Kansas: The Prelude to the War for the Union by Leverett Wilson Spring



IT is difficult, some one has said, to manage the future of an heroic action -- a problem no more formidable for individuals than for states. An exceptional, brilliant past seems to demand a present and a future that shall not be out of harmony or fall into anti-climax. Kansas has a significant and memorable history; the territorial struggle converted a wilderness, which had little claim upon the interest of mankind, into historic ground. From the date of settlement until the close of the war for the Union, though in the later stages it broke down into discreditable intrigue and murderous bushfighting, the history of Kansas is essentially national. But with the collapse of the Rebellion a new epoch began -- an epoch in which questions of universal interest gave place to matters of a more local if not commonplace character.

     There was, however, one striking afterpiece of the border conflict -- the large influx of colored people from the South in 1878-79. Out of the unsettled condition of affairs in that quarter, out of the frictions and hardships unavoidable in a

AD ASTRA.          307

radical reconstruction of society, an extensive colored exodus sprang. Reports were rife that in Kansas -- a name glorified in their minds as having some vague connection with emancipation -- better homes, larger opportunities, kindlier treatment awaited them than could be expected elsewhere. A colored convention, attended by delegates from fourteen states, met at Nashville, Tennessee, May 7th, 1879, and advised colored people of the South to "emigrate to those states and territories where they can enjoy all the rights which are guaranteed by the laws and constitution of the United States." The excitement, fanned by outrages and demagogues, became intense. Notwithstanding the conciliatory efforts of Southern planters and the warnings of prominent colored leaders, who opposed migration as a remedy for grievances, not less than forty thousand negroes reached Kansas in every stage of destitution. These fugitives relief societies took in charge; provided with shelter, clothing, and food; organized into new colonies, or distributed among the older communities. On the whole, they seem to have improved their circumstances by flight, though at the expense of much temporary discomfort. It was dramatically befitting -- a fact not destitute of pathetic and poetic suggestion -- that Southern negroes, in the extremities of reconstruction, should have turned their eyes toward the state where the first blow was struck for their freedom.

308          KANSAS.

     When at last in 1865 the people of Kansas were able to exchange the sword for the plow they found themselves in circumstances sufficiently disheartening. Ten years of conflict left them without agriculture, trade, or commerce. There was no money in the state treasury and credit had reached a very low ebb. But the people addressed themselves to the serious problems which this condition of affairs involved with characteristic courage and expectation. Governor Crawford struck the keynote of the new era in his message to the legislature January 10th, 1866. "Kansas is free," said he, "and now offers to the immigrant a home unsurpassed in beauty, richness, and fertility."

     This optimistic view of the attractions of Kansas was quite recent. Not to mention the unfavorable opinion of Senator Green, of Missouri, avowed so late as the Lecompton debate, scarcely thirty years had elapsed since Washington Irving wrote that Kansas belonged to a vast Mediterranean tract which would probably "form a lawless interval between the abodes of civilized man, like the wastes of the ocean or the deserts of Arabia."

     Little was done, as has been said before, to test the material resources of Kansas until the close of the Rebellion. The Indians, it is true, dabbled in agriculture. They succeeded in raising slender crops of corn, beans, and pumpkins. Rev. Thomas Johnson and other missionaries tried ineffectually to increase their practical interest in the soil.

AD ASTRA.          309

During the territorial period political interests compelled a paramount attention. When the war for the Union broke out there followed a still greater diversion from farm industry. "One half of our entire population, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five," Governor Robinson wrote September 1st, 1862, "is in the army."

     The population of Kansas in 1866 was 135,807. In the five years which followed it nearly doubled. For the decade of 1870-1880 the increase was 601,697; of 1880-1890, 461,000; of 1890-1900, 43,399. During these three decades the population reached in 1888 its largest total -- 1,518,522. In 1895 it fell to 1,334,734 -- a loss of 183,788. The next five years showed a gain of 135,752. It was not, however, until 1904 that the figures of 1888 were surpassed. The census of that year reported a population of 1,535,160.

