Thursday, January 31, 2008

The crime against Kansas

In January 1856, Kansas free-staters hold a plebiscite affirming their illegal Topeka government. They elect a free-state legislature and a governor, Charles Robinson. Interestingly, the legislators are all Democrats and Robinson is a Republican. During the election, 2 men, one free-stater and one pro-slavery, are killed in a skirmish at Easton.

Though the election is fraudulent, the general population accepts it. This places President Franklin Pierce in quite a bind. He must continue to back the previously elected pro-slavery, squatter government under Shannon in order to keep the support of the southern wing of the Democratic Party. In case of ‘trouble’, Pierce offers Shannon the use of the army troops at Fort Leavenworth to keep the peace and enforce the laws of the legally elected Lecompton government.

On March 4th, the Topeka legislation seeks admission to the Union as a free state. Jim Lane and ‘Governor’ Robinson travel to Washington. Lane works with the old-line Democrats and Robinson with the anti-Nebraska Republicans in both the House of Representatives and then the Senate.

The House accepts the free state constitution and admission papers rather easily. The Senate, controlled by the Pierce administration, and with the debate run by Senators Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas, do not. Douglas advances the logical proposition that Kansas has not enough population for statehood and the illogical one that the admission papers and constitution are Lane forgeries. The Pierce Democrats delay and deny Kansas’ admission to the Union.

The House sends a committee west to investigate events in the cauldron of Kansas. They arrive coincident with contingents of emigrants sponsored by Southern emigrant societies. With Kansas statehood now on the back burner, Judge Lecompte issues subpoenas to Robinson, Reeder, Lane and others for ‘treason against the state’. Robinson flees as far as Missouri, is arrested and returned to Lecompton. Reeder heads east in disguise and most other leaders disperse into hiding. Many are served, some resist and others are locked up. In attempting one arrest, the sheriff is wounded and the local US Marshall calls out the militia. Missourians respond to the call, stream across the border and again camp at Wakarusa under the direction of former Senator David Rice Atchison. Missourians again threaten the, mostly leaderless, free state stronghold of Lawrence.

In Washington on May 19, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts gives a speech on the ‘crime against Kansas’, avowing that liberty and freedom are denied, rather than advanced, by the government’s actions and inactions. Sumner especially ridicules President Pierce and Senators Douglas of Illinois and A.P. Butler of South Carolina. Two days later, Sumner is caned into senselessness on the Senate floor by Butler’s nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks.

Meanwhile, the border ruffians camped on the Wakarusa demand the sidearms of Lawrence residents. Rebuffed, they ride into town to confiscate all they can. Unlimbering cannon in front of the Free State hotel, the hotel is burned, two newspaper offices destroyed, the library ransacked and then the town is looted. Their work done, the Missouri forces return to their homes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

the Wakarusa War

The legislators at Pawnee seat all the first election’s chosen men and exclude those recently elected in the disputed district’s second elections. The only free-state legislator resigns in protest and the entire body votes to adjourn to the Shawnee Mission, on the Missouri border and closer to their benefactors, supporters and voters. Reeder vetoes the act, which then passes over his veto.

In Shawnee Mission, armed with a brace of pistols, Governor Reeder presides over the 2nd meeting of legislature, which pretty much ignores his presence. President Pierce dismisses Reeder in order to appease his southern backers and in hopes of uniting the 2 wings of the Democrats together he appoints Wilson Shannon in his place, a loyal Democrat who had voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Before Shannon’s arrival, the legislature passes a strict slave code and requires all voters to swear to uphold the law. The legislature wishes to establish a permanent capital and name it ‘Douglas’, but soon changes the name to ‘Lecompton’ – appealing to the vanity of US district Judge Samuel D. Lecompte.

Further west, free-staters convene at Big Springs on September 5, 1855, hoping to draft a competing free-state constitution and legislature. Overwhelming majorities in attendance are Democrats but Republicans watch closely for both direction and opportunity. The free-stares are well aware that the President, governor, judges, recognized legislature and, perhaps soon the army, are opposed to them. Former Governor Reeder attends and in a keynote speech urges them to protect their rights with a ‘steady aim and sure eye’ – a call to action!

After drafting a free constitution, the ‘Topeka Movement’ adjourns on November 11. Their organization quickly creates civil chaos as petty criminals dodge among the two factions seeking protection, especially over land claims. The murder of Charles Dow, a free- state squatter by proslavery Franklin Coleman brings the problem to a head. Over a hundred men congregate at the scene of the crime, 10 miles south of Lawrence. Pro-slavery men flea to Missouri and their houses are torched. The sheriff, with Coleman as guide, rides to arrest one of Dow’s friends. The posse is met, threatened and retreats to Shawnee Mission vowing vengeance on Kansas in general and Lawrence in particular.

