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Kansas: The Prelude to the War for the Union|
Chapter X: The Lecompton Struggle.
by Spring, Leverett Wilson
|The presidential election of 1856, which resulted in a Democratic victory, turned chiefly upon questions brought to the surface by the contest in Kansas. Into all the national conventions -- American, Whig, Republican, and Democratic -- the territory thrust its disturbing presence. The struggle was remarkable in many respects. Never before did a presidential election turn so largely upon questions of statesmanship, of ethics and the higher law. A variety of influences contributed to this temporary lustration of national politics, but they all radiated from the slavery problem, the compromise of 1850, the tempest in Kansas, and the phenomenal currency of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The
Democratic campaign dealt heavily in threat and menace. Southern orators and newspapers drew lamentable pictures of the woes that would succeed a Republican triumph. Such an untoward event, they did not scruple to announce, would certainly justify, if it did not absolutely necessitate, a destruction of the Union. James Buchanan's election as president postponed the date of secession.
Two days after the inauguration of Mr. Buchanan, Chief Justice Taney, of the Supreme Court, delivered the famous Dred Scott decision, the purport of which was that slavery should have the freedom of the public domain -- that nobody should meddle with it before the adoption of a state constitution.
President Buchanan, alarmed by the disastrous effect of the Kansas disturbances, immediately cast about for some cloud-compelling successor to Governor Geary. Robert J. Walker, a Pennsylvanian, though long resident in Mississippi -- an active, shrewd, tonguey, intellectual, withered little man, experienced and not unsuccessful in public vocations -- was selected as the best protagonist within call to invade the perilous nether world of Kansas.
Walker's appointment indicated a change in federal tactics and policy. It was now conceded that Kansas could not with any likelihood be made a slave state, but it was hoped that by a skillful disintegration of existing parties, and the formation of an administration party out of their ruins, it might be made a Democratic state. To this task Walker brought a veteran political astuteness, from which much was expected. That the work of any constitutional convention which might convene should be fully and unqualifiedly submitted to the people for ratification or rejection was a prominent feature of the revised programme, and one to which President Buchanan gave assent.
Meanwhile the new territorial secretary, Frederic P. Stanton -- an able, scholarly lawyer who had served ten years in Congress as representative from Tennessee -- proceeded to Kansas in advance of the governor. He immediately issued an address in which the policy of the new administration was briefly set forth. The address did not have a very friendly reception. Pro-slavery adherents viewed with apprehension the fact that the secretary seemed to have a mind of his own, while the other side preferred to withhold their approval until the new regime should have passed successfully a period of probation.
A pro-slavery constitutional convention had long been preparing. The movement began in the first territorial legislature, which submitted the question of its expediency to the people in October, 1856. At the polls there was a favorable verdict. The next legislature passed a bill authorizing the election of delegates June 15th, 1857. Governor Geary vetoed the measure, because it failed to provide that the people should pass upon the proposed constitution at the polls, and because he regarded it impolitic "for a few thousand people, scarcely sufficient to make a good county," to set up an establishment of their own; but his effort to check the legislature was like trying to drain an Irish bog with a sponge. The census, prefatory to this election, turned out to be a very imperfect affair. Apportionment of delegates depended on population, but nobody could vote whose name did not appear in the registry lists. In sixteen only out of the thirty-four organized counties was there any registration, and the census tables showed still larger gaps. For this condition of things the pro-slavery party was not wholly responsible. Free-state men perplexed the enumeration by embarrassments of omission and commission, and were not ill pleased at the starved and skeleton returns. Unfortunately,Secretary Stanton, fresh upon the ground and not fully cognizant of the situation, apportioned delegates for the convention on the basis of the defective census. Here was another firebrand flung upon free-state straw. The territory was again in a flame. After much talk and some fruitless negotiation, the anti-slavery party concluded to let the election go by default. "Men who could expend thousands, and travel many a weary mile to fill Kansas with rifles," said Representative Hughes, of Indiana, "could not walk across the street to vote." The election passed off tamely. Less than one fourth of the nine thousand two hundred and fifty-one registered voters took part in it. The material and animus of the convention were completely satisfactory to the pro-slavery party.
