1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 25 Part 1

CHAPTER XXV

THE BIG SPRINGS CONVENTION

The Big Springs Convention is one of the epochs in the progress of the movement for a free State. The arrival in ever increasing ratio of settlers opposing slavery gave hope to those who had borne the burden when few in numbers, when unorganized, and when threatened with destruction by a foreign mob. It was hoped and believed that there was sufficient population in the Territory favoring the erection of a free State to organize and sustain an outspoken aggressive Free-State party. If this hope could be realized, the real pioneers could be formed into a body and wield their political power with a definite purpose always in view. Their leaders would have behind them a united sentiment, - always the sustaining power and inspiration of a righteous cause. This sentiment would increase in volume as the Anti-Slavery emigration continued to come in. And this tide was certain to flow higher and higher, as it did, until it swept the Pro-Slavery party out of existence at the polls.

The time was opportune. The black cloud of extinction was rising above the Legislative halls at Shawnee Mission. The spirit of free men descended from those who had crossed the Alleghanies and subdued the wilderness of the Ohio would not submit to any subversion of their rights. They had fought too long for them and valued them too highly to lay them down at the bidding of any body of men, even the most high and mighty. Their fathers had told Jefferson they would set up for themselves if the Mississippi was not opened to their free use. These men had come to Kansas for the same reason their fathers had been migrating westward for a century - to better their condition. They desired homes for their families, and their experience taught them that it was to their advantage to have these homes in a State free from the blighting touch of slavery. On this subject their convictions were far deeper than even they themselves had thought of. They might become engrossed with their own affairs and be a little slow to leave them and respond to the call of public duty, but once afield, their determination grew grim as death. Nothing could thwart their will.

The Big Springs Convention formed the Free-State party and arrayed the Anti-Slavery people of Kansas as one united body against the further aggressions in Kansas of the slave propaganda, whether from Missouri or any other State.

The people began to hold meetings to consider the political situation in June. A call signed "Sundry Citizens" had been issued for a meeting at Lawrence on the 8th of that month. This meeting did little beyond calling another for the 25th of June, which assembled as directed at Lawrence on that day, to take into consideration, "the relation the people of this country bear to the Legislature about to convene at Pawnee." John A. Wakefield was President of the meeting and William Partridge was the Secretary. The committee on resolutions was composed of S. N. Wood, John Brown Jr., James P. Fox, Augustus Wattles, and A. F. Powell. They brought in the following preamble and resolutions, which were adopted:

WHEREAS, Certain persons from the neighboring State of Missouri have, from time to time, made irruptions into this Territory, and have by fraud and force driven from and overpowered our people at the ballot-box, and have forced upon us a Legislature which does not represent the opinions of the legal voters of this Territory, many of its members not being even residents of this Territory, but having their homes in the State of Missouri; and

WHEREAS, Said persons have used violence toward the persons and property of the inhabitants of the Territory; therefore,

Resolved, That we are in favor of making Kansas a free Territory, and as a consequence a free State.

Resolved, That we urge upon the people of Kansas to throw away all minor differences and issues, and make the freedom of Kansas the only issue.

Resolved, That we claim no right to meddle with the affairs of the people of Missouri or any other State, but that we claim the right to regulate our own domestic affairs, and, with the help of God, we will do it.

Resolved, That we look upon the conduct of a portion of the people of Missouri in the late Kansas election as a gross outrage on the elective franchise and our rights as freemen, and a violation of the principles of popular sovereignty; and, inasmuch as many of the members of the present Legislature are men who owe their election to a combined system of force and fraud, we do not feel bound to obey any law of their enacting.

Resolved, That the legally elected members of the present Legislature be requested, as good and patriotic citizens of Kansas, to resign and repudiate the fraud.

Resolved, That in reply to the threats of war so frequently made in our neighboring State, our answer is, WE ARE READY.

Resolved, That the people of Kansas are opposed to the establishment of slavery here, and if established it will be contrary to the wishes of three-fourths of our people.

Resolved, That Kansas has a right to, and does hereby, invoke the aid of the General Government against the lawless course of the slavery propaganda with reference to this Territory.

Resolved, That a FREE STATE CENTRAL COMMITTEE be appointed, and that each election district shall be entitled to one member, and each district having two Councilmen shall be entitled to two members.

