1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 35 Part 1

CHAPTER XXXV

ROBERT J. WALKER

Robert J. Walker

Gov. ROBERT J. WALKER

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

Governor Robert J. Walker was a Pennsylvanian; he was born in Northumberland, in that State, July 23, 1801. He died in Washington D. C., November 11, 1869, in his sixty-ninth year.

His father was one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States. Governor Walker obtained his general education at the University of Pennsylvania, and studied law under the immediate supervision of his father. In 1822 he settled in Pittsburgh, and began the successful practice of his profession; and here he was married to the daughter of Franklin Bache, and granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. In 1826 he removed to Mississippi, as he believed that State possessed greater opportunities for political preferment than did his own. He at once became active in politics, and rose to prominence therein and in his profession as a lawyer. He made the speech nominating Andrew Jackson to the candidacy which resulted in his first election to the Presidency. He was one of the staunchest supporters of Jackson in his position towards the nullification acts of South Carolina; he favored the coercion of rebellious States. In 1835 he was a candidate for the office of United States Senator from Mississippi, his opponent being Poindexter, a man of learning and attainments, and a supporter of the views of Calhoun. The position of Calhoun was discussed before the people of Mississippi, and for the importance of the question involved and the masterly manner in which it was debated, this canvass is only second to that of Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois at a later day. Walker not only secured the seat in the Senate, but prevailed upon the Legislature to adopt resolutions which denounced as treason nullification and secession. S. S. Prentiss, one of the greatest of American orators, was his opponent for the seat in the Senate in 1840, but Walker was elected by an overwhelming majority. Upon the question of slavery he was a disciple of Jefferson, and in the year 1838 manumitted his slaves. He favored Texas in her struggle for independence, and introduced in the Senate of the United States a resolution recognizing that independence. He advocated the annexation of Texas, but opposed the action making it all slave territory, and favored a law for the gradual emancipation of the slaves of the new State. He favored the election of James K. Polk to the Presidency; and upon his election Mr. Polk tendered him the position of Secretary of the Treasury. He accepted the office, and his administration of its affairs was one of the most successful and able in the history of the country. It devolved upon him to formulate a tariff for the production of revenue for the needs of the Government; in this measure he was most fortunate, reducing the taxes more than one-half and still providing sufficient money to meet all demands upon the treasury.

In the beginning of the year 1857 it was feared and perhaps believed by President Buchanan and his advisers that the Free-State men fully intended to put the government formed under the Topeka Constitution into active operation. It was plain that if they did so they would have moral and financial support from the North sufficient to enable them to maintain themselves for a considerable period of time, even if not to triumph finally. The result feared by the Administration was civil war in Kansas, perhaps in the Union. Some of the President's advisers were not averse to even this latter consequence when a choice between it and the failure of the cause of slavery in Kansas must be made, and they came to control the President; although it is probable that they never fully acquainted him with all their doings or intentions. But at the end of Governor Geary's administration the President seems to have been in doubt concerning the success of the slavery movement in Kansas, and to have had in mind the desire to at least save the State to his party, although not abandoning in the meantime the effort to make it a slave State as well as a Democratic State. For this work it was necessary to have as a successor to Governor Geary a man of recognized ability and tact. The position was offered to Mr. Walker, but he hesitated to accept it. To a man of his reputation it could bring no honor to increase those he had already achieved, and it had brought trouble and party condemnation to three predecessors. The longer he considered the matter the more reluctant he became to undertake the difficult task; and his final conclusion was to decline it, and he so informed the President in writing. The President, however, persisted, and enlisted Senator Douglas in his interest. They gave Mr. Walker assurance of hearty concurrence in his policy, and after long consideration he consented to accept the position of Governor, although against his better judgment. The policy to be pursued was discussed in all its relations and a perfect agreement arrived at between the President and Mr. Walker. In the light of later developments the President was insincere in his approval of Mr. Walker's policy, or he was gained over by the rabid members of his Cabinet, who were never in favor of it. In either event the conduct of the President was most reprehensible.

