1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 15 Part 2

This would not do. The die was cast. The South realized that its opportunity had come, and that it would never come again if permitted to pass by. Senator Calhoun had warned the South that its duty was to "force the issue on the North." This warning was uttered immediately prior to the adoption of the Compromise of 1850, when it was his judgment that the issue should have been forced. It had not been forced at that time to the degree which satisfied the great Senator from South Carolina. He had said: "We are now stronger than we shall be hereafter, politically and morally. Unless we bring on the issue, delay to us will be dangerous indeed." Calhoun had seen the preponderance of population in the free states over that of the slave states reach 3,936,000 in 1850. The South realized in 1854 what this increasing preponderance would eventually accomplish. The old plan of balancing political power in the Senate by admitting together two states, one free and one slave, could not go on forever. California had come in free with no counterbalance for slavery beyond a severe Fugitive-slave law and other minor considerations. Where could the South find territory from which to carve new slave states to offset the free states sure to develop in the Great Northwest? It could not be secured. The South was right - if it ever intended to strike for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, that stroke must be delivered in connection with the organization of Nebraska Territory. The Compromise of 1850 had not proven satisfactory. The Richmond Enquirer said of the recapture of Burns, in Boston, under the Fugitive-slave law: "We rejoice at the recapture of Burns, but a few more such victories and the South is undone." The report of Senator Douglas pleased nobody. The South would have no more of the Compromise of 1850. Senator Dixon, of Kentucky, gave notice, on the 16th of January, that he would move as an amendment to the bill, a provision which would expressly repeal the Missouri Compromise.

The discussion of the bill was to begin on the 23rd of January. But it was certain that it never would be discussed in the form in which it had been reported. Its reception had demonstrated its unpopularity. It was made clear to Senator Douglas that the South would no longer temporize. If he could not act for the South, then the South would act for itself through Senator Dixon or some other Southern Senator. When the bill was called up on the 23rd of January, Senator Douglas reported a substitute for it in the form of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, as we know that measure, providing for two territories - Kansas and Nebraska - and which, in Section 14, repealed the Missouri Compromise in the following terms:

Section 14. . . . The Constitution and all laws of the United States which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said Territories as elsewhere in the United States, except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820, which was superseded by the principles of the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures, and is declared inoperative.

The substitute bill was satisfactory to the South. Senator Dixon withdrew his amendment. There were minor amendments, the most important of which was adopted on the 15th of February. The clause declaring that the Missouri Compromise was superseded by the Compromise of 1850 was stricken out, and the following words inserted in their place:

Which, being inconsistent with the principle 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.

The following amendment, by Senator Chase, of Ohio, was rejected:

Under which the people of the Territories through their appropriate representatives, may if they see fit, prohibit the existence of slavery therein.

The bill was finally completed and passed by the Senate at five o'clock in the morning of the 4th of March, but the session was that of the 3d of March.

In the meantime the House bill had run the usual course of legislative procedure. Mr. Richardson, its author, from Illinois, was a warm friend of Senator Douglas. There is no doubt but that he waited on the struggle in the Senate. On the 31st of January he reported his bill. It was referred to the Committee of the Whole, and no farther action was had on it until the 8th of May, when it was taken up and considered to the exclusion of other business. The Senate bill was offered as a substitute, and the matter was debated until the 22nd. On that day Mr. Stephens, of Georgia, moved that the enacting clause be stricken out. This motion prevailed. The Committee then arose and reported its action, which the House refused to sustain. Then Mr. Richardson moved as an amendment that all after the enacting clause be stricken out, and that the Senate bill be substituted in lieu thereof. On this motion he demanded the previous question. The motion prevailed. The bill was then engrossed, read the third time and passed at eleven o'clock, P. M. The vote was 113 to 100.3 The bill, while that of the Senate, had passed the House as an original bill, and had to be considered again by the Senate. It came up in the Senate on the 25th of May, and passed on the session of that day, but the vote was had at 1:15 A. M., May 26. It was signed by President Pierce on the 30th day of May, 1854.