     Nor has the development in farm products been less extraordinary. In 1904 their value reached the enormous sum of $208,406,365. The largest item in this aggregate was animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter, worth $51,846,671. Next in order came wheat, estimated at 65,141,629 bushels, while corn took the third place -- the former valued at $51,409,300, the latter at $50,713,955. In addition the coal product of 1904 was valued at $8,852,025, while the output of salt, lead, and zinc reached a considerable amount. These figures are significant when we remember

310          KANSAS.

that in 1861 the assessed valuation of Kansas was only $24,737,459.

     The making of this great state, in which the ordinary processes of development have been so much abbreviated, was mainly an achievement of the railroad. "If this invention," said Emerson, "has reduced England to a third of its size by bringing people so much nearer, in this country it has given new celerity to time, or anticipated by fifty years the planting of tracts of land." The railroad mileage of Kansas increased from 40 miles in January, 1865, to 8,868 in June, 1904. By a system of advertising which skillfully seized upon all avenues of communication -- newspapers, pamphlets, traveling agents, national and international exhibitions -- the railroad corporations greatly abridged the ordinary course of events. They had received vast grants of land for which a population must be furnished if their enterprises were to thrive. Numerous foreign colonies were successfully located in the state -- Swedish, Scotch, English, Welsh, Mennonite, and Russian. There was scarcely an important city in the United States or Europe in which offices for the dissemination of information were not to be found. Without the adventurous forecast and energy of railroad corporations the settlement of Kansas, like that of older states, would have stretched over a much longer period.

     This remarkable development has been accomplished

AD ASTRA.          311

in spite of some rather serious obstacles and calamities. From 1864 to 1870 and later in 1874 and l 878 the state was embarrassed by Indian hostilities, in which at least a thousand citizens lost their lives and a large amount of property was destroyed. In 1874 came the invasion of locusts. So extensive was the devastation of the pests that a Relief Committee was organized and a general appeal for help issued. But it was not until the disastrous half- decade of 1888-92, with its serious decline in population, that the progress of the state was materially checked. When Oklahoma was opened for settlement in 1889, not less than 50,000 dissatisfied Kansans migrated thither. The cause of the mischief is to be found chiefly in the collapse of great land and building speculations in which there had been "a mad waste of money." Fifteen years of almost unbroken prosperity led to a reckless exploiting of towns in Eastern Kansas; to the laying out of extensive additions on which expensive business blocks were erected. In the issue of bonds of every description, guaranteed principal and interest by some investment syndicate or loan and trust company, there was a high carnival. The farce could not continue very long. In the inevitable collapse the settler lost everything and the investor -- the bonds were generally negotiated in the East -- whatever he had ventured in the enterprise.

312          KANSAS.

     Western Kansas fared worse than Eastern, because there the evils of deficient moisture -- the annual rainfall is only 15 inches -- aggravated those of over-exploitation. Thousands of immigrants were lured into this semi-arid region with the delusive expectation that in some way the niggardliness of nature in supplying water could be overcome. They set to work with an energy that built up towns in a month, and the voting of bonds for every sort of public enterprise quickly followed. So long as the borrowed money lasted, there was an appearance of prosperity. But the end of that came soon and the inhospitable laws of nature showed no relenting. In Eastern Kansas, whose great harvests have made it famous, the reverse was temporary, but in the western third of the state it assumed the proportions of an apparently irreparable disaster. It would seem that successful agriculture in the latter region must await the discovery of some practicable method of irrigation.

     That a political revolution should follow hard upon this period of financial depression, which wrecked a multitude of fortunes, great and small, is not surprising. Possibly the early experiences of the state, the ten years of excitement and conflict with which it began, tended to create a restless and excitable temper, but the monetary and agricultural calamities are quite sufficient to explain the political changes and readjustments. The first

AD ASTRA.          313

victim of this revolution was the most accomplished and brilliant man who has ever represented the state at Washington -- Senator John J. Ingalls. A native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Williams College, he migrated to Kansas two years later and soon settled at Atchison. Elected senator in 1873, he held that office until 1891, when he was succeeded by William A. Peffer. In the Senate he quickly became a distinguished figure, noted for gifts of sarcastic speech which often rose into a dignified and noble eloquence. Senator Hoar in his "Autobiography" says that he was "in many respects one of the brightest intellects" he ever knew. From 1887 to 1891 he was President pro tempore of the Senate and discharged the duties of that office with unsurpassed dignity and impartiality. His overthrow was partly due to his prominence as a representative of the Republicanism that had dominated Kansas so long, and partly to his penchant for satire, which gave offence in a good many quarters. Besides, some widely quoted phrases of his, mocking at political reformers, had made a bad impression. But when we consider the record of Kansas in the Upper House at Washington before and after his day, there would seem to be a pathetic irony of fate in this successful campaign of Populists and Democrats against Senator Ingalls.