Governor Walker reached Lecompton May 26th, and gave his inaugural to the public the next day. It was a diffuse, reverberating, able exposition of the new policy which had been agreed upon in Washington. Shortly after he made a tour of observation and of exposition. By conferences with the people, public and private, he hoped to convince them that his purposes were pacific and honorable, and that their interests lay in discarding every form of controversy except "the peaceful but decisive struggle of the ballot-box." He was in Topeka June 6th, and made a cogent, unequivocal, manly address. In three days a session of the state legislature, adjourned from the disconsolate January meeting, would begin. Should the state legislature enact a code of laws and attempt to put it in force, as some free-state men still urged, there could be, in the opinion of Governor Walker, only one issue -- "absolute, clear, direct, and positive collision between that legislature and the government of the United States." In the most explicit and reduplicative language he declared that henceforth the people of Kansas were to manage their own concerns. If the forthcoming convention, auditors asked, should decline to submit the new constitution to the people, what then? "I will join you, fellow citizens," the governor replied, "in opposition to their course. And I doubt not that one much higher than I, the chief magistrate of the Union, will join you."
Walker tarried in Topeka to watch the legislature. This session, like that of July 4th, 1856, was yoked with a mass convention which began at an early hour June 9th, and did not dissolve until eight o'clock at night. The convention undertook the same functions of coaching and surveillance as its prototype. It wrestled with the perennial question whether the Topeka government should be placed squarely on its feet, or merely take such measures as would keep a breath of life in the organization without clashing with the territorial authorities. Though the discussions frothed and declaimed, the conclusions were of a mild, do-nothing order. Walker with all his astuteness did not wholly fathom the tremendous oratory of the convention. It was craftily handled so as to impress him with the conviction that unless the antislavery folk should receive fair treatment, unless constitutional conventions should remand their instruments to the polls for final adjudication, revolutionary convulsions would certainly break out. The convention accomplished its mission. Walker wrote his superiors in Washington that had it not been for his intervention "the more violent course would have prevailed, and the territory have been immediately involved in a general and sanguinary civil war."
When the legislature assembled no quorum appeared. This fact was carefully hidden from the impressionable Walker. Governor Robinson, finding the shrewd scheme of merging the territorial in the state government impracticable, recalled his resignation at the instance of the legislature, and read a message before that depleted body, which once more adjourned after transacting a little harmless amateur business.
In addition to the constitutional convention an event of no secondary importance would take place in the autumn. That event was the election of a new territorial legislature, preparations for which filled the summer with tumult. The law and order gentry, who now called themselves "National Democrats," gathered at Lecompton early in July, to make nominations and lay plans for the campaign. Forty-three delegates were in attendance, who put forth a series of moderate resolutions compared with the highly seasoned viands which the border palate heretofore demanded. Some fire-eater presented a resolution in convention, asking Congress to receive the territory into the Union under the forthcoming constitution, whether the people would be allowed to vote upon it or not; but the resolution was effectually disposed of by a vote of forty-two in opposition to one in the affirmative. Governor Walker, who seldom declined invitations to make a speech, delivered an address that was favorably received.
In free-state quarters the question now began to be agitated, whether the policy of non-participation in territorial elections did not need revising. Governor Walker's vehement pledges of fair play produced an impression. The mischief of a vicious census could not be completely undone, yet with a square-dealing executive success was possible notwithstanding. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, visited the territory for the purpose of urging upon free-state men the imperative necessity of their making an effort to capture the legislature, and offered to raise funds among Eastern friends to meet the campaign expenses. In these views he was heartily supported by Governor Robinson, who had always been ready to meet the pro-slavery party at the polls whenever an honest count of ballots could be assured.
A series of conventions now began which rivaled in noise and frequency the series of 1855. Nearly two hundred delegates, representing the whole territory, assembled at Topeka July 15th. Though the special business of this gathering was to nominate certain state government officers, that did not preclude general discussions and the adoption of resolutions which freely abused the "bogus" legislature, authorized Lane to put the militia on a war-footing, and called another convention at Grasshopper Falls to settle the question of voting or not voting.
August 26th the free-state people met at Grasshopper Falls. There the unanimity which prevailed at Topeka two months before gave way. A minority of indignant, impracticable radicals, like Redpath and Conway, denounced the proposition to contest the election for members of the territorial legislature as "a back-down in principle and unpromising in practical results." The ignominies of stultification they set forth in dark, repulsive colors, but to no purpose, as the convention went unanimously and demonstratively against them. It was the judgment of the convention that the free-state party should make an attempt to get possession of the legislature. On the point of consistency, little can be said in defense of this conclusion. But the convention agreed with Governor Robinson that "men who are too conscientious and too honorable to change their tactics with a change of circumstances are too conscientious for politics."
