KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


PRE-TERRITORIAL HISTORY, Part 3

[TOC] [part 2] [Cutler's History]

BASES OF THE COMPROMISE OF 1850.

(1) The admission of any new State or States formed out of Texas to be postponed until they shall hereafter present themselves to be received into the Union, when it will be the duty of Congress fairly and faithfully to execute the compact with Texas, by admitting such new State or States. (2) The admission forthwith of California,* with the boundaries which she has proposed. (3) The establishment of Territorial Governments, without the Wilmot Proviso, for New Mexico and Utah, embracing all the territory recently acquired from Mexico, not contained in the boundaries of California. (4) The combination of these last two measures in one bill. (5) The establishment of the western and northern boundaries of Texas, and the exclusion from her jurisdiction of all New Mexico, with a grant to Texas of a pecuniary equivalent; and the section for that purpose to be incorporated in the bill admitting California and establishing Territorial Governments for Utah and New Mexico. (6) More effectual enactments of law to secure the prompt delivery of persons bound to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, who escape into another State; and (7) Abstaining from abolishing Slavery, but, under a heavy penalty, prohibiting the Slave Trade in the District of Columbia.

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*California, with a free constitution, applied for admission February 13, 1850, during the debate on Clay's resolutions, and greatly intensified the heat of the discussion then going on. ----------------------------------------------------------

On the offering of the report, the debate was renewed, and continued, with a slight interruption, occasioned by the death of President Taylor (July 10), and the accession of his successor, Vice President Fillmore, till late in the summer. Repeated efforts were made to cut off from California the territory lying south of 36° 30', to send her constitution back for revision, and otherwise to hinder her admission, with her defined limits, as a free State. They were all defeated, and on August 13, the bill for her admission passed the Senate by a vote of twenty-seven yeas to ten nays. Two days thereafter, the bill organizing the Territories of Utah and New Mexico were passed, followed successively by the other measures embraced in the proposed compromise, including the fugitive slave law, all of which passed with little opposition. The compromise measures met with a spirited resistance in the House, but were passed successively, the last and most obnoxious to the North becoming a law September 9, 1850. Again, for a short season, the country rested under the shadow of a compromise, having the popular approval of no section of the country, though commanding the reluctant acquiescence of the conservatives both North and South. It was, however, virtually a pro-slavery victory, and gave the South renewed courage and determination to push their advantage without delay. They saw the way opened in the principle of "Popular Sovereignty," as established and recognized in the late territorial acts, and in the somewhat specious pretext that the compromise of 1850 had superseded and annulled the binding force of that of 1820, rendering its yet unfulfilled conditions void, thereby repealing the slavery inhibition north of 36° 30', which, through all the turmoil and discussion, had remained unquestioned for thirty years. This forced construction of the late compromises was not promulgated, but held in abeyance by the South and her Northern allies until the times might be propitious for its practical application. Meantime, the North, chagrined at the failure of her attempts to prohibit slavery in New Mexico and Utah, and exasperated daily by the enforcement of the fugitive slave law in the Northern States, became more intensely anti-slavery in sentiment than ever before.

The conditions were certainly not favorable for the further immediate prosecution of the Southern work. The constant agitation of thirty years had thoroughly educated the people, and notwithstanding the compromises, had resulted in such positive antagonism of sentiment and belief, as to render further compromise impossible. The question had already established its line of sectional demarkation, and the terms "North" and "South" had come to define not only the sections of country, but the sentiment of the people on the issue. All New England was ripe for the disintegration of the old political parties, neither of which had dared take issue on the slavery question. The moral alienation of the two sections had become so complete as to make them incapable of understanding each other. Mr. Clay, in advocating the compromise measures of 1850, had said: "I think the North should be willing to make greater sacrifices than could be required of the South. And why? An abstraction, a sentiment-a sentiment, if you please, of humanity and philanthropy, but a sentiment without danger, hazard or loss. How is it on the other side? In the first place, there is an incalculable amount of property to be sacrificed. And besides, the social intercourse, habits, safety, life, everything is at hazard." This was the view of one of the purest and most far-seeing Southern statesmen of the time. With the North, opposition to slavery was a sentiment; with the South, its protection was a fundamental principle. At the time he spoke, Mr. Clay's conception was correct, as to the Southern sentiment, but he failed to appreciate the radical change that had been going on in the North, whereby the anti-slavery sentiment was fast becoming a principle, in defense of which its adherents would be found as strenuous and self-sacrificing as their Southern brethren. Ignorant of this change, and believing that the anti-slavery agitation was confined to a noisy but small minority, the hitherto successful slave power pushed its advantage all too promptly. The next attempt proved the beginning of the end, and saw the birth-throes of the commonwealth of Kansas.

