“His shaft did not touch me, but fell upon them” Sumner Answers Cass

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

The Crime Against Kansas: Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15Full text

Douglas Answers, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Hearing the replies of Lewis Cass, Stephen Douglas, and James Mason to his Crime Against Kansas speech, Sumner understood that they demanded a reply. If he said nothing, unlike him in any event, it would amount to conceding their points. Sumner wouldn’t let that happen and so rose to speak again. He started with Cass,

venerable with years, and with whom I have had associations of personal regard longer than with any person now within the sound of my voice. […] The Senator from Michigan knows full well that nothing can fall from me which can have anything but kindness for him.

During his tour of the nation, Sumner had called on Cass and his marriageable daughter in Michigan. I don’t know how much further back they go, but that had to count for something. Lewis Cass, Sumner’s dear friend, had turned on him:

He has said on this floor to-day that he listened with regret to my speech. I have never avowed on this floor how often, with my heart brimming full of friendship for him, I have listened with regret to what has fallen from his lips. I have never said that he stood here to utter sentiments which seemed beyond all question disloyal to the character of the fathers and to the true spirit of the Constitution

Lewis Cass

Sumner and Cass differed in the past, but Sumner had never gone public with it. He maintained their friendship and Cass repaid him with accusations approaching treason. Sumner sounds genuinely blindsided. He may have thought higher of Cass than Cass did of him. He at least implied that he did. Wounded feelings only got one so far, though. Politics in every era has no dearth of bruising scrapes. Sumner moved on to the substance, that Cass accused him of having Michigan’s history wrong.

my statement of that case was founded upon the actual documents. No word was mine: It was all from Jackson, from Grundy, from Buchanan, from Benton, from the Democratic leaders of that day. When the Senator criticised me, his shaft did not touch me, but fell upon them.

Don’t argue with Sumner; argue with the people he quoted. Yet Cass didn’t dispute the words themselves. He argued instead about the particulars of the situation in Michigan which gave rise to the lines in question. One could argue that Cass’ shaft -let us imagine an arrow, Gentle Readers- did touch, because Sumner sidestepped the argument. But Sumner’s reference to “actual documents” reminds us that he did the research. The Crime Against Kansas speaks of Michigan’s situation in some detail, more than one would expect from an idle reference. Cass has a fair point in that Michigan’s statehood did not progress exactly like Kansas’ bid had, but he himself equivocates between a statehood rejected by the legislature and one accepted by a dubious popular assembly. Both men could make a case from those facts, but it does seem to hinge more on technical details than points of principle.

 

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Cass Answers Sumner

Lewis Cass (D-MI)

The Crime Against Kansas: Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15Full text

On May 20, 1856, Charles Sumner finished his Crime Against Kansas speech and sat down. For all the hours he spoke, no one interjected to call him to order. He inveighed against slavery, against South Carolina, against his fellow senators, and ultimately against the Northern Democracy for serving as slavery’s eager lapdogs. He preceded his last volley of insults by citing the precedent of Michigan to argue that Kansas’ free state government deserved admission to the Union. Through all of it, Sumner’s invective struck at the notion of popular sovereignty first advanced by Lewis Cass and later adopted by Stephen Douglas to legislate slavery into Kansas. Cass, as a member of the Jackson Cabinet when Michigan’s statehood came before the nation, as a northern Democrat, and as Michigan’s former territorial governor and present senator, not to mention President Pro Tempore of the chamber, had a few things to say about all that. He rose to give the first answer to Sumner:

I have listened with equal regret and surprise to the speech of the honorable Senator from Massachusetts. Such a speech-the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grate don the ears of the members of this high body-as I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.

Yet Cass rose not to take this out on Sumner, however much he deserved “the highest censure and disapprobation.” Instead, he wanted to check Sumner’s history, which the Massachusetts senator “has so misunderstood and misapplied.” Sumner claimed for the people a right “to form conventions with a view to obstruct the authorized laws of the country.” Cass would have none of that, denying such a right to “any portion of the American people.” Conventions Americans might form, but not to array themselves against the established laws. To do that, “unless they succeed” put one right over into “rebellion.”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

Here Cass makes what must read as a strange proposition today, but in nineteenth century America the right of revolution had a high cachet. You could rebel and make heroes of yourselves in the doing, as the founders did, fair enough. Had the founders failed, they might have ended on the end of a rope. The right of revolution appears always in retrospect, granted to history’s winners. So far, Kansas had not overthrown the territorial government or the United States. Thus Cass felt no obligation to yield to the demands of an illegal assembly of rebels.

