The Great Conspiracy

By both North and South, this Compromise of 1850, and the measures
growing out of it, were very generally acquiesced in, and for a while it
seemed as though a permanent settlement of the Slavery question had been
reached. But in the Fugitive Slave law, thus hastily enacted, lay
embedded the seed for further differences and excitements, speedily to
germinate. In its operation it proved not only unnecessarily cruel and
harsh, in the manner of the return to bondage of escaped slaves, but
also afforded a shield and support to the kidnapping of Free Negroes
from Northern States. The frequency of arrests in the Northern States,
and the accompanying circumstances of cruelty and brutality in the
execution of the law, soon made it especially odious throughout the
North, and created an active feeling of commiseration for the unhappy
victims of the Slave Power, which greatly intensified and increased the
growing Anti-Slavery sentiment in the Free States.

In 1852-53, an attempt was made in Congress to organize into the
Territory of Nebraska, the region of country lying west of Iowa and
Missouri. Owing to the opposition of the South the Bill was defeated.
In 1853-4 a similar Bill was reported to the Senate by Mr. Douglas, but
afterward at his own instance recommitted to the Committee on
Territories, and reported back by him again in such shape as to create,
instead of one, two Territories, that portion directly west of Missouri
to be called Kansas, and the balance to be known as Nebraska–one of the
sections of the Bill enacting:

“That in order to avoid all misconstruction it is hereby declared to be
the true intent and meaning of this Act, so far as the question of
Slavery is concerned, to carry into practical operation the following
propositions and principles, established by the Compromise measures of
1850, to wit:

“First, That all questions pertaining to Slavery in the Territories, and
the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of
the people residing therein through their appropriate representatives.

“Second, That ‘all cases involving title to slaves,’ and ‘questions of
personal freedom,’ are referred to the adjudication of the local
tribunals with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United

“Third, That the provisions of the Constitution and laws of the United
States, in respect to fugitives from service, are to be carried into
faithful execution in all the `organized Territories,’ the same as in
the States.”

The sections authorizing Kansas and Nebraska to elect and send delegates
to Congress also prescribed:

“That the Constitution, and all laws of the United States which are not
locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the
said Territory, as elsewhere in the United States, except the section of
the Act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union,
approved March 6th, 1820, which was superseded by the principles of the
Legislation of 1850, commonly called the Compromise Measures, and is
declared inoperative.”

And when “explaining this Kansas-Nebraska Bill” Mr. Douglas announced
that, in reporting it, “The object of the Committee was neither to
legislate Slavery in or out of the Territories; neither to introduce nor
exclude it; but to remove whatever obstacle Congress had put there, and
apply the doctrine of Congressional Non-intervention in accordance with
the principles of the Compromise Measures of 1850, and allow the people
to do as they pleased upon this as well as all other matters affecting
their interests.”

A vigorous and able debate ensued. A motion by Mr. Chase to strike out
the words “which was superseded by the principles of the legislation of
1850, commonly called the Compromise Measures,” was defeated decisively.
Subsequently Mr. Douglas moved to strike out the same words and insert
in place of them, these: “which being inconsistent with the principles
of Non-intervention by Congress with Slavery in the States and
Territories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850 (commonly called
the Compromise Measures), is hereby declared inoperative and void; it
being the true intent and meaning of this Act not to legislate Slavery
into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave
the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic
institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the
United States”–and the motion was agreed to by a vote of 35 yeas to 10
nays. Mr. Chase immediately moved to add to the amendment just adopted
these words: “Under which, the people of the Territory, through their
appropriate representatives, may, if they see fit, prohibit the
existence of Slavery therein;” but this motion was voted down by 36 nays
to 10 yeas. This developed the rat in the meal-tub. The people were to
be “perfectly free” to act either way on the subject of Slavery, so long
as they did not prohibit Slavery! In this shape the Bill passed the

Public sentiment in the North was greatly stirred by this direct attempt
to repeal the Missouri Compromise. But by the superior parliamentary
tactics of Southern Representatives in the House, whereby the radical
friends of Freedom were shut out from the opportunity of amendment, a
House Bill essentially the same as the Senate Bill was subsequently
passed by the House, under the previous question, and afterward rapidly
passed the Senate, and was approved by the President. At once commenced
that long and terrible struggle between the friends of Free-Soil and the
friends of Slavery, for the possession of Kansas, which convulsed the
whole Country for years, and moistened the soil of that Territory with
streams of blood, shed in numerous “border-ruffian” conflicts.

