Stanton's Administration.Mr. Stanton arrived at Lecompton on April 15, 1857, and the next day succeeded Daniel Woodson as secretary and acting governor of the territory. His administration is divided into two periodsthe first from April 16 to May 27, 1857, prior to the arrival of Gov. Walker, and the second from Nov. 16 to Dec. 21, 1857. In his inaugural address, delivered at Lecompton on April 17, 1857, he expressed the hope that the constitutional convention about to assemble would submit the slavery question to a "fair vote of all the actual bona fide residents of the territory, with every possible security against fraud and violence." He also expressed himself in favor of a general amnesty "with reference to all those acts on both sides, which grew out of the political contest, and which were not corruptly and feloniously committed for personal gain," and to gratify personal spite. To this end he wrote to Lewis Cass, secretary of state, suggesting that President Buchanan issue a proclamation declaring such amnesty.
On the 24th he visited Lawrence, where he made a speech outlining the policy of Gov. Walker and himself. In this address he declared his intention to enforce the laws enacted by the territorial (bogus) legislature, and to emphasize his position in this respect he said: "If any man here is prepared to say that he will resist those laws, with that man I declare war!war to the knife and the knife to the hilt." This radical utterance was received with a sneer by the free-state men present, who did not hesitate to express their open defiance.
The legislature had, on Feb. 19, 1857, passed an act providing for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention to be held at Lecompton. This act authorized the taking of a census during the first ten days of April, the returns to be corrected by the probate judge in each county by May 1, when they were to be turned over to the governor, who was to apportion the sixty delegates among the various election precincts, the election of delegates being set for the third Monday in June.
Under the law the register of voters was to remain in the hands of the pro-slavery men, but the day after Mr. Stanton's Lawrence address, some of the free-state leaders wrote to him that they would participate in the election of delegates if the list of registered voters in each precinct could he corrected by one free-state and one pro-slavery man and the judges of election were equally divided between the two parties. To this proposition Mr. Stanton dissented, saying that he must follow the territorial law, which he regarded as the supreme authority. In taking the census in April only fifteen of the thirty-four counties were represented in the returns. Cutler says: "The remaining nineteen, thereafter known as the 'disfranchised counties,' were largely settled by free-state men, and too remote from the border for convenient control of the ballot boxes. In every county bordering on Missouri, and in every pro-slavery county, the returns were made."
The free-state advocates therefore knew they had no chance of carrying the election, even if it were fairly conducted, and their position in this respect was strengthened when the governor, on May 20, issued his proclamation distributing the sixty delegates among only twenty-one counties. Consequently the pro-slaverites were allowed to elect the delegates to the Lecompton convention without opposition. Some time afterward Mr. Stanton, in a speech in New York, admitted that had he known the conditions, he would have hesitated before making such an apportionment.
Gov. Walker arrived at Lecompton and assumed the duties of governor just a week after this proclamation was issued, and Mr. Stanton devoted his time to the secretaryship until Nov. 16, when the second period of his administration as acting governor began. At that time there was considerable excitement in the territory over the question of the adoption of the Lecompton constitution, and the opposition began to take definite form when John Calhoun, president of the convention, issued his proclamation calling an election for Dec. 21, at which the people were to vote for the constitution, not as a whole, but merely whether it should be adopted "with" or "without" slavery. (See Constitution.)
No sooner had this proclamation made its appearance than meetings were held all over the territory to select delegates to a free-state convention at Lawrence on Dec. 2. The meeting at Topeka on Nov. 23, C. K. Holliday presiding, declared in favor of setting the free-state government in operation without delay. At the election in October (See Walker's Administration), the free-state men had elected a majority of the members of the legislature, and on Nov. 27 a mass convention at Leavenworth adopted a resolution calling on the members elect of the legislature "to meet at Lecompton on the 3d day of December next, to suggest such measures as the crisis demands." The convention also adopted a petition to the governor, signed by a majority of the members of the incoming legislature, asking him to call a special session of the legislative assembly. This petition was presented to Mr. Stanton on the 28th by George W. Deitzler, John Speer, Lyman Allen and others, and on Dec. 1 Stanton issued a proclamation calling the legislature to meet in extra session on the 7th, "to consider matters of great moment pertaining to the public welfare." Cutler thinks that this proclamation "averted the direst calamity that had thus far threatened the territory, viz., open and organized rebellion against the Federal government which, if once begun, would have deluged the territory in blood, and perhaps involved the whole country in a general conflict, such as came upon it four years later. It was the most important proclamation ever issued by a territorial governor."
On the day after this proclamation was issued the great free-state convention met at Lawrence. Among the resolutions adopted was one declaring that the legislature elected on Oct. 5, 1857, was the only legitimate law-making body ever elected in the territory, and that its functions should not be superseded by any constitution or state government, without a full, fair and impartial vote of the people.
