CHAPTER X. "BLEEDING KANSAS"
Both the leading political parties were, in the campaign of 1852, fully committed to the acceptance of the so-called Compromise of 1850 as a final settlement of the slavery question; both were committed to the support of the Fugitive Slave Act. The Free-soil party, with John P. Hale as its candidate, did make a vigorous attack upon the Fugitive Slave Act, and opposed all compromises respecting slavery, but Free-Boilers had been to a large extent reabsorbed into the Democratic party, their vote of 1852 being only about half that of 1848. Though the Whig vote was large and only about two hundred thousand less than that of the Democrats, yet it was so distributed that the Whigs carried only four States, Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The other States gave a Democratic plurality.
Had there been time for readjustment, the Whig party might have recovered lost ground, but no time was permitted. There was in progress in Missouri a political conflict which was already commanding national attention. Thomas H. Benton, for thirty years a Senator from Missouri, and a national figure, was the storm-center. His enemies accused him of being a Free-Boiler, an abolitionist in disguise. He was professedly a stanch and uncompromising unionist, a personal and political opponent of John C. Calhoun. According to his own statement he had been opposed to the extension of slavery since 1804, although he had advocated the admission of Missouri with a pro-slavery constitution in 180. He was, from the first, senior Senator from the State, and by a peculiar combination of influences incurred his first defeat for reelection in 1851.
Benton's defeat in the Missouri Legislature was largely the result of national pro-slavery influences. In a former chapter, reference was made to the Ohio River as furnishing a "providential argument against slavery." The Mississippi River as the eastern boundary of Missouri furnished a like argument, but on the north not even a prairie brook separated free labor in Iowa from slave labor in Missouri. The inhabitants of western Missouri, realizing that the tenure of their peculiar institution was becoming weaker in the east and north, early became convinced that the organization of a free State along their western boundary would be followed by the abolition of slavery in their own State. This condition attracted the attention of the national guardians of pro-slavery interests. Calhoun, Davis, Breckinridge, Toombs, and others were in constant communication with local leaders. A certain Judge W. C. Price, a religious fanatic, and a pro-slavery devotee, was induced to visit every part of the State in 1844, calling the attention of all slaveholders to the perils of the situation and preparing the way for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Senator Benton, who was approached on the subject, replied in such a way that all radical defenders of slavery, both national leaders and local politicians, were moved to unite for his political defeat.
David R. Atchison, junior Senator from Missouri, had been made the leader of the pro-slavery forces. The defeat of Benton in the Missouri Legislature did not end the strife. He at once became a candidate for Atchison's place in the election which was to occur in 1855, and he was in the meantime elected to the House of Representatives in 1852. The most telling consideration in Benton's favor was the general demand, in which he himself joined, for the immediate organization of the western territory in order to facilitate the building of a system of railways reaching the Pacific, with St. Louis as the point of departure. For a time, in 1859, and 1853, Benton was apparently triumphant, and Atchison was himself willing to consent to the organization of the new territory with slavery excluded. The national leaders, however, were not of the same mind. The real issue was the continuance of slavery in the State; the one thing which must not be permitted was the transfer of anti-slavery agitation to the separate States. Henry Clay's proposal of 1849 to provide for gradual emancipation in Kentucky was bitterly resented. It had long been an axiom with the slavocracy that the institution would perish unless it had the opportunity to expand. Out of this conviction arose Calhoun's famous theory that slaveowners had under the Constitution an equal right with the owners of all other forms of property in all the Territories. The theory itself assumed that the act prohibiting slavery in the territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri was unconstitutional and void. But this theory had not yet received judicial sanction, and the time was at hand when the question of freedom or slavery in the western territory was to be determined. Between March and December, 1853, the discovery was made that the Act of 1850 organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah had superseded the Compromise of 1820; that a principle had been recognized applicable to all the Territories; that all were open to settlement on equal terms to slaveholders and non-slaveholders; that the subject of slavery should be removed from Congress to the people of the Territories; and that they should decide, either when a territorial legislature was organized or at the time of the adoption of a constitution preparatory to statehood, whether or not slavery should be authorized. These ideas found expression in various newspapers during the month of December, 1853. Though the authorship of the new theory is still a matter of dispute, it is well known that Stephen A. Douglas became its chief sponsor and champion. The real motives and intentions of Douglas himself and of many of his supporters will always remain obscure and uncertain. But no uncertainty attaches to the motives of Senator Atchison and the leaders of the Calhoun section of the Democratic party. For ten years at least they had been laboring to get rid of the Missouri Compromise. Their motive was to defend slavery and especially to forestall a successful movement for emancipation in the State of Missouri.
From early in January, 1854, until late in May, Douglas's Nebraska bill held the attention of Congress and of the entire country. At first the measure simply assumed that the Missouri Compromise had been superseded by the Act of 1850. Later the bill was amended in such a way as to repeal distinctly that time-honored act. At first the plan was to organize Nebraska as a single Territory extending from Texas to Canada. Later it was proposed to organize separate Territories, one west of Missouri under the name of Kansas, the other west of Iowa under the name of Nebraska. Opposition came from Free-soilers, from Northern Whigs and a few Whigs from the South, and from a large proportion of Northern Democrats. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise came like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky to the people of the North. For a time Douglas was the most unpopular of political leaders and was apparently repudiated by his party. The first name designating the opponents of the Douglas bill was "Anti Nebraska men," for which the name Republican was gradually substituted and in 1858 became the accepted title of the party.
The provision for two territorial governments instead of one carried with it the idea of a continued balance between slave and free States; Kansas, being on a geographical parallel with the slave States, would probably permit slavery, while Nebraska would be occupied by free-state immigrants. Though this was a commonly accepted view, Eli Thayer of Worcester, Massachusetts, and a few others took a different view. They proposed to make an end of the discussion of the extension of slavery by sending free men who were opposed to slavery to occupy the territory open for settlement. To attain this object they organized an Emigrant Aid Company incorporated under the laws of the State. Even before the bill was passed, the corporation was in full working order. Thayer himself traveled extensively throughout the Northern States stimulating interest in western emigration, with the conviction that the disturbing question could be peacefully settled in this way. California had thus been saved to freedom; why not all other Territories? The new company had as adviser and co-laborer Dr. Charles Robinson, who had crossed the Kansas Territory on his way to California and had acquired valuable experience in the art of state-building under peculiar conditions.
The first party sent out by the Emigrant Aid Company arrived in Kansas early in August, 1854, and selected the site for the town of Lawrence. During the later months of the year, four other parties were sent out, in all numbering nearly seven hundred. Through extensive advertisement by the company, through the general interest in the subject and the natural flow of emigration to the West, Kansas was receiving large accessions of free-state settlers.
Meanwhile the men of Missouri, some of whom had striven for a decade to secure the privilege of extending slavery into the new Territory, were not idle. Instantly upon the removal of legal barriers, they occupied adjacent lands, founded towns, staked out claims, formed plans for preempting the entire region and for forestalling or driving out all intruders. They had at first the advantage of position, for they did not find it difficult to maintain two homes, one in Kansas for purposes of voting and fighting and another in Missouri for actual residence. Andrew H. Reeder, a Pennsylvania Democrat of strong pro-slavery prejudices, was appointed first Governor of the Territory. When he arrived in Kansas in October, 1854, there were already several thousand settlers on the ground and others were continually arriving. He appointed the 29th of November for the election of a delegate to Congress. On that day several hundred Missourians came into the Territory and voted. There was no violence and no contest; the free-state men had no separate candidate. Notwithstanding the violence of language used by opposing factions, notwithstanding the organization of secret societies pledged to drive out all Northern intruders, there was no serious disturbance until March 30, 1855, the day appointed for the election of members of the territorial Legislature. On that day the Missourians came full five thousand strong, armed with guns, bowie-knives, and revolvers. They met with no resistance from the residents, who were unarmed. They took charge of the precincts and chose pro-slavery delegates with one exception. Governor Reeder protested and recommended to the precincts the filing of protests. Only seven responded, however, and in these cases new elections were held and contesting delegates elected.
The Governor issued certificates to these and to all those who in other precincts had been chosen by the horde from Missouri. When the Legislature met in July, the seven contests were decided in favor of the pro-slavery party, the single freestate member resigned, and the assembly was unanimous.
Governor Reeder fully expected that President Pierce would nullify the election, and to this end he made a journey to Washington in April. On the way he delivered a public address at Easton, Pennsylvania, describing in lurid colors the outrage which had been perpetrated upon the people of Kansas by the "border ruffians" from Missouri, and asserting that the accounts in the Northern press had not been exaggerated.
