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.

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