But back to history. Michigan, sixty thousand whites strong, asked admission to the Union. Its constitutional convention, however, originated in an act of the legislature. The people in some vague, abstract sense, had nothing to do with it. The Wolverine State did things properly, thank you. The only difficulty came when Michigan claimed its boundary as set by Congress, rather than the one set by Ohio. Ohioans surveyed their northern boundary and helped themselves to Toledo. The tensions came close to a proper battle, with militias called out on both sides. Cass recalled how the Jackson administration feared a war. To defuse things, Congress agreed to admission contingent on a convention of Michiganders signing off on Ohio’s version of the boundary. They refused.

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

William Seward pressed: Just how did that first convention come together? Cass thought the governor and legislature did the work. Then coloring outside the lines ensued:

By a spontaneous act of the people, a second convention was called-not to oppose the laws, like the Kansas convention-not to establish another government-not to get up and oppose acts of Congress, or of the Territorial Legislature-not to make a revolution, but to escape from a civil war, to get out of a difficulty merely by saying that the people of the State were willing to accept the proposition of Congress.

They did so unanimously and everyone went home happy, hint hint. If Michigan could suffer a wrong -and Cass admitted the state did, as it had every right to insist on the original border- then Kansas could take a lump or two as well.

The Remedy of Justice and Peace: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 14

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13Full text

If the Senate wanted Civil War, Charles Sumner told them how to get it. They need only take the present territorial government of Kansas in as its legitimate government, rendering permanent the proslavery usurpation of its elections. The proslavery men on the ground, already not shy about violence, would surely step up their campaign to purge the land of dissenting whites. Antislavery men in turn would look more ardently to their defense. Money and guns would flow into the state from both sections and soon the violence would spread.

Should the Senators wish to avoid that, they had a solution on hand. William Seward proposed junking Stephen Douglas’ bill to take the present government of Kansas and make it a state. Instead, the Senate should recognize the free state movement and its Topeka Constitution. They had all the officers of a proper government ready to go the moment Congress gave the word. Sheriff Samuel Jones kept a list.

Rarely has any proposition, so simple in character, so entirely practicable, so absolutely within your power, been presented, which promised at once such beneficent results. In its adoption, the Crime against Kansas will be all happily resolved, the Usurpation which established it will be peacefully suppressed, and order will be permanently secured.

Senator William H. Seward (Republican-NY)

The country should thank William Seward for saving the Union. Sumner spent a brief paragraph praising him that must have gone over well during the rehearsal, then moved on to why Kansas deserved statehood. First, the Kansans asked for it and statehood would take Washington off the hook for Kansas’ expenses. Those included expenditures for keeping the peace, which Sumner attributed with considerable justice “on account of the pretended Territorial Government.” Second, Kansas showed the ability to defend itself during the Wakarusa War. That argued for its passing the stage of an enfeebled state in need of a direct patron. Third and last, Sumner pointed out that Kansas had “the pecuniary credit” to afford to run its own affairs.

Anticipating objections, Sumner ran down them in short order. The Constitution left admission of states entirely to the whim of Congress, placing no test upon them save for not making states by carving land out of existing states without leave. (To answer the obvious question, West Virginia’s formation had the assent of the then-recognized government of the state.) Nor did precedent of law insist on a minimum population, though folk wisdom often thinks so. Even if it did, Kansas had more people in 1856 than Delaware or Florida and so easily matched the customary bar. One might object that Kansas did not have enough people to qualify for a single member in the House, according to then-current ratios. Florida gained admission despite that. Furthermore, the ratio of representation changed regularly until unwise capping of the size of the House in the early twentieth century. With that the case, Sumner argued that a controlling precedent found in the ratio at the time of the Louisiana Purchase ought to apply.

Thomas Hart Benton

Likewise, while Kansas had a wildcat state movement Sumner could point to prior occasions where the Congress had respected such organizations and given them statehood. Most recently, California got that treatment. Previously, Michigan “now cherished with such pride as a sister state” did. Michigan, like Kansas, presented itself to Congress with all the usual officials and a constitution adopted without prior approval. Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Benton, and James Buchanan all endorsed Michigan’s statehood at the time, a fact remembered on the state’s maps. In the end, only eight Senators voted against Michigan and the chamber even voted full compensation for the senators forwarded with Michigan’s application retroactive to the start of the session. To deny Kansas now would “bastardize Michigan”.