The Territorial Government of Kansas was organized late in 1854, and an
“election” for Delegate held, at which the Pro-Slavery candidate
(Whitfield) was fraudulently elected. On March 30, 1855, a Territorial
Legislature was similarly chosen by Pro-Slavery voters “colonized” from
Missouri. That Legislature, upon its meeting, proceeded at once to
enact most outrageous Pro-Slavery laws, which being vetoed by the Free-
Soil Governor (Reeder), were passed over the veto, and the Free-Soil
Governor had to give place to one who favored Slavery in Kansas. But
the Free-Soil settlers of Kansas, in Mass Convention at Big Springs,
utterly repudiated the bogus Legislature and all its acts, to which they
refused submission.

In consequence of these radical differences, two separate elections for
Delegate in Congress were held by the opposing factions, at one of which
was elected the Pro-Slavery Whitfield, and at the other the Free-Soiler
Reeder. Furthermore, under a call issued by the Big Springs Convention,
a Free-State Constitutional Convention was held in October, 1855, at
Topeka, which framed a Free-State Constitution, and asked admission
under it to the Union.

In 1856, the House of Representatives–which, after a protracted
struggle, had elected N. P. Banks Speaker–passed a Bill, by a bare
majority, admitting Kansas under her Topeka Constitution; but the Senate
defeated it. July 4, 1856, by order of President Pierce, the Free-State
Legislature, chosen under the Topeka Constitution to meet at Topeka, was
dispersed by United States Troops. Yet, despite all oppositions,
discouragements, and outrages, the Free-State population of
Kansas continued to increase from immigration.

In 1857, the Pro-Slavery Legislature elected by the Pro-Slavery voters
at their own special election–the Free-State voters declining to
participate–called a Constitutional Convention at Lecompton, which
formed a Pro-Slavery Constitution. This was submitted to the people in
such dexterous manner that they could only vote “For the Constitution
with Slavery” or “For the Constitution without Slavery”–and, as the
Constitution prescribed that “the rights of property in Slaves now in
the Territory, shall in no manner be interfered with,” to vote “for the
Constitution Without Slavery” was an absurdity only paralleled by the
course of the United States Senate in refusing to permit the people of
Kansas “to prohibit Slavery” while at the same time declaring them
“perfectly free to act” as they chose in the matter.

The Constitution, with Slavery, was thus adopted by a vote of over
6,000. But in the meanwhile, at another general election held for the
purpose, and despite all the frauds perpetrated by the Pro-Slavery men,
a Free-State Legislature, and Free-State Delegate to Congress had been
elected; and this Legislature submitted the Lecompton Pro-Slavery
Constitution to the people, January 4, 1858, so that they could vote:
“For the Lecompton Constitution with Slavery,” “For the Lecompton
Constitution without Slavery,” or “Against the Lecompton Constitution.”
The consequence was that the Lecompton Constitution was defeated by a
majority of over 10,000 votes–the Missouri Pro-Slavery colonists
declining to recognize the validity of any further election on the

Meanwhile, in part upon the issues growing out of this Kansas conflict,
the political parties of the Nation had passed through another
Presidential campaign (1856), in which the Democratic candidate Buchanan
had been elected over Fremont the “Republican,” and Fillmore the
“American,” candidates. Both Houses of Congress being now Democratic,
Mr. Buchanan recommended them to accept and ratify the Lecompton Pro-
Slavery Constitution.

In March, 1858, the Senate passed a Bill–against the efforts of Stephen
A. Douglas–accepting it. In the House, however, a substitute offered
by Mr. Montgomery (Douglas Democrat) known as the Crittenden-Montgomery
Compromise, was adopted. The Senate refused to concur, and the report
of a Committee of Conference–providing for submitting to the Kansas
people a proposition placing limitations upon certain public land
advantages stipulated for in the Lecompton Constitution, and in case
they rejected the proposition that another Constitutional Convention
should be held–was adopted by both Houses; and the proposition being
rejected by the people of Kansas, the Pro-Slavery Lecompton Constitution
fell with it.

In 1859 a Convention, called by the Territorial Legislature for the
purpose, met at Wyandot, and framed a Free State Constitution which was
adopted by the people in October of that year, and at the ensuing State
election in December the State went Republican. In April, 1860, the
House of Representatives passed a Bill admitting Kansas as a State under
that Constitution, but the Democratic Senate adjourned without action on
the Bill; and it was not until early in 1861 that Kansas was at last

In the meantime, the Free Trade Tariff of 1846 had produced the train of
business and financial disasters that its opponents predicted. Instead
of prosperity everywhere in the land, there was misery and ruin. Even
the discovery and working of the rich placer mines of California and the
consequent flow, in enormous volume, of her golden treasure into the
Eastern States, could not stay-the wide-spread flood of disaster.
President Fillmore, who had succeeded General Taylor on the latter’s
death, frequently called the attention of Congress to the evils produced
by this Free Trade, and to the necessity of protecting our manufactures
“from ruinous competition from abroad.” So also with his successor,
President Buchanan, who, in his Message of 1857, declared that “In the
midst of unsurpassed plenty in all the productions and in all the
elements of national wealth, we find our manufactures suspended, our
public works retarded, our private enterprises of different kinds
abandoned, and thousands of useful laborers thrown out of employment and
reduced to want.” Further than this, the financial credit of the Nation
was at zero. It was financially bankrupt before the close of Buchanan’s
Presidential term.