While Governor Reeder in contact with the actual events in Kansas was becoming an active Free-Boiler, President Pierce in association with Jefferson Davis and others of his party was developing active sympathies with the people of western Missouri. To the President this invasion of territory west of the slave State by Northern men aided by Northern corporations seemed a violation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and he sought to induce Reeder to resign. This, however, the Governor positively refused to do unless the President would formally approve his conduct in Kansas—an endorsement which required more fortitude than President Pierce possessed. On his return to Kansas, determined to do what he could to protect the Kansas people from injustice, he called the Legislature to meet at Pawnee, a point far removed from the Missouri border. Immediately upon their organization at that place the members of the Legislature adjourned to meet at Shawnee, near the border of Missouri. The Governor, who decided that this action was illegal, then refused to recognize the Assembly at the new place. A deadlock thus ensued which was broken on the 15th of August by the removal of Governor Reeder and the appointment of Wilson Shannon of Ohio in his place. In the meantime the territorial Legislature had adjourned, having "enacted" an elaborate proslavery code made up from the slave code of Missouri with a number of special adaptations. For example, it was made a penitentiary offense to deny by speaking or writing, or by printing, or by introducing any printed matter, the right of persons to hold slaves in the Territory; no man was eligible to jury service who was conscientiously opposed to holding slaves; and lawyers were bound by oath to support the territorial statutes.
The free-state men, with the approval of Reeder, refused to recognize the Legislature and inaugurated a movement in the fall of 1855 to adopt a constitution and to organize a provisional territorial Government preparatory to admission as a State, following in this respect the procedure in California and Michigan. A convention met in Topeka in October, 1855, and completed on the 11th of November the draft of a constitution which prohibited slavery. On the 15th of December the constitution was approved by a practically unanimous vote, only free-state men taking part in the election. A month later a Legislature was elected and at the same time Charles Robinson was elected Governor of the new commonwealth. In the previous October, Reeder had been chosen Free-soil delegate to Congress. The Topeka freestate Legislature met on the 4th of March, 1856, and after petitioning Congress to admit Kansas under the Topeka constitution, adjourned until the 4th of July pending the action of Congress. Thus at the end of two years two distinct Governments had come into existence within the Territory of Kansas. It speaks volumes for the self-control and moderation of the two parties that no hostile encounter had occurred between the contestants. When the armed Missourians came in March, 1855, the unarmed settlers offered no resistance. Afterward, however, they supplied themselves with Sharp's rifles and organized a militia. With the advent of Governor Shannon in September, 1855, the proslavery position was much strengthened. In November, in a quarrel over a land claim, a free-state settler by the name of Dow was killed. The murderer escaped, but a friend of the victim was accused of uttering threats against a friend of the murderer. For this offense a posse led by Sheriff Jones, a Missourian, seized him, and would have carried him away if fourteen freestate men had not "persuaded" the Sheriff to surrender his prisoner. This interference was accepted by the Missourians as a signal for battle. The rescuers must be arrested and punished. A large force of infuriated Missourians and pro-slavery settlers assembled for a raid upon the town of Lawrence. In the meantime the Lawrence militia planned and executed a systematic defense of the town. When the two armies came within speaking distance, a parley ensued in which the Governor took a leading part in settling the affair without a hostile shot. This is known in Kansas history as the "Wakarusa War."
The progress of affairs in Kansas was followed with intense interest in all parts of the country. North and South vied with each other in the encouragement of emigration to Kansas. Colonel Buford of Alabama sold a large number of slaves and devoted the proceeds to meeting the expense of conducting a troop of three hundred men to Kansas in the winter of 1856. They went armed with "the sword of the spirit," and all provided with Bibles supplied by the leading churches. Arrived in the territory, they were duly furnished with more worldly weapons and were drilled for action. About the same time a parallel incident is said to have occurred in New Haven, Connecticut. A deacon in one of the churches had enlisted a company of seventy bound for Kansas. A meeting was held in the church to raise money to defray expenses. The leader of the company declared that they also needed rifles for self-defense. Forthwith Professor Silliman, of the University, subscribed one Sharp's rifle, and others followed with like pledges. Finally Henry Ward Beecher, who was the speaker of the occasion, rose and promised that, if twenty-five rifles were pledged on the spot, Plymouth Church in Brooklyn would be responsible for the remaining twenty-five that were needed. He had already said in a previous address that for the slaveholders of Kansas, Sharp's rifles were a greater moral agency than the Bible. This led to the designation of the weapons as "Beecher's Bibles." Such was the spirit which prevailed in the two sections of the country.
President Pierce had now become intensely hostile towards the free-state inhabitants of Kansas. Having recognized the Legislature elected on March 30, 1855, as the legitimate Government, he sent a special message to Congress on January 24, 1856, in which he characterized as revolutionary the movement of the free-state men to organize a separate Government in Kansas. From the President's point of view, the emissaries of the New England Emigrant Aid Association were unlawful invaders. In this position he not only had the support of the South, but was powerfully seconded by Stephen A. Douglas and other Northern Democrats.
The attitude of the Administration at Washington was a source of great encouragement to Sheriff Jones and his associates, who were anxious to wreak their vengeance on the city of Lawrence for the outcome of the Wakarusa War. Jones came to Lawrence apparently for the express purpose of picking a quarrel, for he revived the old dispute about the rescuing party of the previous fall. As a consequence one enraged opponent slapped him in the face, and at last an unknown assassin entered the sheriff's tent by night and inflicted a revolver wound in his back. Though the citizens of Lawrence were greatly chagrined at this event and offered a reward for the discovery of the assailant, the attack upon the sheriff was made the signal for drastic procedure against the town of Lawrence. A grand jury found indictments for treason against Reeder, Robinson, and other leading citizens of the town. The United States marshal gave notice that he expected resistance in making arrests and called upon all law-abiding citizens of the Territory to aid in executing the law. It was a welcome summons to the pro-slavery forces. Not only local militia companies responded but also Buford's company and various companies from Missouri, in all more than seven hundred men, with two cannon. It had always been the set purpose of the free-state men not to resist federal authority by force, unless as a last resort, and they had no intention of opposing the marshal in making arrests. He performed his duty without hindrance and then placed the armed troops under the command of Sheriff Jones, who proceeded first to destroy the printing-press of the town of Lawrence. Then, against the protest of the marshal and Colonel Buford, the vindictive sheriff trained his guns upon the new hotel which was the pride of the city; the ruin of the building was made complete by fire, while a drunken mob pillaged the town.
On May 22, 1856, the day following the attack upon Lawrence, Charles Sumner was struck down in the United States Senate on account of a speech made in defense of the rights of Kansas settlers. The two events, which were reported at the same time in the daily press, furnished the key-note to the presidential campaign of that year, for nominating conventions followed in a few days and "bleeding Kansas" was the all-absorbing issue. In spite of the destruction of property in Lawrence and the arrest of the leaders of the free-state party, Kansas had not been plunged into a state of civil war. The free-state party had fired no hostile shot. Governor Robinson and his associates still relied upon public opinion and they accepted the wanton attack upon Lawrence as the best assurance that they would yet win their cause by legal means.
A change, however, soon took place which is associated with the entrance of John Brown into the history of Kansas. Brown and his sons were living at Osawatomie, some thirty miles south of Lawrence. They were present at the Wakarusa War in December, 1855, and were on their way to the defense of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, when they were informed that the town had been destroyed. Three days after this event Brown and his sons with two or three others made a midnight raid upon their pro-slavery neighbors living in the Pottawatomie valley and slew five men. The authors of this deed were not certainly known until the publication of a confession of one of the party in 1879, twenty years after the chief actor had won the reputation of a martyr to the cause of liberty. The Browns, however, were suspected at the time; warrants were out for their arrest; and their homes were destroyed.
For more than three months after this incident, Kansas was in a state of war; in fact, two distinct varieties of warfare were carried on. Publicly organized companies on both sides engaged in acts of attack and defense, while at the same time irresponsible secret bands were busy in violent reprisals, in plunder and assassination. In both of these forms of warfare, the free-state men proved themselves fully equal to their opponents, and Governor Shannon was entirely unable to cope with the situation. It is estimated that two hundred men were slain and two million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.
The state of affairs in Kansas served to win many Northern Democrats to the support of the Republicans. The Administration at Washington was held responsible for the violence and bloodshed. The Democratic leaders in the political campaign, determined now upon a complete change in the Government of the Territory, appointed J. W. Geary as Governor and placed General Smith in charge of the troops. The new incumbents, both from Pennsylvania, entered upon their labors early in September, and before the October state elections Geary was able to report that peace reigned throughout the Territory. A prompt reaction in favor of the Democrats followed. Buchanan, their presidential candidate, rejoiced in the fact that order had been restored by two citizens of his own State. It was now very generally conceded that Kansas would become a free State, and intimate associates of Buchanan assured the public that he was himself of that opinion and that if elected he would insure to the free-state party evenhanded justice. Thousands of voters were thus won to Buchanan's support. There was a general distrust of the Republican candidate as a man lacking political experience, and a strong conservative reaction against the idea of electing a President by the votes of only one section of the country. At the election in November, Buchanan received a majority of sixty of the electoral votes over Fremont, but in the popular vote he fell short of a majority by nearly 400,000. Fillmore, candidate of the Whig and the American parties, received 874,000 votes.