More Bad News: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Eight

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Reeder’s diary.

May 15, 1856 found Andrew Reeder still closeted in a hotel in Kansas City, “elaborately cared for” by various ladies who would bring him food, flowers, “and attend to all my comforts.” All in all, Kansas’ free state delegate to Congress found it downright comfortable if he set aside the great issue of the day. He needed to be off raising support for the free state cause, not stuck in western Missouri. He also missed his “idolized, noble wife” and “precious, dearly-loved children.” That he had sent G.P. Lowrey ahead of him to bring news to his family, as well as lay down a false trail that might help Reeder escape wore on him as well. When Lowrey delivered his news, they would know their patriarch as a man on the run and in danger.

Reeder had news that the dragnet continued to tighten around Kansas. G.W. Brown remained a prisoner at Westport. Proslavery men stopped ordinary travelers on the road and stopped the mail for searching.

One traveler, coming down from Lawrence, was stopped on the road, and ordered to open his carpet-bag to see if he had any letters or dispatches from Lawrence, and, as he refused to be searched, it was cut open by the ruffians.

It would not do for the free state party to get news of their plight out in person or paper. More worrying still:

About 100 young men from the South, said to be from South Carolina and Georgia, arrived, as I am told, last evening, all armed and equipped after the fashion of Buford’s men, who, from their appearance, equipments, acts, and conversation, have evidently come, not as emigrants, but only to fight. About half of them went on to Leavenworth, and the residue landed here and went into the Territory, leaving their trunks here with Mr. Taylor, and saying that they did not want them along, as the fight would probably be over in a few weeks, and then they would go back.

Buford’s men, or a very similar group, had work ahead of him. That evening, Reeder got word secondhand from a member of the Blue Lodge that they had another invasion in the offing. They hoped to get together two thousand men and raze Lawrence for good, entering Kansas in small groups and avoiding the major roads to avoid notice until they arrived. They would take the town at night and under the pretext of enforcing indictments against its leaders. Samuel Lecompte had given them those indictments and proslavery men had come to Kansas back in December allegedly to maintain law and order. Thwarted then, the proslavery men would likely press far harder now.

Misdirection and Another Capture: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Seven

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Reeder’s diary.

We left Andrew Reeder hiding out in a hotel in Kansas City, where he received news of Charles Robinson’s capture on May 13, 1856. Knowing that the proslavery dragnet reached further into Missouri than just the immediate border can’t have settled the delegate’s mind. Up to this point, Reeder had the company of G.P. Lowery. He advised Lowery to leave without him, on the first available boat and in a disguise. But before Lowery departed, the two arranged some misdirection. Reeder

had him to write a letter directed to me at Chicago, and mail it loosely sealed, to induce the belief that I was in the States, by the way of Nebraska and Iowa, as we were confident they would open it. I instructed him also, if he got safe to St. Louis, to telegraph up here that he had heard from me and that I was safe in Chicago.

Nineteenth century postmasters did open and scrutinize mail, most famously to hunt down antislavery publicans for destruction. Settled precedent dating back to Andrew Jackson’s administration blessed such business. Since postmasters received their jobs through patronage rather than from a professional civil service, even any inclined against such censorship had strong incentive to keep in line.

Reeder remained shut up in his room, though it seems that he had plenty of attention. He writes that no less than four ladies “most kindly waited on” him and “took a lively interest in my safety.” Come evening, Colonel Eldridge brought Reeder less enchanting company: the posse which had came for him at Lawrence had arrived at the hotel. The governor turned delegate assured Eldridge that they had a warrant for Reeder valid in Kansas, but not Missouri. Their authority ended at the border and no harm could come to him from helping Reeder out. However, should they come with a Missourian officer and process in hand, then Eldridge should give Reeder up to keep himself out of trouble.

Expecting them to come, I concealed this diary, and made preparations. I remained up, till midnight, and there was a constant running up and down from the street to their room. At 12 o’clock I went to bed and slept soundly.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Kansas’ first governor has sterner nerves than I do. He woke on the morning of the fourteenth to more welcome news. Eldridge came up and told Reeder that the posse had said nothing of him, but instead came for Grosvenor Lowery and Samuel Pomeroy, the latter an agent of the Emigrant Aid Company. But the good news came with some bad:

G.W. Brown, accompanied by Jenkins, had started for Lawrence, and had been stopped on the road by M’Gee’s party of Missourians (without any process, of course), and made prisoners. Have not learned what is done with them.

