A Free White State: Constitution Writing, Liberty and Racism

(Like the previous one, this post contains racist and inflammatory language uttered by elected delegates writing a constitution to make Kansas Territory the state of Kansas. Prohibiting or allowing slavery in Kansas was the monumental choice facing delegates, but predominant anti-slavery opinion made slavery’s abolition in Kansas a foregone outcome of the July 1859 constitutional convention. Instead, delegates argued repeatedly and graphically about human equality, human rights and racial integration at the convention, which ran from July 5 through July 29, 1859.)

In the end, the 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats elected to write a constitution labored little to banish slavery from the future state of Kansas.

After five years of battling over slavery and after three failed constitutions,[1] the delegates at the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention voted 48-1 to include these words in the Kansas Constitution:  “There shall be no slavery in this State…”[2]

The convention’s swift dispatch of slavery, however, brought a torrent of convention agitation over alternative, harsh propositions to clip rights for people of African descent who might come to the new slavery-prohibiting state of Kansas.

Top of the list for convention Democrats (Democrats at the time largely supported slavery) was the “free white state” pitch to block all people of African descent from living in Kansas. Over and over again, the leading Democrats at the convention tried to work that provision into one section or another of the constitution draft. When it became evident that the majority of delegates weren’t having it, the Democrat delegates tried to write various exceptions into the document. Exceptions like this: If “negroes and mulattoes”[3] were allowed to live in Kansas, they would not be entitled to education in Kansas public schools; or if fugitive slaves from other states escaped to freedom in Kansas, they still could be captured and returned to slavery under their owners in slave states like Missouri.

And if people of African descent were allowed in Kansas public schools, they would have to learn in separate schools, never sharing classrooms or sitting  side-by-side with white pupils.

One delegate even said he wanted an option through which white taxpayers’ money could be withheld from financing public schools that educated children of color.[4]

Liberty and rights were the most contentious concepts the delegates dealt with as they pieced together words that still, today, define the rights of Kansans. And Kansas becoming a free state was remarkable, especially considering that the Kansas-Nebraska Act[5] in 1854 had changed the slave-state versus free- state rules for new states entering the Union.

But while Kansans can be proud that 1850s settlers fought off slavery and saw Kansas enter the Union as a free state, those contentious proposals at the 1859 Wyandotte Constitutional Convention foreshadowed a future of segregated schools, lunch counters, movie theaters.[6]  [Read some examples here and here.]  Deep prejudices against people with African blood in their veins did not fall away with the adoption of the free-state  Kansas Constitution.

C B McClelland (2)
Clark B. McClellan, Jefferson County’s lone delegate to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention in July 1859. Picture courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society in Oskaloosa, Kansas.

The constitutional convention convened July 5, 1859, at Wyandot city, now part of Kansas City, Kansas, on the state’s northeastern border. The constitution it produced was next approved by Kansas Territory voters in October 1859, sent on to Congress and then to President James Buchanan, who signed it Jan. 29, 1861. [Learn why it took so long here. ]

Based on its modest population, Jefferson County was allowed one delegate to the convention. Clark B. McClellan, a Democrat, was elected 278 to 249 over his Republican opponent in the June 1859 delegate elections. McClellan won heavy backing from the county’s minority of southern-leaning precincts that favored Democrats[7] (There were enslaved people in these townships, as shown by territorial censuses.).

At the Wyandotte convention McClellan, a popular Oskaloosa merchant, stuck to his party line on issues oppressive to people of African descent but wasn’t vocal during the floor debates.  He crossed over to the Republican side on some votes. For example, he joined Republicans to squash plans to give Kansas slave owners leeway, six months to a year, to remove slaves from the territory once the new constitution kicked in (since it would make slavery illegal).

But for the most part, he voted with the other Democrats, who as the minority party lacked the votes to succeed. Nonetheless, they made frequent attempts with a flurry of amendments to make Kansas a free white state (no people of African descent allowed to live in Kansas) or to limit the education of black children.[8]

mcclellan store The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Wed__Nov_14__1860_
Advertisement for Jefferson County delegate Clark B. McClellan’s store in Oskaloosa.  Image from the Nov. 14, 1860, Oskaloosa Independent, newspapers.com.

