Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

The year 1857 brings us to a decided change in the affairs of Kansas, but with occurrences no less remarkable. Active civil war gradually ceased in the preceding autumn--a result due to the vigorous and impartial administration of Governor Geary and the arrival of the inclement winter weather. 

On the evening of the day the Legislature met (January 12, 1857), the pro-slavery party held a large political convention, in which it was confessed that they were in a hopeless minority in the Territory, and the general conclusion was reached that it was no longer worthwhile to attempt to form a slave-State in Kansas.[1] Many of its hitherto active leaders immediately and definitely abandoned the struggle. But the Missouri cabal, entrenched in the various territorial and county offices, held to their design, though their labors now assumed a somewhat different character. They denounced Governor Geary in their resolutions and devised legislation to further their intrigues. By the middle of February, under their inspiration, a bill providing for a convention to frame a State constitution was perfected and enacted. The Governor immediately sent the Legislature his message, reminding them that the leading idea of the organic act was to leave the actual _bonâ fide_ inhabitants of the Territory "perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way," and vetoing the bill because "the Legislature has failed to make any provision to submit the constitution when framed to the consideration of the people for their ratification or rejection." The Governor's argument was wasted on the predetermined legislators. They promptly passed the act over his veto.

The cabal was in no mood to be thwarted, and under a show of outward toleration, if not respect, their deep hostility found such means of making itself felt that the Governor began to receive insult from street ruffians and to become apprehensive for his personal safety. In such a contest he was single-handed against the whole pro-slavery town of Lecompton. The foundation of his authority was gradually sapped; and finding himself no longer sustained at Washington, where the private appeals and denunciations of the cabal were more influential than his official reports, he wrote his resignation on the day of Buchanan's inauguration, and a week later left the Territory in secrecy as a fugitive. Thus, in less than three years, three successive Democratic executives had been resisted, disgraced, and overthrown by the political conspiracy which ruled the Territory; and Kansas had indeed become, in the phraseology of the day, "the graveyard of governors."

The Kansas imbroglio was a political scandal of such large proportions, and so clearly threatened a dangerous schism in the Democratic party, that the new President, Buchanan, and his new Cabinet, proceeded to its treatment with the utmost caution. The subject was fraught with difficulties not of easy solution. The South, to retain her political supremacy, or even her equality, needed more slave-States to furnish additional votes in the United States Senate. To make a slave-State of Kansas, the Missouri Compromise had been repealed, and a bogus legislature elected and supported by the successive Missouri invasions and the guerrilla war of 1856. All these devices had, however, confessedly failed of their object. Northern emigration and anti-slavery sentiment were clearly in possession of Kansas, and a majority of voters stood ready upon fair occasion to place her in the column of free-States. It had become a game on the chessboard of national politics. The moving pieces stood in Missouri and Kansas, but the players sat in Washington. In reality, it was a double game. There was plot and under-plot. Beneath the struggle between the free-States and the slave-States were the intrigue and deception carried on between Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a double-tongued statute, and the Cincinnati platform a Janus-faced banner. Momentary victory was with the Southern Democrats, for they had secured the nomination and election of President Buchanan--"a Northern man with Southern principles."


Determined to secure whatever prestige could be derived from high qualification and party influence, Buchanan tendered the vacant governorship of Kansas to his intimate personal and political friend, Robert J. Walker, of Mississippi, a man of great ability and national fame, who had been Senator and Secretary of the Treasury. Walker, realizing fully the responsibility and danger of the trust, after repeated refusals finally accepted upon two distinct conditions: first, that General Harney should be "put in special command in Kansas with a large body of troops, and especially of dragoons and a battery," and retained there subject to his military directions until the danger was over; and second, that he "should advocate the submission of the constitution to the vote of the people for ratification or rejection."


This latter had now become a vital point in the political game. The recent action of the Territorial Legislature and Geary's already mentioned veto message were before the President and his Cabinet.[2] But much more important than these moves in Kansas was the prior determination of prominent Washington players. During the Kansas civil war and the Presidential campaign of the previous year, by way of offset to the Topeka Constitution, both Senator Douglas and Senator Toombs wrote and introduced in the Senate bills to enable Kansas to form a State constitution. The first by design, and the second by accident, contained a clause to submit such constitution when formed, to a vote of the people. Both these bills were considered not only by the Senate Committee on Territories, of which Douglas was chairman but also by a caucus of Democratic Senators. Said Senator Bigler: "It was held, by those most intelligent on the subject, that in view of all the difficulties surrounding that Territory, [and] the danger of any experiment at that time of a popular vote, it would be better that there should be no such provision in the Toombs bill; and it was my understanding, in all the intercourse I had, that that convention would make a constitution and send it here without submitting it to the popular vote."[3]


