings, the committee had a brief meeting on the twenty-third. They had previously agreed to use Andrew Reeder and John Whitfield, both claiming election as Kansas’ sole delegate to Congress, to draw up lists of witnesses for the next day. That night, Samuel Jones took a bullet in the back.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The next morning, Whitfield wrote to the committee. In light of the attack upon Jones, Whitfield pronounced himself

unable to get my witnesses to attend the sitting of the committee at this place; they refusing, and with good reason, to expose themselves and run the risk of being assassinated, whenever night shuts in, by a lawless band of conspirators.

Whitfield’s witnesses included Samuel Jones, who had more reason than most to refuse a trip to Lawrence. Others present at told the proslavery delegate they would leave Lawrence in short order. Nor would those who planned to come previously do so in light of the danger to their lives. Furthermore:

there are others here rendering me material aid in this investigation, and without whom I cannot safely proceed, whom I cannot ask to remain and imperil their lives in so doing, or at least subject themselves to insult and contumely.

One can’t blame them. Whitfield promised that he would still happily comply with the committee’s work and bring all his witnesses to bear, but they had to meet somewhere safer than Lawrence.

Representing Kansas and the Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The question of what to do about Kansas continued to occupy the Congress in March of 1856. Would the nation stay the course with the bogus legislature and its laws, authorizing them to write a constitution with slavery and come into the Union down the road? Would they roll back the clock to last year or the year before, wiping aside all the territory had done and starting from scratch? Or would they admit the illegal free state government making their Kansas into the Kansas, free of slavery and blacks? Unsurprisingly, no more consensus existed on Kansas then than two years prior when Stephen Douglas, at the behest of Archibald Dixon and the F Street Mess, repealed the Missouri Compromise and started the mess.

John Sherman

John Sherman

The continuing debate over what to do with Kansas addressed the question of its future, immediate or otherwise. It also bore on Kansas’ present. John Wilkins Whitfield and Andrew Reeder had both arrived in Washington and presented their credentials to the House of Representatives. Kansas, entitled by law to one non-voting delegate, now had two. Choosing between Whitfield, the proslavery Indian agent twice elected to the post by fraud, and Reeder, the former governor elected by the free state government in an illegal election, meant choosing between the two governments. The House’s Committee on Elections asked the authority to call for papers and testimony on the question. Southerners objected. The House had a northern, anti-Nebraska majority. That majority had its cracks, but if it investigated then few could doubt the eventual verdict.

James Orr (D-SC)

James Orr (D-SC)

To forestall that risk, James Orr (D-SC) suggested that the House yield the question to a pair of southern lawyers. They would naturally judge Whitfield the more qualified man and seat him. Nobody fell for that. On March 19, over the unanimous objection of the South, the House voted to authorize an investigative committee of three men. One Democrat, Mordechai Oliver of Missouri, and two Republicans, William A. Howard of Michigan and John Sherman of Ohio would go off to Kansas and inquire into just what had really gone on in the troubled territory. Their report, published at the start of July, provides an invaluable source for Kansas’ first two years.

While the majority speaks clearly to what conclusions it would reach, the Howard Report would give Congress something firmer than newspaper reports and letters from constituents to judge matters. Everyone understood that newspapers had a firm partisan slant, one way or another. Testimony given under oath might hold more water. Even hostile witnesses before the committee surely lied, omitted, and evaded, but most I’ve read seem to have held themselves to a more stringent standard than they might in letters or editorials.

 

 

President Pierce Declares War

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce had one job: execute the laws. The fourteenth president took it as seriously indeed, declaring himself powerless to see the law that actual residents of Kansas voted on the territory’s future but entirely capable of defending the territory’s proslavery laws by force. He went so far as to ask Congress for specific appropriations to defray such an expense, in the likely event that he threw the full strength of the presidency and the United States Army behind a government most Kansans considered patently bogus.

I’ve mentioned before that Pierce’s message came at an odd time. The greatest clash between the two parties in Kansas and Missouri had come and gone more than near two months before. The President barely gave it passing mention in his annual message at the end of December. Given he held that message back until the last possible moment while Congress failed to organize, he must have written most of it some time before and thus still closer to the close of the Wakarusa War on December 9. Come late January, he still give the affair only a passing reference. For most of his special message, Pierce inveighed against antislavery Kansans in the customary manner of a functionally proslavery antebellum politician. Agitation on both sides had caused problems and might soon bring the Union to its knees, but antislavery agitation made for the far worse sin.

