1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 36 Part 1

CHAPTER XXXVI

FREDERICK P. STANTON

Gov. FREDERICK P. STANTON

[Copy by Willard of Portrait in Library of Kansas State Historical Society]

Frederick P. Stanton was born in Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, 22d December, 1814. He died in Ocala, Florida, June 4, 1894, in the eightieth year of his age.

His father, was a poor man - a bricklayer; he taught his son his own trade, and together they followed it. At this occupation young Stanton earned sufficient money to take him through the private school of Benjamin Hallowell, in his native town. He was a boy of more than ordinary ability, and at the age of eighteen was made assistant tutor in Mr. Hallowell's school. He afterwards graduated from Columbia College. His first work after leaving college was teaching the village school in Ocoquan, Virginia; afterwards he was a teacher in Portsmouth Academy, in the same State. He remained but a short time in any of these occupations, and was constantly seeking better positions. At the age of nineteen he was elected principal of the Elizabeth City Academy, in North Carolina, where he remained two years. All this time he read law as he could find time to do so, and at the age of twenty-one was admitted to practice in his native town. Immediately after his admission to the bar he removed to Memphis, Tennessee, where he engaged in the practice of his profession. He took a prominent part, in politics, especially in those of his adopted State, and for two years wrote the political editorials of the Gazette, one of the leading Memphis newspapers. In 1845 he was elected to Congress from the Memphis district; and he was four times re-elected, his final term expiring March 3, 1855. His retirement from Congress was voluntary. In his services there he was Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs, and also of the Committee on the Judiciary. He took a deep interest and a prominent part in all the business transacted by Congress, and his attitude toward measures was determined by his conception of justice rather than by political or party expediency, though he was an ardent Democrat. In 1855 he removed to Washington, and there engaged in the practice of his profession in the courts and the Departments of the Government. The results did not meet his expectations, and being intimately acquainted with the leaders of his party and on good terms with them, he sought an appointment in some location where political and material development would offer opportunities for political preferment. Kansas was then, as it has always remained, peculiarly fascinating. The wrecks of political fortunes were rapidly covering her shores, but this seemed to make men the more eager to launch their barks on her stormy and agitated political seas. In April, 1857, Mr. Stanton was appointed Secretary of Kansas Territory; he succeeded Secretary Woodson, who was made Receiver of Money in the Delaware Land Office.

Mr. Stanton arrived at Lecompton April 15th, and immediately assumed the duties of his office, by which, as Governor Walker had not yet arrived in the Territory, he became Acting Governor. He entered upon the duties of his office with the usual Democratic prejudice against the Free-State people, and a disposition to hold them responsible for all the troubles which had convulsed the Territory. On the 24th of April he delivered an address at Lawrence, in which he announced the policy which the Administration, at the instance of Governor Walker, had agreed to follow in Kansas affairs. One feature of this policy was the determination that the people of Lawrence should obey the laws of the bogus Legislature. As has already been stated, Mr. Stanton was bold and defiant in his address, and announced in an arrogant manner that the laws should be obeyed, and that further disobedience would result in "war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt."1 The impression created by the Acting Governor in the minds of the Free-State men of the Territory was not at first generally favorable to him; they believed that he was basing his future course upon information derived exclusively from Pro-Slavery sources, and from extreme men who had controlled the preceding administrations in their early stages. The Free-State men expected little from any man appointed to office by the President, and they expected the incoming administration would prove no more friendly to them than had the preceding ones.

The first duty of political consequence to the people falling to the Acting Governor was the apportionment of delegates to the Constitutional Convention to be held at Lecompton. Some account of this matter has been given in the consideration of the administration of Governor Walker, and it will be only mentioned here. The bill for taking the census to form the basis for this apportionment was passed by the Lecompton Legislature on February 19th, 1857. Governor Geary interposed his veto, but the Legislature was hostile to him, and passed it over his veto. If the census provision had been carried out to the letter and in good faith, little objection could have been made to it. But the sheriffs were to take the census, and as they were appointed by the county commissioners, who were in turn appointed by the Legislature, no hope of an honest enumeration was entertained by the Free-State people. There were thirty-four counties in the Territory, and the census was taken in but fifteen of these; and in these it was only partially taken, palpable frauds being committed in some communities. Johnson county was given four hundred and ninety-six votes, when in fact it was largely an Indian reservation with very few legal votes. No attempt was made to take the census in any of those counties where the Free-State men were in the majority, or where they lived in any considerable number. On May 20th the Acting Governor issued a proclamation making the apportionment of delegates upon this fraudulent and partial census; by this act he disfranchised more than one-half the voters of the Territory. His authority to make an apportionment at all was doubtful, and if he had such right he was in duty bound to have the census completed and corrected before he acted. His act was one of insolence and defiance, and after, he had been cast out and disowned by his party in the Territory and the President, when they had no further use for him, he made an apology to the Free-State men for his hasty and illegal action.

Governor Walker arrived in the Territory and assumed the duties of his office on the 27th of May. Until the resignation of Governor Walker, Mr. Stanton discharged his duties as Territorial Secretary. During this time the usual change had occurred in the feeling entertained by the Democratic party for the Governor of Kansas Territory. It forced Governor Walker's resignation and forced Secretary Stanton into the Kansas Free-State party. When Governor Walker left the Territory to appeal to the President, Mr. Stanton became again the Acting Governor of the Territory. He saw the unalterable opposition of the great majority of the people to the Lecompton Constitution, and was then fully acquainted with all the outrages attending the various stages of its concoction. He was, too, at this time fully informed of the exact proportion of influence assumed and that actually possessed in the Territory by the National Democracy. He knew by this time the merits of the controversy and conflict raging in Kansas. He could no longer remain ignorant of the fact that the Free-State people stood for every principle vital to the existence of the Republic; and also that the National Democrats while crying out, "Law! we invoke the law!" were in fact violating the spirit of all law, daily trampling the Constitution and Organic Act in the mire and holding both in contempt. The only position for an honest man with such information and knowledge was in the ranks of the majority struggling for their rights against the unlawful and reprehensible usurpations of the minority, aided and abetted by the President.