There was still profound distrust of the administration of the Territory of Kansas, and the free-state settlers refused to vote at the election set for the choosing of a new territorial Legislature in October. The result was another pro-slavery assembly. Governor Geary, however, determined to secure and enforce just treatment of both parties. He was at once brought into violent conflict with the Legislature in an experience which was almost an exact counterpart of that of Governor Reeder; and Washington did not support his efforts to secure fair dealings. A pro-slavery deputation visited President Pierce in February, 1857, and returned with the assurance that Governor Geary would be removed. Without waiting for the President to act, Geary resigned in disgust on the 4th of March. Of the three Governors whom President Pierce appointed, two became active supporters of the free-state party and a third, Governor Shannon, fled from the territory in mortal terror lest he should be slain by members of the party which he had tried to serve.
CHAPTER XI. CHARLES SUMNER
The real successor to John Quincy Adams as the protagonist of the anti-slavery cause in Congress proved to be not Seward but Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. This newcomer entered the Senate without previous legislative experience but with an unusual equipment for the role he was to play. A graduate of Harvard College at the age of nineteen, he had entered upon the study of law in the newly organized law school in which Joseph Story held one of the two professorships. He was admitted to the bar in 1834, but three years later he left his slender law practice for a long period of European travel. This three years' sojourn brought him into intimate touch with the leading spirits in arts, letters, and public life in England and on the Continent, and thus ripened his talents to their full maturity. He returned to his law practice poor in pocket but rich in the possession of lifelong friendships and happy memories.
Sumner's political career did not begin until 1847, when as a Whig he not only opposed any further extension of slavery but strove to commit his party to the policy of emancipation in all the States. Failing in this attempt, Sumner became an active Free-Boiler in 1848. He was twice a candidate for Congress on the Free-soil ticket but failed of election. In 1851 he was elected to the United States Senate by a coalition between his party and the Democrats. This is the only public office he ever held, but he was continuously reelected until his death in 1874.
John Quincy Adams had addressed audiences trained in the old school, which did not defend slavery on moral grounds. Charles Sumner faced audiences of the new school, which upheld the institution as a righteous moral order. This explains the chief difference in the attitude of the two leaders. Sumner, like Adams, began as an opponent of pro-slavery aggression, but he went farther: he attacked the institution itself as a great moral evil.
As a constitutional lawyer Sumner is not the equal of his predecessor, Daniel Webster. He is less original, less convincing in the enunciation of broad general principles. He appears rather as a special pleader marshaling all available forces against the one institution which assailed the Union. In this particular work, he surpassed all others, for, with his unbounded industry, he permitted no precedent, no legal advantage, no incident of history, no fact in current politics fitted to strengthen his cause, to escape his untiring search. He showed a marvelous skill in the selection, arrangement, and presentation of his materials, and for his models he took the highest forms of classic forensic utterance.
Sumner exhibited the ordinary aloofness and lack of familiarity with actual conditions in the South which was characteristic of the New England abolitionist. He perceived no race problem, no peculiar difficulty in the readjustments of master and slave which were involved in emancipation, and he ignored all obstacles to the accomplishment of his ends. Webster's arraignment of South Carolina was directed against an alleged erroneous dogma and only incidentally affected personal morality. The reaction, therefore, was void of bitter resentment. Sumner's charges were directed against alleged moral turpitude, and the classic form and scrupulous regard for parliamentary rules which he observed only added to the feeling of personal resentment on the part of his opponents. Some of the defenders of slavery were themselves devoted students of the classics, but they found that the orations of Demosthenes furnished nothing suited to their purpose. The result was a humiliating exhibition of weakness, personal abuse, and vindictiveness on their part.
There was a conspiracy of silence on the slavery question in 1852. Each of the national parties was definitely committed to the support of the compromise and especially to the faithful observance of the Fugitive Slave Law. Free-soilers had distinctly declined in numbers and influence during the four preceding years. Only a handful of members in each House of Congress remained unaffiliated with the parties whose platforms had ordained silence on the one issue of chief public concern. It was by a mere accident in Massachusetts politics that Charles Sumner was sent to the Senate as a man free on all public questions.
While the parties were making their nominations for the Presidency, Sumner sought diligently for an opportunity in the Senate to give utterance to the sentiments of his party on the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. But not until late in August did he overcome the resistance of the combined opposition and gain the floor. The watchmen were caught off guard when Sumner introduced an amendment to an appropriation bill which enabled him to deliver a carefully prepared address, several hours in length, calling for the repeal of the law.
The first part of this speech is devoted to the general topic of the relation of the national Government to slavery and was made in answer to the demand of Calhoun and his followers for the direct national recognition of slavery. For such a demand Sumner found no warrant. By the decision of Lord Mansfield, said he, "the state of slavery" was declared to be "of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but ONLY BY POSITIVE LAW.... it is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law." Adopting the same principle, the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi, a tribunal of slaveholders, asserted that "slavery is condemned by reason and the Laws of Nature. It exists, and can ONLY exist, through municipal regulations." So also declared the Supreme Court of Kentucky and numerous other tribunals. This aspect of the subject furnished Sumner occasion for a masterly array of all the utterances in favor of liberty to be found in the Constitution, in the Declaration of Independence, in the constitutional conventions, in the principles of common law. All these led up to and supported the one grand conclusion that, when Washington took the oath as President of the United States, "slavery existed nowhere on the national territory" and therefore "is in no respect a national institution." Apply the principles of the Constitution in their purity, then, and "in all national territories slavery will be impossible. On the high seas, under the national flag, slavery will be impossible. In the District of Columbia, slavery will instantly cease. Inspired by these principles, Congress can give no sanction to slavery by the admission of new slave States. Nowhere under the Constitution can the Nation by legislation or otherwise, support slavery, hunt slaves, or hold property in man.... As slavery is banished from the national jurisdiction, it will cease to vex our national politics. It may linger in the States as a local institution; but it will no longer engender national animosities when it no longer demands national support."
The second part of Sumner's address dealt directly with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1860. It is much less convincing and suggests more of the characteristics of the special pleader with a difficult case. Sumner here undertook to prove that Congress exceeded its powers when it presumed to lay down rules for the rendition of fugitive slaves, and this task exceeded even his power as a constitutional lawyer.
The circumstances under which Sumner attacked slavery were such as to have alarmed a less self-centered man, for the two years following the introduction of the Nebraska bill were marked by the most acrimonious debate in the history of Congress, and by physical encounters, challenges, and threats of violence. But though Congressmen carried concealed weapons, Sumner went his way unarmed and apparently in complete unconcern as to any personal danger, though it is known that he was fully aware that in the faithful performance of what he deemed to be his duty he was incurring the risk of assassination.
The pro-slavery party manifested on all occasions a disposition to make the most of the weak point in Sumner's constitutional argument against the Fugitive Slave Law. He was accused of taking an oath to support the Constitution though at the same time intending to violate one of its provisions. In a discussion, in June, 1854, over a petition praying for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, Senator Butler of South Carolina put the question directly to Senator Sumner whether he would himself unite with others in returning a fugitive to his master. Sumner's quick reply was, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" Enraged Southerners followed this remark with a most bitter onslaught upon Sumner which lasted for two days. When Sumner again got the floor, he said in reference to Senator Butler's remark: "In fitful phrase, which seemed to come from unconscious excitement, so common with the Senator, he shot forth various cries about 'dogs,' and, among other things, asked if there was any 'dog' in the Constitution? The Senator did not seem to bear in mind, through the heady currents of that moment that, by the false interpretation he fastens upon the Constitution, he has helped to nurture there a whole kennel of Carolina bloodhounds, trained, with savage jaw and insatiable in scent, for the hunt of flying bondmen. No, sir, I do not believe that there is any 'kennel of bloodhounds,' or even any 'dog' in the Constitution." Thereafter offensive personal references between the Senators from Massachusetts and South Carolina became habitual. These personalities were a source of regret to many of Sumner's best friends, but they fill a small place, after all, in his great work. Nor were they the chief source of rancor on the part of his enemies, for Southern orators were accustomed to personalities in debate. Sumner was feared and hated principally because his presence in Congress endangered the institution of slavery.
Sumner's speech on the crime against Kansas was perhaps the most remarkable effort of his career. It had been known for many weeks that Sumner was preparing to speak upon the burning question, and his friends had already expressed anxiety for his personal safety. For the larger part of two days, May 19 and 20, 1856, he held the reluctant attention of the Senate. For the delivery of this speech he chose a time which was most opportune. The crime against Kansas had, in a sense, culminated in March of the previous year, but the settlers had refused to submit to the Government set up by hostile invaders. They had armed themselves for the defense of their rights, had elected a Governor and a Legislature by voluntary association, had called a convention, and had adopted a constitution preparatory to admission to the Union. That constitution was now before the Senate for approval. President Pierce, Stephen A. Douglas, and all the Southern leaders had decided to treat as treasonable acts the efforts of Kansas settlers to secure an orderly government. Their plans for the arrest of the leaders were well advanced and the arrests were actually made on the day after Sumner had concluded his speech.