Given all the previous what did Pierce really mean to accomplish? As I wrote previously, historians differ. The extensive focus on Andrew Reeder has persuaded many that Pierce had an eye toward the ex-governor’s arrival in Washington to claim a seat as Kansas’ delegate to Congress. The free state party elected him in at their polls, while the proslavery men returned John Wilkins Whitfield to the same seat. Given how things had already gone in the race for the Speakership, Pierce had to expect a good fight over that question. By reminding Congress of the first governor of Kansas’ misdeeds, real and imagined, he could made Reeder less appealing to moderate anti-Nebraska men.

Whatever his precise motives, no one had to guess what side Pierce had chosen. But if anybody missed it, Pierce followed up his January 24 special message with a proclamation, dated February 11 and titled Law and Order in the Territory of Kansas. There he President made everything he suggested, hinted at, and foresaw coming official:

I, Franklin Pierce, President of the United States, do issue this my proclamation to command all persons engaged in unlawful combinations against the constituted authority of the Territory of Kansas or of the United States to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes, and to warn all such persons that any attempted insurrection in said Territory or aggressive intrusion into the same will be resisted not only by the employment of the local militia, but also by that of any available forces of the United States

Back in December, Wilson Shannon could not get the Army to answer an invasion of 1500 men from Missouri. Now Franklin Pierce would turn out the military to break up the free state movement, which had failed to invade anywhere. Yes, he says that the Army would also interpose to stop an invasion from Missouri, but Pierce took pains to call out distant states for their “unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory” and his previous statements, many reiterated in the proclamation, made it clear he wouldn’t lift a finger against proslavery Missourians.

Blame the Free State Men

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce kept up his indictment of Andrew Reeder, delving into the legal technicalities related to the location of the capital of Kansas. I will spare you a repeated account of that tedious dispute. Suffice it to say that Pierce did not think Reeder acted properly in the slightest. The President’s wrath fully vented on the governor he shoes for Kansas, Pierce found another guilty party on whom to lay Kansas’ troubles: the free state movement.

Claiming the legal government of Kansas’ illegitimacy arose from its relocation away from Pawnee, a position actually held by precious few Kansans save Andrew Reeder, Pierce told the Congress that Kansans elected a legal delegate to Congress, John Whitfield on his second term, then other Kansans illegally elected another, Andrew Reeder. Pierce considered that “the first great movement in disregard of law within the Territory.” Given that the free state movement hadn’t run any elections of their own before Reeder’s, he might have a point. To grant it would only require us to ignore the repeated invasions from Missouri. Pierce knew about them well enough, but as usual dismissed proslavery extremism as either unimportant or justified.

To follow up that bit of lawlessness, Pierce named

another and more important one of the same general character. Persons confessedly not constituting the body politic or all the inhabitants, but merely a party of the inhabitants, and without law, have undertaken to summon a convention for the purpose of transforming the Territory into a State, and have framed a constitution, adopted it, and under it elected a governor and other officers and a Representative to Congress.

In their defense, the free state movement cited California, Michigan, and other states formed without the permission of Congress. Pierce granted the facts. The usual procedure that the Congress passed a territorial organic act, like the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and then would some time later pass an enabling act authorizing a state constitutional convention preparatory to admission to the Union, amounted to a custom rather than a strict requirement. However, it remained with Congress to approve or deny admission “in its discretion.” Furthermore:

in no instance has a State been admitted upon the application of persons acting against authorities duly constituted by act of Congress. In every case it is the people of the Territory, not a party among them, who have the power to form a constitution and ask for admission as a state. No principle of public law, nor practice or precedent under the Constitution of the United States, no rule of reason, right, or common sense, confers any such power as that now claimed by a mere party in the Territory. In fact what has been done is of revolutionary character.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Pierce might have technical points here, but plenty of people in Kansas would disagree with him about just how many of them the free state movement represented. It didn’t cover everybody, but then neither would any ordinary constitutional convention have done so. Someone loses every election and people of all stripes will naturally write constitutions suited to their particular values which, as a necessary consequence, prove hostile to the contrary values of others.

That said, boycotting elections, or holding illegal ones, did change the equation somewhat from the usual. If the losing party in elections for a state convention opted to throw its own, one might understandably look askance at them. In democracies, the people rule and express their wishes through elections. To disregard them on the simple grounds that one lost demonstrates that one doesn’t believe in democracy at all, but rather something more on the lines of “I win, you lose”-ocracy. Things in Kansas, however, had gone so out of the ordinary that it turned things on their head. The people of Kansas had precious little chance to have their voices heard, thanks to Missouri’s repeated interventions in slavery’s defense. Rather in their case, the presumptive, and eventually actual, losers of the elections had their way instead.