The convention did not regard its work complete without the preparation of an address to the people. It confided this duty to a committee of fourteen, which, in spite of its own bulk that ought to have been reassuring, surveyed the future with the tearful eyes of a Jeremiah. "We frankly avow ourselves," said the committee, "not sanguine of success." Voters disfranchised in many counties; threats of invasion from Missouri; distrust of Governor Walker; "a hellish system of districting and apportionment;" election judges mostly "border ruffians of the deepest dye" -- such were some of the calamities that oppressed the fourteen and saddened their vision.
Prophets of evil misread the signs of the times. The 5th of October, on which members of the territorial legislature were elected, proved to be a red-letter day for freedom in Kansas. Probably the fact that federal troops were sent into no less than fourteen precincts, with orders to prevent all illegal voting, discouraged invasions from Missouri. The election was unprolific in tumults. Even the redoubtable town of Kickapoo did not get beyond a rather prosy brawl. At two points extensive frauds were attempted. McGee County was then an Indian reservation, and therefore not open to settlement. It contained a very sparse white population. At the June election only fourteen votes were cast. Yet in October twelve hundred and sixty-six pro-slavery ballots purported to have been polled there. The town of Oxford, Johnson County, made a still more flagrant showing. This paltry hamlet "of six houses, including stores," reported sixteen hundred and twenty-eight votes.
The Oxford and McGee returns brought on a crisis. If they should be counted, the legislature would remain pro-slavery; if they should be rejected, it would pass into control of the opposition. A little inspection showed them to be clumsily executed forgeries. October 19th Walker and Stanton issued a proclamation throwing out the Oxford returns on the ground of technical informalities, and in three days those from McGee fared in the same way.
This action made a tempest among the National Democrats. On the 23d they held an indignation meeting at Lecompton, and gave vent to their sentiments in seventeen furious but idle resolutions. Then Judge Cato came to the rescue with a mandamus, ordering the governor and secretary to issue certificates of election to the pro-slavery candidates from Douglas and Johnson counties; but the judge had no better success than the mass-meeting. Other resources failing, Sheriff Jones, who was one of the excluded candidates, attempted to get his credentials by violence. Striding into Stanton's office with a companion, he demanded that the papers should be at once filled out; but he found the secretary could not be intimidated. This gross outrage stirred up excitement. On the evening of the succeeding day a company of mounted free-state men called upon Stanton, and assured him that if it would be a convenience to have Jones put out of the way, and if the authorities would wink at the affair, he should be strung up before morning. Their services were politely declined. Jones and his confederates escaped with a light and whimsical penalty. The affair threw the excitable governor into a great rage. He was sick at the time, and could do nothing. On recovering, he made a demonstration upon what he called the enemy. Arming himself with a small "pepper-box" pistol, he began a tour of objurgation. "Come along," he said to Stanton, "let us go to see the Bengal tigers." And this puny incarnation of a tremendous choler -- lapse of time inflaming rather than cooling his passion visited the dens and drinking saloons of Lecompton, and denounced their inmates with a savage energy that Timon of Athens could not have outdone. The governor returned from his circumnavigation of invective, happy in the thought that for once the "Bengal tigers" had heard themselves described in faithful and unmistakable English.
The proclamations of October 19th and 22d dashed all schemes of building a victorious administration party out of existing political organizations. The animosities, to which they imparted large and tempestuous vitality, defeated the latest, craftiest strategy of the administration. These consequences, which wrote failure in large letters across their personal and special mission to Kansas, were not hidden from Walker and Stanton. They issued the crucial proclamations, which conceded to the free-state party nine of the thirteen councilmen and twenty-four of the thirty- nine representatives, with the keenest appreciation of all they implied -- issued them in honorable fulfillment of public pledges that the polls should be protected.