That day also brought a boat up to Kansas City which departed with great cheers from the town. Reeder thought that Robinson must have come through, but learned instead that Kansas City cheered a marshal’s party starting for Leavenworth. It says something for Reeder’s state of mind that news of an armed band heading into Kansas from Missouri came as a relief, though probably also to the fact that Andrew Reeder consistently stood for the party of Andrew Reeder. He had joined the free state movement late, when deprived of other means for political advance in Kansas, and under the condition that they make his grievance over shady land deals their own.

After a while, Reeder changed rooms for the second time. Things had quieted and the proper residents of the room had been out of it for some time. Anybody could start to wonder. At this point, Reeder hoped no one believed him present and so he might safely move on as soon as he could find a boat with a willing captain, which would remain docked through the night so he could quietly board. With Robinson captured, he needed to get moving regardless. It fell now to him to take up the governor’s mission and seek out the executives of Ohio, Michigan, and maybe even Iowa and Wisconsin to come to aid the free state cause.

Jim Crow Comes to Michigan

Gentle Readers, the triumphant story of the Civil Rights Movement ends in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow died there, stabbed through the heart by Lyndon Johnson’s pen. Black Americans henceforth had protection against state governments that acted more as their jailers than their servants. Their laws did not say, in so many words, that no black person could cast a vote but the men who wrote them made sure it worked out that way. To grant the vote to subhumans would degrade actual people who, our most ancient creed holds, come exclusively in white skin. The Supreme Court has gotten at the law, cutting away many of its substantial protections. We must now believe that some states with a history of racial discrimination -a trait all fifty share- do not require special attention. As a result those same states have rushed to erect numerous obstructions to casting a vote, closing more than eight hundred polling places and writing laws against the phantom of voter impersonation fraud which they design to ensure black Americans don’t vote. The laws will not catch every black voter, of course, but they can swing close elections. Furthermore, their mere presence serves as a deterrent.

My state has had voter ID on the books since the Nineties. I disagreed with it then, on the grounds that the fraud it’s claimed to protect happens so rarely that these measures clearly constitute a solution looking for a problem. Even if someone went around to multiple polling places to cast votes under assumed names, complete with the correct addresses remembered on the spot and the person they posed as didn’t show up before or later and cast suspicion on the ballot by doing so, microscopic vote margins happen so rarely and unpredictably even in local races that they amount to statistical noise. An individual could cast no more than a handful of fake votes. As soon as you get enough people to really make a difference, things look more like territorial Kansas. Everybody who knows anything about elections already knows this.

But Michigan requires you to have identification so every time I go with my driver’s license in hand. I present it to one of my father’s old coworkers, a man who used to live less than a block from me. We know each other by sight. He passes it to his wife, who knows me just as well. They scan the license and compare my address and name with their records to discover, quelle surprise, I am who they thought I am. Then they mark my name off and hand me a ballot. The license adds no great security to the rest, but it does cost money and one has to go out and get a new one every now and then. If I lost my license or it was damaged and I could not get a new one before election day, I would have to swear an affidavit that I had the right to vote in my precinct and then proceed. More than eighteen thousand of my fellow Michigan residents did that this month. While not ideal, and clearly intended to deprive people of less means of their chance to vote, they state government hasn’t gotten all it paid for from this system. Black Michiganders still vote.

The Republicans who control the state government have had quite enough of that. The Party of Lincoln, founded in this state, has decided to throw in with Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. They insist that if you don’t have your ID, even if you have the right name and address and the risk of someone impersonating a voter is astronomically rare and unlikely to ever matter without being obvious to the dullest observer, you should have to cast a provisional ballot. They will cast it in the trash, only to rescue it if you provide your ID within ten days. In other words, if you have the misfortune of lacking an ID on election day you have less than two weeks to get fortunate enough, find out where and how you can prove your bona fides, and then get your vote counted long after the outcome has been announced.

Maybe people will do that, but the Michigan GOP hopes they will not. They have dug this law out of a drawer somewhere, in the lame duck session immediately after the election just as they did when they voted to eviscerate the right to unionize in our state. Now they rush to get it passed before opposition can mount. I suspect that, while their gerrymandering will keep them in control of the legislature, they worry about the governor’s race in 2018. Their incumbent poisoned thousands of black people, after all. Those people have families and friends who will vote, probably not for whoever they run for the top spot in the state.

