BECK index

US of Pierce & Kansas Conflicts 1853-56

by Sanderson Beck

Pierce Administration in 1853
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
Kansas Conflict in 1855
Kansas Conflict Resolved in 1856
United States Politics & Elections of 1856

 

Pierce Administration in 1853

      In January 1853 the B&O Railroad was completed, extending 379 miles from Baltimore to the Ohio River at Wheeling. On March 3 President Fillmore signed his last two bills—one to establish the Washington Territory on the Pacific Coast and the other to raise the Vice President’s salary from $5,000 to $8,000.
      Franklin Pierce was born on 23 November 1804 in New Hampshire. His father Benjamin Pierce was a general in the Revolutionary War and Governor of New Hampshire. Franklin graduated from Bowdoin College and became a lawyer. He supported Andrew Jackson in 1828 and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1829, to the US Congress in 1832, and to the US Senate in 1836, but his wife Jane persuaded him to retire in February 1842. Peirce was a persuasive trial lawyer and campaigned for other Democrats. He was in the militia from 1831 and volunteered as a private in the Mexican War but was soon made a colonel and then a brigadier general. He led 2,500 men from Veracruz to Mexico City but was injured during a battle. He was a heavy drinker and struggled to break the habit, joining the temperance movement.
      Pierce declined to be Polk’s attorney general or a US Senator again or be nominated for governor; but in 1852 he was persuaded to be a candidate if the convention did not nominate the others. After 48 ballots James Dobbin of North Carolina made a speech for Pierce, and he was nominated on the next ballot with all but four votes. Pierce and the Democratic platform were committed to the Compromise with the Fugitive Slave Law which gave him much southern support and the election. Six campaign biographies including one by Nathaniel Hawthorne gave people information about him. On 6 January 1853 Pierce and his family were in a railroad car that went off the track and killed his only remaining son of 11 years.
      Over 22,000 people came to the inauguration of Franklin Pierce despite wintry weather. His running mate William King of Alabama was in Havana, Cuba and was given the oath by the US Consul. King had tuberculosis and died on April 19. Pierce is the only President so far to affirm instead of swear as the Constitution allows. During the recitation of his memorized speech increasing snow fell, and the crowd dwindled. He accepted the Compromise of 1850 and announced his intention to pursue an expansionist policy by peaceful means consistent with the “interests of the rest of mankind.” He promised integrity, rigid economy, and protection of states’ rights. There was no parade afterwards, though some went to greet him in the White House. Because Pierce was mourning his son’s death, there were no inaugural balls.
      Three days later Pierce appointed Jefferson Davis of Mississippi the Secretary of War, Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts the new Attorney General, and William Marcy, the former Senator and Governor of New York and War Secretary 1845-49 as Secretary of State. James Buchanan would be sent off to be minister to Britain, but his follower James Campbell became Postmaster General. The new Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie was a lawyer who had presided over the Kentucky Constitutional Convention of 1849. Michigan Governor Robert McClelland became Interior Secretary. They were all loyal Democrats. Fractional rivalry weakened the Democratic Party especially in New York, Massachusetts, and Missouri.
      That summer Pierce persuaded Alfred Nicholson to edit the Washington Union. The President traveled with Davis, Guthrie, and Cushing to Philadelphia where Davis spoke about a network of railroads for the nation. They persuaded James Buchanan to be minister to Britain. They saw the first world’s fair at the Crystal Palace in New York. The House Clerk John W. Forney was with them, and he was disappointed by Pierce and concerned about his drinking.
      The Pierce administration attempted many reforms. Congress agreed to provide uniform pay for department clerks and limited clerical staff. A limited civil service examination system was begun. Postmaster Campbell tried to reduce the deficit, and Congress approved registering mail and requiring stamps on all mail. Yet profits for transportation interests and politicians’ privileges made reductions difficult. Treasury Secretary Guthrie managed to reduce the federal debt from $69 million to $31 million, and he stopped letting customs officers keep a portion of the fines. Interior Secretary McClelland also had trouble trying to reduce corruption by land speculators, Indian agents, and railroad promoters. Congress provided a salary of $8,000 for the Attorney General so that Cushing would not have to continue private lawyering. He wrote editorials daily on behalf of the President for the Washington Union. Although he was from New England, Cushing’s policies increasingly favored southerners. War Secretary Davis was close to the President and influenced the selection of southerners as ministers such as Gadsden to Mexico and others to France and Central America. Cushing persuaded the President to select Soulé of Louisiana as minister to Spain. Under Davis the War Department’s expenditures increased from 20% of the national budget in 1854 to 28% for 1857. Pierce often held cabinet meetings, but he tended to delegate most authority to the department heads.
      In March the US Congress appropriated $150,000 to study the following four possible routes for a railroad to the Pacific coast: a northern route from St. Paul to Seattle, a central one from St. Louis to San Francisco, and two southern routes from Memphis to San Francisco and from New Orleans to San Diego. War Secretary Davis favored the last one, and he persuaded President Pierce and Secretary of State Marcy to purchase territory from Mexico.
      On March 15 the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin opened in New York City with a separate section for “respectable Negroes.”
      In April the reformers Wendell Phillips, Thomas Higginson, Theodore Parker, William Lloyd Garrison, and Bronson Alcott presented an “Appeal by the Women of Massachusetts for Civil Rights” to the legislature.
      At a convention July 6-8 at Rochester, New York delegates organized the National Council of Colored People to develop occupational training for Negroes.
      Archbishop Gaetano Bedini arrived in New York on 30 June 1853 as the papal nuncio to negotiate property disputes. He toured the country to support Catholics, and Protestants and nativists were aroused with fury in the press that led to riots in several cities including a major one in Cincinnati on December 21 when about 500 German men and a hundred women marched in protest. One person was killed, and at least 60 were arrested. In February 1854 Archbishop Bedini escaped a mob in New York by catching a boat for Italy.
      President Pierce sent his Commissioner of Indian Affairs, George Manypenny, to negotiate with the Indian tribes in the Nebraska territory, and he made 52 treaties with the Otoe, Iowa, Kickapoo, Delaware, and others mostly in the Nebraska and Kansas territories. These involved 174 million acres and cost $11 million. On September 10 a treaty at Table Rock in the Oregon Territory promised the Indians $60,000 for land to be made available for settlers.
      In September at Syracuse a New York state convention divided the Democratic Party between the proslavery Hunkers and the anti-slavery Barnburners, and in the election the Whigs with a plurality gained control over New York’s government. In Massachusetts a Democratic Free Soil convention drafted a new constitution, but the state’s voters rejected it and elected a Whig governor. The Democrats governed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, California, and in some border and southern states. New Hampshire’s Senator Charles Atherton died on November 15, reducing President Pierce’s influence in Congress.
      In December the US Congress opened with a large majority of Democrats in both houses. They elected Linn Boyd of Kentucky Speaker of the House and Missouri Senator Atchison president pro tempore of the Senate. Because the late Vice President King had not been replaced, that made Atchison next in line to the presidency. He supported slaveholder views and boarded in Washington on F Street with James Mason of Virginia and Andrew Butler and Robert Hunter of South Carolina.
      In his first annual address to Congress on December 3 Pierce discussed problems with Britain and Cuba and other foreign policy issues related to commerce. He exalted the expansion of US territory. He noted that in the first year the government had a surplus of $32,425,447. About 10 million acres of public land had been surveyed and brought to market, and profit from sale of public lands through June 30 was $53,289,465. He urged extending the land system to the Utah and New Mexico Territories. He admitted there were disturbing questions arising over the constitutional rights of states by which he meant slavery.
      Filibustering William Walker with about 200 followers invaded Baja California in late 1853 and proclaimed it an independent republic, and he announced in January 1854 that it had annexed the Mexican state of Sonora. That month his adventure ended, and President Pierce outlawed such expeditions into Mexico. Walker was tried for violation of a neutrality law but was acquitted by the jury.
      President Pierce’s envoy James Gadsden, a South Carolina railroad president, negotiated in Mexico City the purchase of 29,640 square miles of Mexican territory north of the 32nd parallel along the Gila River for $15 million plus $5 million that would pay Mexico’s debts to Americans. The US Senate reduced the price to $10 million and ratified it in April 1854. Santa Anna ratified that treaty on June 30; but it made the Mexicans so angry that they removed him in August. This purchase completed the territory that would become the first 48 states.
      Also in 1853 young Charles Loring Brace was ministering to the poor and founded the Children’s Aid Society in New York. A yellow fever epidemic killed 11,000 people in New Orleans.
      The Kong Chow Buddhist temple was built in San Francisco. About 25,000 Chinese people were living in the city, and they had six homeland societies from different regions. Chinese restaurants were becoming more popular. Levi Strauss began selling cotton trousers with many pockets to miners and soon would be using indigo to die them blue. In France this fabric was called “genes.”
      On December 13 Iowa Senator Augustus Dodge proposed a bill to organize the Nebraska territory between 30°30’ and 43°30’ north latitude, and the bill was sent to the Territories Committee chaired by Senator Douglas.