A paragraph in the address is prophetic of what occurred within a week. Douglas had introduced a bill recognizing the Legislature chosen by the Missourians as the legal Government and providing for the formation of a constitution under its initiative at some future date. After describing this proposed action as a continuation of the crime against Kansas, Sumner declared: "Sir, you cannot expect that the people of Kansas will submit to the usurpation which this bill sets up and bids them bow before, as the Austrian tyrant set up the ducal hat in the Swiss market-place. If you madly persevere, Kansas will not be without her William Tell, who will refuse at all hazards to recognize the tyrannical edict; and this will be the beginning of civil war."
To keep historical sequence clear at this point, all thought of John Brown should be eliminated, for he was then unknown to the public. It must be remembered that Governor Robinson and the free-state settlers were, as Sumner probably knew, prepared to resist the general Government as soon as there should be a clear case of outrage for which the Administration at Washington could be held directly responsible. Such a case occurred when the United States marshal placed federal troops in the hands of Sheriff Jones to assist in looting the town of Lawrence. Governor Robinson no longer had any scruples in advising forcible resistance to all who used force to impose upon Kansas a Government which the people had rejected.
In the course of his address Sumner compared Senators Butler and Douglas to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, saying: "The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot Slavery. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition be made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for the Senator."
When Sumner concluded, the gathering storm broke forth. Cass of Michigan, after saying that he had listened to the address with equal surprise and regret, characterized it as "the most unAmerican and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of that high body." Douglas and Mason were personal and abusive. Douglas, recalling Sumner's answer to Senator Butler's question whether he would assist in returning a slave, renewed the charge made two years earlier that Sumner had violated his oath of office. This attack called forth from Sumner another attempt to defend the one weak point in his speech of 1852, for he was always irritated by reference to this subject, and at the same time he enjoyed a fine facility in the use of language which irritated others.
One utterance in Douglas's reply to Sumner is of special significance in view of what occurred two days later: "Is it his object to provoke some of us to kick him as we would a dog in the street, that he may get sympathy upon the just chastisement?" Two days later Sumner was sitting alone at his desk in the Senate chamber after adjournment when Preston Brooks, a nephew of Senator Butler and a member of the lower House, entered and accosted him with the statement that he had read Sumner's speech twice and that it was a libel on South Carolina and upon a kinsman of his. Thereupon Brooks followed his words by striking Sumner on the head with a cane. Though the Senator was dazed and blinded by the unexpected attack, his assailant rained blow after blow until he had broken the cane and Sumner lay prostrate and bleeding at his feet. Brooks's remarks in the House of Representatives almost a month after the event leave no doubt of his determination to commit murder had he failed to overcome his antagonist with a cane. He had also taken the precaution to have two of his friends ready to prevent any interference before the punishment was completed. Toombs of Georgia witnessed a part of the assault and expressed approval of the act, and everywhere throughout the South, in the public press, in legislative halls, in public meetings, Brooks was hailed as a hero. The resolution for his expulsion introduced in the House received the support of only one vote from south of Mason and Dixon's Line. A large majority favored the resolution, but not the required two-thirds majority. Brooks, however, thought best to resign but was triumphantly returned to his seat with only six votes against him. Nothing was left undone to express Southern gratitude, and he received gifts of canes innumerable as symbols of his valor. Yet before his death, which occurred in the following January, he confessed to his friend Orr that he was sick of being regarded as the representative of bullies and disgusted at receiving testimonials of their esteem.
With similar unanimity the North condemned and resented the assault that had been made upon Sumner. From party considerations, if for no other reasons, Democrats regretted the event. Republicans saw in the brutal attack and in the manner of its reception in the South another evidence of the irrepressible conflict between slavery and freedom. They were ready to take up the issue so forcibly presented by their fallen leader. A part of the regular order of exercises at public meetings of Republicans was to express sympathy with their wounded champion and with the Kansas people of the pillaged town of Lawrence, and to adopt ways and means to bring to an end the Administration which they held responsible for these outrages. Sumner, though silenced, was eloquent in a new and more effective way. A half million copies of "The Crime against Kansas" were printed and circulated. On the issue thus presented, Northern Democrats became convinced that their defeat at the pending election was certain, and their leaders instituted the change in their program which has been described in a previous chapter. They had made an end of the war in Kansas and drew from their candidate for the Presidency the assurance that just treatment should at last be meted out to harassed Kansas.
Though Sumner's injuries were at first regarded as slight, they eventually proved to be extremely serious. After two attempts to resume his place in the Senate, he found that he was unable to remain; yet when his term expired, he was almost unanimously reelected. Much of his time for three and a half years he spent in Europe. In December, 1859, he seemed sufficiently recovered to resume senatorial duties, but it was not until the following June that he again addressed the Senate. On that occasion he delivered his last great philippic against slavery. The subject under discussion was still the admission of Kansas as a free State, and, as he remarked in his opening sentences, he resumed the discussion precisely where he had left off more than four years before.
Sumner had assumed the task of uttering a final word against slavery as barbarism and a barrier to civilization. He spoke under the impelling power of a conviction in his God-given mission to utilize a great occasion to the full and for a noble end. For this work his whole life had been a preparation. Accustomed from early youth to spend ten hours a day with books on law, history, and classic literature, he knew as no other man then knew what aid the past could offer to the struggle for freedom. The bludgeon of the would-be assassin had not impaired his memory, and four years of enforced leisure enabled him to fulfill his highest ideals of perfect oratorical form. Personalities he eliminated from this final address, and blemishes he pruned away. In his earlier speeches he had been limited by the demands of the particular question under discussion, but in "The Barbarism of Slavery" he was free to deal with the general subject, and he utilized incidents in American slavery to demonstrate the general upward trend of history. The orator was sustained by the full consciousness that his utterances were in harmony with the grand sweep of historic truth as well as with the spirit of the present age.
Sumner was not a party man and was at no time in complete harmony with his coworkers. It was always a question whether his speeches had a favorable effect upon the immediate action of Congress; there can, however, be no doubt of the fact that the larger public was edified and influenced. Copies of "The Crime against Kansas" and "The Barbarism of Slavery" were printed and circulated by the million and were eagerly read from beginning to end. They gave final form to the thoughts and utterances of many political leaders both in America and in Europe. More than any other man it was Charles Sumner who, with a wealth of historical learning and great skill in forensic art, put the irrepressible conflict between slavery and freedom in its proper setting in human history.
CHAPTER XII. KANSAS AND BUCHANAN
In view of the presidential election of 1856 Northern Democrats entertained no doubts that Kansas, now occupied by a majority of free-state men, would be received as a free State without further ado. The case was different with the Democrats of western Missouri, already for ten years in close touch with those Southern leaders who were determined either to secure new safeguards for slavery or to form an independent confederacy. Their program was to continue their efforts to make Kansas a slave State or at least to maintain the disturbance there until the conditions appeared favorable for secession.
In February, 1857, the pro-slavery territorial Legislature provided for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention, but Governor Geary vetoed the act because no provision was made for submitting the proposed constitution to the vote of the people. The bill was passed over his veto, and arrangements were made for registration which free-state men regarded as imperfect, inadequate, or fraudulent.
President Buchanan undoubtedly intended to do full justice to the people of Kansas. To this end he chose Robert J. Walker, a Mississippi Democrat, as Governor of Kansas. Walker was a statesman of high rank, who had been associated with Buchanan in the Cabinet of James K. Polk. Three times he refused to accept the office and finally undertook the mission only from a sense of duty. Being aware of the fate of Governor Geary, Walker insisted on an explicit understanding with Buchanan that his policies should not be repudiated by the federal Administration. Late in May he went to Kansas with high hopes and expectations. But the free-state party had persisted in the repudiation of a Government which had been first set up by an invading army and, as they alleged, had since then been perpetuated by fraud. They had absolutely refused to take part in any election called by that Government and had continued to keep alive their own legislative assembly. Despite Walker's efforts to persuade them to take part in the election of delegates to the constitutional convention, they resolutely held aloof. Yet, as they became convinced that he was acting in good faith, they did participate in the October elections to the territorial Legislature, electing nine out of the thirteen councilors and twenty-four out of the thirty-nine representatives. Gross frauds had been perpetrated in two districts, and the Governor made good his promise by rejecting the fraudulent votes. In one case a poll list had been made up by copying an old Cincinnati register.
In the meantime, thanks to the abstention of the free-state people, the pro-slavery party had secured absolute control of the constitutional convention. Yet there was the most absolute assurance by the Governor in the name of the President of the United States that no constitution would be sent to Congress for approval which had not received the sanction of a majority of the voters of the Territory. This was Walker's reiterated promise, and President Buchanan had on this point been equally explicit.
