Slavery.Human slavery is as old as human history, of which its story forms one of the most somber chapters. It no doubt originated in the custom of enslaving prisoners captured in war. Among the ancient oriental nations, even Jehovah's chosen people, the Jews, had their bondservants, which is but another name for slaves. With the introduction of Christianity the condition of the slaves was improved, and about the time of Justinian jurists began to regard slavery as contrary to the laws of naturejustifiable only as a punishment for debt or crime, a sort of modification of the old theory that the victor possessed the right to slay the vanquished. But so long as the toil of the bondsman allowed his owner to live in comparative ease, or there was a profit to the trader in human beings, it was a difficult matter to present the moral aspects of the slavery question, and the traffic went on.
Modern negro slavery was one result of the discovery of America. In the early settlements upon the Western Hemisphere some attempts were made to enslave the Indians, but they proved to be intractable or too weak physically for the arduous labor of the plantations, and the would-be slave-owner was compelled to turn his attention in some other direction. Prior to the discovery of America by Columbus, the Portuguese had explored the western coast of Africa, where they found that the African tribes, like other savage people, were accustomed to enslaving or selling the captives taken in war. The failure to make slaves of the American aborigines led the early planters and mine owners of this continent to adopt the alternative of buying slaves of the African chieftains.
As early as 1517 Charles V, then king of Spain, gave royal permission to the Spanish settlements in America to import negroes from the Portuguese establishments on the coasts of Guinea, and in 1565 Pedro Menendez, the founder of St. Augustine, was authorized by Philip II to import 500 negro slaves. The first negro slaves in the English colony at Jamestown, Va., were brought there by a Dutch trader in 1620, and a few years later black slaves were introduced in the English colony at Charleston, S. C. When Antoine Crozat in 1712 was granted a monopoly of the Louisiana trade by the French government, he was also given authority, if he found it necessary to employ slave labor, "to send a ship every year to trade for negroes directly upon the coast of Guinea, taking permission of the Guinea Company to do so." The slaves thus imported were to be sold to the inhabitants of Louisiana, and all other companies were forbidden to bring slaves into the colony. Five years later Crozat was succeeded by the Western Company, which agreed to bring into Louisiana, during the 25 years of its franchise, not less than 3,000 negro slaves. After this company gave up its charter in 1732, the French government resumed control of Louisiana and continued to supply negroes to the colonists. Late in the 17th century England obtained from Spain the right to enter the slave trade, but instead of exercising the right as a government, the privilege was turned over to a company of which Sir John Hawkins was the head, and by 1700 this company had taken some 300,000 negroes from the African coast to the English colonies. In 1780, about a century after the right was obtained from Spain, the English slave-ships had carried to the island of Jamaica alone over half a million negroes. Thus it will be seen that each of the three great European nations that claimed territory and formed settlements in America countenanced the institution of slavery.
As a result of the activity of these nations in fostering and promoting the slave trade, slavery existed in all the American colonies at the beginning of the Revolutionary war. Vermont was the first to abolish it. That colony, in 1777, adopted a constitution, the first article of which prohibited slavery. Toward the close of the Revolution an agitation was started in both Europe and America for the suppression of the slave traffic. One result of this agitation was that the North Atlantic colonies took steps to abolish and prohibit slavery within their boundaries. Massachusetts led off in 1780; the same year Pennsylvania passed a law that all slaves born after March 1, 1780, should be free at the age of 28 years; New Hampshire followed in 1783, and the next year Rhode Island and Connecticut each adopted a system of gradual emancipation. Another effect of the agitation was that the convention which framed the Federal constitution in 1789 incorporated in that instrument the provision that "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person." (Art. I, Sec. 9.)
Almost immediately after the adoption of the constitution, the remaining northern colonies began to make provisions for the abolition of slavery. New York began a system of gradual manumission in 1799 and ended slavery entirely in 1827. New Jersey adopted the same plan in 1804, but there were about 200 slaves in that state as late as 1850. The question now became a sectional one. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and other prominent men in the early days of the republic were opposed to slavery on moral grounds, but the South found slave labor profitable, and it became more profitable after the invention of the cotton-gin by Eli Whitney in 1793. By the treaty with England in 1783 the western limit of the United States was extended to the Mississippi river. The original draft of the ordinance of 1784 provided for the division of all the territory thus acquired, north of 31° north latitude, into states, in which slavery was to be prohibited after the year 1800. The ordinance of 1787, which provided for the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio river, prohibited slavery in that region, but when the provisions of the ordinance were later extended to the southwest, the clause prohibiting slavery was omitted.