The Legislature elected on the 5th of October was composed in the majority of Free-State men. The prevention of the consummation of Democratic frauds in that election was one of the principal indictments brought by the Democratic party against Governor Walker and Secretary Stanton. The persistent efforts of Calhoun and the Washington Administration to force the obnoxious Lecompton Constitution upon the Territory, produced a profound agitation of the public mind, and aroused the people to a state of apprehension and wrought them to a high pitch of excitement. The Acting Governor was urged to call the Legislature in special session; and he, knowing that he had nothing to expect from the Government at Washington, and realizing that right, reason and justice were on the side of the Free-State men, issued his proclamation on the 1st of December, convening the Legislature in extra session on the 7th of the same month. It was stipulated by the leaders of the Free-State party that no general legislation should be attempted, and that the session should be devoted to devising some measure of relief for the people from their threatened danger. This act of Acting-Governor Stanton was the severest blow to the Administration party and the most profound service to the patriots of Kansas that had occurred. From this event dates the beginning of the ascendency of the Free-State people in the affairs of government in the Territory. For this act Mr. Stanton was taken to the hearts of the Free-State people, who forgave and forgot his early acts of oppression.

The chicanery of the National Administration and its corrupt tools in Kansas had so bound and rendered helpless the Territory that there was little the Legislature could do to bring immediate relief. The Constitutional Convention had empowered its president, the disreputable Calhoun, to take all steps necessary to foist the result of its labors upon the Territory. As the work was finished, little could come of questioning the authority and legality of the convention.

The Legislature assembled at Lecompton on the day set apart. C.W. Babcock was elected President of the Council, and G.W. Deitzler, Speaker of the House. The members were inexperienced in the mode of procedure for the enactment of legislation, and to this cause must be attributed in some measure their failure to afford the full sum of relief expected. The act authorizing the formation of the Lecompton Constitution was repealed. An act was passed providing for the submission of the constitution to the full and fair vote of the whole people. A joint resolution addressed to Congress was adopted, protesting in the strongest terms against the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution; and another memorialized that body to admit her to Statehood under the Topeka Constitution. A law for the punishment of election frauds was enacted; as was one, also, to provide for the organization of an efficient militia. The act of the bogus Legislature to punish rebellion was repealed. The Legislature adjourned December 17th.

Mr. Stanton expected to be removed by the President for his action in calling the Legislature in extra session. As the end of the session approached he was notified of his removal; and on the 21st of December he was succeeded as Secretary by James W. Denver, who was appointed Secretary and became Acting Governor.

Mr. Stanton continued his residence in Kansas. He espoused the cause of freedom and identified himself with the Republican party. In 1861 he was a prominent candidate for the office of United States Senator. Later in that year, when Senator Lane was understood to have been appointed a brigadier-general, and it was supposed that a vacancy in his office was caused thereby, Mr. Stanton was appointed by Governor Robinson to fill the unexpired period; but it was determined that no vacancy had been made.

Governor Stanton purchased a large tract of land in Douglas county, near Lecompton, and erected thereon a large and handsome residence, - for many years the most expensive in the State. In 1862 he removed to Farmwell, Virginia, and resumed the practice of his profession in Washington. In 1886 he removed to Florida, where he resided until his death.

Governor Stanton was a man of much ability, and while there was something of the politician visible in many of his acts, he was conscientious in his administration of public affairs in Kansas. He came to the Territory with the Pro-Slavery hatred and prejudice for the Free-State men and their efforts to obtain the right to govern themselves. But he found, as had Reeder, Shannon, Geary and Walker, that Pro-Slavery theories in the East and slavery in the process of being forced upon an unwilling people were two very different things. The enormities practiced in the latter instance revealed the hideous outlines of the former, and made him an enemy of the institution of barbarism. His conversion to the principles of freedom was thorough and genuine, and from that time he did as much as in him was to destroy slavery and establish liberty.


1 Mr. E.P. Harris, one of the early settlers in Kansas, and a man identified with the industrial and intellectual development of the State from the beginning, he having arrived with Lane's Army of the North on August 7th, 1856, has recently related to the author the circumstances under which the phrase, "War to the knife and the knife to the hilt," was used in this address. It seems that the Governor was, in a manner, goaded into the utterance of this unfortunate remark. He was persistently interrupted by some Free-State men who continually demanded to be informed of the consequences of resistance to the bogus laws. Mr. Stanton returned evasive answers for some time, evidently hoping that the interruptions would cease, but as the matter was pressed, he finally said:

"The laws must be obeyed; they will be enforced."

"Then," said the interrogators, "there will be war."

Mr. Stanton was exasperated. It seemed to him that there was an element present determined to antagonize him and question his good faith and sincerity. To suffer himself to be silenced by it at this time would, in his opinion, mark him as a man wanting in decision and courage and trouble him later in the administration of the duties of his office. Rising to his full height, and looking his troublesome and discourteous auditors squarely in the face, he sternly answered:

"Then war it must be, and it will be war to the knife and the knife to the hilt."

Mr. Harris says much of the address was conciliatory and manly, and evidenced a desire to see justice done to all parties, and that it was in the main satisfactory to the people of Lawrence and the Territory.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 2000.

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