William C. McDowell, a leading Leavenworth County delegate and a Democrat, led a share of the Democrats’ arguments to limit human rights through the constitution’s Bill of Rights section. vigorous charges to limit human rights in Kansas. He said he considered black people to be inferior to whites and felt duty-bound to follow his and his constituents “inclinations and feelings” and bar all black people from Kansas if they could not be enslaved..

“I regard this negro question as the only question of interest that was presented in the late canvass [June election],” McDowell told delegates on July 14.[9] “That the future State of Kansas should be free  was conceded by all parties in this Territory; and whilst that was conceded, it was expected that this Convention would incorporate into the Constitution an article excluding the immigration of negroes into the State.”

McDowell – and other delegates, as well —  chose the highest ideals of his political party to explain his “free white state” position, warning that without it Kansas would become  the “receptacle of free negroes and runaway slaves.”  McDowell argued that “God Almighty, for some high purpose, has established this inferiority of the black race, and stamped an indelible mark upon them.”

McDowell’s speech, only a tiny part of which is quoted here, brought an explicit Republican response from delegate Solon O. Thacher, a Douglas County Republican. Thacher, like McDowell, focused on people of African descent, recounting the violent struggles of Bleeding Kansas and railing against the inhumanity of the nation’s slave power and, now, free-white-staters.

Thacher deployed a nuclear argument to blast at the hypocrisy of Democrats who said  Republicans were promoting caucasian/black equality. His speech raised the issue of white men raping and sexually assaulting enslaved black women, the result of which was lighter-skinned,  mixed-race children.

“And this charge [against equality between black and white people] comes from a party sustaining and propagating a system whose basis rests upon prostitution and concubinage more loathsome and degrading than any that can be found in the wide world,” Thacher told the convention.[10]

“Mark the universal bleaching out of the colored race in the South, and remember that in that region the Democracy hold undisputed sway.  There are there ten slaves to-day with Anglo-Saxon blood coursing their veins, to one pure African.”

“… There are men among you who shriek this cry, who first saw the light in the arms of a negro nurse, and from her breast drew the milk of infancy,” Thacher charged. “Let such men never raise a babble so insane and so reflective of their own history!”

McClellan store SE corner of square 1871
An 1871 picture of Clark B. McClellan’s store on the southeast corner of Oskaloosa’s public square. McClellan was Jefferson County’s delegate to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention in Jul 1859.  Picture courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

No direct response answered Thacher’s attack, but near the end of the convention, John P. Slough, another Democrat from Leavenworth County, again expressed his displeasure that the constitution would not block people of African descent from living in Kansas.

“Believing that principle to be right, when I became a candidate for this position, I became pledged to myself as well as to my constituents, to do everything in my power to provide in future for the exclusion of free negroes by a clause in the Constitution of the State of Kansas,” Slough told his fellow delegates. He suggested a future Kansas Legislature should put the question to a vote of the (white male only voters) public.

Slough’s effort failed, but delegates kept up a flow of suggested add-ins and exceptions including free white state provisions, all rejected nearly as quickly as they were proposed.  Those clauses would go something like this:  Public schools will educate Kansas children, except black or mulatto children; and  “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”[11] except for people of African descent (the quoted portion is the first section in the constitution’s Bill of Rights).  The edits would switch something like, Kansans  have a natural right to control of their own persons, their own bodies, all except for except enslaved people.  Other delegates fought to write the constitution in a simpler  way to give broad freedoms to Kansans.  Legislatures could write laws outside of the constitution to address specific needs of the state. [Read the convention’s final Bill of Rights and Constitution here.]

That last right, having control of one’s person, was pounced upon by Democrats who feared giving escaping slaves that right would threaten the enforcement of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. in Kansas.  [  The law allowed slave owners to hunt for and capture runaway enslaved people, even if the slaves took refuge in a free state where slavery was illegal. Under the U.S. Fugitive Slave Law, residents of free states could be penalized if they failed to help capture fugitives and return them to their owners. Enslaved people did not possess control of their persons or bodies.

Samuel A. Stinson, another Leavenworth County Democrat, warned that a Kansas constitution flouting  the Fugitive Slave Law would never win acceptance by Kansas voters. He accused the Republicans of grandstanding their abolitionist and fanatical ideas against slavery.

Benjamin Wrigley, Doniphan County, opposed anything that gave enslaved people “control of one’s person” or body.  Such a provision went against U.S. law and was a mischievous and hostile slap at the Fugitive Slave Law, Wrigley said. He correctly recognized the dislike of the fugitive law in many quarters.