The Free-State members did not resign as requested by this meeting, but forced the Legislature to expel them, thereby giving them and the Free-State men in the Territory, a stronger position before the people of the Country. There was. at this meeting, some idea of general organization in the Territory of the Anti-Slavery forces, and it was directed that a Free State Central Committee should be appointed, which was later done, with Dr. Robinson as Chairman.

The preliminary meeting which called the Big Springs Convention was held at Lawrence on the 17th of July, 1855, and was the result of a conclusion reached by Josiah Miller and R. G. Elliott, editors and proprietors of the Kansas Free State. It was designed to have a meeting or convention of all the Free-State elements in the Territory for the purpose of forming a platform for a Free-State party. There was at that time factions among the Anti-Slavery residents of Kansas, one of which, had taken up the plan of forming a state government upon which to apply for admission into the Union. It was composed of the most radical element. Those desiring to pursue a more conservative course wished to frame a platform of principles broad enough to embrace all Anti-Slavery people, and trust time and circumstances to harmonize differences and eventually defeat the Missourians at the polls as the population increased.

This preliminary meeting was held on the bank of the Kansas River, at the head of New Hampshire Street, under a large cottonwood-tree, where lumber for a warehouse had been deposited. It was known as the Sand Bank Convention and was well attended. John A. Wakefield was the Chairman and R. G. Elliott, the Secretary. A review of the early proceedings of the Free-State people in Kansas would indicate that no other man was ever Chairman of so many meetings, as Judge Wakefield. The Sand Bank meeting made the call for the convention at Big Springs to be held on the 5th of September. The delegates to the Big Springs convention were to be elected on the 25th of August. The election district in which Lawrence was situated, extended South to the Santa Fe Trail, and the voting place was fixed at Blanton's Bridge. At 2 o'clock the meeting was called to order by James H. Lane, and G. W. Smith was elected Chairman. J. S. Emery was chosen Secretary. The voting was delayed about an hour to give time for the arrival of all who wished to participate in the election of delegates. The delegates elected were G. W. Smith, R. F. Miller, Turner Sampson, H. Barricklow, Dr. A. Still, J. H. Lane, M. Hunt, W. Duncan, J. S. Emory, J. Hutchinson, J. D. Barnes, William Yates, R. G. Elliott, John Curtiss, and James McGee. The whole number of votes cast was one hundred and thirty-one. The delegates, by resolution of the voters, were given power to fill vacancies which might occur in the delegation. John Speer moved the following resolution, which was adopted:

Resolved, That discarding all other issues, this convention desires perfect amity and harmony amongst all Free-State men and that for the purpose of securing this end, our delegates are hereby instructed to use their influence in the Big Springs convention to reject all issues other than that of the prohibition of slavery in Kansas.

On motion of Dr. Robinson, the voters adjourned to meet the following Friday at 2 o'clock, P. M., in Lawrence, to organize the Free-State party for that election district. Elections for delegates were held in the other districts of the Territory on the same day.

Another meeting had been called for the 14th of August by the expelled members of the Legislature, who had assembled in Lawrence on the 11th of July. The meeting was one of the largest which had ever assembled in the Territory. There had been no agreement between the parties calling this meeting and those calling the Big Springs Convention, and while the 14th of August meeting had not been so designed, it, in fact, proved a sort of preliminary meeting for the convention held at Big Springs, and which had been called by the Sand Bank meeting, as we have seen. There was great interest in the meeting and delegates were present from all parts of the Territory. The meeting was called to order at 10 o'clock, A. M. Phillip C. Schuyler, of Council City, was elected president. The vice presidents were G. W. Smith, M. F. Conway, J. A. Wakefield, R. Mendenhall, A. F. Powell, and others whose names were not recorded in the proceedings. The secretaries were G. W. Brown and John Speer. The Committee on Resolutions were C. Robinson, G. W. Dietzler, John Hutchinson, G. W. Smith, of the first district. William Jessee and Samuel Walker of the second district; F. W. Giles and C. K. Holliday of the third district; S. F. Shore of the fourth district; C. A. Foster, W. K. Vail, W. A. Ely, and W. Partridge of the fifth district; I. T. Goodenough of the sixth district; M. F. Conway and __ Jones of the ninth district; George F. Warren of the fourteenth district; R. Mendenhall of the seventeenth district. At the afternoon meeting, James H. Lane made his first appearance in a Free-State convention as has been already noted. The preamble and resolutions were reported by Dr. Robinson at the afternoon meeting as follows:

