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


[TOC] [part 56] [part 54] [Cutler's History]


Secretary Denver received the appointment of Governor from the President on March 15. As no Secretary had as yet been appointed, he did not immediately qualify for the office, but continued as Secretary and Acting Governor until May 12, at which time he took the oath of office.

Hugh S. Walsh, having been appointed Secretary of the Territory, also took the official oath at the same time.


Soon after the Territorial election, Gov. Walker left the Territory and repaired to Washington, where he hoped, by a plain statement of the condition of affairs in the Territory and an exposure of the duplicity and fraud bound up in the Lecompton Constitution, to arouse indignant opposition to the low device, and to return with fresh instructions to submit it to the people prior to its presentation to Congress. His expectations were justified by his former instructions, and the often and positively expressed opinions of the President, as appears from the following extracts from a letter written by him to Gov. Walker June 12, 1857:*

* See Report of Covode Investigation Committee, pp. 112, 113.

The point on which your and our success depends is the submission of the constitution to the people of Kansas. And by the people I mean, and I have no doubt you mean, the actual bona fide residents who have been long enough in the Territory to identify themselves with its fate. The Legislature determined three months as the period of residence to entitle individuals to vote for members of the convention; and if the convention should think proper to adopt the same period to entitle individuals to vote for or against the constitution, it appears to me this would be reasonable.

On the question of submitting the constitution to the bona fide residents of Kansas, I am willing to stand or fall. In sustaining such a principle we cannot fall. It is the principle of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, the principle of popular sovereignty, and the principle at the foundation of all popular government. The more it is discussed the stronger it will become. Should the convention of Kansas adopt this principle all will be settled harmoniously, and, with the blessing of Providence, you will return triumphantly from your arduous, important and responsible mission.

Having carried out in good faith the spirit of the above, Gov. Walker had come to Washington to consult with the President as to the best means to destroy the force of the contemptible trick that had been attempted in violation of his often and earnestly expressed opinions and convictions. Mr. Walker was received by the President with his accustomed urbanity. He distinctly disavowed having authorized anybody to say he approved of the Lecompton programme of submission, but, at the same time, would suggest no means for averting the mischief, since it had been planned. It further came to the positive knowledge of Walker that the plan had been concocted by members of Buchanan's Cabinet, if he himself was not privy to it, and that it was sure of their support, and safe against any serious opposition from the President. Finding, after repeated interviews with the President and members of his Cabinet, that the Lecompton swindle had the countenance of the administration, and that, if he returned to his duties. it must be to repudiate all the pledges he had made and uphold the instrument he had so boldly denounced, he tendered his resignation, which was most complacently accepted, December 13. His letter of resignation was an elaborate disclosure of the frauds and wrongs perpetrated upon the people of Kansas. He expressed grave apprehensions that the forcing of the Lecompton Constitution upon the people would result in civil war, and avowed that, not only had he been in favor of submission to a vote of the people, but that his views were well known and approved by the President and the members of his Cabinet, and that the Secretary of State had instructed him "that the people in voting upon the constitution must be protected against violence and fraud." Gov. Walker's letter, while setting himself right before the people, convicted the President and his Cabinet of treachery and duplicity toward himself, if not complicity in the attempted fraud. The indignation which it aroused was not confined to the Republicans. It permeated the Democracy and proved the entering wedge that later disrupted the party and hurled it from power. Could the Pro-slavery leaders who devised the iniquity have foreseen that out of it would come the utter destruction of their power, and the defeat of every end it was devised to subserve, they might have hesitated at the desperate chances of loss it involved.

The Thirty-fifth Congress assembled on the 7th of December. Both Houses were strongly Democratic. The President, in his message, referred to the action of the Lecompton Convention in approving terms, favored the constitution it had framed, and declared that the question had been "fairly and explicitly referred to the people of Kansas whether they will have a constitution with or without slavery."