We are hardly surprised to find, when we recall its early history, that from 1861 until 1892

314          KANSAS.

     Kansas had been a Republican state and often by an overwhelming majority. It is true that in 1882 George W. Glick, the Democratic candidate, was elected governor, but this result was due to personal rather than party considerations, and the Republicans succeeded with the remainder of their ticket. In 1892 Weaver, the Populist candidate for President, carried the state by a plurality of 5870. The extent of the political revolution is apparent when we recall the fact that in 1888 Harrison's plurality was 89,159. L. D. Lewelling, the Populist candidate for governor, was also elected, and the entire state ticket with the important exception of the House of Representatives. That body was composed of sixty-four Republicans, fifty-eight Populists, three Democrats, and one Independent Republican. When the legislature met, January 10th, the Populists took control of the Senate without difficulty, but in the lower branch a contest began at once. Two Houses were organized in the same hall and two Speakers chosen who occupied the same platform, each, so far as possible, ignoring the other. Though the Populist organization lacked a majority of the representatives, it was recognized by the governor and Senate as the legally constituted House. February 15th -- the stratagems and struggles of the intervening period accomplishing but little -- the Republicans seized and barricaded the Hall of Representatives, a move which gave affairs a

AD ASTRA.          315

new and threatening aspect. The governor called out the militia and directed them to eject the entrenched Republicans, but they refused to obey the order. After some weeks of confusion, which seemed at times to be on the point of breaking into armed conflict, the controversy was carried to the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the Republicans.

     The party whose success at the polls had been so nearly complete, whose accession to power had occasioned so much disturbance, was barely three years old, having been organized at Topeka, January 12th, 1890. The nucleus of it was the Farmers' Alliance, a secret society devoted originally to the interests of agriculture. Several kindred orders, like the Industrial Union and the Patrons of Industry, joined in the movement. The principal grievances which the party put forward as the raison d'etre and essayed to redress, grew naturally out of existing circumstances, -- the burdens of taxation, the exactions of money-lenders, the tyranny of corporations, the hardships of labor, the domination of the rich, and the demonetization of silver.

     With the House of Representatives in the hands of their opponents, the new party was somewhat handicapped in the legislature of 1893, and it failed at the polls in 1894. But two years later the Populists won a complete victory, and the entire machinery of the state government fell into

316          KANSAS.

their hands. "We should endeavor," said Governor Leedy, "to demonstrate ... that our intentions were good, our actions determined, and our counsels judicious." Whatever we may think of the motives and energy which characterized the Kansas Populists, their counsels were often far from judicious. A case in point was their mischievous intermeddling with the State Agricultural College, then the largest if not the best institution of its kind in the country. This institution was reorganized on the basis of socialism, a reform which necessitated the removal of the president and twelve of the twenty-four instructors. The State University narrowly escaped a similar spoliation. Some four hundred bills became laws in the legislative session of 1897. These laws attempted, among other things, to regulate trusts; to prevent the blacklisting of employees; to protect labor unions against the hostility of individuals and of corporations. They introduced changes in the payment of wages and forbade the employment of other than state officials in the protection of public or private property. Though much of this legislation may not have been vicious, the Populist administration produced a bad impression and lasted only two years. In 1898 the Republicans regained control of the state. This result was hastened by the return of prosperity and the decline of the silver issue.

     With all the material prosperity of later days,

AD ASTRA.          317

the growth in wealth and numbers, Kansas has not been indifferent to the moral, intellectual, idealizing side of life. It would be lamentable if a history so intimately associated in its earlier stages with the greatest ethical movement of the last century should sink into the commonplaces of what Mr. Lowell calls "bovine comfort." The fight against slavery immortalized the first era of it, gave it a peculiar distinction in the annals of the nation. But the spirit of agitation and reform by no means disappeared with the passing of that struggle. In a certain qualified sense we may say that it was succeeded by the fight against intemperance.