WHEREAS, By act of Congress, approved May 30, 1854, organizing a government for the Territory of Kansas, a grant of legislative power was made to the lawful inhabitants of said Territory to enable them to make such laws and establish such institutions as would be most suitable to themselves; and, in order to accomplish this the said inhabitants were by said act empowered and directed to elect, according to a prescribed mode, a Territorial Legislature, with competent jurisdiction and capacity to act, under certain specific restrictions, over all rightful subjects of legislation; and, whereas, while exercising the authority thus conferred to elect members of a Territorial Legislature, the Territory was invaded and the inhabitants overwhelmed by large and numerous bands of armed men from a foreign State, who violently took possession of nearly all places through the Territory, at which said election was being held; who ruthlessly abolished the legally established mode of conducting the same, and who, according to their own mode, and by virtue of their own rights, in utter disregard of the act of Congress, organizing a government for the Territory, held an election for members of the Kansas Legislature, and elected certain persons as members of said Legislature, thus, to all intents and purposes, divesting the lawful inhabitants of the entire grant of legislative power which had been made to them by the Congressional charter; and, whereas, the Legislature thus elected is now in session on the borders of the State of Missouri, making laws for the government of the inhabitants and citizens of Kansas; having re-composed its two bodies after its assemblage and organization, the majority expelling the minority, and authorizing and admitting other persons to fill the places of those expelled; having filled a vacancy, arising in consequence of a resignation (S. D. Houston) by their own self act, without regard to the rights of the people to elect; having fixed a temporary seat of government at the Shawnee Mission; and in pursuance of this, abandoned the place of meeting to which they had been convened by executive authority; having now before them a bill which they will probably enact into a law, making the right of suffrage in the Territory dependent upon the payment of the sum of $1, without reference to the matter of inhabitancy, thus attempting to give up the ballot-box by law for all future time to persons from foreign States; having now before them a bill which they will probably enact into a law for the election of themselves of a board of permanent overseers, to be sent out in all the districts of the Territory with power to levy taxes to any amount, and otherwise exact from, drive and oppress the people; all, over and above, and in direct and meditated violation and open defiance of the act of Congress organizing a government for the Territory of Kansas, and an act supplementary thereto; therefore,

Resolved, by those of the people of the Kansas Territory now here in mass meeting assembled:

(1) That we regard the invasion of our Territory on the 30th of March last, as one of the greatest outrages upon the laws of the land and the rights of free citizens, ever attempted in this country, and the Legislature now in session on the borders of Missouri, the offspring of that invasion, and the inheritor of all its qualities of insolence, violence and tyranny - as a living insult to the judgment and feelings of the American people, and derogatory to the integrity and respectability of the Federal authority.

(2) That we indignantly repel the pretensions of that Legislature to make laws for the people of Kansas, that we regard it as acting entirely without the authority of law, not only in consideration of its having been elected against law, and in violation of the rights and will of the people, by armed men from a foreign State, but because its course, since its meeting and organization, has been utterly regardless of those conditions and requirements of the organic act, essential to a valid discharge of legislative functions, and such as has effected a complete forfeiture of any technicality of law by which, at first, it may have been supported.

(3) That, as men, born in a land of liberty, trained to precepts of freedom, and alive to those inspiring sentiments which have prompted in all ages heroic resistance to tyrants; as descendants of those, who, in 1776 braved the power of the mightiest monarchy on earth, rather than submit to foreign thraldom. we repudiate this insolent attempt to impose upon us a government by foreign arms, and pledge to each other, as our fathers did of old, "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors," to a resistance of its authority.

(4) That we regard it, in this crisis, as incumbent upon the people of Kansas to set aside all differences of political opinion, to cultivate a comprehensive and intimate intercourse with each other, effect a thorough union, and otherwise prepare for the common defense.

(5) That we consider the attempts to establish a Territorial form of government in this Territory, as, thus far, an utter failure; and that the people of the Territory should, at some convenient period, assemble at the several places of holding elections in the various districts in the Territory, and elect delegates to a convention to form a State constitution for the State of Kansas. with the view of an immediate State organization and application, at the next session of Congress, for admission into the American Union, as one of the States of the American Confederacy.

(6) That the people of Kansas can never be unmindful of the deep debt of gratitude they owe to Andrew H. Reeder for the firmness, ability and integrity shown in the discharge of his duty as Executive officer of this Territory.