The pro-slavery party made one more desperate effort to stay their foundering fortunes. Only in the direction of the constitutional convention, of which they had absolute control, were there signs of promise. That body, representing a small minority of actual voters in the territory, gathered at Lecompton September 7th. Forty-four members in a total of sixty responded to their names. John Calhoun, surveyor general of the territory, was elected president, with the usual complement of subordinate officials, including a chaplain. Some members of the convention regarded the employment of a man to pray foolish, but a majority believed it "would have a good effect on the country," however bootless it might be locally. The convention remained in session four days, which were principally devoted to organization, and then adjourned until October 19th. The special motive for delay was the approaching election for members of the legislature, the issue of which would, in large measure, mould its policy.
Lecompton was in an uproar October 19th. Thither on that day flocked hundreds of free-state men, inspired by the thought that "nothing is so difficult for a scoundrel to do as to meet the clear, honest gaze of the man whom he is trying to wrong." So they thronged Lecompton to look into the eyes of members of the convention. What they might have done in addition to this personal scrutiny, had not the appearance of the Walker-Stanton proclamation sweetened their temper, is not entirely certain.
The demonstration impressed the convention deeply. For three days in succession no quorum appeared; but on the fourth day a sufficient number of absentees for the transaction of business was secured. The convention found itself tangled in the meshes of a very perplexing task. It had essayed to saddle a pro-slavery constitution upon a community overwhelmingly anti-slavery. The constitution which it made was well enough, except in the matter of slavery, in regard to which it took extreme ground. "The right of property," it announced, "is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of any property whatever." This doctrine, as Mr. Douglas said, would deprive the State of all authority to abolish or prohibit slavery.
But it was plain as a pike-staff that the people would make short work of the new constitution if they should be allowed to vote upon it. In this unhappy situation, it only remained to devise some make-shift in the place of unqualified submission, or abandon the fight. A part of the convention, under the lead of Judge Rush Elmore, advocated full submission, let the result be what it might, but were voted down. Then came a compromise. The entire constitution should not go before the people, but only the slavery article. Ballots might be cast indorsed "Constitution with slavery" or "Constitution with no slavery." Should the first proposition carry, slavery with restricted emancipation possibilities would be definitely planted in the State. If the second proposition prevailed, then "slavery shall no longer exist in the State of Kansas, except that the right of property in slaves now in this territory shall in no manner be interfered with." Free-state men commonly interpreted this qualification of the no-slayery alternative as utterly foreclosing all hope of success on their part. A no-slavery victory must not disturb the slavery which had already secured a foothold in the commonwealth. The alternative presented "was like submitting to the ancient test of witchcraft, where if the accused, upon being thrown into deep water, floated he was adjudged guilty, taken out, and hanged; but if he sunk and was drowned he was adjudged not guilty -- the choice between the verdicts being quite immaterial." When legitimately interpreted, however, the proviso would probably yield no such sense as free-state exegesis found in it. This point was pretty conclusively established by Senator Bayard, who contended that the right of property vested in existing slaves, and not in their unborn children. That construction, he maintained, was forced by the general intent and scope of the declaration, "Slavery shall no longer exist in the State of Kansas."
The compromise divided the convention, in which there was a strong faction that protested against every sort of submission. "This is a grand humbug," said a furious Riley County delegate, echoing free-state expositions of the no-slavery alternative. "It is not fair.... I tell you this scheme of swindling submission will be the blackest page in your history, and we will never hear the end of it. We won't make much capital out of it, I tell you. Those Black Republicans will get to the bottom of it so quick that you 'll never cease to hear from this dodge.... I 'm opposed to submission. I tell you these Republicans will vote down both of them.... The only consistent, honest, straightforward way is to make our constitution and send it on to Congress. I believe Congress will admit us. If it will not, then let our defeat lie at its door. This humbugging, dodging way I do not believe in. I want to be open and above board." Another Riley County implacable declaimed in the same strain. He said the compromise carried "falsehood on its face in letters of brass.... It is a lie, cheat, and swindle. I'm a pro-slavery man. I want to make Kansas a slave state.... The trick was concocted by free-state Democrats. If they pass this majority report they will make Kansas not only a free but a Republican state.... The South has reached a crisis in her fortunes and must have Kansas.... Make Kansas a slave state and the abolition element will flee out of it."
The compromise was carried after a stubborn fight, and the convention dissolved November 7th. John Calhoun issued proclamations designating December 21st as the day for voting on the slavery article, and January 4th, 1868, for election of officers under the new constitution. The convention, contemptuously ignoring Governor Walker, authorized its president to take such measures as might be necessary to carry its purposes into effect.