     In 1881 the people of Kansas, after an excited discussion and by a majority of 7998 in a total vote of 176,606, adopted an amendment to the constitution which prohibited forever the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors in the state except for medical and scientific purposes. The legislature of 1881 passed an act to enforce it with only twenty-one negative votes. More than twenty years have elapsed since the experiment began, and the law has not been repealed, nor has the constitutional amendment been resubmitted to the people.

     At the outset many advocates of this measure had extravagant expectations in regard to it. They dreamed that it would actually destroy the baneful traffic which left upon the commonwealth so dark

318          KANSAS.

a "trail of misery, poverty, and crime." To the obvious objection that a prohibitory law could not or would not be enforced, and that such a condition of things would be worse than no law at all, Governor St. John -- perhaps more prominently identified with the policy of a constitutional amendment than anybody else -- replied in his message to the legislature January 14th, 1879, "I have too much faith in the people of Kansas to believe that any law intended ... to promote the moral, physical, and mental condition of mankind would not be rigidly enforced."

     Governor St. John seems to have reckoned too confidently on the temper of the people. Sixteen years later Governor Morrill in his message deplored "the blighting influence of intemperance ... still seen in our state.... That the law is but imperfectly enforced is conceded by all." If the reports for 1902 may be trusted, saloons were allowed in all the larger towns on payment of a monthly "fine." In 1904 the law was still reported as "defective in operation." The problem is a vexed one at best, and this radical Kansas experiment cannot be regarded as altogether successful. Many earnest temperance people who view the present system with apprehension, hesitate to attack it, lest in the event of success, something worse should be put in its place. One unfortunate feature of the experiment has been the rise and toleration of numerous "law :

AD ASTRA.          319

evading devices," a phenomenon which Governor Lewelling declared to be "almost if not quite as objectionable" as the liquor traffic itself.

     Though feebly influenced by motives of technical theology, the New England colonists gave immediate attention to the establishment of a church. October 1st, 1864, Rev. S. Y. Lum preached at Lawrence the first sermon delivered to white men in the territory. The Pioneer Hotel served as a meeting-house. "A few rough boards were brought in for seats," Mrs. Robinson wrote, "end with singing by several good voices among the pioneers the usual church services were performed.... The people then, as on many succeeding Sabbaths, were gathered together by the ringing of a large dinner bell." Plymouth Congregational Church was organized October 15th with seven members and is the oldest in the state. Other denominations began work in the territory at an early day. But as the religious history of the commonwealth exhibits little that is exceptional, it will not now be set forth at large. Kansas, as well as the other newer communities of the West, is heavily indebted to home missionaries -- to their patient, self-denying, heroic, and sometimes perilous service. The state had 4927 church organizations in 1900, with a membership of 236,794.

     Educational matters have awakened strong interest in Kansas and exhibit praiseworthy progress,

320          KANSAS.

though the expectations of the Senate Committee on Education for 1858-59 have not as yet been realized. "It should be the aim of the educators of Kansas," said the optimistic committee, in a report recommending that the schools should be supplied with Webster's dictionaries, "to make this territory a model state in American literature. In this new territory we have all the requisite elements for building up a system of universities, colleges, schools, and seminaries of learning unequaled by any other on the globe. Your committee believe it is the province of the people of Kansas to inaugurate an educational system which shall perfect the English language as well as English literature." It may have been sympathy, more or less conscious, with these liberal expectations that induced the territorial legislature in the sessions of 1855-60 to incorporate eighteen universities and ten colleges! Out of these twenty-eight institutions, twenty-five have perished -- a mortality unparalleled in the history of education.

     Governor Reeder commended the subject of schools to the legislature assembled at Pawnee, saying, with admirable point, "It is always better to pay for the education of a boy than the punishment of a man." The first territorial legislature, which was more modest in the matter of universities than most of the legislatures that followed, since it incorporated only three, provided

AD ASTRA.          321

for the establishment of schools in each county, "which shall be open and free to every class of white citizens," and directed that half the fines paid into county treasuries should be applied to their support. When the legislature fell into the hands of the free-state men in 1857, they reconstructed and liberalized the school system, and created the office of territorial superintendent. Yet, as a matter of fact, almost nothing was done under territorial laws until 1859. January 1st, 1859, not more than five school districts had been organized in Douglass County, which was better provided for in this matter than the other counties. But before June, thirty additional districts were organized. And during this period considerable educational machinery was set up in the rest of the territory.

