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The bogus Legislature adjourned late on the night of the 30th of August, 1855. They had elaborately built up their legal despotism, commissioned trusty adherents to administer it, and provided their principal and undoubted partisans with military authority to see that it was duly executed.

Going still a step further, they proposed so to mold and control public opinion as to prevent the organization of any party or faction to oppose their plans. In view of the coming presidential campaign, it was the fashion in the States for Democrats to style themselves "National Democrats"; and a few newspapers and speakers in Kansas had adopted the prevailing political name. To stifle any such movement, both houses of the Legislature on the last night of their session adopted a concurrent resolution declaring that the proposition to organize a National Democratic party, having already misled some of their friends, would divide pro-slavery Whigs from Democrats and weaken their party one-half; that it was the duty of the pro-slavery, Union-loving men of Kansas "to know but one issue, slavery; and that any party making or attempting to make any other is and should be held as an ally of abolitionism and disunion."

Had the conspiracy been content to prosecute its designs through moderate measures, it would inevitably have fastened slavery upon Kansas. The organization of the invasion in western Missouri, carried on under pre-acknowledged leadership, in populous counties, among established homes, amid well-matured confidence growing out of long personal and political relationship, would have been easy even without the powerful bond of secret association. On the other hand, the union of the actual inhabitants of Kansas, scattered in sparse settlements, personal strangers to each other, coming from widely separated States, and comprising radically different manners, sentiments, and traditions, and burdened with the prime and unyielding necessity of protecting themselves and their families against cold and hunger, was in the very nature of the case slow and difficult. But the course of the Border Ruffians created, in less than six weeks, a powerful and determined opposition, which became united in support of what is known as the Topeka Constitution.

It is noteworthy that this free-State movement originated in Democratic circles, under Democratic auspices. The Republican party did not yet exist. The opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were distributed among Whigs, Know-Nothings, and Free-soilers in the States, and had no national affiliation, although they had won overwhelming triumphs in a majority of the Congressional districts in the fall elections of 1854. Nearly if not quite all the free-State leaders originally went to Kansas as friends of President Pierce, and as believers in the dogma of "Popular Sovereignty."

Now that this usurping Legislature had met, contemptuously expelled the free-State members, defied the Governor's veto, set up its ingeniously contrived legal despotism, and commissioned its partisan followers to execute and administer it, the situation became sufficiently grave to demand defensive action. The real settlers were Democrats, it was true; they had voted for Pierce, shouted for the platform of '52, applauded the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and emigrated to the Territory to enjoy the new political gospel of popular sovereignty. But the practical Democratic beatitudes of Kansas were not calculated to strengthen the saints or confirm them in the faith. A Democratic invasion had elected a Democratic Legislature, which enacted laws, under whose arbitrary "non-intervention" a Democratic court might fasten a ball and chain to their ankles if they should happen to read the Declaration of Independence to a negro, or carry Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia" in their carpet-bags.

The official resolution which the bogus Legislature proclaimed as a final political test left no middle ground between those who were for slavery and those who were against slavery--those who were for the bogus laws in all their enormity, and those who were against them--and all who were not willing to become active co-workers with the conspiracy were forced to combine in self-defense.

It was in the town of Lawrence that the free-State movement naturally found its beginning. The settlers of the Emigrant Aid Society were comparatively few in number; but, supported by money, sawmills, printing-presses, boarding-houses, they became from the very first a compact, self-reliant governing force. A few preliminary meetings, instigated by the disfranchised free-State members of the Legislature, brought together a large mass convention. The result of its two days' deliberations was a regularly chosen delegate convention held at Big Springs, a few miles west of Lawrence, on the 5th of September, 1855. More important than all, perhaps, was the presence and active participation of ex-Governor Reeder himself, who wrote the resolutions, addressed the convention in a stirring and defiant speech, and received by acclamation their nomination for territorial delegate.