When, therefore, the pro-slavery constitutional convention met at Lecompton in October, Kansas had a free-state Legislature duly elected. To make Kansas still a slave State it was necessary to get rid of that Legislature and of the Governor through whose agency it had been chosen, and at the same time to frame a constitution which would secure the approval of the Buchanan Administration. Incredible as it may seem, all this was actually accomplished.
John Calhoun, who had been chosen president of the Lecompton convention, spent some time in Washington before the adjourned meeting of the convention. He secured the aid of master-hands at manipulation. Walker had already been discredited at the White House on account of his rejection of fraudulent returns at the October election of members to the Legislature. The convention was unwilling to take further chances on a matter of that sort, and it consequently made it a part of the constitution that the president of the convention should have entire charge of the election to be held for its approval. The free-state legislature was disposed of by placing in the constitution a provision that all existing laws should remain in force until the election of a Legislature provided for under the constitution.
The master-stroke of the convention, however, was the provision for submitting the constitution to the vote of the people. Voters were not permitted to accept or reject the instrument; all votes were to be for the constitution either "with slavery" or "with no slavery." But the document itself recognized slavery as already existing and declared the right of slave property like other property "before and higher than any constitutional sanction." Other provisions made emancipation difficult by providing in any case for complete monetary remuneration and for the consent of the owners. There were numerous other provisions offensive to free-state men. It had been rightly surmised that they would take no part in such an election and that "the constitution with slavery" would be approved. The vote on the constitution was set for the 21st of December. For the constitution with slavery 6226 votes were recorded and 569 for the constitution without slavery.
While these events were taking place, Walker went to Washington to enter his protest but resigned after finding only a hostile reception by the President and his Cabinet. Stanton, who was acting Governor in the absence of Walker, then called together the free-state Legislature, which set January 4, 1858, as the date for approving or rejecting the Lecompton Constitution. At this election the votes cast were 138 for the constitution with slavery, 24 for the constitution without slavery, and 10,226 against the constitution. But President Buchanan had become thoroughly committed to the support of the Lecompton Constitution. Disregarding the advice of the new Governor, he sent the Lecompton Constitution to Congress with the recommendation that Kansas be admitted to the Union as a slave State.
Here was a crisis big with the fate of the Democratic party, if not of the Union. Stephen A. Douglas had already given notice that he would oppose the Lecompton Constitution. In favor of its rejection he made a notable speech which called forth the bitterest enmity from the South and arrayed all the forces of the Administration against him. Supporters of Douglas were removed from office, and anti-Douglas men were put in their places. In his fight against the fraudulent constitution Douglas himself, however, still had the support of a majority of Northern Democrats, especially in the Western States, and that of all the Republicans in Congress. A bill to admit Kansas passed the Senate, but in the House a proviso was attached requiring that the constitution should first be submitted to the people of Kansas for acceptance or rejection. This amendment was finally accepted by the Senate with the modification that, if the people voted for the constitution, the State should have a large donation of public land, but that if they rejected it, they should not be admitted as a State until they had a population large enough to entitle them to a representative in the lower House. The vote of the people was cast on August 2, 1858, and the constitution was finally rejected by a majority of nearly twelve thousand. Thus resulted the last effort to impose slavery on the people of Kansas.
Although the war between slavery and freedom was fought out in miniature in Kansas, the immediate issue was the preservation of slavery in Missouri. This, however, involved directly the prospect of emancipation in other border States and ultimate complete emancipation in all the States. The issue is well stated in a Fourth of July address which Charles Robinson delivered at Lawrence, Kansas, in 1855, after the invasion of Missourians to influence the March election of that year, but before the beginning of bloody conflict:
"What reason is given for the cowardly invasion of our rights by our neighbors? They say that if Kansas is allowed to be free the institution of slavery in their own State will be in danger.... If the people of Missouri make it necessary, by their unlawful course, for us to establish freedom in that State in order to enjoy the liberty of governing ourselves in Kansas, then let that be the issue. If Kansas and the whole North must be enslaved, or Missouri become free, then let her be made free. Aye! and if to be free ourselves, slavery must be abolished in the whole country, then let us accept that due. If black slavery in a part of the States is incompatible with white freedom in any State, then let black slavery be abolished from all. As men espousing the principles of the Declaration of the Fathers, we can do nothing else than accept these issues."
The men who saved Kansas to freedom were not abolitionists in the restricted sense. Governor Walker found in 1857 that a considerable majority of the free-state men were Democrats and that some were from the South. Nearly all actual settlers, from whatever source they came, were free-state men who felt that a slave was a burden in such a country as Kansas. For example, during the first winter of the occupation of Kansas, an owner of nineteen slaves was himself forced to work like a trooper to keep them from freezing; and, indeed, one of them did freeze to death and another was seriously injured.
In spite of all the advertising of opportunity and all the pressure brought to bear upon Southerners to settle in Kansas, at no time did the number of slaves in the Territory reach three hundred. The climate and the soil made for freedom, and the Governors were not the only persons who were converted to free-state principles by residence in the Territory.
CHAPTER XIII. THE SUPREME COURT IN POLITICS
The decision and arguments of the Supreme Court upon the Dred Scott case were published on March 6, 1857, two days after the inauguration of President Buchanan. The decision had been agreed upon many months before, and the appeal of the negro, Dred Scott, had been decided by rulings which in no way involved the validity of the Missouri Compromise. Nevertheless, a majority of the judges determined to give to the newly developed theory of John C. Calhoun the appearance of the sanctity of law. According to Chief Justice Taney's dictum, those who made the Constitution gave to those clauses defining the power of Congress over the Territories an erroneous meaning. On numerous occasions Congress had by statute excluded slavery from the public domain. This, in the judgment of the Chief Justice, they had no right to do, and such legislation was unconstitutional and void. Specifically the Missouri Compromise had never had any binding force as law. Property in slaves was as sacred as property in any other form, and slave-owners had equal claim with other property owners to protection in all the Territories of the United States. Neither Congress nor a territorial Legislature could infringe such equal rights.
According to popular understanding, the Supreme Court declared "that the negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect." But Chief Justice Taney did not use these words merely as an expression of his own or of the Court's opinion. He used them in a way much more contemptible and inexcusable to the minds of men of strong anti-slavery convictions. He put them into the mouths of the fathers of the Republic, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, framed the Constitution, organized state Governments, and gave to negroes full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. But how explain this strange inconsistency? The Chief Justice was equal to the occasion. He insisted that in recent years there had come about a better understanding of the phraseology of the Declaration of Independence. The words, "All men are created equal," he admitted, "would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day they would be so understood." But the writers of that instrument had not, he said, intended to include men of the African race, who were at that time regarded as not forming any part of the people. Therefore—strange logic!—these men of the revolutionary era who treated negroes actually as citizens having full equal rights did not understand the meaning of their own words, which could be comprehended only after three-quarters of a century when, forsooth, equal rights had been denied to all persons of African descent.
The ruling of the Court in the Dred Scott case came at a time when Northern people had a better idea of the spirit and teachings of the founders of the Republic regarding the slavery question than any generation before or since has had. The campaign that had just closed had been characterized by a high order of discussion, and it was also emphatically a reading campaign. The new Republican party planted itself squarely on the principles enunciated by Thomas Jefferson, the reputed founder of the old Republican party. They went back to the policy of the fathers, whose words on the subject of slavery they eagerly read. From this source also came the chief material for their public addresses. To the common man who was thus indoctrinated, the Chief Justice, in describing the sentiments of the fathers respecting slavery, appeared to be doing what Horace Greeley was wont to describe as "saying a thing and being conscious while saying it that the thing is not true."
The Dred Scott decision laid the Republicans open to the charge of seeking by unlawful means to deprive slaveowners of their rights, and it was to the partizan interest of the Democrats to stand by the Court and thus discredit their opponents. This action tended to carry the entire Democratic party to the support of Calhoun's extreme position on the slavery question. Republicans had proclaimed that liberty was national and slavery municipal; that slavery had no warrant for existence except by state enactment; that under the Constitution Congress had no more right to make a slave than it had to make a king; that Congress had no power to establish or permit slavery in the Territories; that it was, on the contrary, the duty of Congress to exclude slavery. On these points the Supreme Court and the Republican party held directly contradictory opinions.
The Democratic platform of 1856 endorsed the doctrine of popular sovereignty as embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska legislation, which implied that Congress should neither prohibit nor introduce slavery into the Territories, but should leave the inhabitants free to decide that question for themselves, the public domains being open to slaveowners on equal terms with others. But once they had an organized territorial Government and a duly elected territorial Legislature, the residents of a Territory were empowered to choose either slave labor or exclusively free labor. This at least was the view expounded by Stephen A. Douglas, though the theory was apparently rendered untenable by the ruling of the Court which extended protection to slave-owners in all the Territories remaining under the control of the general Government. It followed that if Congress had no power to interfere with that right, much less had a local territorial Government, which is itself a creature of Congress. A state Government alone might control the status of slave property. A Territory when adopting a constitution preparatory to becoming a State would find it then in order to decide whether the proposed State should be free or slave. This was the view held by Jefferson Davis and the extreme pro-slavery leaders. Aided by the authority of the Supreme Court, they were prepared to insist upon a new plank in future Democratic platforms which should guarantee to all slave-owners equal rights in all Territories until they ceased to be Territories. Over this issue the party again divided in 1860.
