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THE CAREER OF A KANSAS POLITICIAN
THE particular politician, with whom we are concerned, reached Lawrence, Kansas, on the twenty-second of April, 1855, alone and unannounced. He came in a primitive, rickety buggy, drawn by an old, moccasin-colored horse, which, it is to be hoped, had seen better days. The appearance of the new-comer himself was in keeping with his travelling outfit-a man quite forty years old, lank, almost haggard in figure, and dressed in overalls and a round-about. A passer-by who happened to notice him in a casual way as he alighted at the office of The Free State newspaper to enquire about Tecumseh, a hamlet twenty miles further west whither he intended to proceed, would have taken him for an itinerant day-laborer. That may have been the first impression in the newspaper office, but it did not last long. The easy, assured manner of the stranger, his quick penetrating glance, the fluency and originality of his talk, soon dissipated any unfavorable conclusions which his country jeans and generally disreputable appearance may have suggested. Who are you anyway?" somebody finally asked with more bluntness than grace. "My name is Lane," was the reply, "and I hail from Indiana.” One of the group happened to be a Hoosier himself and was familiar in a general way with the history of the visitor. So far from being an itinerant day-laborer, he had been a man of considerable political and military prominence-stump-orator, presidential elector, lieutenantgovernor, member of the lower house of Congress and colonel of two regiments of volunteers that won distinction in the Mexican war. "My route to the territory," he said in explanation of the peculiarities of his dress, "lay through Missouri. I should have fared badly
if I had been recognized. So I adopted this disguise of overalls and a round-about."
But if Lane were to settle in Kansas, why should he go to Tecumseh? That town was still in the experimental stage and might come to nothing. Lawrence, on the contrary, had an assured future. No place in the territory offered greater advantages. To go further would be to fare worse. The suggestion struck Lane favorably. After looking about the village and talking with some of the principal people he concluded to stay in Lawrence, and on the following day published a card announcing the fact.
How did it happen that Lane should betake himself to Kansas in the spring of 1855? The territory had been an unfriendly element in his career. It was his vote for the Kansas-Nebraska bill, while a member of the House of Representatives from Indiana, that ruined his political fortunes in that state. But among all the Northern politicians to whom the support of this measure brought disaster, Lane was the only one who sought to retrieve it by migrating to the debatable ground. Soon after his arrival there, the report got abroad that he had come at the instance of Senator Douglas and the administration to attempt the formation of a new, Anti-Southern Democratic party on the platform of 1852. A Kansas congressman, addressing the House of Representatives in 1866, made the definite statement that Lane, in migrating to the territory, followed "the suggestions of Mr. Douglas and other party leaders." In 1885 a little book, called The Grim Chieftain of Kansas, by One Who Knows, appeared which set forth with considerable detail the particulars of his alleged mission. President Pierce and Mr. Douglas, according to the confident author of this volume, foresaw that the South would be worsted in the fight for Kansas. Believing, however, that the territory might become a non-slave-holding Democratic state if matters were wisely managed, they concluded to attempt the task of converting it into a commonwealth of this sort, and solicited James Henry Lane, of Indiana, to act as their representative in the project. After some hesitation he consented to undertake the commission, stipulating by way of consideration that he should control federal patronage in the territory and have the support of the administration in any political ambitions which he might entertain.
Whatever the facts may be, two collateral points are clear: first, Lane, in his later years, when all occasion for deception, if any ever existed, had passed away, stoutly maintained that he came to Kansas as the representative of Mr. Douglas; secondly, he actually attempted to organize a new party in the name of the Illinois senaThe convention, called for this purpose, met in Lawrence on the twenty-seventh day of June. It turned out to be a small affair. Though scarcely half a score of delegates appeared they passed resolutions out of all proportion to their meagre numbers-resolutions in which the necessity for a reformed Democratic party was vigorously asserted.
Five days after the convention, and before the fate of the movement, which it was expected to begin, had become entirely evident, we find Lane at Pawnee, the temporary capital of the territory. His mission there was chiefly domestic. For some whimsical
reason he wished to obtain a divorce from his wife, whom he left behind in Indiana. During the territorial period all matters of this sort were adjudicated by the legislature.1 Lane seems to have expected that his petition would be granted as a matter of course, but he was disappointed. The statesmen at Pawnee could do some extraordinary things. To make even a verbal denial of the right to hold slaves a felony punishable with imprisonment at hard labor for not less than two years was a trifle, but they could not bring themselves to release Lane from his marriage vows. They might have felt differently if he had been the defendant in the case-but the present reviewer does not purpose to enter upon a discussion of his domestic affairs.
Members of the legislature used to say that the rebuff which Lane experienced at Pawnee was the turning-point in his Kansas career, but the affair scarcely deserves any such prominence. It must be considered merely as an incident-unexpected, significant, possibly prophetic of evil-not as a capital event. Lane soon became convinced that all his schemes for a new party would end in smoke. Federal office-holders, secure as they supposed in their strong possession of the field, ridiculed the movement. A powerful speech, delivered by Dr. Robinson on the fourth of July, urging all anti-slavery men to stand together until Kansas should be admitted into the Union, was another discouraging event. Besides, the administration remained silent-the most untoward circumstance of all.
