The organic act a compromise measure.--Kansas intended for a slave state.--Conduct of the pro-slavery party. --Persecutions of free-state people.--New England Emigrant Aid Societies.--Public meetings.--Blue Lodges.--Invasion from Westport.--Arrival of Governor Reeder.--Judges of the Supreme Court.
THE repeal of the compromise bill of 1820 by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, was, of itself; though not so specified or implied, a sort of compromise measure. The original act as has been stated, provided for the organization of a single territory, to be called Nebraska, which was to embrace all that section of country which now constitutes the Territory of Kansas. The locality of the greater portion of Nebraska as thus designed; its ready access to immigration from the north; and its peculiar adaptation as respects both climate and soil, to free labor, rendered it certain of being received into the Union at an early day as a free State. The southern politicians could not wisely and openly object to its organization upon this ground. Hence a more judicious policy, as it was less likely to meet with determined opposition and condemnation, was adopted. The substitute of Mr. Douglas, though it could not prevent the erection of a new free state, would at least so far keep up the equality as also to create another state, into which slavery would be introduced. By the proposition to erect two new territories instead of one, as at first proposed, and to allow the inhabitants of each to determine for themselves whether slavery should or should not be admitted, it was intended and so understood, that Nebraska should become a free and Kansas a slave state. This was, beyond all question, the object and meaning of the Kansas-Nebraska bill of Mr. Douglas, and it was so regarded, as all its acts show, by the late administration. This, in fact, is the only excuse, although by no means a sufficient one, that can be offered in extenuation of the outrages that have subsequently been committed against free-state settlers. Many members of the pro-slavery party, believing it to have been a matter understood and fixed by certain contracting powers and the heads of the general government, that Kansas was to become a slave state, in order to keep up an equilibrium of northern and southern sectional and political interests, conscientiously supposed that instead of its being a criminal offence, it was not only justifiable, but a virtue, to persecute, even to death, all northern people who should enter the territory with a disposition to defeat or thwart that object. All such were regarded as intruders, whom it was proper to remove at all hazards and by whatever means, however cruel or oppressive, that could be employed. This sentiment was not confined to Kansas and the adjoining State of Missouri, but was entertained by persons high in authority elsewhere, and especially at the seat of the federal government. By many it was freely acknowledged and boldly advocated. On the other hand, there were many Northern men who regarded the Kansas-Nebraska act as an infamous scheme to violate a sacred compact, and to perpetuate and extend, in opposition to every honorable principle, an institution which they view with horror and detestation.
No sooner was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act made known than great numbers of the residents of Missouri crossed into the new territory, seized upon its best lands, not respecting the rights of the Indians to their reservations, and availing themselves of the squatter sovereignty clause of the act, commenced laying foundations for the permanent establishment of slavery
The reputed value of the lands and salubrity of the climate also directed the attention of many eastern and northern people towards Kansas, and a large emigration from those regions commenced at an early day. To facilitate this, "Emigrant Aid Societies" were established, and under their auspices companies were formed, the first of which numbering about thirty persons, arrived in the territory on the first of August, 1854, and settled at what is now the town of Lawrence. Other parties arrived soon after, and located themselves in that and other neighborhoods.
The pro-slavery party fancied it saw in the immigration of these large northern companies serious cause to apprehend the defeat of a measure that had occasioned great anxiety; been attended with many difficulties; which was of such momentous importance; and until now gave promise of certain and ultimate success. It therefore resolved, as a matter of safety and interest, not only to disperse those who had already entered the territory, but to prevent if possible, the admission of all others of similar character. To this end meetings were held in various parts of the territory and in the border towns of Missouri, at which speeches were made and resolutions adopted of the most incendiary and inflammatory description. Some of these were so exceedingly violent and disgustingly profane, as to be unfit for publication. The tenor and spirit of them all was, that Kansas must be a slave state; that abolitionists, and this meant all northern men not pledged to favor slavery extension, had no right to come there, and that all such should be driven from the territory or destroyed.
At one of these meetings, held at Westport, Mo., in July 1854, an association was formed, which adopted the following resolutions:--
"Resolved, That this association will, whenever called upon by any of the citizens of Kansas Territory, hold itself in readiness together to assist to remove any and all emigrants who go there under the auspices of the northern emigrant aid societies.
Not content with holding public meetings, to carry out the objects specified in these resolutions, secret organizations were formed, and signs, grips and passwords were adopted, and the members bound together by secret oaths and dreadful penalties, for that special purpose. In the report of a committee of Congress, appointed to investigate the Kansas difficulties growing out of the elections, the following description is given of these secret institutions:--
"It was known by different names, such as 'Social Band,' 'Friends' Society,' 'Blue Lodge,' 'The Sons of the South.' Its members were bound together by secret oaths, and they had passwords, signs and grips, by which they were known to each other. Penalties were imposed for violating the rules and secrets of the order. Written minutes were kept of the proceedings of the lodges, and the different lodges were connected together by an effective organization. It embraced great numbers of the citizens of Missouri, and was extended into other slave states and into the territory. Its avowed purpose was not only to extend slavery into Kansas, but also into other territory of the United States, and to form a union of all the friends of that institution. Its plan of operating was to organize and send men to vote at the elections in the territory, to collect money to pay their expenses, and, if necessary, to protect them in voting. It also proposed to induce pro-slavery men to emigrate into the territory, to aid and sustain them while there, and to elect none to office but those friendly to their views. This dangerous society was controlled by men who avowed their purpose to extend slavery into the territory at all hazards, and was altogether the most effective instrument in organizing the subsequent armed invasions and forays. In its lodges in Missouri the affairs of Kansas were discussed, the force necessary to control the election was divided into bands, and leaders selected, means were collected, and signs and badges were agreed upon. While the great body of the actual settlers of the territory were relying upon the rights secured to them by the organic law, and had formed no organization or combination whatever, even of a party character, this conspiracy against their rights was gathering strength in a neighboring state, and would have been sufficient at their first election to have overpowered them, if they had been united to a man."