Republicans naturally imagined that there had been collusion between Democratic politicians and members of the Supreme Court. Mr. Seward made an explicit statement to that effect, and affirmed that President Buchanan was admitted into the secret, alleging as proof a few words in his inaugural address referring to the decision soon to be delivered. Nothing of the sort, however, was ever proven. The historian Von Holst presents the view that there had been a most elaborate and comprehensive program on the part of the slavocracy to control the judiciary of the federal Government. The actual facts, however, admit of a simpler and more satisfactory explanation.
Judges are affected by their environment, as are other men. The transition from the view that slavery was an evil to the view that it is right and just did not come in ways open to general observation, and probably few individuals were conscious of having altered their views. Leading churches throughout the South began to preach the doctrine that slavery is a divinely ordained institution, and by the time of the decision in the Dred Scott case a whole generation had grown up under such teaching.
A large proportion of Southern leaders had become thoroughly convinced of the righteousness of their peculiar system. Not otherwise could they have been so successful in persuading others to accept their views. Even before the Dred Scott decision had crystallized opinion, Franklin Pierce, although a New Hampshire Democrat of anti-slavery traditions, came, as a result of his intimate personal and political association with Southern leaders, to accept their guidance and strove to give effect to their policies. President Buchanan was a man of similar antecedents, and, contrary to the expectation of his Northern supporters, did precisely as Pierce had done. It is a matter of record that the arguments of the Chief Justice had captivated his mind before he began to show his changed attitude towards Kansas. In August, 1857, the President wrote that, at the time of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, slavery already existed and that it still existed in Kansas under the Constitution of the United States. "This point," said he, "has at last been settled by the highest tribunal known in our laws. How it could ever have been seriously doubted is a mystery." Granted that slavery is recognized as a permanent institution in itself—just and of divine ordinance and especially united to one section of the country—how could any one question the equal rights of the people of that section to occupy with their slaves lands acquired by common sacrifice? Such was undoubtedly the view of both Pierce and Buchanan. It seemed to them "wicked" that Northern abolitionists should seek to infringe this sacred right.
By a similar process a majority of the Supreme Court justices had become converts to Calhoun's newly announced theory of 1847. It undoubtedly seemed strange to them, as it did later to President Buchanan, that any one should ever have held a different view. If the Court with the force of its prestige should give legal sanction to the new doctrine, it would allay popular agitation, ensure the preservation of the Union, and secure to each section its legitimate rights. Such apparently was the expectation of the majority of the Court in rendering the decision. But the decision was not unanimous. Each judge presented an individual opinion. Five supported the Chief Justice on the main points as to the status of the African race and the validity of the Missouri Compromise. Judge Nelson registered a protest against the entrance of the Court into the political arena. Curtis and McLean wrote elaborate dissenting opinions. Not only did the decision have no tendency to allay party debate, but it added greatly to the acrimony of the discussion. Republicans accepted the dissenting opinions of Curtis and McLean as a complete refutation of the arguments of the Chief Justice; and the Court itself, through division among its members, became a partizan institution. The arguments of the justices thus present a complete summary of the views of the proslavery and anti-slavery parties, and the opposing opinions stand as permanent evidence of the impossibility of reconciling slavery and freedom in the same government.
It was through the masterful leadership of Stephen A. Douglas that the Lecompton Constitution was defeated. In 1858 an election was to be held in Illinois to determine whether or not Douglas should be reelected to the United States Senate. The Buchanan Administration was using its utmost influence to insure Douglas's defeat. Many eastern Republicans believed that in this emergency Illinois Republicans should support Douglas, or at least that they should do nothing to diminish his chances for reelection; but Illinois Republicans decided otherwise and nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the senatorship. Then followed the memorable Lincoln-Douglas debates.
This is not the place for any extended account of the famous duel between the rival leaders, but a few facts must be stated. Lincoln had slowly come to the perception that a large portion of the people abhorred slavery, and that the weak point in the armor of Douglas was to be found in the fact that he did not recognize this growing moral sense. Douglas had never been a defender of slavery on ethical grounds, nor had he expressed any distinct aversion to the system. In support of his policy of popular sovereignty his favorite dictum had been, "I do not care whether slavery is voted up or voted down."
This apparent moral obtuseness furnished to Lincoln his great opportunity, for his opponent was apparently without a conscience in respect to the great question of the day. Lincoln, on the contrary, had reached the conclusion not only that slavery was wrong, but that the relation between slavery and freedom was such that they could not be harmonized within the same government. In the debates he again put forth his famous utterance, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," with the explanation that in course of time either this country would become all slave territory or slavery would be restricted and placed in a position which would involve its final extinction. In other words, Lincoln's position was similar to that of the conservative abolitionists. As we know, Birney had given expression to a similar conviction of the impossibility of maintaining both liberty and slavery in this country, but Lincoln spoke at a time when the whole country had been aroused upon the great question; when it was still uncertain whether slavery would not be forced upon the people of Kansas; when the highest court in the land had rendered a decision which was apparently intended to legalize slavery in all Territories; and when the alarming question had been raised whether the next step would not be legalization in all the States.
Lincoln was a long-headed politician, as well as a man of sincere moral judgments. He was defining issues for the campaign of 1860 and was putting Douglas on record so that it would be impossible for him, as the candidate of his party, to become President. Douglas had many an uncomfortable hour as Lincoln exposed his vain efforts to reconcile his popular sovereignty doctrine with the Dred Scott decision. As Lincoln expected, Douglas won the senatorship, but he lost the greater prize.
The crusade against slavery was nearing its final stage. Under the leadership of such men as Sumner, Seward, and Lincoln, a political party was being formed whose policies were based upon the assumption that slavery is both a moral and a political evil. Even at this stage the party had assumed such proportions that it was likely to carry the ensuing presidential election. Davis and Yancey, the chief defenders of slavery, were at the same time reaching a definite conclusion as to what should follow the election of a Republican President. And that conclusion involved nothing less than the fate of the Union.
CHAPTER XIV. JOHN BROWN
The crusade against slavery was based upon the assumption that slavery, like war, is an abnormal state of society. As the tyrant produces the assassin, so on a larger scale slavery calls forth servile insurrection, or, as in the United States, an implacable struggle between free white persons and the defenders of slavery.
The propaganda of Southern and Western abolitionists had as a primary object the prevention of both servile insurrection and civil war. It was as clear to Southern abolitionists in the thirties as it was to Seward and Lincoln in the fifties that, unless the newly aroused slave power should be effectively checked, a terrible civil war would ensue. To forestall this dreaded calamity, they freely devoted their lives and fortunes. Peaceable emancipation by state action, according to the original program, was prevented by the rise of a sectional animosity which beclouded the issue. As the leadership drifted into the hands of extremists, the conservative masses were confused, misled, or deceived. The South undoubtedly became the victim of the erroneous teachings of alarmists who believed that the anti-slavery North intended, by unlawful and unconstitutional federal action, to abolish slavery in all the States; while the North had equally exaggerated notions as to the aggressive intentions of the South.
The opposing forces finally met on the plains of Kansas, and extreme Northern opposition became personified in John Brown of Osawatomie. He was born in Connecticut in May, 1800, of New England ancestry, the sixth generation from the Mayflower. A Calvinist, a mystic, a Bible-reading Puritan, he was trained to anti-slavery sentiments in the family of Owen Brown, his father. He passed his early childhood in the Western Reserve of Ohio, and subsequently moved from Ohio to New York, to Pennsylvania, to Ohio again, to Connecticut, to Massachusetts, and finally to New York once more. He was at various times tanner, farmer, sheep-raiser, horse-breeder, wool-merchant, and a follower of other callings as well. From a business standpoint he may be regarded as a failure, for he had been more than once a bankrupt and involved in much litigation. He was twice married and was the father of twenty children, eight of whom died in infancy.