As set out above the resolutions are in the form as modified later by the convention. As first brought in they caused much dissatisfaction and created some feeling. The sixth resolution was not in the first draft. A minority report was presented by Mr. J. Hutchinson, which endorsed the first four resolutions, but opposed a resolution calling a Free-State convention to form a constitution. The debate continued all the afternoon and was not concluded when the meeting adjourned. After the adjournment the delegates, as individuals, entered into an earnest discussion of the affairs of the Territory in an informal and friendly manner. The principal men sought to harmonize the divergent views and elements, and with good results. On the morning of the 15th of August, upon the reassembling of the meeting, the preamble and resolutions as reported by Dr. Robinson, and modified as above mentioned, were adopted amid great enthusiasm. The following resolution offered by John Speer committed the meeting to the Big Springs Convention.

And historians have failed to look back of this resolution to find the first inception of the Big Springs movement.

Resolved, That in conformity to past recommendations, the Territorial Free State Executive Committee be requested to call a convention of five delegates to each representative to be appointed in the several districts of Kansas on the 25th day of August, to meet at Big Springs on the 5th day of September next, for the purposes recommended in a call previously issued, and to take such other action as the exigencies of the time may demand.

BIG SPRINGS CONVENTION

Big Springs was a celebrated camping-ground on the California Road. It is in Douglas County, eleven miles east of Topeka. But two persons with their families lived there in September, 1855. They were W. Y. Roberts and W. R. Frost. Unfinished cabins were in view, however, in every direction. Many of the delegates supposing the accommodations would be inadequate for so large an assembly, came prepared to camp out. Their place of meeting was on the open plain, and no more appropriate place to formulate a plan to battle for liberty than the broad prairies on which the convention met could have been found. Here were men from the refinements of the New England homes and with college diplomas in their pockets. New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, - almost all the states north of Mason and Dixon's line were represented. Men from Missouri and from the foot hills of the Alleghany Mountains in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, were there.

The convention was called to order at eleven o'clock, A. M. W. Y. Roberts was temporary Chairman and D. Dodge, Secretary. A committee on credentials was appointed, with instructions to report immediately. It was composed of John Hutchinson, R. Riddle, A. Hunting, P. C. Schuyler, P. Laughlin, W. Pennock, John Fee, A. G. Adams, J. Hamilton, J. M. Tuton, R. Gilpatrick, J. M. Arthur, and Isaac Wollard. A committee on permanent organization was appointed, consisting of S. D. Houston, G. E. Warren, J. D. Barnes, William Jessee, A. G. Adams, E. Fish. John Hamilton, William Jordan, B. Harding, Isaac Wollard and S. Mewhinney. The convention then adjourned until 2:30 o'clock P. M.

The afternoon session met pursuant to adjournment. The committee on credentials reported the following persons as duly elected delegates to the convention:

First District. - G. W. Smith, J. H. Lane, John Curtiss, J. Emery, John Hutchinson, Turner Sampson, M. Hunt, R. G. Elliott, J. D. Barnes, William Yates, A. Still, H. Barricklow, B. W. Miller, W. Duncan, James McGee.

Second District. - J. M. Tuton, J. A. Wakefield, A. Curtiss, H. Y. Baldwin, H. Burson, William Jessee, Samuel Walker, T. Wolverston, J. C. Archibald, Charles Wright.

Third District. - William Y. Roberts, William Jordan, A. G. Adams, James Cowles.

Fourth District. - S. Mewhinney, J. T. Javins, E. G. Scott, A. J. Miller, W. Moore.

Fifth District. - A. P. Wyckoff, James Osborne, James M. Arthur, D. F. Park, William G. Nichols, Dr. R. Gillpatrick, G. W. Partridge, Isaac Wollard, Charles A. Foster, James Todd, Robert H. Brown, Enos Show. William K. Vail, Enos Strawn, Hamilton Smith.

Sixth District. - John Hamilton, James Johnson, F. M. Morris.

Seventh District. - P. C. Schuyler, George Bratton, Dr. J. D. Wood, Dr. A. Bowen, E. Fisk.

Eighth District. - J. E. Hohenick, Daniel B. Hiatt.

Ninth District. - S. D. Houston, William S. Arnold, James P. Wilson, Luke P. Lincoln, Dr. A. Hunting.

Tenth District. - William Pennock, J. B. Pennock, J. H. Boyd, George F. Warren, P. Dowlin, R. 11. Phelan, D. Dodge, H. M. Hook, James Salisbury, E. Castle, J. Parrott. John Wright, A. Guthrie, R. Riddle.