There was on the part of the managers in both the Whig and Democratic parties a general acquiescence in the compromises of 1850, and a determination to accept them as a final settlement of the question which had, during its discussion, threatened their disruption. As a compromise between politicians for the common desire of perpetuating the two old parties, it was deemed a success, and so heralded by both Whig and Democratic journals throughout the land. To their readers and believers it appeared that the great panacea for the nation's ills had at last been discovered. They earnestly vied in enjoining on every citizen the patriotic duty of upholding the faith of the Government by espousing the doctrines and accepting the conditions of the late compromise, and alike execrated, as factious agitators and inciters of revolution and disunion, all persons who offered opposition to any of the obnoxious laws passed, or any further protests against the continued aggressions of the slave power.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 1852.

In the early summer of 1852, the national conventions were held for the nomination of Presidential candidates, for the election of the following November.

The Democratic Convention met in Baltimore, June 1. The defection of 1848 had stimulated the disturbing element. The Free-soil Democrats, who had followed the fortunes of Van Buren at that time, had not returned to the Democratic fold. Consequently, the proceedings of the convention were quite harmonious in the interests of slavery as protected by the late compromise measures.

The early contest for a nominee for President was between Cass, Buchanan and Douglas, all pro-slavery men, but having a personal support that prevented the nomination of either. Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, whose orthodoxy on the only question at issue was unquestioned, was nominated on the forty-ninth ballot, only six votes being thrown against him. The resolutions having reference to slavery were as follows:

Resolved, That Congress has no power under the Constitution to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, and not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts of Abolitionists or others made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of Slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and to endanger the stability and permanancy (sic) of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions.

Resolved That the foregoing proposition covers and is intended to embrace the whole subject of Slavery agitation in Congress; and therefore, the Democratic party of the Union, standing on this national platform, will abide by and adhere to, a faithful execution of the acts known as the Compromise Measures settled by the last Congress-the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor included; which act, being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot, with fidelity therefore be repealed, nor so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency.

Resolved, That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the Slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.

The Whig National Convention met in Baltimore June 16. As a whole, the party was less united in favor of the compromises than were the Democrats. Hence, the sincerity of its motives in adopting a pro-slavery platform were questioned, both North and South, although the terms of enunciation were unequivocal. The slavery plank was adopted by a vote of 164 yeas to 117 nays. It was as follows:

Eighth, That the series of acts of the Thirty-first Congress known as the Compromise Measures of 1850-the act known as the Fugitive Slave law included-are received and acquiesced in by the Whig party of the United States as a settlement, in principle and substance, of the dangerous and exciting questions which they embrace; and so far as they are concerned, we will maintain them, and insist on their strict enforcement, until time and experience shall demonstrate the necessity of further legislation to guard against the evasion of the laws on the one hand, and the abuse of their powers on the other-not impairing their efficiency; and we deprecate all further agitation of the question thus settled as dangerous to our peace, and will discountenance all efforts to continue or renew such agitation, whenever, wherever or however the attempt may be made; and we will maintain this system as essential to the nationality of the Whig party and the integrity of the Union.

Millard was the first choice of the South, but was defeated on the fifty-third ballot by Gen. Winfield Scott, who became the nominee. He promptly and unequivocally accepted the Southern platform and the nomination.

The Free-soil party, embracing the renegade Democrats, the Anti-slavery Whigs, and the other discordant and yet unorganized anti-slavery elements of the North, met at Pittsburgh, Penn., August 11. John P. Hale, of New Hampshire, was nominated by a nearly unanimous vote. The platform was radically opposed to slavery, and the the compromises framed to perpetuate it. It affirmed that "no settlement of the slavery question can be looked for except in practical recognition of the truth that slavery is sectional and freedom national," declared slavery "a sin against God and a crime against man," the "the fugitive slave act of 1850 is repugnant to the constitution, to the principles of common law, to the spirit of Christianity and the sentiments of the civilized world;" that "the doctrine that any human law is a finality is dangerous to the liberties of our people;" and that "the Whig and Democratic parties were hopelessly corrupt and unworthy of confidence." The motto inscribed on the Free-soil banner was "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men."