This should remind us that Jim Crow disenfranchised black Americans by the millions because of their race, but also because of how they would vote. The Democratic party that erected the whole edifice knew full well that the freedpeople and their descendants would remember what party freed them and stood up for their rights. In much of the postwar South, if black men could vote then they would decide elections. In still more areas, they would have numbers enough to force white politicians to court their support or see it go to an opponent. We must remember segregation as a racial injustice, but we should not forget that racism doesn’t come down to pseudoscientific theories about superiority. Rather we invented white supremacy to justify an existing political and economic order against challenges to it. In suppressing the vote so they can keep winning elections, Republicans in Michigan and across the country have not departed from our most deadly creed; they have renewed it.

How to be a white supremacist

Gentle Readers, let’s talk white supremacy. We do that almost all the time here, but usually in the context of other things. That makes it easy to let some details slip through the cracks. I think most Americans get the most basic idea: whites come first, everyone else possesses debatable humanity. I realized a few weeks back, in the course of talking with others, that I ought to pay more attention to the myriad ways that simple idea wends its way through our lives.

Most people would probably agree that an individual who expresses belief in the racial superiority of whites or the inferiority of non-whites to whites counts as white supremacist. The guy in the brown shirt with the red armband and the other guy in the white hood believe things like that. We have agreed, at least in mixed company, that this makes them monstrous. They believe in horrible things and countenance historical atrocities and present injustices which we righteously condemn. They have no fit place in polite society and we have an obligation to do what we can to contain them and limit the harm they do, so far as we can do so and remain faithful to other vital principles. If they wheel out racist pseudoscience, whether vintage nineteenth century or the more recent sort, that makes them a hard case. Sometimes they receive a kinder hearing than they should, but mostly the convention holds. We should call those people out and keep to our norms. Such clear expressions of racial hatred serve as calls to action and precursors for new horrors. People may do harm with or without our saying so, but they will understand silence as permission.

We do not, however much we may wish otherwise, live in a world where villainy so eagerly announces itself. Admitting that puts us in a bind. In making those who express open racial animus into pariahs, exiled by their deplorable ideas, we easily slip into a second corollary. Something we consider so vile, we cannot imagine occurring with any great frequency. We imagine racists as freaks, so different that we can’t imagine knowing them. We have made racism into a crime near unto murder, yet with no victims. Someone far away or long ago did horrible things, but we finished that and now we have sad, hateful remnants who don’t really warrant our attention. Racism simultaneously counts for a great deal and doesn’t matter at all. It then makes no sense for us to go looking for it.

By we, I must clarify, I mean myself and other white Americans. We have the luxury of these conventions written on our skin. Their costs we carve into the lives of others. I have done it myself more times than I care to remember. We have arranged our civilization to let us do it without thinking, but even when we choose thoughtlessly, we still choose. Suffer me this story to illustrate:

The worst physical injury I have yet endured came when two boys pushed me down on the playground. I landed with my left hand forward. Rather than catching myself, the radius and ulna both broke. My hand drove up between them and one of the bones lay lengthwise across the back of it. The doctors told us that I had one of the worst fractures they ever treated without operating. It still hurts when it gets cold sometimes, almost a quarter century later. I can’t imagine many people I have actually met whom I have cause to like less than those two boys, who suffered no punishment for doing it. But I have known since the day it happened that they did not come at me thinking that they would break my bones and leave me with occasional pain for decades after. They set out to shove me away, perhaps to the ground, but not to rearrange my skeleton.

Some part of that day will always be in the present tense for me. Others have suffered far worse with a grace I can’t muster; I don’t write this to ask your sympathy for childhood pains. Rather hope you can understand that what those boys meant to do on the playground didn’t matter. Their not meaning to hurt me did not preserve me from harm. No amount of good intentions saved my bones and spared me fleeting pain. Even had they simply bumped into me in the hall, not meaning to lay a hand on me, the bones got broken. I felt, and sometimes still feel, the pain of the moment. That matters. We live with the things done to us in flesh and blood far more than we ever will the intentions that drove them.