The question as to the real author of the Missouri Compromise has been asked for more than half a century. Senator Douglas certainly was not the author of that measure. There is no evidence - at least no sufficient evidence - that he had considered the matter of the Repeal before the meeting of the 33d Congress. His management of the bill clearly shows that he was averse to the absolute Repeal until after the 4th of January, 1854. He wished to temporize, to take refuge in hazy and obscure phraseology capable of one interpretation in the North and another interpretation in the South. He sought until the very last to shift the responsibility to the Compromise of 1850.

The South - the slave power of the South - always hoped to repeal the Missouri Compromise. In that purpose it never wavered. Calhoun made every effort to render it impotent. It became the settled policy of the South to prevent the organization of territories in the country covered by the Compromise. It also became the policy of the South to insist on the rights of slavery in that country, to secure those rights if it could, but if finally excluded, to dissolve the Union.

The repeal of the Missouri Compromise, as that Repeal was effected, resulted from the attitude of the South as applied to the political conditions in Missouri for the ten years prior to 1854. These conditions came to involve the organization of Nebraska Territory. In the latter stages, Nebraska Territory became the paramount consideration, everything else being concentrated in it. With the struggle in Missouri we have dealt at length. That Senator Atchison, as the representative of the radical element of the Missouri Democracy, forced the Repeal through Congress, there is little doubt. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that he did do that very thing. That he was in position to do this is shown by the speech of Hon. Francis P. Blair, of Missouri, a quotation from which is made by Mr. Ray in his Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and which is here reproduced:

Mr. Douglas has the credit of having originated this scheme of breaking compacts, fraught with such fatal tendencies. He does not deserve this precedence. It will be remembered that at the last session of Congress, Mr. Atchison broached the idea of dissolving the Missouri Compromise, in connection with the then pending Nebraska bill. Mr. Calhoun's Southern unit contrived to get Mr. Atchison made President pro tem of the Senate. From that hour he became the tool of the Nullifiers, and when Mr. Calhoun died, he left his swaggering and sometimes staggering President pro tem to the care of Messrs. Mason, Hunter and Butler, who were his factotums at the close of his life, and may be considered the executors of his estate of Nullification.

The first (Mr. Mason of Virginia), you all remember, was called upon by Mr. Calhoun to be his mouth piece, and read the last drivellings of his doctrines of disunion, while he sat by, the glare of phrensy in his eyes, unable to stand or speak, evincing "the ruling passion strong in death" which was to ruin what he was not permitted to control. He was the fanatic and martyr of ambition. Peace to his spirit! May it have better repose than he has left to his country! The next man in the trio in the confidence of Mr. Calhoun was Mr. Hunter of Virginia. He was withdrawn from his party, like Mr. Atchison, by the tactics of Mr. Calhoun, who had him elected to the Speakership of the House of Representatives, soon after entering it, by a coalition of the Whigs and Nullifiers, Mr. Calhoun putting him forward in preference to his devoted friends, Dixon H. Lewis and Mr. Pickens of South Carolina, either of whom was more acceptable to the Democracy of the House; but Mr. Calhoun gloried in putting down the will of the majority of the Democracy in the person of Mr. Hunter, and it is but justice to the latter to say that he followed his patron, rather than his party, during his life, and that his spirit of hostility to the compacts which bind the Union together survives in him. The third man of the junto to whom Mr. Atchison was committed is Mr. Butler, of South Carolina, Mr. Calhoun's successor, who bears in his look the fiery temper of the furious Nullifier, but has certainly, with more heat, less of the dangerous factious feeling which lies at the bottom of the designs of his colder, calculating companions.