Sheriff Jones appeals to Governor Shannon for 3000 militia to counteract the flouting of his authority. Only a handful responds to the call. Shannon calls on the US Army at Fort Leavenworth headed by Colonel Edwin Sumner, an anti-slavery man, who refuses to send troops unless ordered by the President. However, some 1500 Missourians with 7 cannon from the Liberty arsenal are also en route and soon make camp in Wakarusa, 3 miles from Lawrence. Jim Lane organizes the citizens of Lawrence, drills them and erects blockhouses and fortifications. Among the Kansas forces are seven large men from Osawatomie named Brown, armed with short swords and long pikes.

For the first time armies from Kansas and Missouri face off, beginning a war that will last until 1865. However this time, cold December weather dampens the men’s ardor. A pair of messengers from Lawrence are allowed to pass through Wakarusa with a message for the governor in Shawnee Mission. Reeder insists that the free-staters obey the laws and give up their weapons. The messengers are astounded and remind him that no laws had been broken and of their right to bear arm. Shannon rides west, noting that the men in the pro-slavery Wakarusa camp are Missourians. He arrives in Lawrence and sees the body recently murdered man. Finally convinced that war is being forced upon Kansas by the Border ruffians, Shannon returns to powwow with the Missourians and signs a ‘treaty’ convincing them to return home.

However, Jim Lane has a trick up his sleeve. He sends word from his camp to the governor back that the Missourians are not dispersing and are, in fact, moving on the town. Would the governor authorize him, in writing, to resist with arms? The governor does, discovers that no attack is truly forthcoming and that the order is now widely distributed stating that Kansans are now authorized to resist attacks on their state by Missourians.

So the Wakarusa War ends, with one man killed, the others going home and with a new determination, however achieved, on the part of free-state residents to defend themselves from Missouri border ruffians. On December 15, 1855 a large majority ratifies the Topeka Constitution showing the true free will of the Kansas populace.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Opening gambit in Kansas

Kansas’ first territorial governor, Andrew H. Reeder, of Pennsylvania, arrives in October 1854 and tours the state searching for a capital site. Many Missourians stake land claims in Kansas and return to their native state, intent on recrossing the border when needed to vote - the law is unclear as to voters residency requirements.

Reeder announced the election for congressional delegate. Missouri Senator Atchison leads a legion of Missourians across the border and to the polls. Ballot stuffing is an American tradition and the result is accepted when pro-slavery J.W. Whitfield is elected. One man is killed during the voting.

Elsewhere during the fall elections, many congressman that voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act are ousted and their places taken by ‘anti-Nebraska’ men. The temper of the Congress will be different than before.

Reeder chooses Shawnee mission as the temporary capital, calls for the election of the territorial legislature on March 30, 1855 and takes a census. The census counts 8501 free whites, 242 slaves and 151 freemen living in Kansas.

New England emigrants begin steaming up the Missouri River to settle in Kansas, principally Lawrence. Missourians delay and harass them at the river towns. As the day of the legislative election draws nigh, Missouri border counties organize contingents to vote in Kansas. Steamboats offer special rates to these groups.

Lawrence is the focal point of Kansas realpolitik. A thousand border ruffians, several cannon and Claiborne Fox Jackson gather east of town to ‘help’ with the vote. Jackson explains the vague Kansas residency requirements for voting and disperses the men to vote in the neighboring precincts. Lawrence counts 781 pro-slavery and 253 free-soil ballots. Later investigations reveal 232 legal votes.

In Leavenworth an attorney questioning the balloting is tarred and feathered. An abolitionist newspaper press is destroyed.

80 percent of the 6200 votes cast are later deemed frauds. One free-state man is elected to the legislature. Reeder decides to certify all the returns except the most fraudulent, appeasing neither side. Dr. Charles Robinson writes influential friends in the East asking for more aid, more emigrants and 200 Sharps rifles. Until the arms can arrive, the citizens of Lawrence build a fine hotel-fort. Made of concrete, with portholes and battlements, the Free-State Hotel is a rallying point for free-soil settlers.