James G. Blunt, a Republican from Anderson County and later a Civil War major general commanding Kansas troops, said nothing would make him support language in the constitution that would permit enforcement of  the Fugitive Slave Law in Kansas. He shamed the Democrats for being eager to obey the commands of their “Southern masters” [the nation’s proslavery power] to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which Blunt labeled a crime against the laws of God and humanity.

“…And I am equally anxious that the broad prairies of Kansas, that have been so nobly won to freedom, after a long and bloody struggle, shall never be prostituted as the hunting ground for human prey,”[12] Blunt said.

The constitution’s liberty language was defining for Kansas, and that language still govern today. The very words and debates from the 1859 Wyandotte convention were recounted in the April 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights.. The court’s interpretation of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights as it applied to an abortion-restricting law included study of the debates and  deliberations at the  Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, and it peered into the reasons delegates shaped the document’s language the way they did, and didn’t.  {read

In a portion of its 2019 conclusion, the Kansas justices’ 6-1 opinion said, “We hold today that section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects all Kansans’ natural right of personal autonomy, which includes the right to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”[13]

More caustic than the Wyandotte convention’s deliberations over free white state-ism or allowing black men to vote in Kansas (rejected) was who should or should not be entitled to public school education in Kansas (public schools were called common schools at the time).

William C. McDowell, the Leavenworth County Democrat, returned to his feeling that black and white men were not equal, and that people of African descent could not be legislated “up to our standard.”

“… It is proper for us to have a clause preventing the negroes having the benefit of our common schools,” McDowell said.[14]

Josiah Lamb, a Linn County Republican, challenged McDowell’s and others “inferiority” argument, asserting that withholding education made people inferior.

“If they come into Kansas at all, let us give them an education,” Lamb said.  “The very doctrine of trying to prevent them from having the advantages of common schools makes them an inferior race.  Let the Leavenworth delegation petition the Legislature if they don’t want their children to go to school with the blacks, and they can have different schools.”[15]

John Taylor Burris, Johnson County, asked how one class of men could rightly claim Kansas’s public benefits while denying them to other classes of men.

“We must proceed upon the supposition that the blacks are to live in common with the white,” Burris said.  “It is supposed that they are to mingle and live together with us.”

“I ask if it is desirable to see that class of citizens growing up in entire ignorance?  If they are to live in the Territory they should be made as intelligent and as moral as education can make them.”

William Riley Griffith,  of Bourbon County, and who was later elected the state’s first schools superintendent, looked to the horizon and suggested future Kansas legislatures could deal with specifics like the ones the Democrats proposed: “If we incorporate provisions that shall exclude any class, the time may not be far distant when we may wish we had not done so.”[16]

But the Democrats – who like the Republicans offered many proposals they knew would not succeed but wanted their votes on the record– stuck to their constituents’ assumed wishes. John P. Slough, of Leavenworth County, said he could support public education for black pupils, but they should be separated from white children. Anything that implied forced mixing of the races in public schools would be rejected by Kansas Territory voters, and another proposed Kansas Constitution would fail, he said.

“I shall never consent, by my vote, or by any actions of mine, that those upon whom Nature’s God has stamped inferiority, shall ever associate with my children in our common schools, which I hope to assist in supporting,”[17] Slough said.

Delegates ended up straddling the issue, in a way.  Their public schools section did not  address the race of children in determining who should receive an education and whether it should be received separately from children of another race. Article VI, Sec. 2  instructed future Kansas Legislatures to “… encourage the promotion of intellectual, moral, scientific and agricultural improvement, by establishing a uniform system of common schools…”

That left the door open for legalized racial segregation, and six years later the Kansas Legislature had passed a law that allowed for racially segregated Kansas public chools.

Still, on July 29, the final day of the convention, Solon O. Thacher of Douglas County was pleased with the constitution the delegates had created. He recounted how the document had gone through fiery debate, “ Every line almost has been subjected to the scorch of high-wrought argument.”

The majority party (the Republicans) had aimed to make the Kansas Constitution the outline of “great civil truths and rights, leaving out, as far as possible, special legislation,” Thacher said.

 “But, sir, the feature which most endears this Constitution to my heart, and which will commend it most to the true and good everywhere, is that through every line and syllable there glows the generous sunshine of liberty,” Thacher said. “ No repulsive allusion, no wicked prejudice, no ignorant and heathenish distinction mars its beauty of disfigures its fair symmetry.”[18]

Later that day, the document was adopted by the convention and signed.