Until the Kansas excitement nothing had occurred in the history of the Brown family to attract public attention. John Brown was not conspicuous in anti-slavery efforts or in any line of public reform. As a mere lad during the War of 1812 he accompanied his father, who was furnishing supplies to the army, and thus he saw much of soldiers and their officers. The result was that he acquired a feeling of disgust for everything military, and he consistently refused to perform the required military drill until he had passed the age for service. Not quite in harmony with these facts is the statement that he was a great admirer of Oliver Cromwell, and Rhodes says of him that he admired Nat Turner, the leader of the servile insurrection in Virginia, as much as he did George Washington. There seems to be no reason to doubt the testimony of the members of his family that John Brown always cherished a lively interest in the African race and a deep sympathy with them. As a youth he had chosen for a companion a slave boy of his own age, to whom he became greatly attached. This slave, badly clad and poorly fed, beaten with iron shovel or anything that came first to hand, young Brown grew to regard as his equal if not his superior. And it was the contrast between their respective conditions that first led Brown to "swear eternal war with slavery." In later years John Brown, Junior, tells us that, on seeing a negro for the first time, he felt so great a sympathy for him that he wanted to take the negro home with him. This sympathy, he assures us, was a result of his father's teaching. Upon the testimony of two of John Brown's sons rests the oft-repeated story that he declared eternal war against slavery and also induced the members of his family to unite with him in formal consecration to his mission. The time given for this incident is previous to the year 1840; the idea that he was a divinely chosen agent for the deliverance of the slaves was of later development.
As early as 1834 Brown had shown some active interest in the education of negro children, first in Pennsylvania and later in Ohio. In 1848 the Brown family became associated with an enterprise of Gerrit Smith in northern New York, where a hundred thousand acres of land were offered to negro families for settlement. During the excitement over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Brown organized among the colored people of Springfield, Massachusetts, "The United States League of Gileadites." As an organization this undertaking proved a failure, but Brown's formal written instructions to the "Gileadites" are interesting on account of their relation to what subsequently happened. In this document, by referring to the multitudes who had suffered in their behalf, he encouraged the negroes to stand for their liberties. He instructed them to be armed and ready to rush to the rescue of any of their number who might be attacked:
"Should one of your number be arrested, you must collect together as quickly as possible, so as to outnumber your adversaries who are taking an active part against you. Let no able-bodied man appear on the ground unequipped, or with his weapons exposed to view: let that be understood beforehand. Your plans must be known only to yourself, and with the understanding that all traitors must die, wherever caught and proven to be guilty. Whosoever is fearful or afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead" (Judges, vii. 3; Deut. xx. 8). Give all cowards an opportunity to show it on condition of holding their peace. Do NOT DELAY ONE MOMENT AFTER YOU ARE READY: YOU WILL LOSE ALL YOUR RESOLUTION IF YOU DO. LET THE FIRST BLOW BE THE SIGNAL FOR ALL TO ENGAGE: AND WHEN ENGAGED DO NOT DO YOUR WORK BY HALVES, BUT MAKE CLEAN WORK WITH YOUR ENEMIES,—AND BE SURE YOU MEDDLE NOT WITH ANY OTHERS. By going about your business quietly, you will get the job disposed of before the number that an uproar would bring together can collect; and you will have the advantage of those who come out against you, for they will be wholly unprepared with either equipments or matured plans; all with them will be confusion and terror. Your enemies will be slow to attack you after you have done up the work nicely; and if they should, they will have to encounter your white friends as well as you; for you may safely calculate on a division of the whites, and may by that means get to an honorable parley."
He gives here a distinct suggestion of the plans and methods which he later developed and extended.
When Kansas was opened for settlement, John Brown was fifty-four years old. Early in the spring of 1855, five of his sons took up claims near Osawatomie. They went, as did others, as peaceable settlers without arms. After the election of March 30, 1855, at which armed Missourians overawed the Kansas settlers and thus secured a unanimous pro-slavery Legislature, the freestate men, under the leadership of Robinson, began to import Sharp's rifles and other weapons for defense. Brown's sons thereupon wrote to their father, describing their helpless condition and urging him to come to their relief. In October, 1855, John Brown himself arrived with an adequate supply of rifles and some broadswords and revolvers. The process of organization and drill thereupon began, and when the Wakarusa War occurred early in December, 1855, John Brown was on hand with a small company from Osawatomie to assist in the defense of Lawrence. The statement that he disapproved of the agreement with Governor Shannon which prevented bloodshed is not in accord with a letter which John Brown wrote to his wife immediately after the event. The Governor granted practically all that the freestate men desired and recognized their trainbands as a part of the police force of the Territory. Brown by this stipulation became Captain John Brown, commander of a company of the territorial militia.
Soon after the Battle of Wakarusa, Captain Brown passed the command of the company of militia to his son John, while he became the leader of a small band composed chiefly of members of his own family. Writing to his wife on April 7, 1856, he said: "We hear that preparations are making in the United States Court for numerous arrests of free-state men. For one I have not desired (all things considered) to have the slave power cease from its acts of aggression. 'Their foot shall slide in due time.'" This letter of Brown's indicates that the writer was pleased at the prospect of approaching trouble.
When, six weeks later, notice came of the attack upon Lawrence, John Brown, Junior, went with the company of Osawatomie Rifles to the relief of the town, while the elder Brown with a little company of six moved in the same direction. In a letter to his wife, dated June 26, 1856, more than a month after the massacre in Pottawatomie Valley, Brown said:
"On our way to Lawrence we learned that it had been already destroyed, and we encamped with John's company overnight.... On the second day and evening after we left John's men, we encountered quite a number of pro-slavery men and took quite a number of prisoners. Our prisoners we let go, but kept some four or five horses. We were immediately after this accused of murdering five men at Pottawatomie and great efforts have been made by the Missourians and their ruffian allies to capture us. John's company soon afterwards disbanded, and also the Osawatomie men. Since then, we have, like David of old, had our dwelling with the serpents of the rocks and the wild beasts of the wilderness."
There will probably never be agreement as to Brown's motives in slaying his five neighbors on May 24, 1856. Opinions likewise differ as to the effect which this incident had on the history of Kansas. Abolitionists of every class had said much about war and about servile insurrection, but the conservative people of the West and South had mentioned the subject only by way of warning and that they might point out ways of prevention. Garrison and his followers had used language which gave rise to the impression that they favored violent revolution and were not averse to fomenting servile insurrection. They had no faith in the efforts of Northern emigrants to save Kansas from the clutches of the slaveholding South, and they denounced in severe terms the Robinson leadership there, believing it sure to result in failure. To this class of abolitionists John Brown distinctly belonged. He believed that so high was the tension on the slavery question throughout the country that revolution, if inaugurated at any point, would sweep the land and liberate the slaves. Brown was also possessed of the belief that he was himself the divinely chosen agent to let loose the forces of freedom; and that this was the chief motive which prompted the deed at Pottawatomie is as probable as any other.
Viewed in this light, the Pottawatomie massacre was measurably successful. Opposing forces became more clearly defined and were pitted against each other in hostile array. There were reprisals and counter-reprisals. Kansas was plunged into a state of civil war, but it is quite probable that this condition would have followed the looting of Lawrence even if John Brown had been absent from the Territory.
Coincident with the warfare by organized companies, small irregular bands infested the country. Kansas became a paradise for adventurers, soldiers of fortune, horse thieves, cattle thieves, and marauders of various sorts. Spoiling the enemy in the interest of a righteous cause easily degenerated into common robbery and murder. It was chiefly in this sort of conflict that two hundred persons were slain and that two million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.
During this period of civil war the members of the Brown family were not much in evidence. John Brown, Junior, captain of the Osawatomie Rifles, was a political prisoner at Topeka. Swift destruction of their property was visited upon all those members who were suspected of having a share in the Pottawatomie murders, and their houses were burned and their other property was seized. Warrants were out for the arrest of the elder Brown and his sons. Captain Pate who, in command of a small troop, was in pursuit of Brown and his company, was surprised at Black Jack in the early morning and induced to surrender. Brown thus gained control of a number of horses and other supplies and began to arrange terms for the exchange of his son and Captain Pate as prisoners of war. The negotiations were interrupted, however, by the arrival of Colonel Sumner with United States troops, who restored the horses and other booty and disbanded all the troops. With the Colonel was a deputy marshal with warrants for the arrest of the Browns. When ordered to proceed with his duty, however, the marshal was so overawed that, even though a federal officer was present, he merely remarked, "I do not recognize any one for whom I have warrants."
After the capture of Captain Pate at Black Jack early in June, little is known about Brown and his troops for two months. Apart from an encounter of opposing forces near Osawatomie in which he and his band were engaged, Brown took no share in the open fighting between the organized companies of opposing forces, and his part in the irregular guerrilla warfare of the period is uncertain. Towards the close of the war one of his sons was shot by a preacher who alleged that he had been robbed by the Browns. After peace had been restored to Kansas by the vigorous action of Governor Geary, Brown left the scene and never again took an active part in the local affairs of the Territory.