The newly elected legislature meets at the new capital site of Pawnee, adjacent to Fort Riley in western Kansas, where the tall-grass prarie ends and the short-grass begins. Reeder heads east to brief the President, but Atchison has already told a story that Pierce takes to heart. Evidence of proslavery aggression and usurpation of the vote are everywhere, yet Pierce refuses to believe them. The trouble draws newspapermen, journalists and writers, mostly abolitionist, to Kansas and one other man, Jim Lane of Indiana.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois calculates that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would end the political turmoil over slavery, appease the South and convince the North that a free economy would triumph over slavery in any fair contest. In the meantime the act would reunite the Democratic Party with him at the helm and catapult Douglas into the White House.

Calculus is a difficult subject. Senator Douglas’ grade in this test of political calculus is F.

The bill is simple enough: revoke the Missouri Compromise of 1820, open all territories to any settler and have the ballot decide whether to allow or exclude slavery.

Rather than Douglas’ vision, the bill splits the Democrats, reinvigorates abolitionists, brings attention, tension and bloodshed to Kansas and births the Republican Party,

President Franklin Pierce backs the act, making it a test of party loyalty. Senator David Atchison of Missouri was foremost among its backers. The act would pass along party lines but there was, in effect, no party in opposition to the Democrats. Opposition was almost entirely grass roots and homegrown. Mass meetings, antislavery groups and conventions resolve to oppose the act. Clergymen sign protests. In the north arises a whirlwind of resentment and condemnation. New England emigrant aid societies sent pioneers west for decades; now they focus on sending them to Kansas.

Amazingly, Pierce, Atchison and Douglas are totally surprised and aghast. They expect the entire United States to step aside and allow their constituents to have their way in Kansas. Indeed, the entire South expects the same. Pierce signs the bill on May 30, 1854. With his penstroke, the Civil War begins.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bleeding Kansas

The first battle of the Civil War is Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The first shots fired at US forces of the Civil War are at Harper’s Ferry by John Brown’s men on October 16, 1859. John Brown made his reputation in the 1850s ’Bleeding Kansas’. 'Bleeding Kansas’ results from the policy of ‘popular sovereignty’, enabled in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and fathered by the tremendously ambitious Stephen A. Douglas.

Douglas wishes to improve his Presidential chances with concessions to the South by repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing a territory’s inhabitants to determine the slavery question. He grossly underestimates the negative reaction of anti-slavery forces.

Most of the early immigrants to Kansas are Southern and many from Missouri. Naturally, they lean to ensuring Kansas is a slave state. Northern anti-slavery organizations soon organize and send thousands of settlers as well. The eastern Kansas counties tend to be pro-slavery and free-staters settle in western Kansas - Atchison and Leavenworth, in eastern Kansas, are pro-slavery towns; Topeka, Lawrence and Manhattan, farther west, become free-state towns.

[It pays to review a little geography: In an era where 20 miles is a day’s travel, ‘eastern’ Kansas is the tier of counties along the Missouri border; ‘western’ Kansas was the next western tier. Today’s state of Colorado is part of the Kansas territory and present-day Wyoming is part of the Nebraska territory.]

In 1854, with 2900 registered voters, many Missourians cross the border to vote in Kansas’ first territorial vote. 6000 total votes are cast in the election, most by these ‘Border Ruffians’, for a Congressional delegate. This tactic continues in 1855 when the first legislature is elected, ensuring a strongly pro-slavery, pro-Southern legislature which meets and passes pro-slavery laws. This leads to the formation of a free-state shadow government in Topeka and the relatively bloodless ‘Wakarusa War’. President Franklin Pierce opposes the Topeka government and backs the elected pro-slavery government.

In May 1856 pro-slavery Border Ruffians attack Lawrence, burn the Free State Hotel, loot stores, ransack homes and demolish 2 print shops. The next day, Senator Charles Sumner is caned by Preston Brooks in the US Capitol for criticizing the South for the violence in Kansas. Days later, John Brown, his sons and some followers, hack 5 pro-slavery men to death in Pottawatomie, Kansas.

The Kansas capital moves to Lecompton and a congressional committee labels the previous elections to be fraudulent. Pierce ignores their finding, continues to recognize the pro-slavery Lecompton legislature and sends troops to disperse the free-state Topeka shadow government. In August 1856, both sides form virtual armies and hostilities rage through October. In all 56 people were killed on both sides. A new (the 3rd) territorial governor, John W. Geary, takes office and manages to broker a fragile peace.

By 1859, the influx of free-staters overwhelms the small number of pro-slavery immigrants and an uneasy peace reigns until the Civil War brings guerilla violence to the border in 1861.