In the province of Louisiana slavery existed under the laws of both France and Spain, and when France ceded the region to the United States, in 1803, Article III of the treaty of cession provided that "The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the religion which they profess."
As slaves were recognized as "property," the United States, by entering into this treaty, agreed to maintain and protect slavery as it then existed in the province, and Hildreth says that when the district of Louisiana was erected into a territory in 1805 a section of the act "gave a tacit confirmation to the system of slavery, already established in the settlements on the Arkansas and Missouri."
On Feb. 20, 1860, Gov. Medary had occasion to veto a bill passed by the Kansas territorial legislature prohibiting slavery in the territory. (See Medary's Administration.) Concerning the Louisiana purchase the governor said in his veto message: "Mr. Jefferson purchased the Louisiana country not because it was slave territory, but because it was necessary to the settlement of the North and Southwest. . . . This purchase of territory from France by Mr. Jefferson, of which Kansas is a part, produced the first great anti-slavery crisis. It was the first bold showing of that sectionalism, which has become a part of some men's political existence. But the successive triumphs of the Democratic party, under the leadership of Jefferson and Madison, disheartened the New England leaders and those who followed them, and the question of slavery was mainly sunk in those of a more national character and of higher political importance; until, like a dark storm cloud, it burst with sudden fury again upon the country, on the petition for admission into the Union, by our neighbor Missouri."
All the present State of Kansas, except a little of the southwest corner, was included in the Louisiana purchase. That portion lying west of the meridian of 99° west longitude and south of the Arkansas river was a part of the Republic of Texas, in which slavery was also a legalized institution. Hence it may be truly said that, prior to the acquisition of this territory by the United States, slavery was a legalized institution in the whole of Kansas. Had the French or Spanish founded settlements within the present limits of Kansas, there could have been no legal objection to the introduction of slaves into such settlements. But at the time Missouri applied for admission into the Union, as referred to by Gov. Medary in his veto message, the situation was changed. The act of Congress known as the Missouri Compromise provided for the prohibition of slavery in all that part of the Louisiana purchase lying north of the line of 36° 30' north latitude. (See Kansas-Nebraska Bill.) The Missouri Compromise made Kansas free territory, and it remained so without question or quibble for thirty years.
After the purchase of Louisiana and the passage of the Missouri Compromise, the next event to precipitate a violent discussion of the slavery question was the annexation of Texas. On March 1, 1845, President Tyler approved a joint resolution for the annexation, and the Congressional Globe for that date says: "As soon as the announcement was made, a loud burst of plaudits pealed through the house, which were with difficulty suppressed." At that time the Republic of Texas and the Mexican government were in a dispute over the boundaries, and the act of annexation brought on the war between the United States and Mexico. It was generally understood that the whole scheme was in the interest of the slave power, which needed more territory. The act provided that south of the line 36° 30' not more than four states were to be erected, these states to be admitted with or without slavery as the people might determine. North of that line slavery was to be prohibited. It was by this provision that the little portion of Kansas in the southwest corner was made free territory.
On Aug. 8, 1846, President Polk sent a special message to Congress asking that a considerable sum of money be appropriated for the purpose of negotiating a peace with Mexico. A bill was reported appropriating $30,000 to defray the expenses of the negotiation and $3,000,000 "to be used at the discretion of the president in making the proposed treaty." The bill failed to pass at that session, and when Congress assembled in Dec., 1846, a bill raising the appropriation to $3,000,000 was introduced. When it became apparent that any treaty with Mexico would result in the acquisition of territory by the United States, the slavery question again became an all-absorbing issue.
About this time the Southern statesmen, led by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, advanced the theory that the constitution of the United States carried slavery into all Federal territory unless excluded by special enactment of some positive law to the contrary. To offset this dogma, when the $3,000,000 appropriation bill came up as a special order on Feb. 1, 1847, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania offered in the house the following proviso: "That there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any territory on the continent of America which shall hereafter be acquired by or annexed to the United States by virtue of this appropriation, or in any other manner whatever, except for crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: provided always, That any person escaping into such territory from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully claimed and conveyed out of said territory to the power claiming his or her labor or service."
