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The Sacking of Lawrence, May 21, 1856 – 4

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An illustration shows men lining up to vote on the issue of slavery in Kansas Territory. In 1855 voters chose to allow slavery.  The Granger Collection, New York

An illustration shows men lining up to vote on the issue of slavery in Kansas Territory. In 1855 voters chose to allow slavery. The Granger Collection, New York

The actual number of free-state settlers that made it to Kansas was far more modest than the expectations set in the press but the perception was in the public psyche.

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Andrew Reeder

When the Kansas Territory’s first governor, Andrew Reeder, called for elections of the Kansas Territorial Legislature on March 30, 1855, pro-slavery Missourians crossed the border in droves and took advantage of a poorly conceived suffrage law that required little to no proof of residency to vote. The government they elected was widely recognized as bogus but Reeder let the election stand and President Franklin Pierce endorsed it. The new government created exceptionally pro-slavery laws, some verging on the absurd. Free-state men revolted by setting up their own shadow government in Topeka claiming that its laws and elected officials would become legitimate once statehood was achieved. This exacerbated further the rift between the two factions and opened the door for the Lecompton government to take legal action against the free-soil men, indeed eventually accusing some of treason.

“If one government was valid, the other was spurious, either morally or legally, as the case might be. If the acts of one were binding upon the citizens, then submission to the authority of the other by, for instance, paying its taxes or serving in its militia would constitute sedition, or even treason.” (i)

Polarization of the factions increased.

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This post continues the series, “The Sacking of Lawrence May 21, 1856.” Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

the-impending-crisis(i) David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 206.

On Free Soilers – 2

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wilmotproviso

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A key reason that “Free Soilers” feared the South, and particularly slaveholders, was because of the political power they wielded in the national parties and government. This resentment found as “epithet the term ‘Slave Power,’ which Northern politicians of both parties used to denounce the political pretensions of slaveholders. Prohibiting slavery from the territories was the easiest way to prevent the admission of more slave states and thus to stop the growth of the political power of slaveholders.”(1)

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David Wilmot

Fear of the South’s power manifest itself in the resentment and writings of politicians such as David Wilmot (Wilmot Proviso).

“I am jealous of the power of the South….The South holds no prerogative under the Constitution, which entitles her to wield forever the Scepter of Power in this Republic, to fix by her own arbitrary edit, the principles of policy of this government, and to build up and tear down at pleasure… Yet so dangerous do I believe the spirit and demands of the Slave Power, so insufferable its arrogance, if I saw the way open to strike an effectual and decisive blow against its domination at this time, I would do so, even at the temporary loss of other principles.” (1)

Even within parties there was resentment between North and South. Michael Holt provides a quote from a young Massachusetts Whig that shows the visceral nature of the resentment of Northerners toward their party colleagues from the South.

“They have trampled on the rights and just claims of the North sufficiently long and have fairly shit upon all our Northern statesmen and are now trying to rub it in and I think now is the time and just the time for the North to take a stand and maintain it till they have brought the South to their proper level.” (1)

While the reasons for this resentment were complex, one clear fear was that the South would dictate the expansion of slavery into Western territories and this would degrade the value of free white labor and thus the potential for movement of the Northern-based labor ethic into those territories.

(1) Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1978), 51.