Mr. Atchison has ever since, and I believe before the death of Mr. Calhoun, been decidedly domiciled with these men; they have one household, I am told, and make a little knot and lump of leaven, that works up the whole batch that belongs to the Southern institution, when occasion requires. This is the brotherhood which brought the Southern delegation to unite in a mass, many most unwillingly, to give adhesion to the plot to make the united vote of the South the reward for that treachery among the Northern aspirants which would sacrifice the solemn compact that had guaranteed the peace of the country in fixing the limit of that threatening subject to the country, by having agreed boundaries and conditions assigned in compromises, in concessions on the part of both sections of the nation it provoked to strife. . . . This dangerous measure has from first to last been managed by the nullifiers, with all the adroitness taught in the school of their Machiavel. The bill originating with Atchison and the club of Nullifiers who chamber with him, has been at every stage in the hands of the Southern Senators, by means of a caucus or nightly convention held by them with Northern Doughfaces brought over by the lust of plunder and the temptation of getting the vote of the South as a unit in the next Presidential convention.

We have the avowal of Mr. Atchison himself that he was the author of the Repeal. True, he was "in liquor at the time," but often secrets were told only when men were "in their cups." Mr. Ray quotes a letter published in the New York Tribune, which is here given:

ST. LOUIS, MONDAY, MAY 28, 1855.

Among all the letters in the Tribune from Kansas and its neighborhood, I do not recollect anywhere to have seen the true reason stated why the Parkville Luminary was destroyed and its proprietors presented with the alternative of flight or violence. Let me briefly disclose it. One warm day last summer a large crowd had assembled at the town site of Atchison in Kansas to attend a sale of lots. "Dave" himself was there, and as there was much whiskey and many friends, he got "glorious" a little earlier in the day than usual. So with much spitting on his shirt and making himself more nasty than common the Vice-President delivered himself something after this wise:

"Gentlemen, you made a d--d fuss about Douglas, but Douglas don't deserve the credit of this Nebraska bill. I told Douglas to introduce it. I originated it. I got Pierce committed to it, and all the glory belongs to me. All the South went for it, all to a man but Bell and Houston, and who are they? Mere nobodies, no influence, nobody cares for them."

It happened that a young man from Parkville was present, a friend of Atchison, by the way. When he came home he was sounding Atchison's praises and repeating what he had said. Patterson of the Luminary got him to write down the exact words of the Vice-President, and the next number contained a verbatim report of portions of his conversation. By this time some of Dave's friends were sober, if he was not. There was trouble in the camp. The Platte Argus, the Atchison organ, came out with a flat denial of the language. The Parkville young man replied over his own initials, that he had heard and reported the words exactly as they were published, and whoever should deny them was a liar, intimating his readiness to maintain the same against all comers. Meantime a chivalrous nephew of John Bell residing in St. Louis had seen the report of Atchison's language in the Luminary, and had written him requiring a categorical answer to the question whether he had used the language imputed to him concerning his uncle. The tone of the letter was strongly suggestive of "the usual satisfaction." Dave evidently thought his three hundred pounds of flesh too good a mark for a pistol ball, and he accordingly replied to the nephew that he had the most distinguished consideration for his uncle and never said such a word about him, if he had said anything that the lying scoundrels had tortured into what they published, he begged that it might he passed by, as he was "in liquor at the time." And thus the Vice-President escaped the vexation of personal responsibility for his language. Drunkenness is not usually regarded as a valid plea for a lawyer to make in behalf of a client, but it seems very good for a Vice-President.

But the mischief was done, notwithstanding. Douglas looked glum about his stolen thunder. Bell and Houston were not disposed to any special affability toward the President of the Senate. So he sent his resignation and stayed away two or three weeks after the meeting of Congress. Judge with what bitter hatred he regarded the Luminary, and when he could sway the mob power, how eagerly he employed it to wreak his private vengeance. Veritas.

So the Kansas-Nebraska bill was the work of David R. Atchison, a Missourian of Kentucky birth. His connection with Kansas did not cease with the enactment of the bill. He tried for some years to force slavery into Kansas, but ingloriously failed. On the Kansas prairies he met many a follower of Senator Benton - many a Missourian who had come to Kansas to live in a free state - who fought other Missourians to make Kansas free.

