MOOC | The Lecompton Constitution | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.7.6
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MOOC | The Lecompton Constitution | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.7.6

October 12, 2019


>>The political geography in Kansas is utterly confusing. They have election after election. Some of them the pro slavery people vote. Some of them the others vote. But the real battle is going on in Congress. The administration 1858 decides we’re going to push this through Congress. We’re going to admit Kansas as a slave state under this Lecompton Constitution which has been approved by the voters in a referendum which the Free State people did not take part in. They said it’s an illegitimate referendum. It’s being put forward by an illegitimate body and we are not voting in this referendum. Northern democrats were put in a tremendous dilemma by this because it would be, you know, this was not popular in the north, to say the least. And in 1958 every member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection and many senators, like Douglas, have their seat, their terms expiring and have to face reelection also. So Douglas needs a vindication of this popular sovereignty principal if he’s going to be reelected to the senate and run for President in 1960. So Douglas rejects, he becomes a rebel against Buchanan and, in a sense, a rebel against southern control of the Democratic Party. And he quickly finds that this is making him more and more popular in Illinois and the north generally. This is a winning political position, to stand up to the President and stand up to the south. Again, that shows you the consequences of the long agitation over slavery. The public opinion is such that even a leading democrat, Douglas, will gain a lot more traction by attacking the south than by just going along with what the administration wants. This open revolt, which is quite unusual in this period, when party loyalty in the Democratic Party is still a very powerful force. And Douglas brings half of the northern democrats in Congress with him. Half the northern, there are about 52 northern democrats in Congress in the House, half of them go along with Douglas. The other half depend on patronage and other things from the administration and go along with President Buchanan. So a strange alliance develops in Congress in the spring of 1858 in opposition to the Lecompton Constitution. There is the Republican Party, they’re totally opposed to it. There are the Douglas Democrats. And then there’s a bunch of these boarder state people. Like Senator Crittenden of Kentucky who just think this is wrong to kind of, that it’s wrong of the administration to keep pushing this pro slavery line in Kansas which is a dead end. Nonetheless, the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution is approved by the Senate where the Democrats are the strong majority. And remember the south is equal in the Senate because it’s [inaudible] state, to the north and with the support, strong support of the administration it passes the Senate. But in the House it turns out there is not going to be a majority. Because so many northern Democrats go along with the Republicans against it, it cannot pass the House. Other proposals come forward. Crittenden himself puts forward a proposal to allow a vote on an actual supervised vote on the, on just up or down on the Lecompton Constitution. This puts Republicans in a bit of a dilemma. Everybody knows that if there’s a fair vote, it will be voted down. And yet to vote for a vote so to speak, is to endorse popular sovereignty. The position of the Republican Party is not that there should be a vote of the territory. The position of the Republican Party is slavery should not be allowed into any territory. It doesn’t even matter what the majority of the residents think. This is a national issue to be determined by a national majority in Congress. Can they now vote for a proposal which in effect says yeah, if they do vote for this constitution, we’ll let them in as a slave state. That seems to be, so everyone’s in a kind of strange political dilemma here. There are fist fights in Congress. The whole political system is cracking up under the weight or under the impact of this Lecompton Constitution thing. In the end, Ashworth gives you more detail, but in the end a strange compromise is worked out. The initiative comes oddly from Alexander Stephens. Let’s remember him. He’s a Member of Congress from Georgia, soon to be the Vice President of the Confederacy, although nobody knows that of course at this point. But Stephens’ a wig, a conservative, puts forward this kind of compromise where there will be a vote but it won’t exactly be on the Constitution. There will be a vote in Kansas on whether to accept a large land grant from the Federal Government. Much of the land is still held by the Federal Government. The Federal Government offers to Kansas to give them tens of thousands of acres of land to the state of Kansas for their, whatever use they want. But in a little footnote, if you, you can vote for the land grant and, by the way, then you also get the Lecompton Constitution, or you vote against the land grant, and then you don’t get the Lecompton Constitution. So theoretically they’re voting on the land grant, but in fact of course, they’re voting on this constitution. And eventually that’s what happens and it is voted down by an enormous majority and that is in effect the end of the, I think it was millions of acres. Four million acres of land were being offered. Douglas at first accepted this. Douglas said, “Alright, alright, it’s a vote.” But in fact it wasn’t really the direct popular sovereignty. Not all Northern Democrats accepted it. Douglas met with his supporters. Senator Broderick of California, tough minded guy, said to Douglas, “You cannot accept this, it is not a direct popular sovereignty. I will denounce you sir.” He said, “You had better go into the street and blow your damn brains out.” That’s what Broderick thought he should do. Douglas then switched, and said, “I’m opposed to this.” But nonetheless it passed and the bill passed the House. Kansas voted on the land grant. They defeated it. The vote was 11,000 against and 2,000 in favor which showed the balance of settlors. And that was in a sense, the end of the Kansas issue. It was now clear Kansas was not going to be a slave state, despite the dredged out decision. But the elections of 1858, the congressional elections of 1858, showed the impact of this year long battle. The Republican Party, what happened was the conservative swing vote, the conservative swing vote swung over to the Republican Party because of disgust over the Buchanan administration and the Lecompton affair. The Republicans swept Pennsylvania, Indiana, almost won, Douglas, we’ll see next week of course, but Douglas came within a whisker of losing in Illinois. In other words, the question of what was going to happen to those Philmore voters was decided by the Lecompton controversy. They cast their lot with the Republican Party because of anger at what the Buchanan administration had tried to do in Kansas. And this is where the election of 1860 is won. This is where Lincoln is elected one might almost say. Lincoln did not have to win a single new vote for the Republican Party. What he had to do was hold the vote of 1858. Now not everybody could do that necessarily. And Lincoln, as we’ll see, turns out to be a very strategic candidate. But the real shift of political power within the north to the Republicans being the dominant party everywhere in every state in the north takes place in 1958. Now, you might say hey, looking at those elections, if you’re a Democrat, if you’re part of the Buchanan administration, the one thing that is essential is to reunite the Democratic Party. But that’s not what they do. Immediately the vendetta against Douglas continues. When the next session of Congress meets, Douglas is stripped of his position as Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Territories, just a kind of retribution by the administration. In fact in Douglas’ election campaign against Lincoln, as we’ll see, the administration actually supported Lincoln. The Buchanan administration tried to get conservative Democrats, the Democrats who supported the Lecompton to go and vote Lincoln in order to destroy Douglas. So the Democratic Party is riven here and it will be very difficult to put it back together.

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