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

      On 4 January 1854 Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas introduced a bill to create the Nebraska Territory with the people in future states allowed to decide on slavery in their constitutions. Missouri Senator David Atchison persuaded Douglas and others to include a repeal of the Missouri Compromise in the Kansas-Nebraska bill. On the 16th Senator Archibald Dixon of Kentucky proposed an amendment to repeal the prohibition of slavery north of 36°30′ and west of Missouri, and Douglas had the bill sent back to committee. To avoid dividing Cherokee territory they changed the boundary to 37°.
      On January 23 a revised Kansas-Nebraska bill was presented to the US Senate dividing the territory into Kansas from 37° to 40° and Nebraska from 40° to 49°. Two days later an “Appeal of the Independent Democrats” written by Joshua Giddings, Senator Salmon Chase of Ohio, and Senator Charles Sumner criticized the Kansas-Nebraska bill “as a gross violation of a sacred pledge” and a criminal betrayal of sacred rights trying to convert this territory “into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.”1 The Appeal was also signed by Ben Wade of Ohio, Alexander DeWitt of Massachusetts, and Gerrit Smith of New York. They warned that the interests of freedom and Union were in danger. They emphasized “equal rights and exact justice for all men” and concluded, “The cause of human freedom is the cause of God.” The appeal was published in the New York Daily Times and the National Era. Hundreds of local meetings sent petitions to Congress opposing the infamous Nebraska bill, and nine state legislatures refused to endorse the bill.
      Gerrit Smith stayed in the House of Representatives for only five months because he wanted to promote radical changes. He advocated land reform with no one allowed to own more than 500 acres with land titles only for improvements on the land. He supported temperance as well as the abolition of slavery.
      Jefferson Davis and the cabinet persuaded Pierce to support the Nebraska bill, and the Washington Union editorialized for it on January 24. On the 30th Senator Douglas began the debate that would go on for four months, and he defended the bill as local self-government. Many southern Democrats accepted the bill because it repealed the Missouri Compromise line. Yet they opposed popular sovereignty while northwestern Democrats felt the opposite. Senators Benton of Missouri and Bell of Tennessee opposed the bill, and the Texan Houston did so because he considered it immoral and dangerous. As other southerners voted for the bill, Houston’s popularity in Texas fell. Sam Houston surprised many in November when he was baptized and released his sins of drinking and swearing.
      On February 17 Senator Seward of New York spoke for nearly three hours arguing that the Compromise of 1850 had not canceled the Missouri line, and he emphasized that northerners were more profoundly in favor of freedom in a battle between right and wrong. Senators Chase, Sumner, and Wade also spoke against the bill. Douglas gave a long closing speech on the night of March 3-4, and early in the morning Houston demanded they maintain the Missouri Compromise, not stir up agitation, and keep the peace. Then the Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill 37-14. As a cannon boomed in Washington, Chase said to Sumner, “They celebrate a present victory, but the echoes they awake will never rest until slavery itself will die.”2
      As northerners realized that the South was intent on extending slavery, the resistance against the Fugitive Slave Act increased. The abolitionists Garrison and Samuel May suggested dissolving the Union.
      Senator Edward Everett in April presented a memorial signed by 3,030 New England clergymen who called the Kansas-Nebraska Act a “great moral wrong” and a “breach of faith that would be subversive to the peace of the Union.” After some discussion the ministers’ petition was tabled. As Senator Douglas traveled to Chicago, he saw many effigies of himself burning. When he tried to speak in Chicago, a crowd of thousands shouted so that he could not be heard for four hours until he gave up and left the stage.
      On March 31 the US and Britain negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty granting North American fishing rights and abolishing some import duties, and it was signed in Washington on June 5 and ratified by the US Senate in early August. Free-trade proponent Israel D. Andrews spent $118,000 lobbying for the agreement.
      On April 4 Secretary of State William Marcy directed envoy David Gregg in Honolulu to begin negotiating annexation with King Kamehameha III.
      Commodore Matthew Perry with four Navy ships had arrived at Edo (Tokyo) Bay on 12 February 1853, and he refused to go to Nagasaki as the Japanese authorities demanded. He presented a letter from President Fillmore asking the Japanese to protect shipwrecked American sailors and to open more ports for foreign trade with coaling stations for American ships. On 31 March 1854 Perry would sign a convention at Kanagawa to open ports at Shimoda and Hakodate for American trade. In August 1855 the United States would appoint the merchant Townsend Harris consul general at Shimoda, but it took awhile before the Japanese would accept him.
      The Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane advocated by Dorothea Dix to provide 10 million acres to help the mentally ill passed both houses of Congress, but on 3 May 1854 President Pierce vetoed it as unconstitutional.
      Slaveholders in Missouri and the South were concerned that continuing the Missouri Compromise line would exclude slavery in Nebraska which would surround Missouri on a third side by free states. The House began debating the Kansas-Nebraska bill on May 8 with those favoring it led by William Richardson of Illinois and Alexander Stephens of Georgia who had become a Democrat. The House approved it 113-100, and President Pierce signed the bill on May 30. Three days later Senator Seward issued a challenge on behalf of freedom, saying, “We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is strongest in numbers as it is in right.”3