The platform adopted repudiated in strong terms the bogus Legislature and its tyrannical enactments, and declared "that we will endure and submit to these laws no longer than the best interests of the Territory require, as the least of two evils, and will resist them to a bloody issue as soon as we ascertain that peaceable remedies shall fail." It also recommended the formation of volunteer companies and the procurement of arms. The progressive and radical spirit of the convention is illustrated in its endorsement of the free-State movement, against the report of its own committee.

The strongest point, however, made by the convention was a determination, strictly adhered to for more than two years, to take no part in any election under the bogus territorial laws. As a result Whitfield received, without competition, the combined pro-slavery and Border Ruffian vote for delegate on the first of October, a total of 2721 ballots. Measures had meanwhile been perfected by the free-State men to elect delegates to a constitutional convention. On the 9th of October, at a separate election, held by the free-State party alone, under self-prescribed formalities and regulations, these were duly chosen by an aggregate vote of 2710, ex-Governor Reeder receiving at the same polls 2849 votes for delegate.

By this series of political movements, carried out in quiet and orderly proceedings, the free-State party was not only fully constituted and organized, but was demonstrated to possess a decided majority in the Territory. Still following out the policy agreed upon, the delegates chosen met at Topeka on the 23d of October, and with proper deliberation and decorum framed a State constitution, which was in turn submitted to a vote of the people. Although this election was held near midwinter (Dec. 15, 1855), and in the midst of serious disturbances of the peace arising from other causes, it received an affirmative vote of 1731, showing a hearty popular endorsement of it. Of the document itself no extended criticism is necessary. It prohibited slavery, but made reasonable provision for existing property-rights in slaves actually in the Territory. In no sense a radical, subversive, or "abolition" production, the Topeka Constitution was remarkable only as being the indignant protest of the people of the Territory against the Missouri usurpation. [Footnote: Still another election was January 15, 1856, to choose held by the free-State party on State officers to act under the new organization, at which Charles Robinson received 1296 votes for governor, out of a total of 1706, and Mark W. Delahay for Representative in Congress, 1828. A legislature elected at the same time, met, according to the terms of the newly framed constitution, on the 4th of March, organized, and elected Andrew H. Reeder and James H. Lane United States Senators.] The new constitution was transmitted to Congress and was formally presented as a petition to the Senate by General Cass, on March 24, 1856, [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (1) relocated to chapter end.] and to the House some days later.

The Republican Senators in Congress (the Republican party had been definitely organized a few weeks before at Pittsburg) now urged the immediate reception of the Topeka Constitution and the admission of Kansas as a free State, citing the cases of Michigan, Arkansas, Florida, and California as justifying precedents. [Footnote: They based their appeal more especially upon the opinion of the Attorney-General in the case of Arkansas, that citizens of Territories possess the constitutional right to assemble and petition Congress for the redress of grievances; that the form of the petition is immaterial; and that, "as the power of Congress over the whole subject is plenary, they may accept any constitution, however framed, which in their judgment meets the sense of the people to be affected by it."] For the present, however, there was no hope of admission to the Union with the Topeka Constitution. The Pierce Administration, under the domination of the Southern States, had deposed Governor Reeder. Both in his annual message and again in a special message, the President denounced the Topeka movement as insurrectionary.

In the Senate, too, the application was already prejudged; the Committee on Territories through Douglas himself as chairman, in a long partisan report, dismissed it with the assertion "that it was the movement of a political party instead of the whole body of the people of Kansas, conducted without the sanction of law, and in defiance of the constituted authorities, for the avowed purpose of overthrowing the territorial government established by Congress." In the mouth of a consistent advocate of "Popular Sovereignty," this argument might have had some force; but it came with a bad grace from Douglas, who in the same report indorsed the bogus Legislature and sustained the bogus laws upon purely technical assumptions. Congress was irreconcilably divided in politics. The Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the Senate; the opposition, through the election of Speaker Banks, possessed a working control of the House. Some months later, after prolonged debate, the House passed a bill for the admission of Kansas under the Topeka Constitution; but as the Senate had already rejected it, the movement remained without practical result. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (2) relocated to chapter end.]