Except it was not signed by the Democrats, all 17 of whom refused to put their names on the constitution.

And so began the campaign for the white men of Kansas Territory to embrace or reject the Wyandotte Constitution. The electioneering  was described as both lively and bitter, but voters made themselves clear Oct. 4, 1859m  when they adopted the constitution 10,421 to 5,530 votes, nearly a 2-1 margin.

 

[1] The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia content explains all four constitutions and includes transcriptions of their contents in its article “Kansas Constitutions” https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532

The historical society’s Kansas Memory website carries the handwritten Kansas Constitution (Wyandotte) here, along with a text version: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/90272

[2]From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 286-287.  The final version was in Section 6 of the constitution’s Bill of Rights and read “There shall be no slavery in this State; and no involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  You may read the book from the 25 days of the convention, including the constitution and other material at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006570997

[3] Mulatto, an offensive word today, meant a person of mixed race; having one black parent and one white parent.

[4] Delegate Benjamin Wrigley of Doniphan County failed in his effort to work the following into the state’s constitution: nothing in the constitution will be taken to mean “…that the people will be taxed to support schools for negro or mulatto children, or that an enumeration of negro and mulatto children must be made in making a distribution of the schools funds… .“ Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 465.

[5] The Kansas Nebraska-Act in 1854 booted earlier law that allowed slavery in incoming southern states but banned it in incoming northern states. Instead, Congress, bowing to southern pressure, determined that settlers in Kansas Territory would vote on whether to be a slave state or a free state, setting off fierce competition between proslavers and freestaters. Read more about the Act on the Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia website: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-territory/14701

[6] The segregation article from the link was published in the spring 2010 edition of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 33 by Brent M.S. Campney, pages 22-41.

[7] Four of Jefferson County’s six townships (Oskaloosa, Grasshopper Falls, Osawkee and Rock Creek) favored Republican Henry Buckmaster. But one of the two townships going to the Democrat, C.B. McClellan, did so in such large numbers (Kentucky Township, where most of the enslaved people in Jefferson County lived, went 93-2 for McClellan)that it put McClellan over the top. The other township favoring McClellan was Jefferson.

[8] These ideas were repeatedly  proposed at the convention, even though they repeatedly lost. Democrats – and the Republicans. too – wanted to be on the record with their votes, both for their constituents back home and for upcoming campaigns, including the upcoming public campaign over the constitution’s adoption.

[9]  Mr. McDowell’s speech quoted here can be found  in Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 178-179.

[10]From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 179-180.

[11] Section 1 of the Bill of Rights in Kansas Constitution reads, in total: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  That result is considerably pared down from the convention’s starting point for proposed language.

[12] From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 277.

[13]  Opinion of the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas, No. 114,153 ,page 86.

[14] From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 178.

[15] Ibid, 183.

[16]Ibid, 175.

[17] Ibid, 177.

[18] Ibid. 569

 

A Free White State

(Please know that this post contains racist and inflammatory language, and unfounded ideas voiced at a point in territorial Kansas history when citizens were preparing to draw up a constitution to bring Kansas into the Union as a new state.  Slavery was the  question for Kansas statehood , but by 1859 it was understood that Kansas would prohibit slavery.  This is the grand act that we remember now:  Kansas damned slavery by stamping it out for Kansas.  But at the same time, stark racial bigotry had attached itself to other potential decrees to be written into the state’s constitution. It was repugnant, and the next few posts in this blog will look back at some of these defining questions.)

Five years after Kansas Territory opened for settlement, slavery opponents had taken the helm for the final advance to Kansas statehood.  The proslavers who had swooped into Kansas Territory with the Kansas-Nebraska Act[i] in 1854 had run into a snag that eventually would keep slavery on the Missouri side of the river and out of Kansas.

Two adversaries  — those who favored  the ownership of humans and those who opposed it — had battled with ballots and firearms and laws. But bit by bit, by 1858, the slavery supporters knew it was over as they watched freestaters expanding their majority for a “no slavery” Kansas.  It had always seemed such a clean question: You were either for or against slavery, right?

Not right. In 1859 there was a third force, probably less ideological and a little less predictable than the other two.  It was, frankly, a bit of an ogre and it had been hanging around biding its time at least since 1855.  Now, this brute  rode along in the important elections leading to the Wyandotte Constitutional  Convention, the meeting  that produced the constitution bringing Kansas to  statehood as a state free of slavery in 1861.