      The slave Anthony Burns had escaped in March from Richmond, Virginia on a ship to Boston where he got a job selling clothes. On May 24 a deputy marshal arrested him. A vigilance committee held a meeting, and blacks supported by even more white abolitionists tried to free Burns from jail; but a stabbed deputy died, and Burns was still in custody. President Pierce had War Secretary Davis send marines, cavalry, and artillery to Boston. Lawyer Richard Henry Dana, Jr. defended Burns. On June 2 federal troops escorted him to a ship as 50,000 people watched. Seven black and white abolitionists were charged with inciting a riot, but knowing a jury there would never convict them, the government decided not to prosecute them after spending $100,000 on the case. Garrison burned the Constitution on July 4 as a covenant with death. New England states passed personal liberty laws, and later Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin would pass even stronger ones. Eventually abolitionists paid to free Burns, and he was educated at Oberlin College before emigrating to Canada.
      In May 1854 less than 800 white settlers lived in the Kansas Territory, but in the next nine months that would increase to more than 8,000 with 192 slaves. Some slaveholders in Missouri lived near the eastern border of Kansas and could go there easily, and hundreds of men including those not owning slaves from Missouri quickly laid claims to the best land in Kansas. About 17,000 of Missouri’s 87,000 slaves lived in counties bordering Kansas.
      Eli Thayer had incorporated the New England Emigrant Aid Society (NEEAC) on April 25 to raise money to promote the advantages of Kansas and recruit settlers. Amos Adams Lawrence, son of the Whig philanthropist, was aroused by the Burns case and donated Sharps rifles that were sent in boxes labeled as books. Thayer went to New York on May 27 and gathered over $100,000 in a few days including $25,000 from Charles Francis Adams. Greeley, Bryant, May, and other editors publicized the scheme. The Emigrant Aid Society would send about 750 settlers to Kansas in 1854 and 900 in 1855. By July 1854 they had founded the town of Lawrence and had $200,000. In February 1855 the Massachusetts legislature would grant $1 million and a charter to the NEEAC.
      Meetings at Westport, Missouri on June 3 and at Independence on the 5th formed societies to carry slaves into Kansas. On June 10 proslavery squatters in Salt Creek Valley near Fort Leavenworth agreed to allow no protection to abolitionist settlers.
      On May 31 President Pierce issued a warning that he would enforce neutrality laws by prosecuting violators. John Quitman had begun organizing an expedition in 1853 reported by a Whig newspaper as raising $1 million and an army of 50,000 men with 12 ships, but now he was advised to stop his efforts to take over Cuba. On June 2 Secretary of State Marcy learned that Spain on February 28 had detained and fined the Black Warrior merchant ship at Havana. Spain eventually paid the ship-owners $53,000 for damages. Joshua Giddings charged that the US effort to take over Cuba was to prevent the emancipation of slavery there. Marcy in August ordered Pierre Soulé, the US minister in Spain, to offer Spain $130,000 for Cuba. At Ostend and Aix la Chapelle between October 9 and 18 Minister John Mason, Soulé, and James Buchanan in Europe secretly created the Ostend Manifesto in support of the project. Soulé wrote a letter threatening Spain with war if they did not sell Cuba. Northern protests caused the Pierce administration to abandon the plan on November 13, and Quitman gave up his expedition in April 1855.
      Secretary of State Marcy and British minister Crampton negotiated a US-Canada treaty improving access to fishing and raw materials without paying duties that was signed on June 5. Lord Elgin persuaded the US Senate to approve the treaty on August 4.
      President Pierce had vetoed a bill that would have provided 10 million acres of public domain to provide for the indigent insane, and on June 19 Senator Seward made a speech to refute the various arguments Pierce had given for his veto.
      Between 1845 and 1854 about three million people immigrated into the United States, and most of them were Catholics from Ireland and Germany. The 1860 census would report that in the previous decade 951,667 Germans and 914,119 Irish had immigrated into the US. Workers in Philadelphia had founded the Order of United Americans (OUA) in 1844. Indiana’s legislature authorized vigilantes to arrest horse thieves, and James W. Barker turned the Order of the Star Spangled Banner into a secret society aimed at restricting immigration. They emerged in the state of New York in 1853 and spread to Massachusetts in early 1854.
      Nativists gathered in New York City on June 17 as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, and they merged with the OUA. They were called the “Know Nothing Party” because of their secrecy. When asked questions about it, the members were sworn to answer, “I know nothing.” When they formed a political party, others called them the “Know Nothing” Party. They wanted to reduce immigration and keep newcomers from voting and holding offices, especially Roman Catholics. Many of them also opposed slavery. They had 30,000 members in New York state as well as chapters in fifteen other states.
      After four slaves ran away during the summer Benjamin Stringfellow founded the Platte County Self-Defensive Association to protect slavery in Missouri and to prevent free-state settlers in Kansas by countering free blacks, abolitionists, and blacks and whites who mingled.