This Toombs bill was, after modification in other respects, adopted by Douglas, and duly passed by the Senate; but the House with an opposition majority refused its assent. All these preliminaries were well known to the Buchanan Cabinet, and of course also to Douglas. It is fair to assume that under such circumstances Walker's emphatic stipulation was deliberately and thoroughly discussed. Indeed, extraordinary urging had been necessary to induce him to reconsider his early refusals. Douglas personally joined in the solicitation. Because of the determined opposition of his own family, Walker had promised his wife that he would not go to Kansas without her consent; and President Buchanan was so anxious on the point that he personally called on Mrs. Walker and persuaded her to waive her objections.[4] Under influences like these Walker finally accepted the appointment, and the President and Cabinet acquiesced in his conditions without reserve. He wrote his inaugural address in Washington, using the following language: "I repeat then as my clear conviction that unless the convention submit the constitution to the vote of the actual resident settlers, and the election be fairly and justly conducted, the constitution will be and ought to be rejected by Congress."


He submitted this draft of his inaugural to President Buchanan, who read and approved the document and the promise. Secretary Cass wrote his official instructions in accordance with it. On Walker's journey West he stopped at Chicago and submitted his inaugural to Douglas, who also endorsed his policy. The new Governor fondly believed he had removed every obstacle to success, and every possibility of misunderstanding or disapproval by the Administration, such as had befallen his predecessors. But President Buchanan either deceived him at the beginning or betrayed him in the end.


With Governor Walker there was sent a new Territorial secretary. Woodson, who had so often abused his powers during his repeated service as acting Governor, was promoted to a more lucrative post to create the vacancy. Frederick P. Stanton, of Tennessee, formerly a representative in Congress, a man of talent and, as the event proved, also a man of courage, was made secretary. Both Walker and Stanton being from slave-States, it may be presumed that the slavery question was considered safe in their hands. Walker, indeed, entertained sentiments more valuable to the South in this conjuncture. He believed in the balance of power; he preferred that the people of Kansas should make it a slave-State; he was "in favor of maintaining the equilibrium of the Government by giving the South a majority in the Senate, while the North would always necessarily have a majority in the House of Representatives." Both also entered on their mission with the feelings entertained by the President and Democratic party; namely, that the free-State men were a mischievous insurrectionary faction, willfully disturbing the peace and defying the laws. Gradually, however, their personal observation convinced them that this view was a profound error.


Governor Walker arrived in the Territory late in May, and it required but short investigation to satisfy him that any idea of making Kansas a slave-State was utterly preposterous. Had everything else been propitious, climate alone seemed to render it impossible. But popular sentiment was also overwhelmingly against it; he estimated that the voters were for a free-State more than two to one. All the efforts of the pro-slavery party to form a slave-State seemed to be finally abandoned. If he could not make Kansas a slave-State, his next desire was to make her a Democratic State. "And the only plan to accomplish this was to unite the free-State Democrats with the pro-slavery party, and all those whom I regarded as conservative men, against the more violent portion of the Republicans." He, therefore, sought by fair words to induce the free-State men to take part in the election of delegates to the constitutional convention. His inaugural address, quoting the President's instructions, promised that such election should be free from fraud and violence; that the delegates should be protected in their deliberations; and that if unsatisfactory, "you may by a subsequent vote defeat the ratification of the constitution."

Kansas Territorial Governor Robert J. Walker
Kansas Territorial Governor Robert J. Walker

This same policy was a few weeks later urged at Topeka, where a mass meeting of the free-State men was called to support and instruct another sitting of the "insurrectionary" free-State Legislature elected under the Topeka Constitution. The Governor found a large assemblage, and a very earnest discussion in progress, whether the "Legislature" should pursue only nominal action, such as would in substance amount to a petition for redress of grievances, or whether they should actually organize their State government, and pass a complete code of laws. The moderate free-State men favored the former, the violent and radical the latter, course. When their mass meeting adjourned, they called on the Governor at his lodgings; he made a speech, in which he renewed the counsels and promises of his inaugural address. "The Legislature," said he, "has called a convention to assemble in September next. That constitution they will or they will not submit to the vote of a majority of the then actual resident settlers of Kansas. If they do not submit it, I will join you, fellow citizens, in lawful opposition to their course. And I cannot doubt, gentlemen, that one much higher than I, the Chief Magistrate of the Union, will join you in that opposition." His invitation to them to participate in the election of a convention produced no effect; they still adhered to their resolve to have nothing to do with any affirmative proceedings under the bogus laws or Territorial Legislature. But the Governor's promise of a fair vote on the constitution was received with favor. "Although this mass convention," reports the Governor, "did not adopt fully my advice to abandon the whole Topeka movement, yet they did vote down by a large majority the resolutions prepared by the more violent of their own party in favor of a complete State organization and the adoption of a code of State laws."