The settlers in this quieter third force wanted Kansas to be a free white state. That meant they aligned with other freestaters and opposed the spread of slavery into Kansas, yes.  But they shoved their beliefs in a different direction and proposed banning not only enslaved people of African descent – slavery —  in Kansas, but also prohibiting  free black people  (including those of mixed black and white ancestry)[ii] from living in Kansas.

Free white state Weekly_Leavenworth_Herald_Fri__Mar_9__1855_
This newspaper clipping shows the 1855 Free White State Party platform as published in The Kansas Weekly Herald, March 9, 1855, in Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. The image above is from newspapers.com at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/29785340/free_white_state_party_platform/

 

In other words, the free white state supporters would prohibit all people of African ancestry from living in Kansas.  Some of these white staters[iii]  put a bitter cherry on top of their soulless scheme for society by suggesting that if they lost their free white state bid, slavery was the only way they could back allowing people of African ancestry in Kansas. There was precedent for this sort of thing, most famously in Oregon.[iv] Arkansas, too, had just decided to banish free black people from the state.

Economic self-interest, not benevolence for people of a different race,  was a prime reason  white-staters  opposed slavery.  They didn’t  want to have to break sod, build fences, businesses  and homes in competition with the slaveholders who could use the labor of enslaved people.  Slavery cheapened the labor of workers, small start-up farmers like those in Kansas Territory and poor whites trying to earn wages or a living from their farms.

Racism was another reason for the white-staters’ desire to keep people of African descent out of Kansas.  These settlers claimed that black people were ignorant and inferior  to whites.

Before we take up the blurred lines of  Kansas Territory political factions and their imprint on the first  Kansas Constitution,  let me explain why I am writing about this  lesser-known other political player in Kansas Territory.

When the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention convened in July 1859, these free white-staters no longer had their own political party, if they’d really ever had one at all.  They still had their “no negroes” agenda , and they had opted to keep house with the Democrats.   And, as predicted, once the convention was under way slavery was barely discussed before its banishment was written into the constitution.

The white-staters (with the proslavery Democrats) spent much more effort at the convention trying to block free black people from living in Kansas.  They snorted and harangued, but were defeated time and again by the Republican majority that controlled the convention.  Still, they refused to give up everything and managed to put their mark on the constitution in other ways that would preserve something of their white supremacist beliefs. (We’ll look at those debates in the next post.)

We Kansas Territory history writers focus a lot on the terrible strife that brought Kansas to statehood in 1861. The glorious prize at the end of that struggle, which had been  watched closely by the entire nation, was another nail in slavery’s coffin and the magnificent free-state status of Kansas.

We imply by omission that when Kansas Territory joined the Union, liberty and maybe even equal rights for all races had won the day.  Kansas would be a progressive state with further rights following soon  for women and people of color. That’s the myth.  But  some of the racist provisions from those 1850s white men stuck around for decades.

JeffCo Democrats Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_24__1859_
These two resolutions are from the Jefferson County, Kansas, Democratic party meeting in March of 1859. At the time this appeared in the Kansas National Democrat newspaper in Lecompton, proslavery partisans had been angry about recent Underground Railroad efforts to help enslaved people move through Kansas Territory to freedom in the north.  That could explain the language of the first resolutions. The image is from newspapers.com and may be seen at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/11423032/jefferson_county_democrats_oppose/

The early Free White State Party platform (the  1855 newspaper clip from The Kansas Weekly Herald) stated its official goals point by point. But, as an official political party in Kansas Territory,  the Free White State Party never really took off.  Its racist proposals, however, stayed alive.

The white staters were less visible than the noisy, more extreme members of the proslavery and free-state blocs.  That was particularly so during the Bleeding Kansas years (1856 and into 1857) when the bigger question of slavery drowned out white staters.  Bleeding Kansas was the era when pro- and anti-slavers formed factional militia groups, shot and stole from each other, burned homes and businesses, tore down fences and destroyed crops all along the Missouri-Kansas border.  Voting frauds were so blatant in Kansas Territory that Congress sent a committee to find out what was going on. [v]

Andrew J. Francis, an Ohio man who lived in Jefferson County’s proslavery territorial county seat, Osawkee (now Ozawkie), attended the committee’s proceedings  in 1856. [vi]  At that time, A.J. Francis[vii] was a white stater, and he was asked to talk about the partisan strife he had witnessed, and to enlighten the committee about secret societies, both freestate and proslavery, that were said to be operating in Missouri and Kansas.

