|1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS||Chapter 33||Part 1|
The principal difference between the two great political parties prior to 1850 was one of interpretation of the Federal Constitution. The Democratic party had contended for a strict construction, counting the constitution a compact between sovereign States, insisting that the government formed under it was limited to those functions explicitly authorized by its terms. The Whigs believed that by the adoption of the constitution the States were merged into a nation with the right to do any and all things necessary for its growth and maintenance whether directly specified in that instrument or not. They were known as loose constructionists, and were favorable to protective tariffs, internal improvements, and national bank currency, and they came finally to insist that the Federal Government could and should control slavery in the Territories. They were the successors of the Federalists, from whom they inherited their principles and tendencies, which had been formulated chiefly by Alexander Hamilton.
Neither of these parties was sectional, and up to 1850 the Whigs did not constitute an anti-slavery party, nor the Democrats a Pro-Slavery party. In 1848, for President the Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, of Louisiana, a slaveholder, and did not adopt a platform. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, of Michigan, on a strict construction platform. The Whigs were successful, but in 1850, Henry Clay, their leader, proposed a compromise of the conflicting claims growing out of slavery and related questions. The principles of this compromise were enacted into laws, that having the greatest influence on the future of the country being the Fugitive Slave Law, which was much more stringent than any former statute on the subject. Fugitive slaves were to be by Federal officials restored, wherever found, to their owners without trial by jury, and all citizens were expected to aid in such restoration. The people of the North objected to being set to slave hunting for Southern masters, and some States enacted what was known as personal liberty laws, designed to protect free negroes and fugitive slaves; and the Underground Railroad, over which fugitive slaves were assisted to reach Canada, became a well-organized and efficient institution.
The Fugitive Slave Law killed the Whig party. Its dissolution furnished the material for numerous small groups, none of them of enough importance to be called a national party. The Northern Whigs called themselves Anti-Nebraska Men, as they opposed the first attempts to organize a Nebraska Territory west of Missouri and Iowa. The Barnburners became the Free-Soil Democrats. All shades of political opinion were represented by groups, down to Hunkers and Know-Nothings. As the slavery conflict developed there came a gradual realignment of parties, most of these minority groups going over to the Anti-Nebraska Men, who, in 1855, had called themselves the Republican party, and in 1856 a National Republican party was organized. The new party was in fact successor to the Federalist and Whig parties, and it inherited their loose construction principles, the policies of protective tariff, internal improvements, national bank currency, and it added the burning issue of opposition to the extension of slavery.
In 1856 the National Convention of the Republican party was held at Philadelphia, on the 17th of June. Most political elements in the United States opposed to the Democratic party were represented in the Convention. The National issue at that time was Kansas. The Republican party championed the Kansas cause, and free Kansas was its platform. The nature of the contest in Kansas Territory was such that it appealed to all anti-slavery people without regard to their former political affiliations. The issue thus made appealed to the people generally in the Free States. John C. Fremont was nominated as the candidate of the party for President. So vital were the principles declared by the Republican party that it came near electing its candidate for President in its first national campaign. The Free-State men of Kansas who took part in this campaign exerted a wonderful influence. In this matter James H. Lane did more than any other Kansan.
The wonderful showing made at the polls by the Republican party in 1856, made it certain that the party thus formed of the anti-slavery elements of the country, would become a permanent political party in America. That it may be known to just what extent Kansas entered into the platform of this party in 1856, it is believed necessary to here set out that platform complete:
This Convention of Delegates, assembled in pursuance of a call addressed to the people of the United States, without regard to past political differences or divisions, who are opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, to the policy of the present Administration, to the extension of Slavery into Free Territory; in favor of admitting Kansas as a Free State, or restoring the action of the Federal Government to the principles of Washington and Jefferson, and who propose to unite in presenting candidates for the offices of President and Vice-President, do resolve as follows:
Resolved, That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution is essential to the preservation of our republican institutions, and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the Union of the States, shall be preserved.
Resolved, That with our republican fathers we hold it to be a self-evident truth that all men are endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior designs of our federal government were to secure these rights to all persons within its exclusive jurisdiction; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no person should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing slavery in any territory of the United States, by positive legislation, prohibiting its existence or extension therein. That we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, of any individual or association of individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained.
Resolved, That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign power over the territories of the United States for their government, and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and the duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery.