If the Governor was gratified at this result as indicative of probable success in his official administration, he rejoiced yet more in its significance as a favorable symptom of party politics. "The result of the whole discussion at Topeka," he reported, "was regarded by the friends of law and order as highly favorable to their cause, and as the commencement of a great movement essential to success; viz., the separation of the free-State Democrats from the Republicans, who had to some extent heretofore cooperated under the name of the free-State party." Another party symptom gave the Governor equal, if not greater, encouragement. On the 2d and 3d of July, the "National Democratic" or pro-slavery party of the Territory met in convention at Lecompton. The leaders were out in full force. The hopelessness of making Kansas a slave-State was once more acknowledged, the Governor's policy indorsed, and a resolution "against the submission of the constitution to a vote of the people was laid on the table as a test vote by forty-two to one." The Governor began already to look upon his counsels and influence as a turning point in national destiny. "Indeed," he wrote, "it is universally admitted here that the only real question is this: whether Kansas shall be a conservative, constitutional, Democratic, and ultimately free-State, or whether it shall be a Republican and abolition State; and that the course pursued by me is the only one which will prevent the last most calamitous result, which, in my opinion, would soon seal the fate of the republic."


In his eagerness to reform the Democratic party of Kansas, and to strengthen the Democratic party of the nation against the assaults and dangers of "abolitionism," the Governor was not entirely frank; else he would at the same time have reported, what he was obliged later to explain, that the steps taken to form a constitution from which he hoped so much were already vitiated by such defects or frauds as to render them impossible of producing good fruit. The Territorial law appointing the election of delegates provided for a census and a registry of voters, to be made by county officers appointed by the Territorial Legislature. These officers so neglected or failed to discharge their duty, that in nearly half the organized counties of the interior no attempt whatever was made to obtain the census or registration; and in the counties lying on the Missouri border, where the pro-slavery party was strong, the work of both was exceedingly imperfect, and in many instances with notorious discrimination against free-State voters. While the disfranchised counties had a comparatively sparse population, the number of voters in them was too considerable to be justly denied their due representation.[5] The apportionment of delegates was based upon this defective registration and census, and this alone would have given the pro-slavery party a disproportionate power in the convention. But at the election of delegates on the 15th of June, the free-State men, following their deliberate purpose and hitherto unvarying practice of non-conformity to the bogus laws, abstained entirely from voting. "The consequence was that out of the 9250 voters whose names had been registered ... there were in all about 2200 votes cast, and of these, the successful candidate received 1800."

"The black Republicans," reported the Governor, "would not vote, and the free-State Democrats were kept from voting by the fear that the constitution would not be submitted by the convention, and that by voting they committed themselves to the proceeding of the convention. But for my inaugural, circulated by thousands, and various speeches all urging the people to vote, there would not have been one thousand votes polled in the Territory, and the convention would have been a disastrous failure."

But this was not the only evil. The apportionment of the members of the Territorial Legislature to be chosen the ensuing autumn was also based upon this same defective registry and census. Here again disproportionate power accrued to the pro-slavery party, and the free-State men loudly charged that it was a new contrivance for the convenience of Missouri voters. Governor Walker publicly deplored all these complications and defects, but he counseled endurance and constantly urged in mitigation that in the end, the people should have the privilege of a fair and direct vote upon their constitution. That promise he held aloft as a beacon-light of hope and redress. This attitude and policy, frequently reported to Washington, was not disavowed or discouraged by the President and Cabinet.

The Governor, however, soon found a storm brewing in another quarter. When the newspapers brought copies of his inaugural address, his Topeka speech, and the general report of his Kansas policy back to the Southern States, there arose an ominous chorus of protest and denunciation from the whole tribe of fire-eating editors and politicians. What right had the Governor to intermeddle? they indignantly demanded. What call to preach about climate, what business to urge submission of the constitution to popular vote, or to promise his own help to defeat it if it were not submitted; what authority to pledge the President and Administration to such a course! The convention was sovereign, they claimed, could do what it pleased, and no thanks to the Governor for his impertinent advice. The Democratic State Convention of Georgia took the matter in hand, and by resolution denounced Walker's inaugural address, and asked his removal from office. The Democratic State Convention of Mississippi followed suit and called the inaugural address an unjust discrimination against the rights of the South, and a dictatorial intermeddling with the high public duty entrusted to the convention.