We can perform white supremacist actions without conscious intention to do so; I know I have. We can say, perhaps honestly, that we didn’t mean it. People get hurt all the same. I maintain that we do so more often than not, habitually privileging the interests, concerns, and ultimately the lives of white Americans above those of anybody else. The people of Flint have poison coming out of their faucets because white people chose to allow it. They suffer not an iota less if we meant otherwise. The government of Michigan, my state, poisoned them all. It has lately appealed a court ruling that the state must deliver that water to residents, rather than make them come to collect their daily rations. No one made the state file that appeal; they chose it, knowing that the less accessible they make drinking water the more likely they are to force the residents to use the poison flowing from their taps all the same. Flint has a majority black population. A mostly white government with a mostly white constituency prefers poisoning them to supplying them with basic necessities, even when that government has only itself to blame for the poisoning.

Say that the people of Michigan did not vote for this. (We didn’t, though when we voted as we did we could reasonably have expected a cavalier attitude toward black lives.) Say that the state government did not mean for it to happen or didn’t know it could. (They knew.) It doesn’t matter. Flint’s residents of all ages got to drink poison all the same. Pleading good intentions will not change that, though it does an admirable job of distracting us from white supremacy in grotesque operation.

Keeping on the theme of water, an oil company wants to build a pipeline through North Dakota. It would have run right by Bismarck, the state capital. The people there believed that this would put their drinking water at risk. Oil does tend to spill; pipes do fail. In response to the concerns of Bismark’s people, which we can all understand, the pipeline got rerouted through a Sioux reservation, Standing Rock. The Sioux, who know something about living on the business end of genocide for the past few centuries, objected too. They would also prefer that they and their children did not drink poison, as well as that an oil pipeline not run through their sacred lands. For some time now they have conducted a large, peaceful protest against the construction, to which the police have responded with violence. That includes spraying water on the protesters at night, in November on the high plains, which ought to count as lethal force all by itself.

I understand that many people stand to make a great deal of money off this pipeline, including the man who lost the late presidential election. But when the people of Bismarck objected to the route endangering their water, plans changed. Ninety percent of the people who live in that city can boast white skin, which goes a long way. The Sioux cannot, so they get to have their children poisoned and their holy places despoiled. Their resistance, not that of Bismarck, brought down the heavy hand of the law. Here, as in Flint and as we do in countless other times and places, people made a decision. White children don’t deserve poisoned water. No one will drive a pipeline through one of Bismarck’s churches. The Sioux have no such immunity. Their concerns, lives, and culture don’t count any more than the people of Flint do.

It may be that some of the people who made the decisions for Flint and North Dakota exulted at the thought of afflicting minorities. If I have learned anything from the research I do for this blog, I have learned to never underestimate the power of pure malice. But it doesn’t matter if they acted with depraved hearts, they did what they did. We can’t know fully the minds of others, however much we try, but they write their actions on the bodies of their victims. The rest of us must make our own choices then. Even if we can’t follow every issue and understand each controversy, we decide when they come before us. We can refuse to allow such things to happen in our name or we can turn away and tell stories about well-meaning mistakes and oversights, reducing those genuinely harmed to an irrelevant detail. A band of neo-Nazis or Klansmen might harm people by the score, but all of us standing by play our part in far greater crimes. A gang can kill dozens or hundreds; policy, silent assent, and willful blindness reach millions.

Utter Defiance and Resistance: A Minority of One, Part Two

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

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

Felix Zollicoffer’s minority report on the free state government’s petition for Kansas statehood agreed with the majority that polities should not languish forever in territorial status. However, he disagreed strongly that Kansas had done so. If Michigan could wait thirty-two years, then surely Kansas could not have come to the brink of ruin in two. For that matter, Kansas had nowhere near so many people as to make the matter urgent by numbers alone. Quite the opposite, the territorial population hung on the very low end or past admissions and making it a state now would do an injustice to the others by asking to accept a relative handful of people warranting one Representative and two Senators. On the last point, Zollicoffer echoes the traditional criticisms of the Electoral College and the Senate.