The staple argument against the Topeka free-State movement, that it was a rebellion against constitutional authority, though perhaps correct as a mere theory was utterly refuted by the practical facts of the case. The Big Springs resolutions, indeed, counseled resistance to a "bloody issue"; but this was only to be made after "peaceable remedies shall fail." The free-State leaders deserve credit for pursuing their peaceable remedies and forbearing to exercise their asserted right to resistance with a patience unexampled in American annals. The bogus territorial laws were defied by the newspapers and treated as a dead letter by the mass of the free-State men; as much as possible they stood aloof from the civil officers appointed by and through the bogus Legislature, recorded no title papers, began no lawsuits, abstained from elections, and denied themselves privileges which required any open recognition of the alien Missouri statutes. Lane and others refused the test oath, and were excluded from practice as attorneys in the courts; free-State newspapers were thrown out of the mails as incendiary publications; sundry petty persecutions were evaded or submitted to as special circumstances dictated. But throughout their long and persistent non-conformity, for more than two years, they constantly and cheerfully acknowledged the authority of the organic act, and of the laws of Congress, and even counseled and endured every forced submission to the bogus laws. Though they had defiant and turbulent spirits in their own ranks, who often accused them of imbecility and cowardice, they maintained a steady policy of non-resistance, and, under every show of Federal authority in support of the bogus laws, they submitted to obnoxious searches and seizures, to capricious arrest and painful imprisonment, rather than by resistance to place themselves in the attitude of deliberate outlaws. [Footnote: See Governor Robinson's message to the free-State Legislature, March 4, 1856. Mrs. S. T. L. Robinson, "Kansas," pp. 352, 364.]

James H. Lane


They were destined to have no lack of provocation. Since the removal of Reeder, all the Federal officials of the Territory were affiliated with the pro-slavery Missouri cabal. Both to secure the permanent establishment of slavery in Kansas, and to gratify the personal pride of their triumph, they were determined to make these recusant free-State voters "bow down to the cap of Gessler." Despotism is never more arrogant than in resenting all slights to its personal vanity. As a first and necessary step, the cabal had procured, through its powerful influence at Washington, a proclamation from the President commanding "all persons engaged in unlawful combinations against the constituted authority of the Territory of Kansas or of the United States to disperse," etc. The language of the proclamation was sufficiently comprehensive to include Border Ruffians and emigrant aid societies, as well as the Topeka movement, and thus presented a show of impartiality; but under dominant political influences the latter was its evident and certain object.

With this proclamation as a sort of official fulcrum, Chief-Justice Lecompte delivered at the May term of his court a most extraordinary charge to the grand jury. He instructed them that the bogus Legislature, being an instrument of Congress, and having passed laws, "these laws are of United States authority and making." Persons resisting these laws must be indicted for high treason. If no resistance has been made, but combinations formed for the purpose of resisting them, "then must you still find bills for constructive treason, as the courts have decided that the blow need not be struck, but only the intention be made evident." [Footnote: J. H. Gihon, "Governor Geary's Administration," p. 77; also compare two copies of the indictments, printed at full length in Phillips, "Conquest of Kansas," pp. 351-4.] Indictments, writs, and the arrest of many prominent free-State leaders followed as a matter of course. All these proceedings, too, seemed to have been a part of the conspiracy. Before the indictments were found, and in anticipation of the writs, Robinson, the free-State Governor-elect, then on his way to the East, was arrested while traveling on a Missouri River steamboat, at Lexington in that State, detained, and finally sent back to Kansas under the Governor's requisition. Upon this frivolous charge of constructive treason he and others were held in military custody nearly four months, and finally, at the end of that period, discharged upon bail, the farce of longer imprisonment having become useless through other events.