      On 22 February 1854 Free Democrats had met in Jackson, Michigan and nominated candidates. Six days later Whigs, Free Soil Democrats, and Liberty Party adherents in Ripon, Wisconsin discussed how they would respond if the Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed. Horace Greeley in the New-York Tribune urged the forming of a new political party in the North. The National Era editor Gamaliel Bailey called a caucus of anti-slavery congressmen in May. The idea for a Republican Party arose at an anti-Nebraska rally at Ripon, Wisconsin, and on May 9 in Washington 30 congressman endorsed the plan. In July a state convention met in Jackson, Michigan to organize the Republican Party and to encourage more railroads and free homesteads in western lands for free labor. They demanded the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law. Ohio, Wisconsin, and Vermont followed this lead, and a convention began at Worcester on July 19 that formed the Republican Party of Massachusetts.
      On July 29 Missouri Senator Atchison called a meeting at Weston and formed the Platte County Self-Defensive Association that prepared to enter Kansas.
      Fusionists met in September at Wolfborough, New Hampshire where Chase, John P. Hale, and others spoke to 2,500 people. New York held an anti-Nebraska convention at Saratoga on August 16. On September 20 Whigs and Free Soilers met at Syracuse and chose nominees that fusionists accepted at Auburn on the 26th. Hale and Joshua Giddings both opposed not only slavery but the military also as unnecessary in peacetime. Northern fusion candidates were usually discontent Whigs and Democrats who might also be Free Soilers, for temperance, and even nativists.
      On October 3 Senator Douglas spoke to thousands at the state fair in Springfield, Illinois, and Abraham Lincoln addressed the crowd the next day. On the 16th Lincoln discussed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise at Peoria. He said that no one is good enough to govern another person without their consent, and he believed this is a leading principle of American republicanism. He objected to the belief that some men have the right to enslave others.
      In the fall President Pierce appointed Andrew Reeder of Pennsylvania to govern the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. He arrived at Fort Leavenworth on October 7, and he appointed judges and ordered an election on November 29. So far there were less than 2,000 adults in the Territory. The Act allowed any white man over 21 residing there to vote. Missourians crossed the border to vote illegally in Kansas, and about 1,300 Missourians with revolvers and bowie knives intimidated voters at the polls. In the election only 1,114 votes were legal. A meeting at Leavenworth nominated J. W. Whitfield as the “southern rights candidate” to the US Congress, and in December he was elected with 2,258 votes. A congressional investigation later estimated that more than 1,700 of those votes were fraudulent. Frederick Starr reported that for the three days prior to the election ferries carried 800 men per day across the Missouri River.
      The Know Nothing Society was restricted to those born in America without Catholic taint, and they pledged to vote as the society decided. In Massachusetts the Know Nothing Party nominated Henry Gardner for governor, and he got more than 80,000 votes to 27,000 for the Whigs, under 14,000 for the Democrats, and less than 7,000 for the new Republicans. The Nativists controlled the Massachusetts legislature and were all the state’s members in the US House of Representatives. They objected to Postmaster General Campbell because he was Catholic. In elections from August 1854 to November 1855 the Know Nothing Party gained 51 seats in the US House. The new Republicans increased their members from 4 to 37. The Democrats lost 75 seats but still had 83 with only 23 from the North. The Whigs dropped 17, and most of the 54 remaining were from the South. President Pierce had become unpopular even among Democrats.
      On May 12 the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin signed a treaty with the United States in which the tribe ceded land gained in the treaty of 1848 but confirmed their land next to Wolf River while the US agreed to pay for schools, a sawmill, and other expenses of the treaty. Hunting and fishing rights were not mentioned, but they would be confirmed by an 1868 decision.
      General George Bickley and five men had formed the first “castle” of the secret Knights of the Golden Circle in Cincinnati on 4 July 1854. They aimed to extend the slave system in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
      A cattle drive from Texas was the first to reach New York on July 3 after traversing 1,500 miles on foot and 600 miles by rail from Illinois that took two years.
      On September 26 Secretary of State Marcy sent a letter to the Austrian chargé d’affaires Hülsemann defending the right of the US to protect Hungarian Martin Koszta from Austrian arrest after he had renounced that citizenship when he was in the US. Marcy had 10,000 copies of this letter distributed in New York, and Greeley reprinted it in the Whig Almanac for 1854. Austria gave up their claim to Koszta provided that he return to the US and stay there.
      In his second annual message to Congress on December 4 Pierce asked Congress to increase the army to protect settlers traveling across the western plains from Indian raids and for “teaching these wild tribes the power of and their responsibility to the United States.”4 On December 30 he explained why he vetoed improvement projects as unconstitutional. He observed that the cost of the nation’s 5,000 miles of canals and 22,000 miles of railroads had cost less than $600,000, and he estimated that if the Federal Government had constructed them they would have cost at least $900,000.

Kansas Conflict in 1855

      Missouri Senator Atchison founded a town named after himself in Kansas by the Missouri River and on 3 February 1855 started publishing the weekly Squatter Sovereign seeking a wide southern circulation. Atchison’s senatorial term ended on March 3, and Missouri would not agree on a US Senator to replace him until January 1857. Free Soilers formed the Kansas Legion in February. On February 6 Ralph Waldo Emerson told the Anti-Slavery Society that $200 million could purchase and free all the slaves in the United States.
      On March 3 the US Congress responded to public pressure by publishing the Ostend Manifesto in which US ministers Buchanan, Mason, and Soulé advised taking Cuba from Spain if a purchase was not agreed upon. On the same day Congress appropriated $30,000 to import Egyptian camels for use in the Southwest, a plan proposed by War Secretary Jefferson Davis.
      Kansas Governor Reeder ordered a census in March that counted 2,905 voters in the territory, and he ordered another election for the 30th. In most districts he appointed two Free Soilers and one proslavery man as judges. Missourians organized secret societies called “South Band,” “Sons of the South,” and “Blue Lodge,” and many of these men wore a badge of hemp, the main cash crop worked by slaves in the region. The proslavery vote was 5,427 to 791 Free Soilers; but an investigation estimated that 4,908 votes were illegal while only 1,410 were legal. If only votes by settlers were counted, the Free Soil Party would have controlled the legislature. Proslavery men threatened Governor Reeder with weapons, and he accepted two-thirds of the claimants, giving the Proslavery Party 36 legislators to 3 for the Free Soilers. To correct some of the abuse, on April 6 Reeder ordered new elections in five of the districts on May 22 when free-staters won 8 of the 11 seats. Yet the legislature’s credentials committee decided against those elected in May. Reeder had left Kansas on April 17 and headed east toward Washington. At his home in Easton, Pennsylvania he announced that armed invaders had taken over Kansas. President Pierce was upset but questioned why Reeder had not criticized the other side.
      Reeder returned to Kansas on June 23 and summoned the legislature to meet at Pawnee City on July 2. He had invested in land there. The legislature rejected the winners of the second election but only met for four days before moving on July 16 to Shawnee Mission near the Missouri border where they adopted revised statutes of Missouri and limited offices to slavery men. They passed strict laws against helping slaves escape with severe penalties up to death for inciting slaves. In cases under this act no one who opposed slavery could be on the jury. General Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow of the Missouri Militia persuaded legislators to vote by voice instead of by ballots. Reeder vetoed each bill but was always overridden.
      Quarrels in Missouri and Kansas had begun turning violent in April. At a meeting in Leavenworth a Free Soil lawyer shot dead a proslavery politician for fighting. Reeder was criticized for having sold land reserved for half-breed Kansas Indians. The legislature petitioned the President to remove Reeder for unethical conduct, and on August 15 they learned that Pierce had dismissed him. Reeder met with Pierce again and was replaced by the Democratic Governor Wilson Shannon of Ohio who supported slavery in Kansas. Longtime Missouri Senator Benton had lost the 1854 election. Now he urged the US Congress to repudiate the Kansas legislature, and he criticized Pierce for taking their side.
      On September 5 the Free Soil Party held a state convention in Big Springs, Kansas with Col. G. W. Smith presiding. Ex-governor Reeder joined the Free Soil side, and in a speech at Lawrence he condemned the proslavery legislature. The Free Soil Party nominated him as a delegate to the US Congress, but James Lane became the leader and persuaded them to reject abolitionism, oppose admitting free Negroes, and denounce interference with slavery in the state. They agreed to defy the spurious legislature and planned a constitutional convention at Topeka. The Free Soil Party met at Topeka from October 23 to November 11 and drafted a constitution that banned slavery after 4 July 1857. On December 15 the document was approved by voters 1,731 to 46, but they also voted to exclude free blacks 1,287 to 453. On the 27th Lane proclaimed the Topeka constitution in effect, and he called for six officers to be nominated on January 15.
      The proslavery legislature had moved from the Shawnee Mission to Lecompton in August and planned to make Kansas a slave state. On the 30th the proslavery legislature decided not to form a Democratic Party, focusing on the one issue of slavery, and they legislated a slave code for the territory. On October 1 they certified the election of Whitfield, and two days later they accused the free-staters of denying their legal authority and causing anarchy and treason. At Leavenworth they had organized the Law and Order Party on November 14.
      On the 21st in a feud the proslavery settler Franklin Coleman shot the Free-State settler Charles Dow nine times in the back in Wakarusa Valley. The Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones tried to arrest a Free Soil leader, who was rescued by his friends. The sheriff asked Governor Shannon to call out 3,000 men, and at least 1,200 armed Missourians invaded the county. Lawrence citizens formed a committee of safety, and near Lawrence 600 armed settlers gathered. Shannon and Atchison arrived on December 7 to try to make peace. Atchison warned them that if they attacked Lawrence as a mob, they would ruin the Democratic Party and cause an abolitionist to be elected President. Both sides were persuaded to disband, and Shannon signed a treaty with Dr. Charles Robinson and Lane.