But Tennessee’s most strikingly named son started with the small stuff. The Committee on Territories reported out a bill for Kansas’ statehood under the Topeka Constitution. Said bill declared that “the people of Kansas have presented a constitution, and asked admission”. That all sounds right enough, until you open a newspaper. There, Zollicoffer found the curious

fact that this “constitution,” and this pretended “State of Kansas,” have been set up in open resistance to the lawfully-constituted authority of the country-set up on the public domain of the United States in utter defiance of and resistance to the laws of the United States; set up not by “the people of Kansas,” but by a dissatisfied portion of the people, arrayed in excited antagonism to another portion; with a questionable list of grievances, and with a temper too impatient, or too prone to disorder, to await the redress of grievances which the due processes of law and order are sure to accord

To top it off, they claimed that the territorial government had failed and so deprived the people of “any legal government whatsoever”. Zollicoffer would have none of that. The United States gave Kansas a territorial government in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. If a law of Congress did not make that government legal, then legality had no meaning. Who elected those senators and representatives of Kansas? Not the people of Kansas, who had legal elections to represent them. Rather some band of rebel scum grinding axes over the dubious cause of freedom took matters into their own hands. With the exception of Zollicoffer’s view of the free state movement’s grievances, he has the facts on his side. That proslavery men within Kansas had gone over thanks to the same grievances didn’t enter into it. They hadn’t all switched sides.

As much as we naturally want to dismiss Zollicoffer as a proslavery partisan, he has at least a weak point. The process of writing and ratifying a constitution cannot for a second escape politics. They all come with embedded ideologies and policy objectives. But in treating constitutions as more than ordinary law, we mean for them to acquire a more fixed state that also renders them uniquely binding upon the people. Traditionally, Americans believe you should have some kind of supermajority to do that. In theory, that means you come up with a document that all parties can at least tolerate.

One could argue that the free state movement did that; its elections at least had higher turnout than the territory’s legal elections did. That it could manage such a feat while having at best tenuous legality and at worst fomenting insurrection speaks volumes as to how Missourian invasions and the laws they wrought transformed Kansas into a prison house for white liberties. That they managed this with a white population of which Missourians formed a large part says still more. But the history of the free state movement and its legal status do raise serious questions about its formal legitimacy.

 

A Minority of One, Part One

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (KN-TN)

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

 

Galusha Grow’s majority on the Committee of Territories, affirmed that the Congress should admit the free state government to the Union at once. The territorial government Congress had establish lost all legitimacy through “fraud and violence” and its “odious oppression in the form of legislative enactments”. The time had come for Congress to act in the name of peace, liberty, and “the remove the causes of civil war.”

Not everyone on the committee agreed, so the minority produced his own report. Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (Whig turned Know-Nothing, TN), who might just outdo Galusha Grow in the competition for most remarkable name, did not think Congress should leave Kansas a territory. No American should dwell forever in a territory. Congress should instead authorize a state constitutional convention. However, he denied that Kansas had languished as a territory for so long as to

depress that independence of sentiment which a government like ours should ever cultivate in its citizens; and that it would be ill-judged in continuing to impose upon the United States the burdens of a Territorial organization, after the people of the Territory were fully able to defray for themselves all the expenses of a State government.

Yes, Kansas deserves statehood. But why rush? It had only two years’ territorial status under its belt. The typical state muddled through “from twelve to thirteen, and in some instances much more”. Zollicoffer, like Grow, had examples: Mississippi remained a territory nineteen years, Florida twenty-six, and Michigan thirty-two. That sounded wrong to me and I suspected that Zollicoffer engaged in some prevarication to claim some obscure legislation as the start of the territorial history rather than the normal organic act. He did not. Mississippi (1798-1817), Florida (1822-1845), and Michigan (1805-1837) all match his math. Sorry for misjudging you, Felix.

Furthermore, even if Kansas had done thirty-two years as a territory, Zolicoffer believed it lacked sufficient people to justify statehood. He put its October, 1855 population at twenty-five thousand, just as Grow did, but held that it required 93,420 whites to qualify. To admit it so soon would do an injustice to the the present states, diluting their power with representatives of so few. He declared that

It would be a radical departure from the established usage of the government; there being no instance in which a State has ever been admitted with a population so inconsiderable, and no instance, with one solitary exception, more than equal to the ratio of representation in Congress.

The Constitution may not, as Zollicoffer agrees, require such numbers. But the established norm came about for good reasons and the nation should not lightly set it aside. The average population of the eighteen states admitted, at the time of their admission, stood a bit over 104,000. The majority had just cherry-picked the low population territories to make its argument. He supplied a table to prove it.

Here Zollicoffer does do something sophistical. Grow’s majority did not present their low-population states as average. Rather they acknowledged that they had the low end of the curve. They maintained that Kansas could secure admission at its then-current population on the grounds that other states had done so with less. He has a perfectly good point on the numbers, but chose to misconstrue the majority’s position on the question to strengthen his own.

“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.