The Wilmot Proviso was defeated, and on Feb. 2, 1848, a treaty with Mexico was concluded, whereby California, New Mexico and the disputed territory between the Rio Grande and the Neuces passed into the possession of the United States. In the long debate which ensued over the organization of the territories of Oregon, California and New Mexico the anti-slavery sentiment in the house asserted itself by the passage of a resolution108 ayes to 80 noesto exclude slavery from these territories. A few days later another resolution, asking the committee on affairs of the District of Columbia to report a bill prohibiting slavery in the district, was passed by a vote of 126 to 87, but it was defeated in the senate.
Thus matters stood in Congress when California applied to the session of 1849-50 for admission into the Union. On Jan. 29, 1850, Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions, which he designed as the basis of a compromise, and which he thought would settle the question of slavery for all time. Landon says: "At the outset, many of those who had threatened 'disunion,' opposed Clay's compromise, because it did not go far enough, while the 'Wilmot Proviso' men were equally resolute in opposing it, because it went too far."
Notwithstanding this radical difference of opinion, on April 17 a select committee, of which Mr. Clay was chairman, reported a bill of 39 sections, intended to cover all phases of the subject. This bill became known as the "Omnibus Bill," on account of the variety of topics it included. Concerning the compromise of 1850 Alexander H. Stephens, in his "Constitutional View of the War Between the States," says: "The principle settled was clearly this, that after the principal division had been abandoned and repudiated by the north in the organization of all territorial governments, the principle of Congressional restriction should be totally abandoned also, and that all new states, whether north or south of 36° 30', should be admitted into the Union 'either with or without slavery, as their constitutions might prescribe at the time of their admission.'"
The compromise of 1850 was unquestionably a victory for the slave power, and when the question of organizing a territorial government for Kansas came up in 1854 Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the senate committee on territories, reported back the bill with amendments to make it conform to the letter and spirit of the Utah and New Mexico bills of 1850. (See Kansas-Nebraska Bill.)
While most of the events above mentioned had no direct bearing upon Kansas, each one of them did have something to do in paving the way for the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which placed the issue squarely before the country. Elated by their previous triumphs the slaveholding interests did not realize, until it was too late, that the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska bill was a mistake. That bill cost Kansas some 200 human lives and several million dollars' worth of property. But it brought to the state a strong, self-reliant citizenship that was capable of grappling with and in the end dethroning slavery.
Negro slaves were brought into what is now the State of Kansas several years before the territory was organized, but it is not definitely settled who first introduced them. Some writers think the 20 slaves brought to Kansas by Mrs. Henry Rogers were the first, though the date when Mrs. Rogers located in Kansas is uncertain. Rev. Thomas Johnson introduced slavery at the Shawnee Mission, and as early as the fall of 1843 ten negro children were reported therethe offspring of Mr. Johnson's slaves. Immediately after the passage of the organic act, the fight to make Kansas slave territory began in earnest, the slaveholders of Missouri becoming particularly active in their efforts to accomplish that end. On Jan. 10, 1855, only a few months after the territorial government was inaugurated, four prominent pro-slavery members of Congress, headed by Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, published in the Washington Sentinel a long letter from B. F. Stringfellow, in which were the following statements: "Kansas is not suited for little farms; it cannot be settled by those who have not the command of labor . . . . In no instance has prairie been first settled by poor men. . . . Slavery exists in Kansas and is legal. . . . It will be found that Missouri is nearer to Kansas than Boston."
The last sentence referred to the efforts of the New England Emigrant company to send to Kansas people who were opposed to slavery. Mr. Stringfellow no doubt thought that emigrants from the northern and eastern states would be deterred by distance, but in this he was mistaken, as subsequent events demonstrated. About the only advantage the slave power gained by the proximity of Missouri was in the election of the first territorial legislature, in March, 1855, when enough voters came over from that state to elect an assembly favorable to the introduction of slavery. That legislature passed stringent laws to punish offenses against slave property (See Black Laws), but something more than laws was needed to make Kansas a slave state, and that was the actual presence of slaves. Judging from the newspapers of that period the slaveholders were willing to do everything except take their negroes into Kansas. Under the headline"The Suicide of Slavery"the St. Louis Intellinger, a strong pro-slavery organ, made a vigorous attack on the methods of the slaveholders on Aug. 30, 1855. In the course of that editorial the writer said:
"Alabama and Georgia may hold public meetings and resolve to sustain the slaveholders of Missouri in making Kansas a slave state, But their resolutions comprise all their aidwhich is not 'material' enough for the crisis. When slaveholders of Alabama and Georgia emigrate they go to Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. They do not come with their slaves to Missouri or Kansas. Call they that backing their friends?"