      The Texan promoter Henry Kinney and J. W. Fabens were aiming to exploit the natural resources in Nicaragua, and on 6 January 1855 the Nicaraguan minister complained to Secretary of State Marcy. On January 28 the Panama Railroad Company completed the first railroad across the Panama Isthmus shortening the crossing to five hours. A letter by Kinney printed in the Brownsville American Flag suggested that “only a few hundred Americans would be needed to take control” of Nicaragua. President Pierce dismissed Fabens, who with Kinney were arrested in New York on April 27, but they left New York on June 6. They organized support in Greytown, Nicaragua, and Kinney began publishing the Central American.
      William Walker arrived in Nicaragua with about sixty armed emigrants in early June. In the second half of 1855 they captured the capital Granada, and Walker made an agreement with General Ponciano Corral who became provisional President with Walker as general-in-chief of the armies. He made himself dictator by recruiting other Americans passing through. More adventurers and weapons came from California, and Corral was arrested, tried, and executed on November 7.
      President Pierce on December 8 condemned Walker for having declared himself dictator of Nicaragua in September, and he warned Americans not to support military operations in Nicaragua. Yet on 20 May 1856 Pierce would recognize the government of Walker in Nicaragua. Pierre Soulé arrived in August and obtained a loan from a banker in New Orleans. Nicaragua had emancipated slaves in 1824, but on 22 September 1856 the Walker government legalized slavery.
      William Walker canceled the charter of the Accessory Transit Company of Cornelius Vanderbilt and took over his steamboats. In response Vanderbilt persuaded Pierce to stop recognizing Walker’s government. Vanderbilt sent weapons and gold to Costa Rica and American mercenaries to Nicaragua. They contained Walker’s men from December 1856 to 1 May 1857 when the USS St. Mary’s forced Walker and his officers to surrender and go to Panama.

      On 28 April 1855 Massachusetts prohibited segregation in all schools, and on May 21 the Massachusetts Personal Liberty Act based on the 10th amendment to the US Constitution nullified the US Fugitive Slave Act by banning the removal of persons from the Commonwealth.
      At Cincinnati a riot erupted in April between the Know Nothings and the Irish and German Catholics. The Know Nothings won a majority in the legislatures of Maryland and Tennessee and did well in Kentucky. During their convention at Philadelphia in June they became the American Party. They agreed to tighten naturalization laws and fight Roman Catholicism, but they were divided over slavery. When the platform committee accepted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they lost northerners from New England and the Northwest. The Massachusetts legislature elected Henry Wilson to the US Senate, but he acted like a Republican.
      On August 6 nativists rioted in Louisville, Kentucky against Irish and German Catholics and killed 20 people. About 35,000 Germans were prospering in Texas by 1855.
      On July 4 New York had become the 13th state to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. On September 26 New York Whigs met with Republicans and formed a political alliance. Democrats were split between the Hards and conservative Softs (Hunkers) who were led by William Marcy and were loyal to President Pierce.
      In Seattle, Washington the Puget Sound Anti-Chinese Congress began threatening to force the Chinese to leave on September 28, and on November 3 the mayor, sheriff, and deputies led a mob to expel immigrants in the Chinese district. Six days later US troops arrived to arrest those trying to expel the Chinese.
      In his long annual message to Congress on December 31 Pierce at the end discussed the sectional agitation. He complained about the “passionate rage of fanaticism and partisan spirit” with devotion to “relatively few Africans” in the US while disregarding the interests of 25 million Americans; but he believed the Union and the Constitution were much stronger.
      Samuel Colt invented the revolver and began selling them to Texas Rangers in 1847. In 1854 he sold 4,000 to the British Navy, and in 1855 the British Army purchased 5,000. Both sides used them in the Crimean War. Colt believed that anything could be produced by machinery, and he started his fire-arms manufacturing company in 1855 in Hartford using an assembly line and interchangeable parts. In the 1850s Americans could buy many different kinds of manufactured goods.
      The textile manufacturer Abbott Lawrence died in August 1855 and left $50,000 in his will to Harvard University for a school of engineering, mining, machinery, and science.
      Also in 1855 Brigham Young declared that anyone with Negro blood would be excluded from the Mormon priesthood. David Christy’s book Cotton Is King was published arguing that the slave system is vital because it aided the production of cotton through agriculture, commerce, and industry. He noted that most of the cotton and tobacco was exported. Matthew Fontaine Maury described the Gulf Stream in his Physical Geography of the Sea. Henry Schoolcraft had married the daughter of an Ojibwe mother, and the US Congress funded from 1851 to 1857 the publishing of his 6 volumes of Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, with illustrations by Capt. Seth Eastman.