Apprehending fully that the Topeka movement was the only really serious obstacle to their success, the pro-slavery cabal, watching its opportunity, matured a still more formidable demonstration to suppress and destroy it. The provisional free-State Legislature had, after organizing on the 4th of March, adjourned, to reassemble on the 4th of July, 1856, in order to await in the meantime the result of their application to Congress. As the national holiday approached, it was determined to call together a mass meeting at the same time and place, to give both moral support and personal protection to the members. Civil war, of which further mention will be made in the next chapter, had now been raging for months, and had in its general results gone against the free-State men. Their leaders were imprisoned or scattered, their presses destroyed, their adherents dispirited with defeat. Nevertheless, as the day of meeting approached, the remnant of the provisional Legislature and some six to eight hundred citizens gathered at Topeka, though without any definite purpose or pre-arranged plan.

Governor Shannon, the second of the Kansas executives, had by this time resigned his office, and Secretary Woodson was again acting Governor. Here was a chance to put the free-State movement pointedly under the ban of Federal authority which the cabal determined not to neglect. Reciting the President's proclamation of February, Secretary Woodson now issued his own proclamation forbidding all persons claiming legislative power and authority as aforesaid from assembling, organizing, or acting in any legislative capacity whatever. At the hour of noon on the 4th of July several companies of United States dragoons, which were brought into camp near town in anticipation of the event, entered Topeka in military array, under command of Colonel E. V. Sumner. A line of battle was formed in the street, cannon were planted, and the machinery of war prepared for instant action. Colonel Sumner, a most careful and conscientious officer and a free-State man at heart, with due formality, with decision and firmness, but at the same time openly expressing the painful nature of his duty, commanded the provisional Legislature, then about to assemble, to disperse. The members, not yet organized, immediately obeyed the order, having neither the will nor the means to resist it. There was no tumult, no violence, but little protest even in words; but the despotic purpose, clothed in forms of law, made a none the less profound impression upon the assembled citizens, and later, when the newspapers spread the report of the act, upon the indignant public of the Northern States. From this time onward, other events of paramount historical importance supervene to crowd the Topeka Constitution out of view. In a feeble way the organization still held together for a considerable length of time. About a year later the provisional Legislature again went through the forms of assembling, and although Governor Walker was present in Topeka, there were no proclamations, no dragoons, no cannon, because the cabal was for the moment defeated and disconcerted and bent upon other and still more desperate schemes. The Topeka Constitution was never received nor legalized; its officers never became clothed with official authority; its scrip was never redeemed; yet in the fate of Kansas and in the annals of the Union at large it was a vital and pivotal transaction, without which the great conflict between freedom and slavery, though perhaps neither avoided nor delayed, might have assumed altogether different phases of development.

[Relocated Footnote (1): Later, on April 7, General Cass presented to the Senate another petition, purporting to be the Topeka Constitution, which had been handed him by J. H. Lane, president of the convention which framed it and Senator-elect under it ("Cong. Globe," 1856; April 7, p. 826). This paper proved to be a clerk's copy, with erasures and interlineations and signatures in one handwriting, which being questioned as probably spurious, Lane afterwards supplied the original draft prepared by the committee and adopted by the convention, though without signatures; also adding his explanatory affidavit ("Cong. Globe," App. 1856, pp. 378-9), to the effect that, the committee had devolved upon him the preparation of the formal copy, but that the original signatures had been mislaid. The official action of the Senate appears to have concerned itself exclusively with the copy presented by General Cass on March 24. Lane's copies served only as text for angry debate. As the Topeka Constitution had no legal origin or quality, technical defeats were of little consequence, especially in view of the action by the free-State voters of Kansas at their voluntary elections for delegates on October 9, and to ratify it on December 15, 1856.]

[Relocated Footnote (2): Nevertheless, the efforts of the free-State party tinder this combination were not wholly barren. The contest between Whitfield and Reeder for a seat in the House as territorial delegate not only provoked searching discussion, but furnished the occasion for sending an investigating committee to Kansas, attended by the contestants in person. This committee with a fearless diligence collected in the Territory, as well as from the border counties of Missouri, a mass of sworn testimony amounting to some 1200 printed pages, and which exposed the Border Ruffian invasions and the Missouri usurpation in all their monstrous iniquity, and officially revealed to the astounded North, for the first time and nearly two years after its beginning, the full proportions of the conspiracy which held sway in Kansas.]