It has long been the judgment of this author that Judge William C. Price, a Missourian of Virginia birth, originated the movement in Missouri which resulted in the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The idea of the Repeal was, no doubt, original with him - that is, the Repeal at the time it came. When Mr. Ray was writing his excellent book he wrote me for anything I could furnish him on the subject of the Repeal. I wrote him as follows, as shown at pages 247 and following of his work:


JUDGE WILLIAM C. PRICE
[From Portrait Owned by
William E. Connelley]
Judge Price always maintained that the idea of the Repeal originated with him. He claimed that he pressed this idea on the South, saying that Missouri could not remain slave with Iowa free on the north, Illinois free on the east, and a free State on the west. In short, Missouri had to accomplish that Repeal or become a free State. That was what Judge Price preached for twenty years before the war. And the South allowed Missouri to have her way. . . .

The Repeal was discussed in a gathering of extreme Democrats in New Orleans as early as 1850. Judge Price attended this gathering, as he has often told me. I have the names of others in attendance, but my papers are so much in disorder that I have been unable to find the memorandum. I remember that Jefferson Davis was at that meeting; Judge Price often related to me the feeling speech he made there. I remember that J. P. Benjamin and Toombs were there. And a Mr. Smith, I think a minister of the Gospel, either then or afterwards a Member of Congress from Virginia, was there.... Without my papers I would not say that this meeting was in 1850, but I am sure it was as early as that. . . .

The idea, the intention, of the Repeal had been discussed secretly in every gathering of pro-slavery men in Missouri for ten years. Benton repudiated the idea in Springfield, Mo., in 1844, so Judge Price informed me. And from that day the radical slave faction of the Missouri Democracy fought him to the death. Judge Price and other radical Southern leaders saw at that time that a conflict was inevitable; they were secessionists per se. Judge Price was the man selected to lead the fight in Missouri for the use of a part of the Indian country which was north of the old Compromise line for Slavery. In this capacity he made known to Benton the conclusion of the radical slave faction. Price and Benton had been warm friends to this time. They never spoke afterwards. Price registered a vow to drive Benton from public life and accomplished it. . . . In presence of a large company gathered in a store on St. Louis street, in Springfield, Mo., he vowed he would fight Benton to the death. To make it more open and public he wrote his determination on the walls of the store, where it remained until the building was torn down after the Civil War. So said Judge Price to me many times.

Judge Price was the head of the pro-slavery extremists of the South. He was in close and constant communication with Jefferson Davis, Robert Toombs, John C~. Calhoun, John C. Breckenridge, Judah P. Benjamin, and other Southern leaders, for many years prior to the Civil War. These men looked to him to inaugurate and carry out the measures in Missouri supposed to be for the benefit of the aggressive policy of the extremists of the slave power. No better selection was ever made. He believed in the righteousness of slavery. And when enlisted in a cause he knew no such word as fail. He would not sacrifice the thousandth part of the most insignificant principle for any advantage which might be offered him. Compromise was repugnant to him. He would always drive straight ahead to the end in the way marked out, let the consequences be what they might.

The aggressive leaders of the slave power became dissatisfied with the course of Senator Benton of Missouri. They marked him for defeat. While Benton had spent the greater part of his active life in Washington and away from the people of Missouri, he was still, in 1844, supreme in Missouri. While it is true that a new generation had sprung up in Missouri who knew not Benton, it is also true that the older generation stood by Benton, and by their aid he dictated the political policy of the State. It was supposed to be political death for any man to even whisper a breath against "Old Bullion," the idol of Missouri. . . .

Judge Price was never a rash man. He had a cool head and a pulse even and regular under every trial. He knew what his declaration meant. Benton was a born leader, and in manner much like Judge Price. He was intolerant, often dictatorial and unjust. The declaration of hostilities by Price was accepted by Benton and the political battle royal of Missouri politics began, and the first in the fight for the Repeal, though the issue was veiled. Neither side urged the real issue between them. Price hoped that with the defeat of Benton events would naturally shape themselves as the Southern leaders desired. Benton hoped that with his victory extreme agitation by the Southern leaders would disappear. So this fight was not made on the issues really the cause of it, Judge Price often said.