The sequel at Lecompton again stirred the embers. Free-state men had taken comparatively little interest in the convention during its earlier stages, as they intended to dispatch at the polls any constitution that might be put together. Now, to their astonishment, they found that only a fragment of it would be submitted, and to that fragment they applied the fallacious witch-test construction. The enemy were manoeuvring to turn their flank and convert the October victory into a barren triumph. Mass-meetings gathered here and there in which the "robber" convention was cursed with a fury almost unprecedented. Radicals demanded that now, after so many empty threats, the state government should be made something more than a name. Among these anti-Lecompton gatherings, the largest and most important met at Lawrence on the 2d of December. The one hundred and thirty delegates in attendance included nearly all the prominent free-state leaders.
Governor Robinson presided. Impassioned harangues evoked a vast amount of enthusiasm. Resolutions were adopted alive with hostility to the new constitution: "Appealing to the God of Justice and Humanity, we do solemnly enter into league and covenant with each other that we will never, under any circumstances permit the said constitution, so framed and not submitted, to be the organic law for the State of Kansas, but do pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor in ceaseless hostility to the same."
Amidst the general confusion and casting about somebody bethought himself of the recently captured and fumigated legislature as a possible source of deliverance, and suggested that it should be called together. What it could accomplish was uncertain, but it would not, at all events, fail to make itself useful. Governor Walker had set out in chagrin for Washington -- his astute schemes overset, execrated by pro-slavery men, deserted by the administration. His departure shifted all executive responsibility upon Secretary Stanton, who was sorely beset on all sides to convene the legislature. That step he finally took, though foreseeing that it would be followed by his dismissal from office, of which he received formal notification December 16th.
The territorial legislature, "dipped into the turbid waters of Black Republicanism" and made clean, assembled at Lecompton December 7th. There was a roistering free-state jubilee that day in the old pro-slavery stronghold. From all parts of the territory came throngs of people to participate in the festivities, which comprised speeches, resolutions, groans for the "Lecompton swindle," and cheers for the Topeka constitution. So powerful were outside attractions that they thinned the legislature out of a quorum. It could do nothing until the hurrahing posher subsided and the rout dispersed. As a defense against pro-slavery movements, the legislature very sensibly ordered an unreserved submission of the constitution to the people on the 4th of January. A third ballot was added to those already authorized, indorsed "Against the constitution formed at Lecompton."
The Lawrence mass-meeting of December 2d pronounced the elections which the Lecompton convention ordered to be unworthy of free-state countenance. In regard to the election of December 21st, when only pro-slavery voters went to the polls, the wisdom of its sentence was unquestioned. But the January matter was not so clear. An impression got abroad that the mass-meeting had blundered; that it would be prudent -- an anchor cast to the windward -- to furnish the Lecompton constitution with an equipment of free-state officials as a precaution against possible contingencies. Therefore the convention was reassembled on the 23d of December to review in part its proceedings. At this later session two parties appeared, one faction defending and the other combating the proposition to put a ticket in the field. It was a dictate of prudence, the former urged, to get possession of this contemplated organization, not with a purpose of establishing but of destroying it. The latter rang changes upon the inconsistency of such a course for free-state men, after calling the "Eumenides and all the heavenly brood" to witness that they would never recognize the "Lecompton swindle" in any shape; and they carried the day.
The defeated party immediately resolved itself into "a bolter's convention," named a full ticket of state officers, and elected them. Against the Lecompton constitution, for which anti-slavery officers were provided, ten thousand two hundred and twenty-six votes were polled. That vote, though it did not escape irregularities of form, showed incontrovertibly the drift of public sentiment in the territory.
In the mean time a new acting-governor had appeared in the territory -- General John W. Denver, a Virginian and a lawyer, well reputed for successful service in the Mexican war and in California. At the time of his appointment he held the office of Indian Commissioner, was visiting Kansas, and domiciled with Secretary Stanton. "had been repeatedly solicited," said Denver, "to take the position, but I did not want it. I used to live on the border before Kansas was thrown open to settlement. I chummed with Senator Atchison at Platte City, and knew personally all the leading men of western Missouri. I was afraid, if I accepted the post, that they might ask of me what I should not wish to do." The more conservative free-state sentiment Denver conciliated at the beginning of his term of office, by announcing that he should carry out in good faith the policy of his predecessor.