The pro-slavery newspapers also took up the subject, and denounced the northern immigrants in the most violent terms the English language affords, and called upon Missourians and others friendly to the institution of slavery, to drive them from the territory, or utterly exterminate them, in case of their refusal to leave.
On the 6th of October a large body of armed men, in wagons and on horseback, with grotesque banners and other strange devices, came from Westport to Lawrence, to disperse the settlers at that place. They demanded that the abolitionists should take away their tents and be off at short notice, or otherwise they would be ''wiped out." The immigrants refused to obey this mandate, but prepared themselves in martial array, to protect their property and lives. This was entirely unexpected on the part of the invaders. They never imagined the possibility of the abolitionists showing fight. So, after considerable swaggering, they started back for Missouri, threatening, with huge oaths, that they would return in a week, with a force sufficiently large to compel submission to their requirements. These threats were unheeded; the settlers continued to build up their town; and the invaders did not return at the appointed time.
Bands of armed men were also organized to intercept the passage of the Missouri River. These parties entered the upward-bound steamboats at Lexington and other Missouri landings, and upon finding companies of northern emigrants, deprived them of their arms, and, in many instances, compelled them to go back. These outrages became so frequent and intolerant, that the river was virtually closed to all free-state travellers, who could only reach Kansas by taking the northern land route through lowa and Nebraska.
Andrew H. Reeder, Esq., of Pennsylvania, having been appointed Governor of Kansas, arrived at Fort Leavenworth on the 6th of October, at which time the difficulties between the pro-slavery and free-state parties had not yet assumed a very serious or dangerous aspect. The governor was immediately surrounded by voluntary and patriotic advisers. Kansas has always been blessed with a number of this class of persons. By directing and controlling his policy, they were determined to be the governors of the governor. If he was too independent to submit to their insolent dictation, then all the machinery at their command was set in motion to thwart and embarrass his laudable undertakings. Reeder was a gentleman of talent and education, of unquestioned intelligence and integrity, and a lawyer by profession. He had been a life-long Democrat, and had done some service for his party. He, however, declined becoming the pliant tool of the faction that presumed to dictate his course, preferring to discharge the duties he had conscientiously assumed with justice and impartiality. This failed, of course, to give satisfaction where nothing could satisfy but adherence to the principles and an unscrupulous disposition to promote the interests of the slavery party, whose influence was not confined to Kansas and Missouri, but constituted a "power behind the throne" at Washington, even "more powerful than the throne itself;" and the consequence was a very brief duration of the governor's official existence.
At the time Reeder was appointed governor, Samuel Dexter Lecompte was chosen Chief Justice, and Rush Elmore and Sanders N. Johnson Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the Territory. Judge Lecompte immediately affiliated with the most ultra of the pro-slavery men; declared himself warmly attached to their "peculiar institution;" received their unqualified approbation; applauded their acts; addressed their meetings; and went quite as far as the most exacting could possibly expect or desire. Judge Elmore was a slaveholder, and brought his slaves with him into the territory. But he was a just and conservative man, disposed to act fairly and honorably toward all classes of citizens, and disapproved of many of the outrages that were being so wantonly committed against the "abolitionists." His conduct was conciliatory, and he sought rather to preserve peace among the citizens than aid in promoting contention and strife. Judge Johnson took no part whatever in the prevailing disturbances.
The two latter named gentlemen were removed from office at the same time and upon the same pretence as Governor Reeder. They were charged with having speculated in the half-breed Kaw lands; the charge being founded upon the fact that they had stipulated for the purchase of those lands on condition of being able to obtain the consent of the government.
Chief Justice Lecompte is still retained, though he was one of the early squatters upon the Delaware Trust Lands, in which he now owns a valuable estate near Leavenworth City, and has acquired considerable property in sundry pro-slavery towns. Lecompton, the capital, received his name as an acknowledgment of his fidelity, zeal, and devotion to the party by which it was founded.
The places of Judges Elmore and Johnson were filled by the appointment of Sterling G. Cato, Esq., of Alabama, and J. M. Burrell, Esq., of Pennsylvania. Judge Cato has followed closely in the footsteps of Lecompte. Judge Burrell, after remaining a short time in the territory, and becoming disgusted with the outrages and official malfeasance, it is supposed, to which he was compelled to be a witness, without having the power to remedy, returned to his home at Greensburg, where he died in October, 1856. Judge Thomas Cunningham, of Beaver county, Pennsylvania, was appointed his successor; but he, too, after visiting the territory, resigned without ever entering upon the duties of his office.