Price was away from home for months at a time for the six years following 1844. There were no railroads in Missouri and travel was by horseback. He visited every part of the State time and again. He selected Judge Geyer of St. Louis as the man to defeat Benton. Then Benton returned to Missouri in 1850 he found himself actually beaten and turned down. The first battle of the aggressive and rabid extremists of the slave power was thus fought out in Missouri and was a victory for them.

I asked Judge Price concerning the opening of Kansas to settlement. He said:

"We were opposed to the opening of any part of the territory of Old Missouri Territory to settlement, and for many reasons. It had been set aside as the Indian Country. The Government had removed the Eastern Indian tribes to that country and covenanted with them that they should never be molested in their new home. And this was done with a purpose, for if slavery could not go there we wanted no one there except the Indians. And there was no necessity for such settlement; millions of acres of better land were open to settlement in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.

"To establish Territories in that country would, we knew, bring up the subject of slavery, and its admission or exclusion. We were excluded by the Compromise, but Southern men hoped in some way to bring about the repeal of that measure in some peaceful manner. Their most cherished hope for many years was to look upon the old manner of retaining the influence of Slave-State and Free-State at a balance in the Union by the admission one slave State and one free State when the time for the admission of any part of that domain was demanded by the economic conditions of the country. In the meantime we hoped to make four States of Texas, and to have slavery established in the country obtained from Spain and Mexico.

"Many things transpired which we could not foresee. The discovery of gold in California was one of these. Then, as I said, it was necessary to defeat Benton in Missouri. The effects of this defeat were bad. He was ambitious, though old. He should, according to our calculations, have retired when he was defeated. But he immediately espoused the cause of Nebraska Territory. There were two causes for this. He knew we were opposed to it and he knew that the slave power was not prepared to enter upon a struggle for its very existence. He wished to precipitate things. And, he saw he could never regain his seat in the Senate from Missouri. He had become interested in Fremont's explorations of the West.

"Benton was a man of ability and wonderful foresight. He predicted that a great city would one day be built at the mouth of the Kansas River. He intended to move there and live in the new Territory and eventually be one of its first United States Senators when it was admitted as a State, as he had been one of the first of Missouri's Senators. At my suggestion Atchison accused him of this intention, and denounced him for it in a speech, delivered I think in Liberty.

"One of the things which proved bad for us was the removal of the Wyandotts to the mouth of the Kansas River. It was the intention that they should settle there. They were to have a large tract of land in Southern Kansas (what is now Southern Kansas). No one supposed they would buy land of another tribe; such a thing had not been thought of. When they bought land of the Delawares and obtained control of the mouth of the Kansas River we were fearful that it was not for our best interest; there were too many white men in the tribe. Then the tribe came recently from Ohio where there was much opposition to slavery, and where existed the most successful underground railroad for conveying slaves to Canada. Then again, this tribe had but just settled at the mouth of the Kansas River when the division of the Methodist Church into Northern and Southern parts caused almost a war between the factions of the tribe. The portion of the tribe which wished to remain with the Old Church cried out against slavery, and the question was kept in constant agitation where we most desired nothing said. When it was supposed that Nebraska Territory would be organized we were often solicited by the faction in favor of the Church, South, to take a hand, but we were averse to doing that and hoped the question would quiet down. However, it did not do so. Benton, Blair, Brown, even Phelps, encouraged its agitation. The moving spirits in the cause of the Church, North, and in condemning slavery, were J. M. Armstrong and Abelard Guthrie. Guthrie remained in Washington much of the time, as we believed then, at Benton's expense. At any rate, it was known that he and Benton were much together; we had no doubt they acted in concert.4


3 See Wilder's Annals, Edition of 1886, pages 43 and 44, for analysis of the vote.

4 This statement is published in the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise by P. Orman Ray, Ph. D., Professor of History and Political Science, The Pennsylvania State College. The quotations found in this chapter are taken from Professor Ray's book. It is the best authority on the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise. It is exhaustive, and is very carefully prepared. Much of the material for this chapter, aside from the quotations, was drawn from his work.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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