The elections appointed by the Lecompton constitutional convention had a long appendix of investigations, which made havoc with the original returns. A legislative committee examined them, and reported that the alleged vote December 21st, of six thousand two hundred and twenty-six for the constitution with slavery, contained twenty-seven hundred and twenty fraudulent ballots, which were cast mostly at Kickapoo, Delaware Crossing, and Oxford. In the contest for state officers, January 4th, the number of fraudulent ballots fell off to twenty-four hundred and fifty-eight in a pro-slavery vote for governor of six thousand five hundred and forty-five.
A curious history attaches to these election returns. The legislative investigating committee were anxious to secure them. John Calhoun, surveyor general and president of the constitutional convention, taking alarm at the situation, prudently left the territory. The coveted ballots were supposed to be in the hands of L. A. McLean, his chief clerk, who appeared before the committee and testified that he had forwarded them to Calhoun. February 1st a messenger reached the cabin of Captain Samuel Walker, then sheriff of Douglas County, bringing information from General William Brindle that the returns were secreted under a wood-pile near McLean's office. Arming himself with a warrant which instructed him to "diligently search for the said goods and chattels," Walker appeared in Lecompton the next morning and apprised McLean of his business. "You are welcome to search," he responded. "I have sent the returns to Calhoun. They are not here." "I think you are mistaken," said the sheriff. "I know where they are." "Where?" "Under the wood-pile." "I forbid you to search," McLean rejoined, and began some warlike demonstrations, which were speedily quelled. Walker dug up the returns, concealed in a candle-box, and carried them to Lawrence. Naturally the investigating committee decided to recall Chief Clerk McLean, who consulted Sheriff Jones as to whether he should obey the subpoena. "I told him to come down and face the music; he said he was going to Missouri; I saw him start toward the river ...; I think he got a mule from some one on the road."
President Buchanan, retreating from his pledges to Governor Walker in obedience to Southern dictation, transmitted, February 2d, the Lecompton constitution to Congress, accompanied by a special message, in which he urged that Kansas should be speedily admitted to the Union, though the instrument had not been fully submitted to the people. Of the actual condition of Kansas he was not ignorant. Soon after his arrival in the territory Governor Denver forwarded to Washington by special messenger a long communication fully setting forth the state of affairs, and urgently counseling the president not to present the Lecompton constitution to Congress at all, but to advocate the passage of an enabling act and let the people make a fresh start. Mr. Buchanan was impressed by the letter. He said "that he was very sorry that he had not had the information sooner, because he had prepared his message in relation to the Lecompton constitution, and had shown it to several senators, and could not withdraw it."
When the Lecompton constitution reached Washington, the general reputation of Kansas in pro-slavery circles was greatly depressed. "The whole history of Kansas is a disgusting one from beginning to end," said Senator Hammond, of South Carolina. "I have avoided reading it as much as I could." Senator Biggs, of North Carolina, confessed to "misgivings whether the people of Kansas are of that character from which we may hope for an enlightened self-government."
Representative Anderson, of Missouri, fell little behind the North Carolinian in unfriendliness of opinion: "No part of our Union has ever before been settled by such an ungovernable, reckless people." Mr. Atkins, representative from Tennessee, described free-state immigrants as "struggling hordes of hired mercenaries, carrying murder, rapine, and conflagration in their train." But Senator Alfred Iverson topped all competitors in screechy, shrewish violence of phrase: "Why, sir, if you could rake the infernal regions from the centre to the circumference and from the surface to the bottom, you could not fish up such a mass of infamous corruption as exists in some portions of Kansas!" An estimate of the Kansas migration, wholly antipodal and dissenting, may be found in the "Christian Examiner" for July, 1855. "It was reserved," says the writer, "to the present age, and to the present period, to afford the sublime spectacle of an extensive migration in vindication of a principle.... Neither pressure from without, nor the beckonings of ambition, nor the monitions of avarice, control the great Kansas migration.... In the unselfishness of the object lies its claim ... to the highest place in the history of migrations!"