Walker wrote a private letter to Buchanan, defending his course, and adding: "Unless I am thoroughly and cordially sustained by the Administration here, I cannot control the convention, and we shall have anarchy and civil war. With that cordial support the convention (a majority of whose delegates I have already seen) will do what is right. I shall travel over the whole Territory, make speeches, rouse the people in favor of my plan, and see all the delegates. But your cordial support is indispensable, and I never would have come here, unless assured by you of the cordial coöperation of all the Federal officers... The extremists are trying your nerves and mine, but what can they say when the convention submits the constitution to the people and the vote is given by them? But we must have a slave-State out of the south-western Indian Territory, and then a calm will follow; Cuba be acquired with the acquiescence of the North; and your Administration, having, in reality, settled the slavery question, be regarded in all time to come as a re-signing and re-sealing of the constitution... I shall be pleased soon to hear from you. Cuba! Cuba! (and Porto Rico, if possible) should be the countersign of your Administration, and it will close in a blaze of glory."[6]

The Governor had reason to be proud of the full and complete reëndorsement which this appeal brought from his chief. Under date of July 12, 1857, the President wrote in reply: "On the question of submitting the constitution to the _bonâ fide_ resident settlers of Kansas I am willing to stand or fall. In sustaining such a principle we cannot fall. It is the principle of the Kansas-Nebraska bill; the principle of popular sovereignty; and the principle at the foundation of all popular government. The more it is discussed the stronger it will become. Should the convention of Kansas adopt this principle, all will be settled harmoniously, and with the blessing of Providence, you will return triumphantly from your arduous, important, and responsible mission. The strictures of the Georgia and Mississippi Conventions will then pass away and be speedily forgotten. In regard to Georgia, our news from that State is becoming better every day; we have not yet had time to hear much from Mississippi. Should you answer the resolution of the latter, I would advise you to make the great principle of the submission of the constitution to the _bonâ fide_ residents of Kansas conspicuously prominent. On this, you will be irresistible."[7]

The delegates to the constitutional convention, chosen in June, met according to law at Lecompton, September 7, and, having spent five days in organization, adjourned their session to October 19. The object of this recess was to await the issue of the general election of October 5, at which a full Territorial Legislature, a delegate to Congress, and various county officers were to be chosen.


By the action of the free-State men this election was now made a turning-point in Kansas politics. Held together as a compact party by their peaceful resistance to the bogus laws, emigration from the North had so strengthened their numbers that they clearly formed a majority of the people of the Territory. A self-constituted and self-regulated election held by them for sundry officials under their Topeka Constitution revealed a numerical strength of more than seven thousand voters. Feeling that this advantage justified them in receding from their attitude of non-conformity, they met in convention towards the end of August, and while protesting against the "wicked apportionment," resolved that "whereas Governor Walker has repeatedly pledged himself that the people of Kansas should have a full and fair vote, before impartial judges, at the election to be held on the first Monday in October, ... we the people of Kansas, in mass convention assembled, agree to participate in said election."


Governor Walker executed his public promises to the letter. A movement of United States troops to Utah was in progress, and about two thousand of these were detained by order until after election day. Stationed at ten or twelve different points in the Territory, they served by their mere presence to overawe disorder, and for the first time in the history of Kansas, the two opposing parties measured their strength at the ballot box. The result was an overwhelming triumph for the free-State party. For delegate in Congress, Ransom, the Democratic candidate, received 3799 votes; Parrott, the Republican candidate, 7888--a free-State majority of 4089. For the Legislature, even under the defective apportionment, the council stood 9 free-State members to 4 Democrats, and the House 24 free-State members to 15 Democrats.

That the pro-slavery cabal would permit power to slip from their grasp without some extraordinary effort was scarcely to be expected. When the official returns were brought from the various voting-places to the Governor's office, there came from Oxford, a single precinct in Johnson County, "a roll of paper, forty or fifty feet long, containing names as thickly as they could be written," and a large part of which were afterwards discovered to have been literally copied from an old Cincinnati directory. This paper purported to be a return of 1628 votes for the eleven pro-slavery candidates for the Legislature in that district, and if counted it would elect eight members of the House and three of the council by a trifling majority, and thereby change the political complexion and power of the Legislature. Inspection showed the document to be an attempt to commit a stupendous fraud; and after visiting the locality ("a village with six houses, including stores, and without a tavern") and satisfying himself of the impossibility of such a vote from such a place, Governor Walker rejected the whole return from Oxford precinct for informality, and gave certificates of election to the free-State candidates elected as appeared by the other regular returns. A similar paper from McGee County with more than 1200 names was treated in like manner. Judge Cato issued his writ of mandamus to compel the Governor to give certificates to the pro-slavery candidates, but without success. The language of Governor Walker and Secretary Stanton in a proclamation announcing their action deserves remembrance and imitation. "The consideration that our own party by this decision will lose the majority in the legislative assembly does not make our duty in the premises less solemn and imperative. The elective franchise would be utterly valueless, and free government itself would receive a deadly blow, if so great an outrage as this could be shielded under the cover of mere forms and technicalities. We cannot consent in any manner to give the sanction of our respective official positions to such a transaction. Nor can we feel justified to relieve ourselves of the proper responsibility of our offices, in a case where there is no valid return, by submitting the question to the legislative assembly, and in that very act giving the parties that might claim to be chosen by this spurious vote the power to decide upon their own election."