Mr. Francis explained to the committee that his political position had evolved in the  months he had lived in the territory.  When he had first arrived in Kansas Territory he was neither a free-state nor proslavery supporter, he said..

But within a few months he found himself helping to organize a free white state political party.

This party would promote the idea of “slavery before free negroes” A.J. Francis said.

“I took the position that slavery was just and legal, but, as a matter of expediency, I would prefer to have Kansas a free State, provided there were no negroes allowed to live in the territory.”

Salmon Brown, son of abolition extremist John Brown, was unhappy about the white staters.[viii]  In a letter to his mother in August 1855,[ix] the young Brown explained that Kansas free-state party was dividing to bad effect. Some were adamantly opposed to slavery, but others, to Salmon Brown’s disgust, wanted Kansas to be a free white state, he wrote from his new home in  Osawatomie, Kansas Territory.  He found that the white staters wanted either a rigid “black law” to keep black people out of Kansas, or, failing that, they would support slavery.

“This is just what the south wants and just what they have been crowding,” Salmon Brown wrote.  “It will answer there [sic] purpose just as well as a slave State.”

Oddly, another man  irked by the  white staters was a proslavery man, Lucien Eastin.  Eastin was editor of The Kansas Weekly Herald in Leavenworth and his newspaper had published the Free White State Party Platform , shown in the newspaper clipping, on March 9, 1855. Eastin accused the party of trying to trap voters’ support by sugar-coating and white washing their principles.

They were uniting with the ultra abolitionists [abolish all slavery, offer rights to black people] on their common desire for a free state, but ignoring their obvious differences about free blacks in Kansas, Eastin wrote

“For disguise it as they may, it is an abolition movement, to secure the cooperation of all who might favor a Free State, under certain circumstances, and with certain restrictions,” Eastin wrote.

“Thus it can be seen the abolitionists at Lawrence, and the Free White State men of Leavenworth, are making a ‘union of effect’ to make Kansas a Free State. “

Eastin chided the white staters for failing to consider where free black people would go, if states like Kansas were to prohibit them.

“Certainly not to the Slave States, for they won’t receive them. But they are for driving them out, regardless of humanity or right, caring not what becomes of them.  A Free State we should suppose is the very place for free n—–s.  And if this is made a free State despite [the free white state platform endorsers], it will be the harbor of free negroes, and runaway slaves,” Eastin wrote.

The white staters hopped between  the Free State political party (because both would prohibit slavery) and Democrats, the dominant proslavery party.  But in 1859, the Free State Party, after some bitter divisions, had become the Republican Party, a more progressive party that tilted toward liberty for all. Understanding the free white staters’ disinterest for  black peoples’ rights, the  Democrats tugged at the white-stater vote as the territory approached its fourth effort at writing a constitution.[x]   And thus, the prejudices of the white staters  accompanied delegates into the town of Wyandotte  for the 1859 constitutional convention, set to begin July 5.[xi]

As the convention neared, the state Democratic Party and county-level Democrat organizations through the territory called for Kansas to be a free white state. And in an almost annoyed tone, the state Democrtic Party released slavery from their Kansas agenda “… and whereas, the Slavery question is practically settled in favor of a Free State beyond the possibility of further controversy…”

The Democrats’ platform, adopted in May 1859, also accused Republicans of backing the impossibly radical idea of “Negro Equality.”  It was an argument they employed during the campaigns to elect constitutional convention delegates [xii] to draw more voters like the white staters to the Democrat side.

But the party’s main point was this:  “Resolved, That we assert the original and essential inferiority of the negro race, and hereby call upon the Constitutional Convention to prohibit negro and mulatto suffrage, and exclude all free negroes from the future state of Kansas,”[xiii] read the state Democratic Party platform.

The Republican state party platform opened by slamming the Democrat administration in Washington and its appointed government overseers in Kansas Territory. Those forces had oppressed freestaters and disregarding rights, allowing violence and fostering corruption. (Click here to see both party platforms.)

The Republicans resolved “…That freedom is national and slavery sectional, and that we are inflexibly opposed to the extension of slavery to soil now free.”