Pursuant to the proclamation, the legislature met on the 7th and organized by electing C. W. Babcock president of the council and George W. Deitzler speaker of the house. The same day the pro-slavery men, under the name of "Democracy," held a convention at Lecompton to nominate candidates for the state offices authorized by the Lecompton constitution. F. J. Marshall was nominated for governor; William G. Mathias, for lieutenant-governor; W. T. Spicely, for secretary of state; Blake Little, for auditor; T. J. B. Cramer, for treasurer, and Joseph P. Carr for representative in Congress. The convention also adopted a resolution declaring "That prior to the advent of Walker and Stanton in our midst, the Democracy of the territory were united and harmonizing; since their arrival all their efforts have been directed to serving disunion in our ranks with a view to further their own ambitious schemes."
On the 8th Mr. Stanton submitted his message to the legislature. The greater part of this message was devoted to the work of the constitutional convention and the question of submitting that constitution to a vote of the people. "The law passed at the last session of the legislative assembly," said he, "providing for the organization of a convention to frame a constitution for the government of Kansas, as one of the states of the Union, was adopted at a period, when, unfortunately, the people of the territory were divided by a bitter hostility, resulting from the previous commotion and civil war. In consequence of this embittered state of feeling, and the distrust thereby engendered, one of the parties, constituting a large majority of the people, refrained almost entirely from all participation in the proceedings instituted under the law aforesaid.
"What can be done, in the existing emergency, is a question not without difficulty. Some have proposed a repeal of the act under which the convention assembled and performed its functions. But, inasmuch as the law in question has been partially executed, it is doubtful whether an act of repeal would have the effect intended. It is certain that, if the constitution were to be really submitted to the people, and the people should ratify it by their vote, a legislative repeal between the dates of submission and the election, would not affect the validity of the sovereign act of ratification.
"The true purpose which, in my judgment, ought to control your legislation on the present occasion. . . . is to provide for the regular and legitimate exercise of the sovereignty of the people in those points in which the convention has attempted to trammel or restrain itin other words, to provide for a direct vote upon the adoption of the constitution, which is to be partially submitted on the 21st inst., under the authority of the convention. . . . There can be no question as to your authority to provide, by a suitable law, for a fair expression of the will of the people upon the vital question of approving the constitution."
This was the course adopted by the legislature, and on Dec. 17 the governor approved an act providing for an election on the first Monday in Jan., 1858, at which the people were to vote on the question of ratifying or rejecting the constitution as a whole, the governor to appoint three commissioners in each county to establish the voting precincts. It was also provided that the vote should be by ballot, and any officer of election who should be a party to any fraud should he deemed guilty of felony.
In the main the relations between the governor and the legislature were harmonious, though on Dec. 15 Mr. Stanton felt it to be his duty to veto a bill to organize the militia of the territory. His chief reason for the veto is thus stated in the message returning the bill: "By the organic act, the governor of the territory is made commander in chief of the militia. The proposed law would virtually depose him from his position, and would place him in the power of a board composed of the general officers of the militia, a majority of which can call out the militia in any emergency."
Although the governor was to be a member of the board, he readily saw that it would not be a difficult matter for the officers of the militia to overrule him, yet, under the organic act, he would be responsible to the general government. The bill was passed at the instigation of Gen. J. H. Lane, who wanted to get control of the militia, and on the 16th it was passed over the veto. The legislature then adopted a memorial to Congress, praying for admission under the Topeka constitution, and on the 17th adjourned sine die.
Gov. Stanton's liberal attitude toward the free-state men, with regard to calling the special session of the legislature, and his position on the question of submitting the constitution to popular vote, as shown in his message, may have been due to events which occurred in the early part of November. On the 9th of that month Mr. Stanton wrote to Gen. Lewis Cass, Buchanan's secretary of state, tendering his resignation, to take effect on Dec. 21. Two days later he wrote to the president as follows: "Since the date of my letter to the secretary of state, offering my resignation, I have seen various letters and dispatches from Washington to the effect that you and your cabinet had resolved to reprimand the governor and myself for our action upon the Oxford returns. I cannot believe there is any truth in these reports; but if there should be, I beg leave to withdraw my resignation, in order that I may stand upon the merit of the act in question."
It was an open secret that the course of Gov. Walker and Mr. Stanton was unsatisfactory to President Buchanan, but in writing the above letter the acting governor took the manly course, in refusing to resign "under fire," and showed his willingness to take the consequences of his official action. On the very day he wrote to the president withdrawing his resignation, Gen. Cass notified Gen. James W. Denver that he had been appointed secretary of the territory, and that Stanton had been removed. On the 16th Mr. Stanton received notice of his removal.Pages 751-755 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.
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