The decisive free-State victory, the Oxford and McGee frauds,[8] and the Governor's fearless action in exposing and rejecting them, called forth universal comment; and under the new political conditions which they revealed, created intense interest in the further proceedings of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention. That body reassembled according to adjournment on the 19th of October. Elected in the preceding June without any participation by free-State voters, the members were all of the pro-slavery party, and were presided over by John Calhoun, the same man who, as county surveyor of Sangamon County, Illinois, employed Abraham Lincoln as his deputy in 1832.

At the June election, while he and his seven colleagues from Douglas County were yet candidates for the convention, they had circulated a written pledge that they would submit the constitution to the people for ratification. This attitude was generally maintained by them till the October election. But when by that vote they saw their faction overwhelmed with defeat, they and others undertook to maintain themselves in power by an unprecedented piece of political jugglery. Calhoun, who was surveyor-general of the Territory, employed a large number of subordinates, and was one of the most able and unscrupulous leaders in the pro-slavery cabal. A large majority of the convention favored the establishment of slavery; only the question of a popular vote on ratification or rejection excited controversy.

An analysis shows that the principle of delegated authority had become attenuated to a remarkable degree. The defective registration excluded a considerable number (estimated at about one-sixth) of the legal voters. Of the 9250 registered, only about 2200 voted, all told. Of these 2200, only about 1800 votes were given for the successful candidates for delegate. Of the whole sixty delegates alleged to have been chosen, "but forty-three," says a Committee Report, "participated in the work of the convention. Sessions were held without a quorum, and the yeas and nays often show that but few above thirty were present. It is understood, and not denied, that but twenty-eight of these--less than half of a full house of sixty--decided the pro-slavery or free-State question; and upon the question of submission of their work to the will of the people, the pro-slavery party carried the point by a majority of two votes only. It is quite in keeping with the character of this body and its officers to find the journal of its proceedings for the last days missing."[9]

Their allotted task was completed in a short session of about three weeks; the convention adjourned November 7, forty-three of the fifty delegates present having been induced to sign the constitution. When the document was published the whole country was amazed to see what perversity and ingenuity had been employed to thwart the unmistakable popular will. Essentially a slave-State constitution of the most pronounced type, containing the declaration that the right of property in slaves is "before and higher than any constitutional sanction," it made the right to vote upon it depend on the one hand on a test oath to "support this constitution" in order to repel conscientious free-State voters, and on the other hand on mere inhabitancy on the day of election to attract nomadic Missourians; it postponed the right to amend or alter for a period of seven years; it kept the then existing territorial laws in force until abrogated by State legislation; it adopted the late Oxford fraud as a basis of apportionment; it gave to Calhoun, the presiding officer, power to designate the precincts, the judges of election, and to decide finally upon the returns in the vote upon it, besides many other questionable or inadmissible provisions. Finally, the form of submission to popular vote to be taken on the 21st of December was prescribed to be, "constitution with slavery" or "constitution with no slavery," thus compelling the adoption of the constitution in any event.

There is a personal and political mystery underlying this transaction which history will probably never solve. Only a few points of information have come to light, and they serve to embarrass rather than aid the solution. The first is that Calhoun, although the friend and protégé of Douglas, and also himself personally pledged to submission, came to the Governor and urged him to join in the new program as to slavery,--alleging that the Administration had changed its policy, and now favored this plan,--and tempted Walker with a prospect of the Presidency if he would concur. Walker declared such a change impossible, and indignantly spurned the proposal. The second is that one Martin, a department clerk, was, after confidential instructions from Secretary Thompson and Secretary Cobb, of Buchanan's Cabinet, sent to Kansas in October, ostensibly on department business; that he spent his time in the lobby and the secret caucuses of the convention. Martin testifies that these Cabinet members favored submission, but that Thompson wished it understood that he was unwilling to oppose the admission of Kansas "if a pro-slavery constitution should be made and sent directly to Congress by the convention." A wink was as good as a nod with that body, or rather with the cabal which controlled it; and after a virtuous dumb-show of opposition, it made a pretense of yielding to the inevitable, and acted on the official suggestion. This theory is the more plausible because Martin testifies further that he himself drafted the slavery provision which was finally adopted. The third point is that the President inexcusably abandoned his pledges to the Governor and adopted this Cobb-Thompson-Calhoun contrivance, instead of keeping his word and dismissing Calhoun, as honor dictated. This course becomes especially remarkable in view of the fact that the change did not occur until after Walker's rejection of the fraudulent Oxford returns, which action placed the legislative power of the Territory in the hands of the newly elected free-State Legislature, as already related. On the same day (October 22, 1857) on which Walker and Stanton issued their proclamation rejecting the fraudulent returns, President Buchanan wrote another highly commendatory letter to Governor Walker. As it has never before been published, its full text will have special historical interest.