Kansas Conflict Resolved in 1856

      On 15 January 1856 some proslavery activists tried to interfere with the 1,700 voting in the Free Soil election in Kansas, but Charles Robinson got three-quarters of the votes for governor. President Pierce on the 24th sent the Congress a special message on the territories of Nebraska and Kansas and complained of the “pernicious agitation” over slavery. He reviewed the history of the proslavery government that moved around from Pawnee City to Shawnee and to Leavenworth and back; but he did not even mention the Free Soil government at Topeka. He called the election of Governor Robinson “revolutionary.” He criticized the “interference” to procure the “prohibition of slave labor,” and he warned that any organized resistance by force would be “treasonable insurrection.” He promised to “exert the whole power of the Federal Executive to support public order in the Territory to vindicate its laws.”5
      Ohio’s Governor Salmon Chase gave a speech in support of the Free-State citizens and urged admission of Kansas with a Free Soil constitution. On February 11 President Pierce issued a proclamation commanding all persons opposing the constituted authority in the Territory of Kansas to “disperse and retire,” and he warned against “any attempted insurrection.” He called on citizens in other states “to abstain from unauthorized meddling in the local concerns of the Territory.”6 He also ordered federal troops at Fort Leavenworth to support Governor Shannon.
      Henry Ward Beecher was minister at Brooklyn’s Congregational Plymouth Church. While visiting New Haven in March he learned of sixty men preparing to go to Kansas, and he said his church would provide 25 Sharps rifles. He included 25 Bibles in the shipment and labeled the crates “Bibles,” claiming that “self-defense is a religious duty.” Some called the guns “Beecher’s Bibles.”
      The Free Soil government had convened at Topeka in early March, and Sheriff Jones wrote down the names of the officers as they took their oaths. When their constitution was presented to the US Congress, the House approved it; but in the Senate the southerners blocked the vote. The House had to decide whether to accept the proslavery government’s John Whitfield or the Free Soil choice of Reeder as the Territorial delegate. Speaker Banks appointed a 3-man Committee on Elections to investigate the conflicts in Kansas, and they held hearings in Lecompton, Lawrence, and Leavenworth for ten hours a day. Reeder and Robinson provided depositions on Free Soil side, and proslavery Stringfellow and Shannon did so on the other side.
      On March 12 Senator Douglas presented the report of the Committee on Territories and fiercely attacked the northern Emigrant Aid Societies and the Topeka convention and even suggested using the US military to support the territorial government recognized by Pierce. Senator Collamer of Vermont offered the minority report that defended the peaceful efforts of the Free Soil men to redress injustices while blaming the border ruffians from Missouri for lawlessness. Douglas responded on March 20 admitting fraud had occurred but blaming both sides. He proposed admitting Kansas as a state after its population reached 93,420, the apportionment number for a Representative. Senator Seward suggested an alternative that would immediately accept Kansas into the Union with the Topeka constitution, and he made his partisan speech on April 9, accusing Pierce of defending usurpation and tyranny. Debates on Kansas would occupy the Congress throughout the spring.
      Squatter Sovereignty called for “Blood for blood,” advising, “Let us purge ourselves of all abolition emissaries.” The proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte persuaded a grand jury to indict the Topeka government for high treason, and they named Robinson, Lane, Reeder, and others as well as the Free-State Hotel as a fortress and the Lawrence newspapers Herald of Freedom and the Free Press. Atchison called for the slave states to send armed young men to Kansas. Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama agreed and sold forty of his slaves to raise $50 for each settler, and on April 7 a battalion of about 300 men embarked from Montgomery and gathered recruits on the way to New Orleans, reaching Kansas on May 2. Southern Aid Societies sprang up; women donated jewels; and railroads provided free passage.
      Sheriff Jones in late April went to Lawrence several times trying to arrest some Free Soil legislators; but while camped outside of town on the 23rd, he was wounded by a sniper and left. Free-state leaders repudiated that crime and urged the party to continue its peaceful policy. On May 5 Judge Lecompte got the grand jury to indict all free-state officers and to stop their newspapers and the Free State Hotel in Lawrence. On the 11th Federal Marshal Israel B. Donaldson claimed that Free Soilers had refused to accept papers, and he deputized a posse to help the militia arrest those charged. Donaldson, Jones, and Atchison raised an army of about 800 Missourians with four cannons, and on May 21 they made arrests in Lawrence. Donaldson dismissed his posse; but Sheriff Jones deputized them, and they began pillaging the town, destroying the two newspaper offices, vandalizing shops, and burning the Free State Hotel and the home of Governor Robinson. People in Lawrence had agreed not to fight, and the committee of safety forbade resistance. Atchison’s force returned to Missouri but gained strength and came back to Kansas in early October.
      John Brown had twenty children by two wives, and five of his sons went to live in Kansas in the spring of 1855. In June he attended an anti-slavery convention at Albany, New York, raising money for weapons. Wealthy Gerrit Smith contributed much. John Brown and his family had lived in a community of Negroes supported by Smith at North Elba, New York in 1848. Upset about the attack on Lawrence, on the night of May 24-25 in 1856 John Brown as captain of the Pottawatomie Rifles Company led his sons Owen, Frederick, Salmon, and Oliver and two others who killed five proslavery settlers and mutilated some of their bodies near Pottawatomie Creek. Brown admitted he ordered the murders, but free-state leaders believed these killings harmed their cause.
      The Border Times of Westport, Missouri printed the headline “WAR! WAR!” on May 27. On that day Reeder left Kansas and crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. He made speeches as he traveled to Chicago and Detroit. On May 29 Abraham Lincoln in a speech at Bloomington, Illinois was believed by some to have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
      Settlers from both sides met at Pottawatomie Creek and condemned the murders and denounced armed bands. A mass meeting led by Stringfellow and General W. P Richardson at Leavenworth decreed that active Free-State men must leave Kansas. Governor Robinson was in prison there. Whitfield commanded 250 men, and on June 5 their scouting party killed Free Soiler Cantrell. Journalist Henry Clay Pate recruited Shannon’s Sharp Shooters in Westport and marched to Osawatomie burning buildings and imprisoning Jason and John Brown, Jr., but John Brown with 28 men captured Pate and 28 of his men on June 4.
      On that day Governor Shannon ordered all armed bands to disperse, and he warned aggressive people not to enter Kansas. A proslavery mob in Leavenworth compiled a list of about 50 free-state men and ordered them to leave the Territory within three days and then arrested about 30. Whitfield’s men attacked Osawatomie on June 7, killed a few free-state men, pillaged houses, and stole horses. Col. Edwin Sumner’s US troops forced Whitfield’s gang to go home but did not arrest anyone. Armed Missourians tried to guard the passages into Kansas and seized arms shipped on the Missouri River. Governor Shannon left for St. Louis at the end of June, leaving the Territorial Secretary Daniel Woodson as acting governor.
      The Topeka legislature scheduled a session for July 4, but President Pierce ordered them not to meet. They defied this and assembled, but they dispersed after being threatened by 200 federal dragoons led by Col. Sumner and an artillery squadron.
      On July 28 John Sherman’s amendment to prevent military support for the Kansas government passed in the US House of Representatives; but it was blocked by the Senate, and Congress adjourned on August 18 without appropriating funds for the US Army. Republicans in Congress opposed the prosecution of the prisoners in Kansas, and President Pierce to get his army funding agreed to release them on bail. He called a special session for the 21st, and the army bill passed without Sherman’s proviso.
      On the night of August 12 some free-staters attacked the town of Franklin and killed six men and captured a cannon that John Brown used three days later in Douglas County. The next day Samuel Walker led 40 free-staters who attacked the Titus Fort west of Lawrence, capturing Henry Titus and 34 proslavery prisoners. On the 25th Acting Governor Woodson declared an open insurrection and urged patriots to defend the law. On August 30 John Reid led a Missouri force of 400 men who attacked Osawatomie, killing about eleven men including Frederick Brown and burning the town as the free-staters retreated. James Lane led an army of about 400 men from Iowa through Nebraska to support the free-staters, and they attacked an even larger force of Missourians near Bull Creek at the end of August. The next day the Missourians retreated, and Lane’s army marched on to Lawrence. When a slave tried to join his army, Lane told him to go back to his owner.
      President Pierce had appointed John White Geary the Governor of Kansas on July 31. He reached Lecompton on September 10 and dissolved Woodson’s militia. Geary had helped make California a free state and aimed to be impartial. In his inaugural speech he said,