An abolitionist’s fiery condemnation of  white staters came from The Geary City Era in Doniphan County in Kansas Territory’s most northeast corner. His column was reprinted by The Anti-Slavery Bugle in Lisbon, Ohio, (Click here to read the full article) 

“For is it not practically denying the humanity of the Negro, yes, placing him below the level of the brute creation, to forbid him coming within the limits of the new State of Kansas, on which thousands of dollars, and thousands of human lives have been spent and sacrificed for the now empty word Freedom,” wrote the Kansas newspaper’s junior editor, Earl Marble. He continued, decrying the hypocrisy of the white staters.

“Is this Freedom?  If it is, then the world has as yet but seen the sunny side of slavery!  Was it for this that the once glorious Free State party was organized?”

“Yes! All their [white state] efforts have ended in  — Freedom for the white man, but Slavery for him whom nature has seen fit to clothe in darker skin!”

Jefferson County was allowed only one delegate to the upcoming Wyandotte Constitutional Convention and he voted with the white staters every time one of their issues came up. On June 17,1859,  Jefferson County voters  elected the  Independent  Democrat, Clark Beveridge McClellan[xiv]  to represent them at the convention. C.B. McClellan had defeated (on a vote of 278 to 249) Republican Dr. Henry B. Buckmaster.

Another Jefferson County man ably explains the sentiments of white staters. Among Jefferson County’s very earliest settlers was a group of Missourians who set up a hard-working and long-lived farming community in the east central part of the county, Plum Grove.  William John Meredith,[xv] the grandson of one of those 1854 pioneers, wrote a story about the community’s people, crops, marriages and work, including bits about the politics of the day.  Meredith didn’t offer what political party his grandfather and other settlers preferred in 1850s Kansas Territory, but if I had to guess, I would say they supported a free white state.  In painting a picture of those settlers, Mr. Meredith wrote:

“They were Southern folk, small-farmer type, from Virginia, east Tennessee and Kentucky,  who, to escape the ruinous competition of the plantation system, had journeyed by way of the Wabash valley ‘as far west as any man could then get an acre from the public domain.”  They had moved to Clay County, Missouri, in the 1830s and to Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in 1854.

“No, they didn’t expect any trouble out there with the Emigrant Aid Yankees [for the abolition of slavery] and such. And they didn’t intend to have anything more to do with the blatherskite Proslavery politicians than they’d ever had at home [in Missouri].”

But then came the conflict between the freestaters and the Lecompton gang[xvi] of proslavery politicians, Meredith wrote.   “All around them there was fighting; night raids, personal feuds magnified into ‘border outrages,’ house-burnings, plundering, horse thieving, mobs and lynchings, each side damning the other for aggression and retaliation.”

William John Meredith’s people didn’t care to be involved in the fighting, he wrote.  His estimate was that nine out of every ten newcomers were free labor men, seeking homes.  “Just everyday common folks, easy to get along with if they weren’t stirred up by the good-for-nothing politicians.”

“Anybody with his eyes open could see that next time an election was held there’d be a landslide “that’d bury the `Lecompton gang’ so deep a coal miner couldn’t find’m”-unless the Free Staters kept up their childish policy of ‘opposing and thwarting and fomenting trouble.”

The Merediths and their Kansas Territory neighbors had friends and family back in [proslavery] Missouri.  When the Civil War opened, Meredith wrote, they didn’t join their neighbors who volunteered  to fight for the Union.  Instead they enlisted in the local militias ordered to defend their homes and counties.

“They certainly had no lust for shedding the blood of their confederate kin. But with a clear conscience they could serve the nation and the state in repelling invasion. That naturally wouldn’t be understood by their newcomer neighbors from the states so far North that all Southerners were like foreigners to them.”

(To be continued)

[i] The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed voters in territories to determine whether a state would allow slavery or not.  The act replaced the Missouri Compromise, which had set out that northern states, like Kansas, would not allow slavery and states south could allow slavery. More information is in this Kansas State Historical Society Kansapedia article: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-nebraska-act/15159

[ii] “Mulatto” was a race category term, back then, used for people of mixed black and white ancestry. After Kansas became a state, early censuses documented whether people were white, black or mulatto.

[iii] Sometimes the term “free soilers” comes up in Kansas Territory readings. It is possible it meant the same thing as free white staters, but making a distinction between them and freestaters.  Nationally, there were free soilers, as well as Independent Democrats, linked to the same belief.