    WASHINGTON CITY, 22d October 1857.

    MY DEAR SIR: I have received your favor of the tenth instant by Captain Pleasonton and am rejoiced to learn from you, what I had previously learned from other less authentic sources, that the convention of Kansas will submit the constitution to the people. It is highly gratifying that the late election passed off so peacefully; and I think we may now fairly anticipate a happy conclusion to all the difficulties in that Territory. Your application for a month's leave of absence has been granted to commence after the adjournment of the convention. During its session your presence will be too important to be dispensed with. I shall be glad to see you before you publish anything. The whole affair is now gliding along smoothly. Indeed, the revulsion in the business of the country seems to have driven all thoughts of "bleeding Kansas" from the public mind. When and in what manner anything shall be published to revive the feeling, is a question of serious importance. I am persuaded that with every passing day the public are more and more disposed to do you justice. You certainly do injustice to Harris, the editor of the "Union." In the beginning I paid some attention to the course of the paper in regard to yourself, and I think it was unexceptionable: I know he stood firm amidst a shower of abuse from the extremists. I never saw nor did I ever hear of the communication published in the "Union" to which you refer, and Harris has no recollection of it. I requested him to find me the number and send it to me; but this he has not done. He is not responsible in any degree for the non-publication of the letters to which you refer.[10] I knew nothing of them until after the receipt of yours; and upon inquiry I found their publication had been prevented by Mr. Cobb under a firm conviction that they would injure both yourself and the Administration.

    Whether he judged wisely or not I cannot say, for I never saw them. That he acted in fairness and friendship I have not a doubt. He was anxious that General Whitfield should publish a letter and prepared one for him, expecting he would sign it before he left. He sent this letter after him for his approval and signature; but it has not been returned. I know not what are its contents. General W. doubtless has the letter in his possession. Beyond all question, the motives of Mr. Cobb were proper. Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Bache have just left me after a half hour's very agreeable conversation. Mrs. Walker desires me to inform you the family are all well and sends her love.

    From your friend, very respectfully,

    JAMES BUCHANAN.

    Hon. ROBERT J. WALKER.[11]


The question naturally occurs, for whom did Calhoun speak when he approached Governor Walker, offering him the bribe of the Presidency and assuring him that the Administration had changed its mind? That was before, or certainly, not long after, the probable receipt of this letter in Kansas, for the Governor left the Territory (November 16) about one week after the adjournment of the Lecompton Convention. The question becomes still more pressing owing to Governor Walker's testimony that when he reached Washington, "the President himself distinctly and emphatically assured me that he had not authorized anybody to say that he had approved of that [Lecompton] programme." On whose authority, then, did Calhoun declare that the Administration had changed its mind?

Frederick P. Stanton who served as acting Kansas Territorial Governor from April to May 27, 1857, and November 16 to December 21, 1857.
Frederick P. Stanton who served as acting Kansas Territorial Governor from April to May 27, 1857, and November 16 to December 21, 1857.

 

This query brings us to another point in President Buchanan's letter of October 22, in which he mentions that Secretary Cobb, of his Cabinet, had without his knowledge suppressed the publication of certain letters in the "Washington Union." These were, as we learn elsewhere, the letters in which some of the Kansas pro-slavery leaders repeated their declaration of the hopelessness of any further contest to make Kansas a slave-State. Why this secret suppression by Secretary Cobb? There is but one plausible explanation of this whole chain of contradictions. The conclusion is almost forced upon us that a Cabinet intrigue, of which the President was kept in ignorance, was being carried on, under the very eyes of Mr. Buchanan, by those whom he himself significantly calls "the extremists"--a plot to supersede his own intentions and make him falsify his own declarations. As in the case of similar intrigues by the same agents a few years later, he had neither the wit to perceive nor the will to resist.

