1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

LANE

The issue of the Kansas Free State for April 30th, 1855, contains the following item of news:

DISTINGUISHED ARRIVAL
Col. James H. Lane, late member of Congress from Indiana, arrived in our place on the 22 inst., with his family, all in good health and spirits. He is comfortably ensconsed in a log cabin, and will in all probability remain permanently with us. His design is to live in the Territory.


GEN. JAMES H. LANE
First U.S. SENATOR
FROM KANSAS
[Copied by Willard, Topeka,
from Daguerreotype
owned by C. S. Gleed]
James Henry Lane was born in Kentucky, near Lawrenceburg, Indiana, June 22, 1814. His father was Amos Lane, a noted Indiana politician, and credited with being the first man in Indiana to suggest the name of Andrew Jackson for President of the United States. The Lanes were of the stock called by Prentis, "The from everlasting to everlasting Scotchh-Irish." Amos Lane was of New England ancestry, but as a young man went to New York. At Ogdensburg he met and married Miss Mary Foote. He was born in Connecticut, and was of a distinguished New England family. She was a woman of piety, and was for forty years, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was possessed of more than an ordinary share of good common sense, and a desire to accomplish something in the world. She was the inspiration of her husband's efforts to enter the practice of law.

Amos Lane came from New York to Cincinnati as early as 1804. In the spring of 1808 he moved to Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He was there refused admittance to the bar. He then crossed the river into Kentucky, and after further moving about, returned to Lawrenceburg in 1814. In 1816 he was elected to the Legislature of Indiana, and was Speaker of the House. He was elected two other terms in the Legislature, and in 1833 he was elected to Congress, where he served several years. Until his death, in 1850, he was the ruling power in politics in southern Indiana in the Democratic party.

It was to his mother that James H. Lane owed most of his genius. She was, in every sense, a superior woman, and she has been spoken of as having had a "coal of fire in her heart," so ambitious, so restless, and so full of energy was she. Whatever education her son obtained she imparted. She designed him for the ministry in the church of her faith. Her life was one of constant effort in his younger days. While her husband traveled over the country to attend the migratory "Circuit Court," she kept boarders and taught school "in her own cabin." In the days of Lane's boyhood, Indiana was the frontier. The noisy, turbulent, often dangerous, frontier is a school better equipped to develop strength of character; self reliance and resource in emergency than any other. Theory counts for but little - action for everything. In such frontier school did Lane become familiar with the motives and forces that move man, especially frontiersmen. The exaggerated style of speech, the boisterous and aggressive manner, the personal courage, the iron constitution, the remarkable and tireless persistency in the prosecution of an enterprise once engaged in - these were the inheritance from his environment on the frontier. In this school was Lane well learned. His faults (and he had many), were also those of the frontier, where they were not considered of so great consequence as in older and better ordered society.

While he was well learned in this rude frontier school, it must not be supposed that he was unlettered. He possessed a fair knowledge of the elementary branches of learning. For some years he was engaged in trade in Lawrenceburg in company with a brother-in-law. It seems to have been a pork packing establishment, combined with the forwarding of the produce of the country to market. In those days New Orleans was the only market of consequence for the productions of the Ohio Valley. He, like Lincoln, pushed his own flat-boat back and forth, to and from that mart, but in this vocation he was handicapped by his peculiar bent of mind. such occupations are ever irksome to natures contented only to lead. In their view, the result is not worth the effort. They long for extremes, for opportunity, for leadership. Lane was a born leader of men. He saw in politics a field exactly to his liking and no doubt his tendency in that direction was inherited. He studied law, was admitted to the bar and practiced in partnership with his father. His entrance into politics was in a small way - an election to the common council of Lawrenceburg. He was repeatedly re-elected. He made his first public speech in 1832 in favor of General Jackson. It is said that his effort was a very creditable one. He was elected to the legislature in 1845, and in the winter following was a candidate before the convention of his party for the nomination for the office of Lieutenant Governor, being defeated by only one vote.

In the fall of 1842 he was married to Miss Mary E. Baldridge, a granddaughter of General Arthur St. Clair.

In July, 1846, Lane raised a company of volunteers at Lawrenceburg for the Mexican War. He had his company ready before the requisition of the President reached the State of Indiana. He marched his company, of which he had been elected Captain, to New Albany. There it was made a part of the Third Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, and Lane was elected Colonel of the Regiment. This Regiment hurried to Mexico and was made a part of General Taylor's command. Colonel Lane served under Taylor until the spring of 1847. In the battle of Buena Vista he distinguished himself as a brave soldier and an able officer. In this battle the command of a large part of the army devolved upon him, and he acquitted himself with honor.

Colonel Lane returned to Indiana in July, 1847, and raised the Fifth Indiana Regiment, of which he was elected Colonel, and which he took to Mexico. This Regiment was placed under General Butler, and did not reach the City of Mexico until after its capture by General Scott. Colonel Lane was given a responsible position in the army which occupied the city. In this capacity he was very solicitous for the welfare of the Mexican people. So much did they appreciate his efforts in their behalf, that they presented him with a costly Mexican flag, embroidered in gold. They also presented him with a very fine sword. These valuable articles were taken from his house by the guerillas who sacked Lawrence under the lead of Quantrill. Aaron Palmer and a companion secured these valuable articles, and in their ignorance they supposed the Mexican flag was one which had been presented to Lane by the ladies of Leavenworth. It was dark in color, and the guerillas called it "Lane's black flag." Palmer and his companion cut it in two. Each wrapped the half of it around his body under his clothing, and thus they carried it into Missouri.