Men of the North—, men of the South—
of the East, and of the West, in Kansas,
you, and you alone, have the remedy in your own hands.
Will you not suspend fratricidal strife?
Will you not cease to regard each other as enemies,
and look upon one another as the children
of a common mother, and come and reason together?7

      Geary and Col. Cook stopped a new Missouri army while Geary negotiated with Atchison, Whitfield, and others. He convinced Atchison that attacking Lawrence would hurt the Democrats in the coming election, and the 2,500 men dispersed to their homes. Federal troops also captured about a hundred Free-State men led by Lane who had killed a border ruffian at Hickory Point on September 13, but in a trial the jury acquitted them on self-defense. Geary arrested 14 trouble-making free-staters in Topeka, and their legislature did not have a quorum for their next session. He issued warrants for Stringfellow and other proslavery activists and disbanded their volunteer militia. He encouraged free-staters to join the regular militia, and he used federal troops to defend Lawrence from attack. He believed confidence had been restored by September 26, though Pierce blocked his removal of Lecompte and Marshal Donaldson.
      In October the New York Weekly Tribune was publicizing the new novel, The Kansas Emigrants, by Lydia Maria Child.
      Geary declared a day of general thanksgiving on November 20. He refused to make a deal with Robinson to make Kansas a free state and become governor, and he declined an offer from the Law and Order Party to become the first senator of Kansas as a slave state.

United States Politics & Elections of 1856

      The US House of Representatives in 1856 had 108 Republicans, 83 Democrats, and 43 Know Nothings who had elected former Democrat Nathaniel Banks; but he became a Republican, and after a two-month contest he was elected Speaker on February 2. Banks did not use his position for partisan purposes and endeavored to be impartial. The New York Tribune claimed his election was the first victory for freedom over slavery in the memory of any living person.
      The American Party (Know Nothings) held their national convention in secret at Philadelphia on February 22-25 and nominated Millard Fillmore while he was in Europe. They split over slavery into northern and southern wings. Those opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act held a convention and formed the Northern American Party, and they would soon join the Republicans.
      Salmon Chase had been elected Governor of Ohio and was inaugurated on January 14. He and Gamaliel Bailey suggested that Republican leaders meet at Pittsburgh on February 22, and at that meeting Chase advised the Republicans to ally with the Northern Americans. He argued that the US Congress did not have the constitutional authority to establish slavery anywhere, and this would become part of the Republican platform in June. He observed that the slave power was held by about 350,000 slaveholders who were only 1% of the nation’s population and only 5% in the South.
      On May 19 and 20 Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts made his angry “Crime against Kansas” speech. Congress was divided by southerners controlling the Senate while northerners had a majority in the House. He said,

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.8

He accused Atchison of invading Kansas with his Missouri bandits, and he held the Pierce administration complicit. They established a fraudulent government with a wicked slave code. Sumner supported Seward’s bill to admit Kansas as a free state. Sumner especially criticized Douglas, and he disparaged Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina for defending the “shameful imbecility” of slavery, and he said that his mistress was the “harlot slavery.” Near the end of his oration Sumner asked Congress,

To overthrow this Usurpation is now
the special, importunate duty of Congress,
admitting of no hesitation or postponement.
To this end it must lift itself from the cabals of candidates,
the machinations of party, and the low level of vulgar strife.
It must turn from that Slave Oligarchy
which now controls the Republic, and refuse to be its tool.
Let its power be stretched forth toward
this distant Territory, not to bind, but to unbind;
not for the oppression of the weak,
but for the subversion of the tyrannical;
not for the prop and maintenance of a revolting Usurpation,
but for the confirmation of Liberty.9