The protest of the people of the Territory against the extraordinary action of the Lecompton Convention almost amounted to a popular revolt. This action opened a wide door to fraud, and invited Missouri over to an invasion of final and permanent conquest. Governor Walker had quitted the Territory on his leave of absence, and Secretary Stanton was acting Governor. "The people in great masses," he says, "and the Legislature that had been elected, with almost a unanimous voice called upon me to convene the Legislature, in order that they might take such steps as they could to counteract the misfortune which they conceived was about to befall them in the adoption of this constitution," As already stated, Stanton had come to Kansas with the current Democratic prejudices against the free-State party. But his whole course had been frank, sincere, and studiously impartial, and the Oxford fraud had completely opened his eyes. "I now discovered for the first time to my entire satisfaction why it was that the great mass of the people of the Territory had been dissatisfied with their government, and were ready to rebel and throw it off."

Having, like Walker, frequently and earnestly assured the people of their ultimate right to ratify or reject the work of the convention, he was personally humiliated by the unfairness and trickery of which that body was guilty. Under the circumstances he could not hesitate in his duty. By proclamation he convened the new Legislature in extra session.

The members respected the private pledge they had given him to engage in no general legislation; but provided by law for an investigation of the Oxford and McGee frauds, and for an election to be held on January 4, 1858 (the day fixed by the Lecompton Constitution for the election of State officers and a State legislature), at which the people might vote for the Lecompton Constitution or against it. Thus in the course of events two separate votes were taken on this notorious document. The first, provided for in the instrument itself, took place on the 21st of December, 1857. Detachments of troops were stationed at several points; the free-State men abstained from voting; the election was peaceable; and in due time Calhoun proclaimed that 6143 ballots had been cast "for the constitution with slavery," and 589 "for the constitution with no slavery." But the subsequent legislative investigation disclosed a gross repetition of the Oxford fraud, and proved the actual majority, in a onesided vote, to have been only 3423. The second election occurred on January 4, 1858, under authority of the legislative act. At this election the pro-slavery party voted for the State officers, but in its turn abstained from voting on the constitution, the result being--against the Lecompton Constitution, 10,226; for the Lecompton Constitution with slavery, 138; for the Lecompton Constitution without slavery, 24.[12]

This emphatic rejection of the Lecompton Constitution by a direct vote of the people of Kansas sealed its fate. We shall see further on what persistent but abortive efforts were made in Congress once more to galvanize it into life. The free-State party were jubilant; but the pro-slavery cabal, foiled and checked, was not yet dismayed or conquered. For now there was developed, for the first time in its full proportions, the giant pro-slavery intrigue which proved that the local conspiracy of the Atchison-Missouri cabal was but the image and fraction of a national combination, finding its headquarters in the Administration, first of President Pierce, and now of President Buchanan; working patiently and insidiously through successive efforts to bring about a practical subversion of the whole theory and policy of the American Government. It linked the action of Border Ruffians, presidential aspirants, senates, courts, and cabinets into efficient coöperation; leading up, step by step, from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, through the Nebraska bill, border conquest, the Dred Scott decision, the suppression of the submission clause in the Toombs bill, and the extraordinary manipulation and machinery of the Lecompton Constitution, towards the final overthrow of the doctrine that "all men are created equal," and the substitution of the dogma of property in man; towards the judicial construction that property rights in human beings are before and above constitutional sanction, and that slavery must find protection and perpetuity in States as well as in Territories.


The first weather-sign came from Washington. On the day after Acting Governor Stanton convened the October Legislature in special session, and before news of the event reached him, Secretary Cass transmitted to him advance copies of the President's annual message, in which the Lecompton Constitution was indorsed in unqualified terms. A week later he was admonished to conform to the views of the President in his official conduct. At this point the State Department became informed of what had taken place, and the acting Governor had short shrift. On December 11 Cass wrote to J.W. Denver, Esq.: "You have already been informed that Mr. Stanton has been removed from the office of Secretary of the Territory of Kansas and that you have been appointed in his place." Cass further explained that the President "was surprised to learn that the secretary and acting Governor had, on the 1st of December, issued his proclamation for a special session of the Territorial Legislature on the 7th instant, only a few weeks in advance of its regular time of meeting, and only fourteen days before the decision was to be made on the question submitted by the convention. This course of Mr. Stanton, the President seriously believes, has thrown a new element of discord among the excited people of Kansas, and is directly at war, therefore, with the peaceful policy of the Administration. For this reason he has felt it his duty to remove him."