The election resulted in complete victory for the Pro-slavery Democracy, the defeat, but not discouragement, of the new and aggressive Free-soil party, and in the total and final disintegration of the National Whig party. Mr. Pierce received the electoral votes of all but four of thirty-one States-254 electoral votes, against forty-two given Scott by the States of Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Free-soilers carried not a single State. The popular vote was as follows: Pierce, 1,601,274; Scott, 1,386,580; Hale, 155,825 - mostly in New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It is no matter of surprise that the result of this election should have led to the belief that, in spite of the noisy and continued agitation at the North, the compromises of 1850 were safely enshrined in the hearts of the people. The platforms of the two great parties declared it, and a popular vote of three million Union-loving citizens against one hundred and fifty-five thousand fanatics confirmed it. Thus believing, the South sought, with courage and confidence, new fields of aggrandizement and victory.

TERRITORIAL ORGANIZATION OF KANSAS, 1853-54.

At the inauguration of Franklin Pierce, March 4, 1853, all visible indications were auspicious for a period of political calm and national prosperity. Despite the continued denunciations of, and occasional resistance to, the fugitive slave law in the North, and the secret plottings of Southern disunionists, which went unceasingly on, the great majority in either section of the country were hopeful that, on the basis of the compromises of 1850, the Union at last rested on a firm foundation. The country was in the enjoyment of unexampled business prosperity, with public credit unimpaired, and at peace with all the world.

Petitions were presented at the first session of the Thirty-second Congress for a territorial organization of the region lying west of Missouri and Iowa. No action was at that time taken. During the next session, December 13, 1852, Mr. Willard P. Hall, of Missouri, submitted to the House a bill organizing the Territory of Platte, comprising that region. His bill was referred to the Committee on Territories, which reported February 2, 1853, through the Chairman, Mr. William A. Richardson, of Illinois, a bill organizing the Territory of Nebraska, which covered the same area of territory as the bill of Mr. Hall, viz.: All the tract lying west of Iowa and Missouri, and extending west to the Rocky Mountains, generally known as the Platte country. The bill, on reaching the consideration of the Committee of the Whole, was met by an unexpected and formidable opposition from the Southern members, and was reported with a recommendation that it be rejected. The House, however, did not adopt the recommendation, but, on the contrary, passed the bill and sent it to the Senate, where it was defeated at the close of the session, March 3, 1853, by a vote of twenty-three to seventeen. This incipient and futile effort to organize the Territory disclosed the uncompromising opposition of a Southern cabal to the organization of any free Territories until some counterpoise might be presented by a division of the slave State of Texas or otherwise. During the discussion of the bill, the validity of the Missouri compromise, or the slavery prohibition, thereby established over the Territory, was not once brought in question. It was apparently accepted as a foregone conclusion that, whenever it should be organized into States or Territories, it was to be, under an unalterable law, free territory, and from that belief sprang the Southern opposition. They were not yet ready to open up to settlement more territory, which, it was acknowledged, would eventually increase the number of free States.

THE REPUDIATION OF THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE.

The Thirty-second Congress met December 5, 1853. Both branches had a strong Democratic majority, pledged to the Southern compromises, and believed to be reliable on any pro-slavery emergence that might arise. The President also reiterated his fealty to the power that made him. In his inaugural address, he said:

Notwithstanding differences of opinion and sentiment which then existed in relation to details and specific provisions, the acquiescence of distinguished citizens, whose devotion to the Union can never be doubted, has given renewed vigor to our institutions, and restored a sense of repose and security to the public mind throughout the confederacy. That this repose is to suffer no shock during my official term, if I have power to avert it, those who placed me here may be assured.

December 14, 1853, Senator Dodge, of Iowa, submitted to the Senate a new bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska, embracing the same region as the defeated bill of the preceding session. It was referred to the Committee on Territories, of which Stephen A. Douglas was Chairman, January 4, 1854. Mr. Douglas reported the bill with amendments which called in question the validity of the slavery prohibition, and foreshadowed the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise. The arguments, as set forth in the report, were as follows:

A question has arisen in regard to the right to hold slaves in the Territory of Nebraska, when the Indian laws shall be withdrawn and the country thrown open to emigration and settlement. By the eighth section of "an act to authorize the people of Missouri Territory to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of such State into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, and to prohibit Slavery in certain territories," approved March 6, 1820, it was provided, "That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, Slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment for crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and are, hereby prohibited: Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed, and conveyed to the persons claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid."