     In Lawrence private schools began at an early date. "You have laid out grounds for a college," Mr. Lawrence wrote Governor Robinson, November 21st, 1854, "and will have a good one, with out doubt, in due time; but in the first place you must have a preparatory school." On the 16th of January, 1855, a private school -- the earliest in the territory of any kind -- was opened in the Emigrant Aid Building. It continued fourteen or fifteen weeks, with an attendance of twenty scholars From its close, three terms of private school, for three months or less, comprised all the educational facilities of Lawrence until the 30th of

322          KANSAS.

March, 1857, when a select school of larger pretensions was opened. It continued for two years, with C. L. Edwards as principal, and was called the "Quincy High School," in honor of Josiah Quincy, of Boston. "A school is now in progress under the Unitarian Church, with two teachers and about fifty scholars," said a letter-writer April 17th, 1857.

     In the spring of 1857 Mr. Lawrence gave ten thousand dollars to the city of Lawrence, the income of which should be devoted to school purposes. Originally a memorial college seems to have been in mind. "You shall have a college," he wrote Rev. Ephraim Nute, of Lawrence, December 16th, 1856, "which shall be a school of learning, and at the same time a monument to perpetuate the memory of those martyrs of liberty who fell during the recent struggles. Beneath it their dust shall rest. In it shall burn the light of liberty, which shall never be extinguished.... It shall be called the 'Free State College,' and all the friends of freedom shall be invited to lend a helping hand." The dream was not realized, but one notes the fact, though the connection may be somewhat remote and shadowy, that workmen, in making excavations for the main building of the State University, disinterred the remains of a dead soldier.

     For a time the income of the ten thousand dollars was applied to the support of the Quincy

AD ASTRA.          323

High School. This fund attracted the attention of religious denominations, among which no less than three, -- Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Episcopalians, -- lured by hopes of obtaining it as a nucleus for endowment, attempted the establishment of a college in Lawrence. The Presbyterians were first in the field, secured a site, and laid the foundations of a college building. In the spring of 1859 the "Circular of the Lawrence University" appeared, announcing that an '`Institution of Learning of the first class has been chartered and established at Lawrence, Kansas.... The institution will open on the 11th of April next [1859], and continue for a term of three months." In the faculty "eminent teachers" and "distinguished educators" were found, so that the institution confidently promised to furnish the "culture and discipline essential to success and eminence in any walk of life." But the undertaking did not prosper. Denominational feuds hurt it, and failure to get possession of the Lawrence fund completed its ruin. "We did not feel justified as a board," wrote the secretary of the trustees to Mr. Lawrence, "to commence a university in Kansas at the present time without the benefit of your fund." In 1860 the Congregationalists took up the enterprise and proposed to build a "Monumental College." An act of incorporation was procured, a board of trustees elected, and a subscription paper circulated. The subscription

324          KANSAS.

paper met with some success. Money and material to the amount of four thousand dollars, town lots, twenty acres of land in Lawrence and twelve hundred elsewhere were pledged, provided thirty thousand dollars should be raised before January 1st, 1861. That sum could not be secured, and the effort failed. Finally the Episcopalians took the business in hand. They effected an organization, chose trustees, and solicited funds to complete the "Lawrence University." Governor Robinson writes May 22d, 1861, that the `'Episcopal College trustees" have purchased the site and basement of the building commenced last year by the Presbyterians, and are anxious to secure the Lawrence fund. But they did not get the money, and accomplished little beyond a partial completion of the unfinished building.