It soon became an urgent question with Lane-what next? Apparently he must either abandon the territory or make terms with the anti-slavery people. The return to Indiana would involve humiliations which he was not willing to face. The other horn of the dilemma, though by no means comfortable, seemed more inviting. A life-long Democrat, he had little sympathy with the theories and policies of the "Free State" party. On the contrary, he was in the habit of denouncing the radical section of it as "the offscouring and scum of Northern society." Moreover he had been saying rather freely since his arrival that in the matter of property rights "he knew no difference between a negro and a mule.”
About six weeks after his fruitless attempt to establish a party of his own Lane joined the anti-slavery organization. He did not receive a cordial welcome. One man who knew something of his history made a vigorous protest. The speech evidently called for
'Some rather awkward complications attended this practice. On one occasion, at least, the presiding officer of the legislative court was co-respondent. "I've got to do the d- -dest mean thing a man ever did,” he said to a friend just before the court opened. "I've got to preside at the trial of Susie He took an extra glass of whiskey and proceeded to the discharge of his judicial duties!
a reply, but instead of an angry retort an interval of silence followed, until finally the chairman, thinking that something ought to be done, shouted, "Where is the redoubtable colonel ?" Lane then came forward, and, without noticing the personal attack, proceeded to speak in a very conservative strain. "It requires wisdom," he
said, "it requires manhood to restrain passion. tion, moderation, moderation, gentlemen!"
The general policy of the anti-slavery party had been determined before Lane cut loose from Mr. Douglas and the administration. It involved the repudiation of the "bogus " territorial legislature and its laws, the organization of a state government without the usual congressional enabling act, and application for immediate admission into the Union.
If Lane was an unimportant factor in settling the plan of the campaign, he had to be reckoned with in the execution of it. By a clever ruse he succeeding in securing his own election and that of a conservative delegation from the radical town of Lawrence-the town which Dr. Robinson and the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company founded-to the large and important convention at Big Springs on the fifth of September, 1855. It was the first general convention of the "Free State" party. Delegates from every part of the territory, even from pro-slavery towns like Kickapoo and Lecompton, were present-all armed to the teeth. "I remember well, at the rude country hotel," said one of these delegates, "when I asked the landlady for my overcoat, her response-' Go in and get it. I would not touch that armory for all the property in the room.'
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this convention was that Lane, admitted to membership in the party barely three weeks before and admitted under protest, should have been selected to write the platform. And he prepared one which ought to have satisfied the most ultra "Hunker" in the territory or out of it. This curious pronunciamiento applauded the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave law, advocated the exclusion of negroes from Kansas, and repudiated, quite superfluously one would think, all sympathy with "abolitionism."
When the constitutional convention, the sequel of numerous preceding conventions, met at Topeka on the twenty-third of October, Lane was elected president of it. As he had been lieutenant-governor of Indiana for one term and consequently president of the state senate, he was not without experience in parliamentary affairs. The convention certainly needed a chairman who appreciated the anoma
1 Speer's Life of Gen. Jas. H. Lane, "The Saviour of Kansas," Garden City, Kansas, 1896. This book was written, put in type and printed by the author.
lous conditions under which it convened and the serious perils to which it was exposed, who brought to the conduct of its deliberations not only experience, but the grasp and poise of statesmanship. It embarked upon a movement which had no precedent in the history of the country and was to that extent revolutionary. Other commonwealths may have formed their constitutions without the consent of Congress, but they proceeded in subordination to the territorial authorities. The Topeka convention, so far from acting in harmony with these authorities, made no secret of its purpose to overthrow them. An assembly, meeting under such circumstances, confronted by problems grave and perplexing, conscious that the boundary between the revolutionary and the treasonable is often indistinct, must do its work in an atmosphere of excitement and tension. Upon many of the delegates the criticalness of the situation had a solemnizing effect. It intensified their sense of responsibility, lifted them above all petty and personal considerations to the sanity and disinterestedness which became the representatives of a great
What did the president of the convention contribute to the deliberations of these serious days? A brief inaugural speech, occasional remarks more or less pertinent during the debates, the "black law" scheme by which negroes were to be forbidden the new state, incessant factional intrigue and the preliminaries of a duel. One of the delegates happened to repeat certain damaging stories, which were current, in regard to Lane's private morals. The truth of the stories nobody denied, but as they were proving harmful to his political aspirations, something must be done to counteract their effect. His election as president of the convention had been a useful testimonial of confidence. What would be more likely to emphasize and re-enforce this testimonial than a challenge, especially if it should be declined? Contrary to all expectations the troublesome delegate sent a prompt acceptance. As Lane neither wished nor intended to fight, the situation was awkward and his friends had difficulty in extricating him from it. Indeed they found no easier way of escape than to withdraw the challenge and to make satisfactory apologies. The episode, sprung upon the convention for purposes wholly personal and dramatic, rudely crossed the current of its deliberations.
Apparently Lane soon forgot his personal griefs. At all events he issued a proclamation appointing the twenty-fifth of December a day of territorial thanksgiving and praise shortly after the convention adjourned. The people had suffered much, he said, from those whom they would be glad "to recognize as brothers," yet it