Under this section, as in the case of the Mexican law in New Mexico and Utah, it is a disputed point whether Slavery is prohibited in the Nebraska country by valid enactment. The decision of this question involves the constitutional power of Congress to pass laws prescribing and regulating the domestic institutions of the various Territories of the Union. In the opinion of those eminent statesmen who hold that Congress is invested with no rightful authority to legislate upon the subject of slavery in the territories, the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri is null and void; while the prevailing sentiment in large portions of the Union sustains the doctrine that the Constitution of the United States secures to every citizen an inalienable right to move into any of the Territories with his property, of whatever kind and description, and to hold and enjoy the same under the sanction of law. Your committee do not feel themselves called upon to enter upon the discussion of these controverted questions. They involve the same grave issues which produced the agitation, the sectional strife and the fearful struggle of 1850. As congress deemed it wise and prudent to refrain from deciding the matters in controversy then, either by affirming or repealing the Mexican laws, or by an act declaratory of the true intent of the Constitution, and the extent of the protection afforded by it to Slave property in the Territories, so your committee are not prepared to recommend a departure from the course pursued on that memorable occasion, either by affirming or repealing the eighth section of the Missouri act, or by any act declaratory of the meaning of the Constitution in respect to the legal points in dispute.

Near the conclusion of the report, attention was called to the doctrine of popular sovereignty as set forth in the compromise measures of 1850, as follows:

From these provisions, it is apparent that the compromise measures of 1850 affirm and rest upon the following propositions:

First, That all questions pertaining to Slavery in the Territories, and the new State to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose.

At that time, Mr. Douglas, although a Senator from the great free State of Illinois, was deemed one of the most able, unscrupulous and earnest pro-slavery men from the North. It will be remembered that he was one of the three Northern Democrats that voted against the Wilmot Proviso, and had been a candidate for the Presidential nomination in the Democratic National Convention of 1852. His abilities as a statesman were acknowledged even by his opponents, and as a shrewd politician he had no superior then in public life. His personal tendencies were pro-slavery, but his views were unswerved by sentiment; indeed, he had no feeling in the matter, but discussed it with a coolness alike exasperating to the extremists on either side. From the beginning, he treated the question as a thing extraneous to himself, and concerning which he had not the remotest personal interest or desire. He dealt with the logic of events, and in drawing his conclusions, denied all intention or desire to direct their course, except so far as to keep them in the channel already marked out. He was ambitious, and the goal of his aspirations was the Presidency, to by reached through the support of the great Democratic party, which was now in the ascendant. The bill and report presented had been shrewdly drawn to express grave doubts as to the validity of the slave prohibition in the proposed Territory, yet so leaving the question in abeyance as to avoid a renewal of the slavery agitation during the stages of its discussion. The South was not thus easily satisfied, and at once threw off all dissimulation. Mr. Archibald Dixon, of Kentucky, January 16, 1854, gave notice that, whenever the bill should be brought up, he would move the following amendment:

Sec. 22, And be it further enacted, That so much of the eighth section of an act approved March 6, 1820, entitled "An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri Territory to form a constitution and State government, and for the admission of such State into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, and to prohibit Slavery in certain territories," as declares "that in all that territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana which lies north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, Slavery and involuntary servitude otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be forever prohibited," shall not be so construed as to apply to the Territory contemplated in this act, or to any other Territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several States or Territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves within any of the Territories or States to be formed therefrom, as if the said act, entitled aforesaid, had never been passed.

To avoid the open rupture which would result from an attempt to pass this amendment, and with a desire to reframe the bill, if possible, so as to gain the hearty support of both the Northern and Southern wings of the Democratic party, and thereby insure his own future advancement, Mr. Douglas moved and obtained its recommitment for amendment. He again, January 23, 1854, reported the bill, so amended as to resemble the original in no important particulars except as to the region contemplated.

The amended bill proposed the organization of two Territories, one to comprise the territory lying directly west of Missouri, and extending west to the crest of the Rocky Mountains, to be known as Kansas; the residue or the territory embraced in the original bill, lying north of Kansas and west of Iowa, to be known as Nebraska. The south line of Kansas was moved north from 36° 30' to 37° north latitude, to conform to the boundary line between the Cherokees and Osages.