      On May 22 when the Senate was not meeting, Sumner was working at his desk. The US Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina entered the Senate and claimed that Sumner had libeled his uncle, Senator Andrew Butler. Then he used his gold-headed cane to beat Sumner about thirty times while Rep. Edmundson kept senators from intervening. With his legs trapped by the desk the tall Sumner rose up with the desk. The beating continued until he collapsed.
      The House voted 121-95 to expel Brooks which was short of the two-thirds needed; but they voted to censure him, and a local court fined Brooks $300. Sumner’s seat was left empty in protest of the thrashing that southerners celebrated. In many northern cities and towns public meetings were held to protest the assault, and Sumner’s “Crime Against Kansas” speech was printed and sold tens of thousands of copies. William Cullen Bryant editorialized in the Evening Post that violence had found its way into the Senate chamber and overhangs the Kansas Territory.
      Sumner suffered much from brain damage, and doctors advised him to rest. He wrote to Theodore Parker that he wanted to speak but could not. In January 1857 both houses of the Massachusetts legislature overwhelmingly re-elected him to the Senate. In February he came back to the Senate to cast one vote. Many southerners claimed that he was malingering. He wanted to return to the Senate; but even when he did in December, he found it too difficult to concentrate. He went to Europe in 1858 and was treated by Dr. Brown-Sequard. Sumner was unable to resume his senatorial work until December 1859, and he did not make a speech in the Senate until June 1860. Yet he would be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for ten years 1861-1871, and he had an active career during the Civil War and Reconstruction until his death in March 1874.
      James Buchanan returned to New York in late April and was cheered by the crowd on Broadway. The Democrats’ national convention began on June 2 in Cincinnati. They voted 211-49 for free trade, but they tabled a resolution for a public road between the oceans. Buchanan led on every ballot, and support for Pierce quickly faded as Douglas rose but still was 50 votes behind. Douglas then said Buchanan deserved the nomination, and he was chosen by acclamation. Buchanan chose John Breckinridge of Kentucky for Vice President. Buchanan at the age of 65 was one of the oldest candidates so far.
      A small group of Whigs had met in Washington on February 11, and they admitted that the party was dead nationally. The National Council of the American Order of the Know Nothings had met in February in Philadelphia and nominated Millard Fillmore even though he was not a member of their party along with Andrew Donelson of Tennessee as his running mate. The North Americans (formerly Know Nothings) met on June 12, and four days later they nominated House Speaker Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts for President with running mate William Johnston of Pennsylvania. At that convention Republican meddlers gave out $30,000 to support Banks.
      Most of those in the Liberty Party which had nominated Gerrit Smith for President in 1848 became Republicans, but a few in New York nominated Gerrit Smith again, but he would get only 2,545 votes. Smith himself donated $500 to Frémont’s campaign.
      Col. John Frémont had met with Democrats in October 1855, but his Free Soil views made him unacceptable to that party. In the fall Frémont and his wife Jessie moved from Washington to New York City. Nathaniel Banks was the first to suggest that Frémont run for President as a Republican. New York Evening Post editor John Bigelow had helped found the Republican Party and liked the idea. Horace Greeley believed in March that the 43-year-old Frémont as the youngest presidential candidate so far would appeal to young men, and in the late spring he talked with Thurlow Weed of New York and Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson. Frémont’s main passions were opposing slavery and preserving the Union.
      The first Republican national convention began in Philadelphia on June 17 and was attended by 2,000 delegates and spectators. They passed five resolutions opposing slavery in Kansas and the territories. They condemned the Ostend Manifesto on Cuba that Buchanan had signed, and they supported a railroad to the Pacific on the central route. The most popular candidate John C. Frémont was known for his western explorations, though his only political experience was limited to his early efforts in California and less than six months as their senator. The abolitionists Seward and Chase were considered too radical. On an informal ballot the Republicans gave Frémont 359 votes to 196 for Supreme Court Justice John McLean, and on June 19 Frémont won the nomination over McLean 530-37. They chose the former Whig William Dayton of New Jersey for Vice President.
      Then the North American Party dropped Banks and accepted Frémont who promised patronage to persuade Johnston to withdraw in favor of Dayton for VP. Thomas Hart Benton abandoned his son-in-law Frémont to run for Governor of Missouri as a Democrat while campaigning for Buchanan.
      Whigs from 21 states met in September at Baltimore and also nominated Fillmore and Donelson, making that ticket more viable. Louisiana Senator John Slidell predicted that if Frémont were elected, the Union would not be preserved, and on October 9 the New York Evening Post reported that Preston Brooks said that the South should not only secede but also take over the “treasury and archives of the government.”
      Both Buchanan and Frémont each met with their party leaders but did not actively campaign. Many prominent politicians made speeches including Abraham Lincoln who made about ninety including one at Alton, Illinois to 35,000 people. He developed the argument that slavery should be restricted to its current domain until it could be gradually abolished. Frémont rallies attracted 50,000 in Indianapolis, 25,000 at Massillon, Ohio, and 30,000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Frederick Douglass wrote on August 15 that he hoped Frémont would “overthrow slave rule in the republic … and inaugurate a higher and purer standard of politics and government.”10 Frémont supporters formed Wide Awake Clubs in the north and criticized the Democrats for backing aristocrats and slavery. The Republican Party suggested that voters consider what was happening in Kansas and asked them to improve human rights. During the summer Pennsylvania Senator Bigler called for an investigation of Frémont’s business ethics in California. Republican slogans were “Free Soil, Free Men, Frémont,” “We Follow the Pathfinder,” and “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Soil, Free Men, Frémont and Victory.” Bigelow and former Congressman Charles Upham each published long biographies praising Frémont. Bigelow, the merchant Isaac Sherman, and Jessie Frémont were the committee running the campaign daily. Jessie later wrote that her husband if elected could have made peace with the southern states and gradually abolished slavery by using the federal government to compensate former slave-owners.
      Those speaking for the Democratic Party were sent the Democratic Handbook that urged them to accuse Republicans of being Know Nothings or “Black Republicans,” a term which Douglas used extensively. The Illinois Senator claimed that he spent $42,000 campaigning for Buchanan. Democrats in the North and in the South warned that Republicans wanted to divide the Union. The historian George Bancroft criticized President Pierce for making the fraudulent legislature of Kansas legitimate, and he said, “This cruel attempt to conquer Kansas into slavery is the worst thing ever projected in our history.”11
      On November 4 Democrat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania was elected US President with 45.3% of the votes and carrying 14 slave states and the 5 free states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and California, giving him 174 electoral votes. John Frémont, the candidate of the Republican Party and the North American Party, received 33.1% and won 11 free states including all of New England as well as New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa for a total of 114 electoral votes. Ex-president Millard Fillmore was the candidate of the American (Know Nothing) Party and garnered 21.5% but won only in Maryland.
      The Republicans gained seven seats in the US Senate and now had 92 seats in the House. Democrats still controlled the Senate, and northern Democrats increased their House seats from 25 to 53; but they were outnumbered by 75 southern Democrats. The Republican Francis P. Blair, Jr. was elected to Congress from St. Louis, and the National Era called it a new age in the nation’s politics. On November 28 South Carolina Governor James H. Adams declared that slavery and Free Soil advocacy could never be reconciled.
      In his last annual message to Congress on December 2 Pierce was relieved that the nation had elected the Democrat Buchanan and was glad voters had rejected geographical parties. He condemned northern aggression against what he called “the constitutional rights” of nearly half the states, arguing that slavery was a right. He wrote,

Violent attack from the North
finds its inevitable consequence
in the growth of a spirit of angry defiance at the South.
Thus in the progress of events
we had reached that consummation,
which the voice of the people has now so pointedly rebuked,
of the attempt of a portion of the States,
by a sectional organization and movement, to usurp
the control of the Government of the United States.12

      On December 8 about 600 delegates at the Southern Commercial Convention in Savannah discussed how the South could become more autonomous economically by trading directly with Europe rather than through New York. They wanted a railroad from Mississippi to El Paso and on to the Pacific as well as ships built in the South and southern seamen trained. They encouraged southern literature and education, and they urged the manufacture of weapons and the defense of southern ports.
      Abraham Lincoln at a Republican banquet in Chicago on December 10 and said,

All of us who did not vote for Mr. Buchanan, taken together,
are a majority of four hundred thousand.
But we were divided between Frémont and Fillmore.
Can we not come together; for the future?13

Notes

1. Quoted in Ordeal of the Union, Volume II: A House Dividing 1852-1857 by Allan Nevins, p. 112.
2. Salmon P. Chase: A Biography by John Niven, p. 152.
3. Congressional Globe, 33rd. Congress, 1st Session, Appendix, 769 quoted in The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz, p. 677.
4. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume V, p. 286.
5. Ibid., p. 359.
6. Ibid., p. 391.
7. Quoted in Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era by Nicole Etcheson, p. 131.
8.www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=3915.
9. Ibid.
10. Life and Writings of Frederick Douglas, Volume II, p. 401.
11. Quoted in Ordeal of the Union, Volume II: A House Dividing 1852-1857 by Allan Nevins, p. 490.
12. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume V, p. 399.
13. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2, p. 385.

Copyright © 2020 by Sanderson Beck

 

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