Eleventh District. - M. F. Conway, C. Junkens.

Twelfth District. - James Wilson, John Anesworth, Nathan Adams.

Fourteenth District. - S. Collins, John Fee, P. Laughlin, N. Carter, George W. Bryan, Benjamin H. Brock, William Poepges, B. Harding, A. Grooms, C. W. Stewart.

Fifteenth District. - William Crosby, H. J. Stout, J. C. Ridgeway, Elijah Pierce.

Seventeenth District. - R. Mendenhall, D. W. Mendenhall, G. P. Lowry.

The following letter was read to the convention.

WAKARUSA, SEPT. 5, 1855.

To the Free State Convention at Big Spring.

Gents: - I regret very much that private engagements have placed it out of my power to be with you today. It is only left me to hope and pray that you may be all of one mind, for the good of Kansas. Let our platform be broad and liberal, well defined and beyond the reach of misrepresentation.

In this immediate vicinity there are forty Free State voters, only five of that number will vote for a Free State with negroes admitted, and more than half will vote for a Slave State, if they are not excluded. In the Northern part of the Territory, the same sentiment prevails, in about the same proportion. However anti-Democratic such sentiments at first glance may seem to be, they can be sustained by the best of anti-slavery arguments. And next to being cut off from a Slave market, they are most feared by the pro-slavery party.

But I have not time for the argument here. I ask for myself, and in behalf of Western and Southern Free Soilers, that our platform be such that all who would confine slavery to its present limits may act in harmony, until interest compels the Slaveholder to think right thoughts. Let Kansas be free, and her children white.

Respectfully,

J. D. WOOD.

The committee on permanent organization reported for Chairman, G. W. Smith; for Vice-presidents, John A. Wakefield, John Fee, Dr. A. Hunting, and James Salisbury; for Secretaries, R. G. Elliott, D. Dodge and A. G. Adams. On motion of Mr. Roberts committees to consist of thirteen members each, apportioned to the council districts were appointed on the following subjects:

First. - A Committee to report a Platform.

Second. - A Committee on Congressional Election.

Third. - A Committee on State Organization.

Fourth. - A Committee on the Acts of the Legislature.

Fifth. - A Committee on Miscellaneous Resolutions.

After a recess of thirty minutes the Chairman named the committees as follows:

Committee on Platform. - Y. Laughlin, S. Collins, J. A. Wakefield, J. H. Lane, A. Still, D. Dodge, J. H. Byrd, J. Hamilton, W. Crosby, W. Y. Roberts, M. F. Conway, C. A. Foster, R. Gilpatrick.

Committee on State Organization. - B. H. Brock, A. Grooms, J. M. Tuton, R. G. Elliott, R. Mendenhall, H. M. Hook, E. Castle, J. Hamilton, H. J. Stout, A. Bowen, S. D. Houston, J. M. Arthur, Isaac Wollard.

Committee on Late Legislature. John Fee, N. Carter, W. Jesse, J. S. Emery, H. Barricklow, W. Pennock, J. Wright, M. Duncan, P. C. Schuyler, E. Pierce, Dr. Hunting, W. G. Nichols, G. W. Partridge.

Committee on Congressional Election. - G. W. Bryan, B. Harding, H. Burson, W. Yates, G. P. Lowry, G. F. Warren, R. H. Phelan, J. Johnson, J. C. Ridgeway, J. Cowles, W. S. Arnold, A. P. Wyckoff, J. Osborn.

Committee on Miscellaneous Duties. - C. W. Stewart, W. Poepges, C. Curtiss, S. Mewhinney, J. Curtiss, J. Parrott, R. Riddle, W. Jordan, J. P. Wilson, J. Todd, D. F. Park, F. M. Morris.

A Committee on Order of Business and Rules made the following report.

1st. In nominating a candidate for Delegate to Congress, the vote shall be cast by Representative Districts, and each District shall be entitled to as many votes as it is to Delegates in the Convention.

2d. A majority of all the votes shall be necessary to elect a Candidate.

3d. Parliamentary rules shall govern this Convention, and speeches shall be limited to fifteen minutes, and speakers shall speak but once on the same question.

On motion of Mr. Conway the first order was amended by substituting the words "upon all questions which may come before the convention" in the place of "in nominating a candidate for Delegate to Congress." Upon motion of J. H. Lane the convention adjourned to meet at nine o'clock A. M., September 6th.

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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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