Resolved, That while the Constitution of the United States was ordained and established by the people in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty, and contains ample provisions for the protection of life, liberty and property of every citizen, the dearest constitutional rights of the people of Kansas have been fraudulently and violently taken from them - their territory has been invaded by an armed force - spurious and pretended, legislative, judicial and executive officers have been set over them, by whose usurped authority, sustained by the military power of the Government, tyrannical and unconstitutional laws have been enacted and enforced - the rights of the people to keep and bear arms have been infringed - test oaths of an extraordinary and entangling nature have been imposed, as a condition of exercising the right of suffrage and holding office - the right of an accused person to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury has been denied - the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures has been violated - they have been deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law - that the freedom of speech and of the press has been abridged - the right to choose their representatives has been made of no effect - murders, robberies and arsons have been instigated and encouraged, and the offenders have been allowed to go unpunished - that all these things have been done with the knowledge, sanction and procurement of the present Administration, and that for this high crime against the Constitution, the Union and Humanity, we arraign the Administration, the President, his advisers, agents, supporters, apologists and accessories, either before or after the facts, before the country and before the world, and that it is our fixed purpose to bring the actual perpetrators of these atrocious outrages and their accomplices to a sure and condign punishment hereafter.
Resolved, That Kansas should be immediately admitted as a State of the Union, with her present free Constitution, as at once the most effectual way of securing to her citizens the enjoyment of the rights and privileges to which they are entitled, and of ending the civil strife now raging in her territory.
Resolved, That the highwayman's plea, that "might makes right," embodied in the Ostend Circular, was in every respect unworthy of American diplomacy, and would bring shame and dishonor upon any government or people that gave it their sanction.
Resolved, That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean, by the most central and practicable route, is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country, and that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and, as an auxiliary thereto, the immediate construction of an emigrant route on the line of the railroad.
Resolved, That appropriations by Congress for the improvement of rivers and harbors, of a national character, required for the accommodation and security of our existing commerce, are authorized by the Constitution, and justified by the obligation of government to protect the lives and property of its citizens.
Resolved, That we invite the affiliation and co-operation of freemen of all parties, however differing from us in other respects, in support of the principles herein declared; and, believing that the spirit of our institutions, as well as the Constitution of our country, guarantee liberty of conscience and equality of rights among citizens, we oppose all legislation impairing their security.
Kansas also furnished a part of the Democratic platform in 1856. The National Convention of the Democratic party was held at Cincinnati on the 2d of June. The course of the party in Kansas could not be endorsed before the country, and the Democratic party was compelled to adopt generalities rather than point to its course in Kansas Territory.
As to Slavery, the Convention resolved that Congress has no power to interfere with it in the States; that all efforts to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery ought to be discountenanced, as they lead to dangerous consequences. That the Democratic party will abide by a faithful execution of the compromise measures of 1850, including the fugitive slave law, "which act cannot, with fidelity to the Constitution, be repealed, or so amended as to destroy its efficiency." That the Democratic party will resist all slavery agitation in or out of Congress. That they will uphold the resolutions of 1798. That, repudiating all sectionalism, they adopt the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska bill - that is, the non-interference of the general government with slavery, which was the basis of the compromise measures. That they recognize the right of new States to regulate their domestic institutions, with or without slavery, as they please. That the party is in favor of State Rights, and against monopolies and special legislation for sectional benefit.
The contrast between the evasive, time-serving paragraph in the Democratic platform, and the stirring and magnificent appeal to moral sentiment of the country to be found in the Republican platform, has seldom been equaled in party declarations in the United States. The assertion of Abelard Guthrie that the Republican party was the result of the efforts to combat the course of the Democratic party in regard to Nebraska Territory, later Kansas Territory, is well established. The national character of Kansas history is in no other way so well proven as in a study of the political conditions in America from 1845 to 1860. The great questions of the day in all that period touched Kansas, and for nearly ten years of that time, Kansas was the paramount question in American politics. And the Civil War resulted from the success of the Free-State men in Kansas. There the two national parties were struggling - one for the supremacy of Freedom, the other for Slavery. When Freedom won, Slavery endeavored to destroy the Union. The same struggle that had raged in Kansas was transferred to the whole country, with the life of the Union at stake. And the Kansas principles triumphed in the nation. Kansas has a national history - no other State has such a history.
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