The discussion which ensued showed that the opposition was no longer confined to strict party limits. Douglas spoke strongly against it in the opening debate in the Senate. His opposition was not based on any change in his views on the slavery question. He professed to be still indifferent as to whether "it was voted up or voted down," but was justly indignant at the open violation of the principles of popular sovereignty by refusing to submit the constitution to the people, and furthermore violated the pledges of the Democratic party and the promises of the administration. The Democrats who at the various periods of the debates opposed the constitution, became known as Anti-Lecompton Democrats, and, although not sufficiently numerous in the Senate to defeat it, they added sufficient strength to the opposition in the House to prevent its acceptance by that body.

February 2, the President sent the Lecompton Constitution to Congress with a special message, in which, throwing off all dissimulation, he urged its acceptance, taking extreme Southern ground. He expressed bitter hostility to the Free-State men of Kansas, whom he denounced as disloyal, and whose resistance to the enactments of the Territorial Legislature he characterized as "revolutionary.'' Their non-participation in the election he declared to be "a refusal to submit to lawful authority." He averred that "Kansas at this time is as much a Slave State as Georgia and South Carolina," and urged the acceptance of the Lecompton Constitution since its rejection would be "keenly felt by the Southern State (sic), where lavery as recognized."

Mr. Fessenden said of the message:

The President has deliberately chosen to omit the most important facts in the case, as well known to him, or which should have been as well known to him as to any man, for he cannot plead ignorance. They are facts apparent on the record; palpable, plain, unmistakable. He has omitted to state them, and he has stated others which are disproved by the record accompanying the message.

The discussion was long and bitter. It took a wide range, and is more properly a part of the history of the nation than of Kansas. What pertains definitely to the history of Kansas appears in the following summary:

February 2, against the strong opposition of Senator Douglas, the Senate passed a bill accepting the Constitution, by a vote of 32 yeas to 25 nays.

March 23, the House adopted a substitute prepared by Senator Crittenden, of Kentucky, and offered by Mr. Montgomery of Pennsylvania. The substitute required a re-submission of the Constitution to the people of Kansas, under such provisions and precautions as should insure a fair vote thereon. The bill passed as a substitute for the Senate bill by the following vote: Yeas, 92 Republicans, 22 Anti-Lecompton Democrats, 6 Americans -- total, 120; nays, 104 Democrats, 8 Americans -- total, 112.

The Senate refused to accept the substitute and asked a Committee of Conference, which was granted by the House by a vote of 109 yeas to 108 nays. A bill was reported by the chairman, Mr. English, of Indiana, and finally passed, April 30, by both Houses. Its provisions were as follows:

(1) Kansas should be admitted into the union under the Lecompton Constitution if on a re-submission to a vote of the people for acceptance or rejection, the said constitution received a majority of the votes cast.

(2) With the submission of the Constitution to the people was offered what were termed in the bill, "propositions offered to the said people of Kansas for their free acceptance or rejection, which if accepted shall be obligatory upon the United States and upon the said State of Kansas." The said propositions granted sections 16 and 36 in each township for the use of schools, seventy-two sections for a State University, and ten sections for public buildings, amounting in all to 5,500,000 acres of land; also all the salt springs within the Territory, not exceeding twelve in number, and six sections of land with each spring; also 5 per cent of all the public lands for the construction of State roads.

The realization of this munificent grant was contingent on the acceptance of the Pro slavery Constitution.

(3) In case the Constitution should be rejected by the people, the people should not elect delegates to form a new Constitution until "it should be ascertained by a census, duly and legally taken, that the population of said Territory equals the ratio of representation required for a member of the House of Representatives (93,560), and whenever thereafter such delegates shall assemble in convention, they shall first determine by a vote whether it is the wish of the proposed State to be admitted into the Union at that time, and if so, shall proceed to form a Constitution."

Thus the Constitution was returned to the people of Kansas with the infamous proposition to sell their principles for a most munificent bribe, or, scorning the proposition, to be debarred from further efforts for a State Government until the lapse of years might bring relief.