The provisions concerning slavery were fraught with deeper meaning and more far-reaching results than were conceived at that time. It was woe and tribulation to the American people. It foreshadowed the last victory and the final destruction of the slave power it was designed to uphold in its aggressions. It meant civil strife, murder and rapine as the price of freedom in Kansas. It meant two million men in arms, and half a million sleeping in soldiers' graves. And it meant, at last, four million emancipated slaves and a redeemed nation. In the happy issue, Douglas "builded (sic) better than he knew." The provisions were as follows:

Sec. 21. And be it further enacted, That, in order to avoid all misconstruction, it is hereby declared to be the true intent and meaning of this act, so far as the question of Slavery is concerned, to carry into practical operation the following proposition and principles, established by the Compromise measures of one thousand eight hundred and fifty, to wit:

"First. That all questions pertaining to Slavery in the Territories, and in the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, through their appropriate representatives."

"Second. That all cases involving title to 'slaves' and 'question of personal freedom' are referred to the adjudication of the local tribunals, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States."

"Third. That the provisions of the Constitution and laws of the United States, in respect to fugitives from service, are to be carried into faithful execution in all the Organized Territories: the same as in the States."

In the original bill was the following stipulation:

The Constitution and all laws of the United States, which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said Territory as elsewhere in the United States.

In the amended bill, it was supplemented by a reservation, which openly and positively annulled the Missouri Compromise. It read as follows:

Except the section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820, which was superseded be the principles of the legislation of 1850, commonly called the Compromise measures, and is declared inoperative.

Mr. Dixon, who proposed the pro-slavery amendment before quoted, expressed entire satisfaction with the amended bill, and pledged it his cordial support. In reply, Mr. Douglas gave his own construction of the doctrines enunciated, from which he never swerved thereafter. It contains the gist of all the arguments ever offered in extenuation or justification of the measure, and was as follows.

As this discussion has begun, I feel it to be my duty to say a word in explanation. I am glad to hear the Senator from Kentucky say that the bill, as it now stands, accomplishes all that he desired to accomplish by his amendment, because his amendment seemed to myself, and to some with whom I have consulted, to mean more than what he now explains it to mean, and what I am glad he did not intend it should mean.

We supposed that it not only wiped out the legislation which Congress has heretofore adopted, excluding Slavery, but that it affirmatively legislated Slavery into the Territories. The object of the Committee was neither to legislate Slavery in nor out of the Territories; neither to introduce nor exclude it, but to remove whatever obstacles Congress had put there, and apply the doctrine of Congressional non-intervention in accordance with the principles of the Compromise measures of 1850, and allow the people to do as they pleased upon this as well as all other matters affecting their interests.

The provisions of the bill, as last presented, were known to be in accordance with the wishes and designs of nearly all of the Southern members, to have been accepted, before being presented, by President Pierce and a majority of the members of his Cabinet, and to have the assured support of a sufficient number of Northern Administration Democrats to insure its passage beyond a doubt. The minority, however, hot with indignation, fought the bill at every stage, and for four months prolonged the discussion, which was more exciting and bitter than at any time during the memorable session of 1850. The contest ended May 27, 1854, by the passage of the bill, which was approved, May 30, by the President. The analysis of the vote on the final passage is interesting as showing the sectional and political divisions, and the elements favoring and opposing it at the time of its passage.

The final vote on the bill in House was 113 yeas to 100 nays. The slave States gave seventy-nine yeas-fifty-seven Democrats and twelve Whigs-to nine nays-Two Democrats and seven Whigs. The free States gave forty-four yeas-all Democrats-to ninety-one nays-forty-four Democrats, forty-four Whigs and three straight Free-soilers. The solidity of the Southern vote left no room for doubt at the North as to their intention to nationalize slavery at all hazards. The day of compromises was passed. The abrogation of one had destroyed the sacredness of all. The North was at last fairly aroused, and Congress, having relegated the question to the people, they accepted the issue thus forced upon them. It is unnecessary to repeat the story of the excitement which followed the consummation of the crime. The indignation at the North knew no bounds. It was no longer confined to fanatics and sentimentalists, but permeated all classed and parties wherever dishonesty was despised or repudiation abhorred. It promptly took practical form. The territory thus wrongfully opened to slavery was yet to be settled before its final destiny was sealed. The conflict was thus transferred from the halls of Congress to the yet unsettled Territories. It was determined to accept the new doctrine of popular sovereignty as avowed in the act, and, under the guarantees it gave, in place of the compact it repudiated, to settle the Territories and vote them free forever.

[TOC] [part 2] [Cutler's History]