Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 12: The March 1855 election in Kansas (2)

The Howard Committee Report summarized the experience of the March, 1855, Kansas elections as follows:
Of the 2,905 voters named in the census rolls, 831 are found on the poll-books. Some of the settlers were prevented from attending the election by the distance of their homes from the polls, but the great majority were deterred by the open avowal that large bodies of armed Missourians would be at the polls to vote, and by the fact that they did so appear and control the election. The same causes deterred the free-State settlers from running candidates in several districts, and in others induced the candidates to withdraw. ...
By the election as conducted, the pro-slavery candidates in every district but the 8th representative district received a majority of the votes; and several of them, in both the council and house, did not "reside in" and were not "inhabitants of" the district for which they were elected, as required by the organic law [the Kansas-Nebraska Act].
By that act, it was declared to be " the true intent and meaning of this act to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions [including slaery] in their own way, subject to the constitution of the Un:ted States." So careful was Congress of the right of popular sovereignty, that to secure it to the people, without a single petition from any portion of the country, they removed the restriction against slavery imposed by the Missouri compromise [of 1820].  And yet this right, so carefully secured, was thus by force and fraud overthrown by a portion of the people of an adjoining state.
The striking difference between this republic and other republics on this continent is not in the provisions of constitutions and laws, but that here changes in the administration of those laws have been made peacefully and quietly through the ballot-box.  This invasion [of Kansas by the Missouri Border Ruffians] is the first and only one in the history of our government, by which an organized force from one State has elected a legislature for another State or Territory, and as such it should have been resisted by the whole executive power of the national government.  (my emphasis)
This is something to keep in mind when "states rights" is advanced as the cause of Southern secession.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the slaveowners had not the slightest hestitation in the 1850s about violating states rights to defend slavery.  In fact, the major sectional political battles in the 1850s up until John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid in 1859 were over instance of the Slave Power violating the states rights of the free states in order to defend slavery.  As in the case of Kansas.
The Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder, who had switched from the anti-slavery to the Free State side after seeing the thuggery of the pro-slavery partisans, required that a third of the district have new elections, which were held in May, 1855, and were more fair.  The Howard Committe reported evidence of fraud in only one of those districts, the 16th.  The Border Ruffians stole that one in the now-usual manner.  But then the Shawnee Mission legislature refused to seat the delegates from the May elections, accepting the previously- (and illegally-) elected pro-slavery delegates from those districts.  Reeder protested to President Franklin Pierce to reject the results of the election theft.  But it was in vain.
The rest of the country was paying attention.  Oswald Garrison Villard writes in John Brown, 1800-1859 (1910) that "this high-handed ourtrage ... fairly set the North aflame with indignation".
It was the experience of the outrages in Kansas, especially the blantantly criminal stealing of the election in March, 1855, that prompted Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to deliver in the Senate his The Crime Against Kansas speech, which would become one of the most famous in American history.  Although Sumner may have exceeding others in the eloquence of his indignation, his anger over the situation was widely shared in the North, and by no means only among abolitionists.  And this was because of repeated efforts by the Slave Power to impose their will and their rules on the free states, in complete disregard of any consideration of "states rights" - which the Lords of the Lash always put a distant second in important to defending slavery.
Against this Territory, thus fortunate in position and population, a crime has been committed, which is without example in the records of the past. Not in plundered provinces or in the cruelties of selfish governors will you find its parallel; and yet there is an ancient instance, which may show at least the path of justice. In the terrible impeachment by which the great Roman orator has blasted through all time the name of Verres, amidst charges of robbery and sacrilege, the enormity which most aroused the indignant voice of his accuser, and which still stands forth with strongest distinctness, arresting the sympathetic indignation of all who read the story, is, that away in Sicily he had scourged a citizen of Rome that the cry, "I am a Roman citizen," had been interposed in vain against the lash of the tyrant governor.  ...  Sir, speaking in an age of light, and a land of constitutional liberty, where the safeguards of elections are justly placed among the highest triumphs of civilization, I fearlessly assert that the wrongs of much abused Sicily, thus memorable in history, were small by the side of the wrongs of Kansas, where the very shrines of popular institutions, more sacred than any heathen altar, have been desecrated . . .where the ballot-box, more precious than any work, in ivory or marble, from the cunning hand of art, has been plundered . . .and where the cry, " I am an American citizen," has been interposed in vain against outrage of every kind, even upon life itself. Are you against sacrilege? I present it for your execration. Are you against robbery ? I hold it up to your scorn. Are you for the protection of American citizens ? I show you how their dearest rights have been cloven down, while a Tyrannical Usurpation has sought to install itself on their very necks!
But the wickedness which I now begin to expose is immeasurably aggravated by the motive which prompted it. Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of Slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved longing for a new slave State, the hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government. Yes, sir, when the whole world, alike Christian and Turk, is rising up to condemn this wrong, and to make it a hissing to the nations, here in our Republic, force, ay, sir, FORCE has been openly employed in compelling Kansas to this pollution, and all for the sake of political power. There is the simple fact, which you will in vain attempt to deny, but which in itself presents an essential wickedness that makes other public crimes seem like public virtues.
But this enormity, vast beyond comparison, swells to dimensions of wickedness which the imagination toils in vain to grasp, when it is understood that for this purpose are hazarded the horrors of intestine feud not only in this distant Territory, but everywhere throughout the country. Already the muster has begun. The strife is no longer local, but national. Even now, while I speak, portents hang on all the arches of the horizon threatening to darken the broad land, which already yawns with the mutterings of civil war. The fury of the propagandists of Slavery, and the calm determination of their opponents, are now diffused from the distant Territory over widespread communities, and the whole country, in all its extent marshalling hostile divisions, and foreshadowing a strife which, unless happily averted by the triumph of Freedom, will become war fratricidal, parricidal war with an accumulated wickedness beyond the wickedness of any war in human annals; justly provoking the avenging judgment of Providence and the avenging pen of history, and constituting a strife, in the language of the ancient writer, more than foreign, more than social, more than civil; but something compounded of all these strifes, and in itself more than war; sed potius commune quad dam ex omnibus, et plus quam bellum.
Such is the crime which you are to judge. But the criminal also must be dragged into day, that you may see and measure the power by which all this wrong is sustained. From no common source could it proceed. In its perpetration was needed a spirit of vaulting ambition which would hesitate at nothing; a [hardihood] of purpose which was insensible to the judgment of mankind; a madness for Slavery which would disregard the Constitution, the laws, and all the great examples of our history; also a consciousness of power such as comes from the habit of power; a combination of energies found only in a hundred arms directed by a hundred eyes; a control of public opinion through venal pens and a prostituted press; an ability to subsidize crowds in every vocation of life - the politician with his local importance, the lawyer with his subtle tongue, and even the authority of the judge on the bench; and a familiar use of men in places high and low, so that none, from the President to the lowest border postmaster, should decline to be its tool; all these things and more were needed, and they were found in the slave power of our Republic. There, sir, stands the criminal, all unmasked before you - heartless, grasping, and tyrannical - with an audacity beyond that of Verres, a subtlety beyond that of Machiavel, a meanness beyond that of Bacon, and an ability beyond that of Hastings. Justice to Kansas can be secured only by the prostration of this influence; for this the power behind greater than any President which succors and sustains the crime. Nay, the proceedings I now arraign derive their fearful consequences only from this connection.   (my emphasis [as if the speech itself weren't emphatic enough!])
An Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month 2006 postings is available.

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