John Brown's influence upon the course of affairs in Kansas, like William Lloyd Garrison's upon the general anti-slavery movement of the country, has been greatly misunderstood and exaggerated. Brown's object and intention were fundamentally contradictory to those of the freestate settlers. They strove to build a free commonwealth by legal and constitutional methods. He strove to inaugurate a revolution which would extend to all pro-slavery States and result in universal emancipation. John Brown was in Kansas only one year, and he never made himself at one with those who should have been his fellow-workers but went his solitary way. Only in three instances did he pretend to cooperate with the regular freestate forces. He could not work with them because his conception of the means to be adopted to attain the end was different from theirs. Probably before he left the Territory in 1856, he had realized that his work in Kansas was a failure and that the law-and-order forces were too strong for the execution of his plans. Certain it is that within a few weeks after his departure he had transferred the field of his operations to the mountains of Virginia. Kansas became free through the persistent determination of the rank and file of Northern settlers under the wise leadership of Governor Robinson. It is difficult to determine whether the cause of Kansas was aided or hindered by the advent of John Brown and the adventurers with whom his name became associated.
During the fall of 1856 and until the late summer of 1857 Brown was in the East raising funds for the redemption of Kansas and for the reimbursement of those who had incurred or were likely to incur losses in defense of the cause. For the equipment of a troop of soldiers under his own command he formulated plans for raising $30,000 by private subscription, and in this he was to a considerable extent successful. It can never be known how much was given in this way to Brown for the equipment of his army of liberation. It is estimated that George L. Stearns alone gave in all fully $10,000. Because Eastern abolitionists had lost confidence in Robinson's leadership, they lent a willing ear to the plea that Captain Brown with a well-equipped and trained company of soldiers was the last hope for checking the enemy. Not only would Kansas become a slave State without such help, it was said, but the institution of slavery would spread into all the Territories and become invincible.
The money was given to Brown to redeem Kansas, but he had developed an alternative plan. Early in the year 1857, he met in New York Colonel Hugh Forbes, a soldier of fortune who had seen service with Garibaldi in Italy. They discussed general plans for an aggressive attack upon the South for the liberation of the slaves, and with these plans the needs of Kansas had little or no connection. "Kansas was to be a prologue to the real drama," writes his latest biographer; "the properties of the one were to serve in the other." In April six months' salary was advanced out of the Kansas fund to Forbes, who was employed at a hundred dollars a month to aid in the execution of their plans. Another significant expenditure of the Kansas fund was in pursuance of a contract with a Mr. Blair, a Connecticut manufacturer, to furnish at a dollar each one thousand pikes. Though the contract was dated March 80, 1857, it was not completed until the fall of 1859, when the weapons were delivered to Brown in Pennsylvania for use at Harper's Ferry.
Instead of rushing to the relief of Kansas, as contributors had expected, the leader exercised remarkable deliberation. When August arrived, it found him only as far as Tabor, Iowa, where a considerable quantity of arms had been previously assembled. Here he was joined by Colonel Forbes, and together they organized a school of military tactics with Forbes as instructor. But as Forbes could find no one but Brown and his son to drill, he soon returned to the East, still trusted by Brown as a co-worker. It would seem that Forbes himself wished to play the chief part in the liberation of America.
While he was at Tabor, Brown was urged by Lane and other former associates of his in Kansas to come to their relief with all his forces. There had, indeed, been a full year of peace since Geary's arrival, but early in October there was to occur the election of a territorial Legislature in which the free-state forces had agreed to participate, and Lane feared an invasion from Missouri. But although the appeal was not effective, the election proved a complete triumph for the North. Late in October, after the signal victory of the law-and-order party at the election, Brown was again urged with even greater insistence to muster all his forces and come to Kansas, and there were hints in Lane's letter that an aggressive campaign was afoot to rid the Territory of the enemy. Instead of going in force, however, Brown stole into the Territory alone. On his arrival, two days after the date set for a decisive council of the revolutionary faction, he did not make himself known to Governor Robinson or to any of his party but persuaded several of his former associates to join his "school" in Iowa. From Tabor he subsequently transferred the school to Springdale, a quiet Quaker community in Cedar County, Iowa, seven miles from any railway station. Here the company went into winter quarters and spent the time in rigid drill in preparation for the campaign of liberation which they expected to undertake the following season.
While he was at Tabor, Brown began to intimate to his Eastern friends that he had other and different plans for the promotion of the general cause. In January, 1858, he went East with the definite intention of obtaining additional support for the greater scheme. On February 22, 1858, at the home of Gerrit Smith in New York, there was held a council at which Brown definitely outlined his purpose to begin operations at some point in the mountains of Virginia. Smith and Sanborn at first tried to dissuade him, but finally consented to cooperate. The secret was carefully guarded: some half-dozen Eastern friends were apprised of it, including Stearns, their most liberal contributor, and two or three friends at Springdale.
As early as December, 1857, Forbes began to write mysterious letters to Sanborn, Stearns, and others of the circle, in which he complained of ill-usage at the hands of Brown. It appears that Forbes erroneously assumed that the Boston friends were aware of Brown's contract with him and of his plans for the attack upon Virginia; but, since they were entirely ignorant on both points, the correspondence was conducted at cross-purposes for several months. Finally, early in May, 1858, it transpired that Forbes had all the time been fully informed of Brown's intentions to begin the effort for emancipation in Virginia. Not only so, but he had given detailed information on the subject to Senators Sumner, Seward, Hale, Wilson, and possibly others. Senator Wilson was told that the arms purchased by the New England Aid Society for use in Kansas were to be used by Brown for an attack on Virginia. Wilson, in entire ignorance of Brown's plans, demanded that the Aid Society be effectively protected against any such charge of betrayal of trust. The officers of the Society were, in fact, aware that the arms which had been purchased with Society funds the year before and shipped to Tabor, Iowa, had been placed in Brown's hands and that, without their consent, those arms had been shipped to Ohio and just at that time were on the point of being transported to Virginia. This knowledge placed the officers of the New England Aid Society in a most awkward position. Stearns, the treasurer, had advanced large sums to meet pressing needs during the starvation times in Kansas in 1857. Now the arms in Brown's possession were, by vote of the officers, given to the treasurer in part payment of the Society's debt, and he of course left them just where they were. * On the basis of this arrangement Senator Wilson and the public were assured that none of the property given for the benefit of Kansas had been or would be diverted to other purposes by the Kansas Committee. It was decided, however, that on account of the Forbes revelations the attack upon Harper's Ferry must be delayed for one year and that Brown must go to Kansas to take part in the pending elections.
* "When the denouement finally came, however, the public and press did not take a very favorable view of the transaction; it was too difficult to distinguish between George L. Stearns, the benefactor of the Kansas Committee, and George L. Stearns, the Chairman of that Committee." Villard, "John Brown," p. 341.
Though Brown arrived in Kansas late in June, he took no active part in the pending measures for the final triumph of the free-state cause. It is something of a mystery how he was occupied between the 1st of July and the middle of December. Under the pseudonym of "Shubal Morgan" he was commander of a small band in which were a number of his followers in training for the Eastern mission. The occupation of this band is not matter of history until December 20, 1858, when they made a raid into the State of Missouri, slew one white man, took eleven slaves, a large number of horses, some oxen, wagons, much food, arms, and various other supplies. This action was in direct violation of a solemn agreement between the border settlers of State and Territory. The people in Kansas were in terror lest retaliatory raids should follow, as would undoubtedly have happened had not the people of Missouri taken active measures to prevent such reprisals.
Rewards were offered for Brown's arrest, and free-state residents served notice that he must leave the Territory. In the dead of winter he started North with some slaves and many horses, accompanied by Kagi and Gill, two of his faithful followers. In northern Kansas, where they were delayed by a swollen stream, a band of horsemen appeared to dispute their passage. Brown's party quickly mustered assistance and, giving chase to the enemy, took three prisoners with four horses as spoils of war. In Kansas parlance the affair is called "The Battle of the Spurs." The leaders in the chase were seasoned soldiers on their way to Harper's Ferry with the intention of spending their lives collecting slaves and conducting them to places of safety. For this sort of warfare they were winning their spurs. It was their intention to teach all defenders of slavery to use their utmost endeavor to keep out of their reach. As Brown and his company passed through Tabor, the citizens took occasion at a public meeting to resolve "that we have no sympathy with those who go to slave States to entice away slaves, and take property or life when necessary to attain that end."
A few days later the party was at Grinnell, Iowa. According to the detailed account which J. B. Grinnell gives in his autobiography, Brown appeared on Saturday afternoon, stacked his arms in Grinnell's parlor and disposed of his people and horses partly in Grinnell's house and barn and partly at the hotel. In the evening Brown and Kagi addressed a large meeting in a public hall. Brown gave a lurid account of experiences in Kansas, justified his raid into Missouri by saying the slaves were to be sold for shipment to the South, and gave notice that his surplus horses would be offered for sale on Monday. "What title can you give?" was the question that came from the audience. "The best—the affidavit that they were taken by black men from land they had cleared and tilled; taken in part payment for labor which is kept back."
Brown again addressed a large meeting on Sunday evening at which each of the three clergymen present invoked the divine blessing upon Brown and his labors. The present writer was told by an eye-witness that one of the ministers prayed for forgiveness for any wrongful acts which their guest may have committed. Convinced of the rectitude of his actions, however, Brown objected and said that he thanked no one for asking forgiveness for anything he had done.