Walker, already in Washington on leave of absence, could no longer remain silent. He was as pointedly abandoned and disgraced by the Administration as was his subordinate. In a dignified letter justifying his own course, which, he reminded them, had never been criticized or disavowed, he resigned the governorship. "From the events occurring in Kansas as well as here," he wrote, "it is evident that the question is passing from theories into practice; and that as governor of Kansas I should be compelled to carry out new instructions, differing on a vital question from those received at the date of my appointment. Such instructions I could not execute consistently with my views of the Federal Constitution, of the Kansas and Nebraska bill, or with my pledges to the people of Kansas." "The idea entertained by some that I should see the Federal Constitution and the Kansas-Nebraska bill overthrown and disregarded, and that, playing the part of a mute in a pantomime of ruin, I should acquiesce by my silence in such a result, especially where such acquiescence involved, as an immediate consequence, a disastrous and sanguinary civil war, seems to me most preposterous."[13]

The conduct and the language of Walker and Stanton bear a remarkable significance when we remember that they had been citizens of slave States and zealous Democratic partisans, and that only hard practical experience and the testimony of their own eyes had forced them to join their predecessors in the political "graveyard." "The ghosts on the banks of the Styx," said Seward, "constitute a cloud scarcely more dense than the spirits of the departed Governors of Kansas, wandering in exile and sorrow for having certified the truth against falsehood in regard to the elections between Freedom and Slavery in Kansas."

----------

[1] January 12, 1857, Wilder, p. 113. Bell, Speech in Senate, March 18, 1858. Appendix "Globe," p. 137.

[2] Geary to Marcy, Feb. 21, 1857, Senate Ex. Doc. No. 17, 1st Sess. 35th Cong. Vol. VI., p. 178.

[3] Bigler, Senate Speech, Dec. 9, 1857. "Globe," p. 21. See also Bigler, Dec. 21, 1857. "Globe," p. 113.

[4] Walker, Testimony before the Covode Committee. Reports of Committees H.R. 1st Sess. 36th Cong. Vol. V., pp. 105-6.

[5] "These fifteen counties in which there was no registry gave a much larger vote at the October election, even with the six months' qualification, than the whole vote given to the delegates who signed the Lecompton Constitution on the 7th November last."--[Walker to Cass, December 15, 1857. Senate Ex. Doc. No. 8, 1st Sess. 35th Cong. Vol. I, p. 128.]

[6] Walker to Buchanan, June 28, 1857. Report Covode Committee, pp. 117-19.

[7] Buchanan to Walker, July 12, 1857. Report Covode Committee, p. 112.

[8] The ingenuity which evolved 1600 Kansas votes from an old Cincinnati directory and 1200 more from an uninhabited county, was not exhausted by that prodigious labor. The same influences, and perhaps the same manipulators, produced a companion piece known by the name of the "candle-box fraud." At the election of January 4, 1858, for officers under the Lecompton Constitution, the returns from Delaware Agency underwent such suspicious handling that an investigating commission of the Legislature, by aid of a search-warrant, found them secreted in a candle-box buried under a woodpile near Calhoun's "surveyor-general's office" at Lecompton. A forged list of 379 votes had been substituted for the original memorandum of only forty-three votes which had been cut from the certificate of the judges; the votes on the forged list being intended for the pro-slavery candidates. During the investigation Calhoun was arrested, but liberated by Judge Cato on _habeas corpus_, after which he immediately went to Missouri, and from there to Washington. The details and testimony are found in House Com. Reports, 1st Sess. 35th Cong. Vol. III, Report No. 377.

[9] Minority Report, Select Com. of Fifteen. Report No. 377, page 109, Vol. III., H.R. Reports, 1st Sess. 35th Cong.

This "missing link," no less than the remaining portion of the journal printed in the proceedings of the investigating committee, is itself strong circumstantial proof of the imposture underlying the whole transaction. Many sections of the completed constitution are not even mentioned in the journal; it does not contain the submission clause of the schedule, and the authenticity of the document rests upon the signature and the certificate of John Calhoun without other verification.

[10] "Dr. Tebbs and General Whitfield a month since left very strong letters for publication with the editor of the 'Union' which he promised to publish. His breach of this promise is a gross outrage. If not published immediately our success in convention materially depends on my getting an immediate copy at Lecompton. My friends here all regard now the 'Union' as an enemy and encouraging by its neutrality the fire-eaters not to submit the constitution. Very well, the facts are so clear that I can get along without the 'Union,' but he had no right to suppress Dr. Tebbs's letter. I shall in due time expose that transaction."--Extract from a letter of Robert J. Walker to James Buchanan, dated October, 1857.

[11] For this autograph letter and other interesting manuscripts, we are indebted to General Duncan S. Walker, a son of the Governor, now residing in Washington, D.C.

[12] Under an Act of Congress popularly known as the "English Bill," this same Lecompton Constitution was once more voted upon by the people of Kansas on August 2, 1858, with the following result: for the proposition, 1788; against it, 11,300.--Wilder, "Annals of Kansas," pp. 186-8.

[13] Walker to Cass, Dec. 16, 1857. Senate Ex. Doc. No. 8, 1st Sess., 35th Cong. Vol. I., pp. 131, 130.