     The much-sought ten thousand dollars fell at last to the State University, as did the assets of all the contemplated colleges in Lawrence that preceded it, and had decisive influence in determining where it should be placed. "The legislature has passed a law," Governor Robinson wrote Mr. Lawrence February 23d, 1863, "locating the State University at Lawrence, on condition that fifteen thousand dollars shall be paid into the treasury in six months, and forty acres of land given to the University. If these conditions are not complied with, then the University is [to be] located at Emporia.... It was with great difficulty that

AD ASTRA          325

the location was secured here, and nothing saved us but the inducements of your fund." The conditions which the legislature imposed were complied with, and the University opened its doors at Lawrence in 1866 with forty pupils, all in the preparatory department. From this modest beginning the institution has grown into large proportions. In 1905 it had 99 professors and instructors and 1446 students. Besides the University at Lawrence, the state supports a Normal School at Emporia and an Agricultural College at Manhattan. In addition to these institutions there are in the commonwealth seventeen universities and colleges which are chiefly affiliated with some religious denomination. Though half of them have a property valuation of less than $100,000, they are useful in their sphere, and reach many young men and women who would otherwise grow up in ignorance.

     Kansas expended for its public schools in 1904 $6,523,967. The school population was 500,894, and the actual enrollment 295,776, the latter when compared with the tables of 1902 showing a heavy decline. Only four states surpass Kansas in freedom from illiteracy. Every soldier in one of the regiments that volunteered for the Spanish War could write his own name.

     When hostilities with Spain broke out in 1898, the general government called upon Kansas for 2,230 men, who were quickly forthcoming. Everywhere

326          KANSAS

the war fever ran high. So eager were students of the State University to enlist that the Academic Council issued a circular advising them to give the matter serious consideration before taking that step. Four regiments were recruited, two of which -- the twenty-first and the twenty-second -- did not leave the United States. The twenty-third reached Santiago just as the Spanish troops were embarking for Spain. Only the twentieth, which won distinction in the Philippines, saw active service.

     Kansas, whose achievements have been memorable in the sphere of politics and agriculture, has done somewhat also in that of letters. The earlier books, especially those which appeared between 1854 and 1860, were mostly either descriptions of the territory or narratives of the stirring events that took place within its borders. It is not until after 1870 that we find much evidence of literary movement. The best known books of this later period are E. W. Howe's "Story of a Country Town," Eugene F. Ware's "Rhymes of Ironquil," and the Rev. Charles M. Sheldon's "In His Steps." There is a touch of genuine humor in the sketches of Noble L. Prentis; and the books of Colonel Henry Inman, as well as the breezy newspaper and magazine articles of William Allen White, have attracted attention. Kansas verse, as seen in Professor Carruth's collection, is not wanting in grace or music. The early history of

AD ASTRA.          327

the state has been and still continues to be the theme of numerous books and pamphlets, a circumstance due not only to the intrinsic interest of the subject, but to the eagerness of the warring factions which survive from the territorial days, to put on record their expositions and animosities. Hence the State Historical Library contains a large amount of partisan material which often perplexes and sometimes misleads the investigator who is in quest of the truth. Since 1896 elaborate lives of John Brown, General Lane, and Governor Robinson have appeared in Kansas. These books, with the exception of the biography of Robinson, show little of the largeness, the sanity and instinct for style which belong to the better grades of historical composition.

     In the ministry of physical environment, which, in its higher forms, is a perennial source of idealizing and poetic inspirations for communities as well as individuals, Kansas at once has drawbacks and advantages. Expanses of rolling prairie, flattening on the western border into level plains, sparingly watered with brooks and rivers, unbroken by great mountain ranges, without the shadows and seclusions of primeval forests, exposed and bare to all the garish sunshine of the year, have obvious limitations of scenic power. Yet there are compensations. Other and impressive phases of beauty are not wanting. There may be seen gorgeous splendors of cloud-glory;

328          KANSAS.

lustrous starlight and moonlight in comparison with which northern heavens seem faded and withdrawn; the winter greenery of wheat fields; the faint, delicate blush of maple buds that sometimes burst into life in February; the brilliant bloom of wild crab-apple and Judas trees, greeting the spring; expanses of landscape rich with half tropical vegetation, figured with infinite interplay of light and shade, --

"Vast as the sky against whose sunset shores,
Wave after wave, the billowy greenness pours"

     The history of Kansas, which began fifty years ago with a wilderness, with the fence and skirmish that preluded a tremendous civil war, closes with a great commonwealth rich in the material and immaterial things essential to life

Previous chapter     Bibliography     Return to Table of Contents