It may have been possible that such criticisms as this from the press had something to do with stimulating the importation of negroes into the territory, as the St. Louis News of March 21, 1856, said: "The Highflyer, in this morning from Louisville, brought between 50 and 60 slaves belonging to families on their way to Kansas. Since the opening of the river fully 500 slaves have arrived from the Ohio river on their way to Kansas. The J. H. Lucas took up nearly 100, the Star of the West 100, the A. B. Chambers 50 or 75, and almost every boat that has started up the Missouri river since the opening of the river has taken up a larger or smaller number. The slaves are in almost every case taken in the cabin, while poor white families going to the same place take passage on deck."
But with all the stimulus that could be given to the cause, slavery was doomed to defeat in Kansas. In 1857 the tide of immigration brought from the northern and eastern states a large number of industrious, substantial men, who were attracted by the sales of public lands and the prospect of winning homes for themselves upon the western frontier. These men demanded a government that would enact just laws for the protection of person and propertya positive government rather than a visionary or negative oneand immediately began taking steps to establish such a government. Late in that year Gov. Walker (See Stanton's and Walker's Administrations) wrote to Mr. Marcy, secretary of state in Buchanan's cabinet, deploring the admission of an abolition state, and expressing the fear that it would be taken as an act of unpardonable offense by the Southern leaders, who might thereby be driven to a dissolution of the Union.
Of the four constitutions made in Kansas three prohibited slavery in positive terms, the language on the subject being almost identical in the Topeka, Leavenworth and Wyandotte constitutions. In the Lecompton constitution section 16 of the schedule, relating to amendments, provided that "no alteration shall be made to affect the rights of property in the ownership of slaves." Thus the men who framed that instrument sought not only to establish slavery in Kansas, but also to fasten the institution upon the people in such a way that it would be perpetuated. And it was under this constitution that President Buchanan sought to have Kansas admitted into the Union. Even after it was generally conceded that Kansas must be a free state he apparently clung to the idea that slavery could be established there, and on Feb. 2, 1858, he sent a message to Congress urging the admission of the state under the Lecompton constitution. In that message he said: "It has been solemnly adjudged by the highest judicial tribunal, that slavery exists in Kansas by virtue of the constitution of the United States. Kansas is therefore, at this moment, as much a slave state as South Carolina or Georgia." (See Dred Scott Decision.)
In this case the wish was no doubt father to the thought. The president wanted Kansas to come into the Union as a slave state, and he may have been sincere in his opinion that the decision of the United States made Kansas slave territory de jure, as it was de facto. But the people sometimes reverse the opinion of the "highest judicial tribunal." It was so in this instance. When the first census was taken in Feb., 1855, there were 192 slaves in the territory. The Federal census of 1860 showed but two. As soon as the Wyandotte constitution had been ratified by the people, and it became apparent that the state was to be admitted under it, the slaveholders made haste to remove their "chattels" to a more congenial climate.
Much of the credit of making Kansas a free state is due to the various emigrant aid societies. Edward Everett Hale, in a speech at Bismarck Grove, on the occasion of the quarter-centennial celebration, Sept. 16, 1879, said: "The Emigrant Aid company, which I represent here, placed $125,000 in this territory. No subscriber to that fund ever received back one cent from the investment. But we had our dividends long ago. They came in Kansas free; a nation free; in the homes of 4,000,000 freedmen here, and the virtual abolition of slavery over the world."
(Works consulted: Landon's Constitutional History and Government of the United States; Stephens' Constitutional View of the War Between the States; Congressional Globe; Cutler's, Holloway's and Tuttle's Histories of Kansas; Von Holst's Constitutional and Political History of the United States; Kansas Historical Collections; Rhodes' History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850.)Pages 698-706 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
TITLE PAGE / LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I
TITLE PAGE / LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
J | K | L | Mc | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Background and KSGenWeb logo were designed and are copyrighted by
Tom & Carolyn Ward
for the limited use of the KSGenWeb Project.
Permission is granted for use only on an official KSGenWeb page.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project