Arguments in defense of the Lecompton measure -- the debate filled more than nine hundred pages of the "Congressional Globe" -- made the most of technicalities. Samuel A. Smith, representative from Tennessee, stood almost alone in advocacy of its claims to popular approval. "The whole people of Kansas," he said, "are in favor of the admission of the State under the Lecompton constitution," except "Lane with his marauders, his murderers, and his house-burners" -- an insignificant gang that did not "number more than eight hundred." Foolish talk of this sort found little favor. For the constitution there was a single tenable line of defense -- that it was the work of a legitimate convention which had observed all indispensable formalities. The successive stages of its history were elaborately rehearsed. The constitution dates back to the first territorial legislature which submitted to the people the question of calling a constitutional convention. Fifteen months afterwards -- a period ample for mature consideration -- they respond favorably at the polls. After a lapse of three months the question reaches the second territorial legislature, which "bows to the will of the people and provides for the election of delegates." Then between the legislative sanction and the election of delegates four months intervene. Before the delegates meet and enter upon their duties a further delay of three months occurs. They submit a single but vital article of the constitution to the people for acceptance or rejection, December 21st, and they ratify it almost unanimously. "When we view these proceedings of the people of Kansas," said Senator Polk, of Missouri, "in forming for themselves a state constitution, in the successive stages of their development, not from the low arena of partisan strife and passion, but from the elevated standpoint of a patriot,... what a majestic spectacle is presented -- the people marching forward in stately pace to the accomplishment of their purposes with a movement as grand as the lapse of the tide or the travel of a planet!"
Though there could be no real question that the Lecompton constitution was not "the act and deed" of the people of Kansas; though Douglas and other Northern Democrats fought it, yet it passed the Senate March 23d by a vote of thirty-three to twenty-five. In the House the Lecompton constitution failed. There a substitute was carried, known as the "Crittenden-Montgomery bill," which referred it back to the people. Should they ratify it, then Kansas would be proclaimed a state within the Union without further ado. If they voted it down, they were to call a new convention and make a constitution that pleased them better. The sharp-eyed "Democratic Review" did not fail to call attention to the fact that in espousing the Crittenden-Montgomery bill Republican congressmen accepted the doctrine of popular sovereignty. It was the same doctrine which they stigmatized in 1854-56 "as an outrage upon public honor, ... as a departure from justice and from the original policy of the national government." The Senate rejected the substitute, and there was resort to a committee of conference: J. S. Green, R. M. T. Hunter, and W. H. Seward representing the Senate; W. H. English, A. H. Stephens, and W. A. Howard the House. This committee -- Seward and Howard dissenting -- elaborated a novel measure called the "English bill." An ordinance accompanied the Lecompton constitution which asked the cession of land-grants which were much larger than any other state had ever received on its entrance into the Union. In these land-grants the committee suggested a change. They proposed to reduce the twenty-three million acres of land claimed to about one sixth of that amount. The fate of the constitution they linked with that of the land- grants. To accept the modified ordinance was accounted by some curious doctrine of imputation as approval of the constitution, and at once clothed Kansas with the functions of a state. Rejection of it, on the other hand, involved not only rejection of the constitution, but continuance of territorial conditions until a population of ninety-four thousand should be reached. The majority report, which stoutly denied that any such thing as submission of the Lecompton constitution to the people lurked in this unhackneyed device, was a very excellent piece of quibbling. The constitution we accept, its validity we acknowledge, it was urged, but we do not like the ordinance. We are willing to waive the population rule, provided the vexatious business can be concluded. If Kansas should reject our overture, it may remain a territory until better manners are learned and a larger and more stable population is obtained.
Though objections were plenty -- charges of unwarrantable discrimination, of intervention with inducements to control results, of violence to the principle of popular sovereignty -- yet the English bill gave the people of Kansas opportunity to put their heel on the odious Lecompton instrument, and that consideration carried it through Congress. The vote of the Senate stood, ayes, thirty-one; nays, twenty-two -- of the House, ayes, one hundred and twelve; nays, one hundred and three. Pro-slavery partisans espoused it; not all of them heartily. "I confess my opinion was," said Senator Hammond, of South Carolina, in a speech October 29th, 1858, at Barnwell Court House, "that the South herself should kick that [Lecompton] constitution out of Congress. But the South thought otherwise." In Kansas the question came to a decision August 2d. Thirteen thousand and eighty-eight votes were cast -- eleven thousand three hundred of them against the English proposition.