In 1849 the Democratic party of Indiana nominated Lane for Lieutenant Governor and he was elected by a large majority. His party made him an elector at large in the Presidential campaign of 1852. He was elected, and he cast the vote of the State of Indiana for Franklin Pierce for President. He was elected by the Democratic party to the 32nd Congress and voted for the Kansas-Nebraska bill. He afterwards said that he voted for the bill because he was instructed to do so.

There was for many years in Kansas a persistent repetition of the terms of an agreement said to have been made between Lane and Douglas. Lane was first opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Douglas succeeded in convincing Lane that the passage of the bill would make him (Douglas) President of the United States. Lane was to go to Kansas, organize the Democratic party there, and when the Territory should be admitted as a State, he was to be elected United States Senator and control the patronage OF the State under the administration of Douglas. In the meantime he was to control the patronage of the administration then in power, so far as the influence of Douglas could make it possible. There is no doubt but that some such arrangement existed between Douglas and Lane.

Early in April, 1855, Lane began his preparations to move to Kansas. He came by way of St. Louis, where he took boat for Leavenworth. John Armstrong, one of the founders of the City of Topeka, had spent the winter in St. Louis, where he had gone after his visit to the site of Topeka, to look after some nursery stock which he had shipped from New York. By chance he took the boat up the Missouri River upon which Lane and his family had embarked. There was with Lane, Thomas C. Shoemaker, who had been appointed to a position in the Public Land Office of the Territory. Mr. Armstrong said that both Lane and Shoemaker had their families with them. In conversations held with Lane as the boat ascended the Missouri, Armstrong convinced Lane that Lawrence was a better location for him than Leavenworth. He left the boat at Kansas City, and he and Armstrong went to Westport to secure conveyance to Lawrence. By stipulation with the keeper of a livery stable, a light conveyance was secured for the members of the party, and the household effects were forwarded within a day or two.

In height Lane was well above six feet. His eyes were dark and rest. less, and when he was aroused they burned with the depth and intensity of charcoal fires. His features were good - forehead high, nose finely cut, mouth firm, chin and jaw square and heavy. His arms were long, and every old time Kansan delighted to tell of his long and bony forefinger, and its potency in all Kansas political affairs. His presence was commanding. Like Cassius, he bore a lean and hungry look. His energy was limitless, his tenacity of purpose was persistent, indomitable. He was possessed of wonderful vitality, and his whole organism was one of vigor and magnetism. He became the leader in establishing liberty in Kansas.

Political rancor reached its greatest height in Kansas, and Lane was often the object of bitter denunciation. In politics he was King, and from the pinnacle of success, he looked down on the raging hate of his enemies. He was the head of the Western population of Kansas - that element which really made Kansas free. The New England emigrants - the promoted emigration - were his implacable foes. Writing of him forty years later, Senator John J. Ingalls said:

His energy was tireless and his activity indefatigable. No night was too dark, no storm too wild, no heat or cold too excessive, no distance too great, to delay his meteoric pilgrimages, with dilapidated garb and equipage, across the trackless prairies from convention to convention. His oratory was voluble and incessant, without logic, learning, rhetoric or grace; but the multitude to whom he perpetually appealed hung upon his hoarse and harsh harangues with the rapture of devotees upon the oracular rhapsodies of a prophet and responded to his apostrophies with frenzied enthusiasm. He gained the prize which he sought with such fevered ambition.

Ingalls had long before described the oratory of Lane, and had, in fact, made it the model for his own. Here is the characterization of it:

His voice is a series of transitions from the broken scream of a maniac to the hoarse, rasping gutturals of a Dutch butcher in the last gasp of inebriation; the construction of his sentences is loose and disjointed; his diction is a pudding of slang, profanity and solecism; and yet the electric shock of his extraordinary eloquence thrills like the blast of a trumpet; the magnetism of his manner, the fire of his glance, the studied earnestness of his utterances, finds a sudden response in the will of his audience, and he sways them like a field of reeds shaken by the wind.

Lane did not move immediately for the accomplishment of the purpose for which he came to Kansas. He was studying the conditions then existing in the Territory with a view to finding out what really should be done for the interests of the people. From the small amount of energy he exerted in the interest of the Democratic party, it would seem that he had become discouraged as to the outlook in the Territory for that organization. He evidently saw that the Democratic party could not accomplish the work of making Kansas a free State. But he felt that he should at least make an effort to set it up. On the 27th day of July, 1855, a meeting in the interest of the National Democracy was held at Lawrence. It assembled in the office of Dr. J. N. O. P. Wood at seven o'clock P. M. Lane was elected President of the meeting on motion of C. W. Babcock, and Dr. Wood was named as Secretary. Hugh Cameron moved that a committee of five members be appointed to draft resolutions. This committee was composed of Charles E. Chapman, C. W. Babcock, Dr. James Garvin, J. S. Emery and Hugh Cameron. They brought in the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted.