But now occurred the great Presidential struggle of 1860 –which
involved not alone the principles of Protection, but those of human
Freedom, and the preservation of the Union itself-between Abraham
Lincoln of Illinois, the candidate of the Republican party, as against
Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the National or Douglas-Democratic
candidate, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the Administration or
Breckinridge-Democratic candidate, and John Bell of Tennessee, the
candidate of the Bell-Union party. The great preliminary struggle which
largely influenced the determination of the Presidential political
conflict of 1860, had, however, taken place in the State of Illinois,
two years previously. To that preliminary political contest of 1858,
therefore, we will now turn our eyes–and, in order to fully understand
it, it may be well to glance back over a few years. In 1851 the
Legislature of Illinois had adopted–[The vote in the House being 65
yeas to 4 nays.]–the following resolution: “Resolved, That our Liberty
and Independence are based upon the right of the people to form for
themselves such a government as they may choose; that this great
principle, the birthright of freemen, the gift of Heaven, secured to us
by the blood of our ancestors, ought to be secured to future
generations, and no limitation ought to be applied to this power in the
organization of any Territory of the United States, of either
Territorial Government or State Constitution, provided the government so
established shall be Republican and in conformity with the Constitution
of the United States.” This resolution was a practical endorsement of
the course of Stephen A. Douglas in supporting the Compromise measures
of 1850, which he had defended as being “all founded upon the great
principle that every people ought to possess the right to form and
regulate their own domestic institutions in their own way,” and that
“the same principle” should be “extended to all of the Territories of
the United States.”

In accordance with his views and the resolution aforesaid, Mr. Douglas
in 1854, as we have already seen, incorporated in the Kansas-Nebraska
Bill a clause declaring it to be “the true intent and meaning of the Act
not to legislate Slavery into any State or Territory, or to exclude it
therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and
regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to
the Constitution of the United States.”

His position, as stated by himself, was, substantially that the
Lecompton Pro-Slavery Constitution was a fraud upon the people of
Kansas, in that it did not embody the will of that people; and he denied
the right of Congress to force a Constitution upon an unwilling people–
without regard, on his part, to whether that Constitution allowed or
prohibited Slavery or any other thing, whether good or bad. He held
that the people themselves were the sole judges of whether it is good or
bad, and whether desirable or not.

The Supreme Court of the United States had in the meantime made a
decision in a case afterward known as the “Dred Scott case,” which was
held back until after the Presidential election of 1856 had taken place,
and added fuel to the political fire already raging. Dred Scott was a
Negro Slave. His owner voluntarily took him first into a Free State,
and afterward into a Territory which came within the Congressional
prohibitive legislation aforesaid. That decision in brief was
substantially that no Negro Slave imported from Africa, nor his
descendant, can be a citizen of any State within the meaning of the
Constitution; that neither the Congress nor any Territorial Legislature
has under the Constitution of the United States, the power to exclude
Slavery from any Territory of the United States; and that it is for the
State Courts of the Slave State, into which the negro has been conveyed
by his master, and not for the United States Courts, to decide whether
that Negro, having been held to actual Slavery in a Free State, has, by
virtue of residence in such State, himself become Free.

Now it was, that the meaning of the words, “subject only to the
Constitution,” as used in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, began to be
discerned. For if the people of a Territory were to be “perfectly
free,” to deal with Slavery as they chose, “subject only to the
Constitution” they were by this Judicial interpretation of that
instrument “perfectly free” to deal with Slavery in any way so long as
they did not attempt “to exclude” it! The thing was all one-sided. Mr.
Douglas’s attitude in inventing the peculiar phraseology in the Kansas-
Nebraska Act–which to some seemed as if expressly “made to order” for
the Dred Scott decision–was criticized with asperity; the popularity,
however, of his courageous stand against President Buchanan on the
Lecompton fraud, seemed to make it certain that, his term in the United
States Senate being about to expire, he would be overwhelmingly re-
elected to that body.

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