[iv]  Read about Oregon’s free white statehood here on the Oregon Encyclopedia website.  Arkansas, in 1859, banished free people of African ancestry. See the link the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture, next. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/exclusion_laws/#.XIItROhKiUk   http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4430

[v] Congress sent three members to Kansas to gather facts about voter fraud (large numbers of Missouri non-residents were voting in Kansas elections to swing the vote for slavery) and violence in Kansas.  The congressmen produced a massive report,   Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas : with the views of the minority of said committee. The report documented, precinct by precinct, numbers of people eligible to vote in several elections and then the resulting numbers of people who voted in the elections, numbers that never failed to disagree.

[vi] Andrew J. Francis’s testimony is contained in U.S. House of Representatives Report of The Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; with The Views of the Minority of Said Committee, Cornelius Wendell, printer, Washington, 1856, p 910-921.  The report is filled with examples of voting frauds, crime and violence in the proslavery versus free-state struggles.

[vii]  I wasn’t able to find out as much about Andrew J. Francis as I had hoped. Tracking his whereabouts 10 years after he testified proved fruitless.  After his 1856 committee testimony, he showed up in various Kansas Territory newspapers as a Democrat.  In 1861, during the Civil War, a bizarre story about his communicating with a secessionist in Missouri surfaced  in a newspaper. And in 1865 he had announced his candidacy for city attorney in Atchison.

[viii] “White staters” is not a political label I saw anywhere in the newspapers, periodicals, books or election returns I reviewed for this blog post.  I applied the name to distinguish between people who wanted Kansas to prohibit free people of African descent from living in the state, and the Democrats and Republicans.

[ix] The letter is held by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Salmon Brown to his mother, Mary Ann Brown and Family, August 20, 1855; Boyd B. Stutler Collection, Ms78-; His Soul Goes Marching On, the Life and Legacy of John Brown,a West Virginia Archives and History Online Exhibit. You can read the letter here: http://www.wvculture.org/history/jbexhibit/bbsms05-0028.html

[x] Of the three earlier proposed constitutions, the Lecompton Constitution was the most notorious because it would have enshrined slavery in Kansas (until the Civil War and the end of slavery). The first proposed constitution, the Topeka Constitution, would have prohibited slavery but also included the free white state provision of banning free people of African descent.  The Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansapedia details the four constitutions here:   https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532

[xi]  Once Kansans voted (again) to create a constitution for the state, delegates were elected by the voters, based upon county populations.  The delegates, presumably, would take their constituents’ desires to the constitutional convention where the document would be written, line by line, with debate over what would be in the document.  The proposed constitution would be submitted to voters again.  If they approved the constitution, it would go to Congress where the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would act on it.  If it emerged, it would go to the president for final approval.

[xii] The June 17, 1859, elections of delegates to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention was the first time Republicans (a new political party) faced Democrats in Kansas Territory.  The old Free State Party had been broken up and replaced by the Republican Party.

[xiii] Maybe it’s just me, but it seems odd that the party first wants to block people of African descent from voting, and then it wants to bar them from the state.  Did they think the free black people would adopt the early Missouri border ruffian strategy of popping into Kansas to cast a vote and then go back home in some other state?

[xiv] C. B. McClellan, a popular Oskaloosa merchant from Ohio, had moved to Kansas Territory in November 1857. His obituary said McClellan was an “Independent Democrat” who voted with Republicans and was the first freestater elected as county treasurer in Jefferson County. In the next post, this blog will detail C.B. McClellan’s votes and actions at the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, where he opposed slavery in Kansas but voted with Democrats in favor of a free white state.

[xv] William John Meredith was the grandson of original Plum Grove, Jefferson County, settlers. Before moving to Missouri in the 1830s, the families had hailed from Virginia and Tennesse.  The excerpts of Meredith’s writings came from The Old Plum Grove Colony In Jefferson County, 1854-1855 by William John Meredith, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, November 1938 (Vol. 7, No. 4), pages 339 to 375. The entire piece is here:

https://www.kshs.org/p/the-old-plum-grove-colony-in-jefferson-county/12769

[xvi] Lecompton was the capital of Kansas Territory.  Its governors were appointed by the administration in Washington, which was proslavery.  The territorial officials carried out the administration’s policies, which were illegal and unjust in the eyes of many abolitionist and freestate settlers, as well as in the eyes of  more non-partisan settlers like Mr. Meredith.