Resolved, That in the opinion of this meeting, the best interests of Kansas require an early organization of the Democratic party upon truly national ground, and that we pledge ourselves to use all honorable exertions to secure such a result.

Resolved, That we fully indorse and reaffirm the Democratic platform as laid down at the National Democratic Convention held at Baltimore in 1852.

Resolved, That we indorse the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and claim the right, unmolested, of exercising all the powers granted to us under the provisions of that bill.

Resolved, That we cordially invite the citizens of all the States of this Union who desire to participate in the management of our affairs to come and settle among us.

Resolved, That as true American citizens, we can appreciate the rights of the citizens of the different States of this Union, both of the North and South, and that by no act of ours will we trample upon those rights or interfere in anywise with their domestic institutions.

Resolved, That, while we observe the rights of the citizens of the different States, we will expect them to reciprocate. That we feel we are fully capable of managing our own affairs, and kindly request the citizens of Northern, Southern, distant and adjoining States to let us alone.

Resolved, That while making this request, we wish it distinctly understood that we appreciate the right of suffrage as the most important privilege guaranteed to us by the founders of our institutions, and that we regard the ballot-box as the palladium of our liberty, and will not, if in our power to prevent, permit the privilege to be wrested from us, or permit the ballot-box to be polluted by outsiders or illegal voting from any quarter.

Resolved, That we will use our best exertions to procure the nomination of National Democrats to office, and will zealously support such candidates.

Resolved, That we cordially invite the co-operation of all National men of either party who prefer principle to faction and union to disunion.

This meeting attracted no attention in the Territory, and next to none in Lawrence. The Pro-Slavery party had already adopted a course. Atchison and his followers knew exactly what they wished to do, and desired no help from any Kansas source, especially from Lane and Lawrence. The National Democracy, as understood by Lane and the country at large, was not the Democracy of Price, Atchison, and others in Missouri. This was a special Democracy organized for a certain purpose. Lane determined to cast his lot with the Free-State party. He first met with the Free-State men at a meeting in Lawrence on the 18th of August, 1855, and his speech on that occasion has been preserved. It was as follows:

MR. PRESIDENT:

If I believed a prayer from me would do any good, it would be that you might be imbued with the wisdom of Solomon, the caution of Washington, and the justice of Franklin. I am glad to see so many here this inclement day. It requires wisdom, it requires manhood to restrain passion. I say it as a citizen of Kansas, I wish we had wisdom to-day. There is the existence of a union hanging upon the action of the citizens of Kansas. Moderation, moderation, moderation, gentlemen! I believe it is the duty of each of us to define our position. I am here as anxious as any of you to secure a free constitution for Kansas. A lesson I received from childhood was never to speak of man or woman unless I could speak well of them. It is represented that I came to Kansas to retrieve my political fortunes, but you, gentlemen, should know that I was urgently solicited to be a candidate for another term of Congress, but I positively declined. I would vote for the Kansas-Nebraska bill again. I desire Kansas to be a free State. I desire to act with my brethren, but not in a manner to arouse the passions of the people of the other States. I would not repudiate the Legislature, but the acts of that Legislature which contravene the rights of popular sovereignty.

On account of his having made an effort to organize the Democratic party he was not at first accepted with full confidence by the Free-State people. Lane was soon aware of this fact. He sought an opportunity to make a more extended declaration. He appointed a meeting to be held in Lawrence, stating that he would discuss the political issues of the day and champion the Free-State cause. That meeting was described by Milton W. Reynolds in an article in the Kansas City Times in 1885, as follows:

The crowd was immense. They came from their cabins on the prairies (now palaces), from the valleys and the hills. They wanted to know from his own mouth the "Grim Chieftain's " position on political questions. The hour came and the people to hear. Lane was in his best mood. He was prepared for a vituperative, sarcastic, ironical and intensely personal speech. Such the crowd usually likes, or used to in the early days, when men were walking arsenals and crept over volcanoes. Such an analysis of character was never heard before or since in Kansas. It was equal to John Randolph's best effort in that line. His late Democratic associates were denounced, burlesqued, ridiculed and pilloried in a hysteria of laughter by an excited, cyclonic crowd. No one ever afterward doubted where Lane stood. He crossed with a leap the Rubicon of radical politics and burned all his bridges behind him. He was not baptized, - he was immersed in the foaming floods of radicalism. As the whitecaps rose higher on the stormy and tumultuous political sea, Lane contended the stronger and baffled them. Robinson, the safe and conservative leader, slowly but gradually faded from public view, and finally was distanced and downed by this erratic son of destiny, - but not until the victories were won and all had been achieved that was meant by the Kansas idea, at least so far as Kansas was concerned; and in the great future it matters little whether Caesar has his party, and Antony has his party, and Pomeroy has his party, if so be the Commonwealth has a party. Lane's services for the Free-State cause are imperishable.


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

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