The extent of the corruption and bribery attending the efforts, first to force the Constitution through Congress, and failing in that, to secure the passage of the not less reprehensible and shameless English bill, were not known at the time of its passage. The Congressional investigations of 1860 brought them to light. The summary of the Covode Investigating Committee, confirmed by abundant and unimpeachable testimony, was as follows:

Your Committee first direct the attention of the House to that portion of the testimony which relates to the Kansas policy of the present administration of the Government. The patriot will mourn, the historian will pause with astonishment, over this shameless record. Accustomed as the American people are to the errors and crimes of those in power, they will read this exposure with feelings of unmingled indignation. The facts revealed by the testimony prove conclusively,

(1) The emphatic and unmistakable pledges of the President, as well before as after his election, and the pledges of all his cabinet to the doctrine of leaving the people of Kansas "perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way."

(2) The deliberate violation of this pledge and the attempt to convert Kansas into a Slave State by means of forgeries, frauds and force.

(3) The removal of and attempt to disgrace sworn agents of the administration, who refused to violate their pledge.

(4) The open employment of money in the passage of the Lecompton and English bills through the Congress of the United States.

(5) The admission of the parties engaged in the work of electioneering those schemes, that they received enormous sums for this purpose, and proof in the checks upon which they were paid by an agent of the administration.

(6) The offer to purchase newspapers and newspaper editors by extravagant sums of money.

(7) And finally, the proscription of Democrats of high standing who would not support the Lecompton and English bills.

The English bill was viewed by the people of Kansas in its true light. It did not require mass meetings to express the general indignation of the people at the insult offered their intelligence and honesty. The proposition was simply an offer combining a bribe and a threat tendered to a free people in barter for their principles, and was met with the execration and repudiation it deserved. The election was appointed by Gov. Denver June 3, to be held August 2. On that day the Lecompton Constitution and the English bill were buried forever under an avalanche of popular indignation and contempt. The returns were as follows.


COUNTIES. Proposition Proposition COUNTIES. Prop.    Prop.
          Rejected    Accepted              Rejected Accepted
          ----------- -----------           -------- --------
Douglas      1785         40      Franklin     376          6
Shawnee       748         41       Johnson     424        154
Leavenworth  2203        456  Breckenridge     194          4
Atchison      616        260       Madison     158         --
Doniphan      927        421          Wise      65          6
Brown         243         35        Hunter      23         --
Nemaha        227         12         Riley     258         22
Lykins        440         99     Jefferson     441        151
McGee          14          6       Calhoun     250         32
Bourbon       429         37    Richardson     144         --
Allen         268         23       Woodson     121          2
Dorn           --          9         Davis     123         27
Anderson      313         14        Coffey     364         18
Linn          422         43  Pottawatomie     236          8
                                     -----   -----       ----
                                     Total   11812       1926

The above table shows the total vote as returned. Some of the returns were not counted. The result as proclaimed by the canvassing board was: For the proposition -- 1,788; against it -- 11,300; majority against it -- 9,512.

No further movements were made for the framing of a Constitution until the following year.


Gov. Denver resigned on October 10, and Hugh S. Walsh became Acting Governor. Gov. Robinson states that before entering upon the duties of Secretary he had pledged himself to undo nothing done by either Walker or Stanton, and to continue to carry out their policy and recommendations. He also testified to his good faith as follows:

"It is enough to say of Secretary and afterward Governor, Denver, that he proved to be as good as his word, and the Territory under his administration prospered politically as well as materially. In the disturbances of Southern Kansas, and in every position, he acted with impartiality, and gained the confidence of the bona fide residents of the Territory of all parties." This high praise, coming as it did from one of his leading political opponents, did not exceed the acknowledged deserts of the upright and faithful official upon whom it was bestowed.*

* The resignation of Gov. Denver, as in the case of Gov. Walker, was forced upon him by the Pro-slavery administration. He had made a treaty with Montgomery, the Free state chief, whereby it was sought to restore peace. As this involved concessions to the Free-state men, it, as a matter of course, met the disapproval of the President and his advisers, and would have resulted in the removal of Denver, had he not resigned.

[TOC] [part 56] [part 54] [Cutler's History]