The course determined upon by the President and Mr. Walker embraced two principal features. The first was to compel submission to the laws of the bogus Legislature; this was to be accomplished by the use of the military forces of the United States, if necessary. The second was the formation of a constitution upon which Kansas should be admitted as a State. As a means for securing the acquiescence of the Free-State men, if not their active co-operation (which was desired and invited), the Governor was to guarantee that the constitution should, when formed, be submitted to a full and fair vote of the people for adoption or rejection.

Governor Walker was to be given a free hand in all matters in Kansas, and was not to be hampered or constrained by the preferences or influences of any former Federal officials in the Territory. Mr. Woodson, the Secretary, and who had been so actively allied with the Border-Ruffians and a willing instrument in their hands, was removed, and placed in the service of the Land Office. There was appointed in his place as Secretary, Frederick P. Stanton. Mr. Stanton preceded Governor Walker to Kansas by more than a month, arriving at Lecompton on the 15th of April and assuming the Executive authority on the 16th. He was a man of ability and large experience, and was strongly prejudiced in favor of slavery and against the Free-State men, holding them at fault and to blame in all the troubles which had convulsed the Territory in the past. In a speech in Lawrence he proclaimed with defiance that any further resistance to the laws of the bogus Legislature meant "war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt." And in this spirit did he take up the work of the administration of the affairs of the Territory.

The first Territorial Legislature (bogus or Border-Ruffian Legislature) enacted a law to submit the question of the expediency of forming a State constitution to the people at the general election to be held in October, 1856. Their decision at that election was favorable to the proposition. The Legislature elected at the same time provided for the election of delegates to form a constitutional convention; this election was to be held on June 15, 1857. Governor Geary was not satisfied with the bill, in that it failed to provide for the submission of the constitution framed by its direction to a vote of the people, and for other reasons, and so vetoed it. But the Legislature passed it over his veto. The bill made provision for a census of the inhabitants of the Territory qualified to vote as a basis of apportionment for delegates to the constitutional convention; and this census was also to be the basis and evidence of qualification of suffrage in the election, that privilege being denied to all persons whose names were not found recorded in its lists. This census was only partly taken; in more than half the counties no attempt whatever was made towards an enumeration, and the lists of the counties canvassed were incomplete and made in the interests of the slavery party. The counties having a Free-State population were purposely omitted from the census returns, no steps being taken to even provide enumerators for such counties. The Free-State men living in communities having a Pro-Slavery majority were responsible to some degree for the failure to be registered; they believed that a constitution formed by only a part of the people could find no standing in Congress. They hoped, too, that no convention would be held. Secretary Stanton, however, made the apportionment for delegates upon the incomplete and fragmentary census, depriving a large majority of the voters of the Territory of any and all voice in the formation of the constitution. It was believed at the time that this action was as much to fling defiance at the Free-State men as an official action could accomplish such an end. He came to see his error and repent of it when he knew the conditions actually existing in the Territory, and had determined to make his home here and be a candidate for office.

Governor Walker arrived at Lecompton on the 27th of May, 1857, and delivered his inaugural address. Mr. Stanton had outlined the policy to be pursued by the new administration, in an address which he issued upon his arrival in the Territory; it conformed to the understanding arrived at between the President and Governor Walker. In the address delivered by Governor Walker upon his assumption of power he confirmed what his Secretary had stated, and said that the policy indicated as being that which he intended to follow was "well known by the President and Cabinet, and approved by them." He said also, that in their knowledge and approval of those views, "I accepted the appointment as Governor of Kansas." The policy announced by Stanton and reiterated by Governor Walker was only that set out herein as having been agreed upon between the President and the Governor. He urged the Free-State men to take part in the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention, assuring them that the election should be conducted fairly.

The Free-State men were confident that they were a majority of the people of Kansas, and could they have been brought to believe that a fair election would be accorded them they would have been less reluctant to recognize the laws of the bogus Legislature to the extent of participating in an election called by its authority. But the whole administration of Territorial affairs was in the hands of their avowed enemies or persons they had little reason to trust. Governor Walker was a stranger, and Stanton had shown his prejudice in favor of the Pro-Slavery party in making the apportionment upon the unfair and fraudulent census. If they could have been convinced of the honest intentions of Governor Walker, they doubted his ability to carry them out; many doubted his good faith. The Pro-Slavery men were in such advantageous position by reason of the apportionment that it seemed a hopeless effort to try to win the convention at the polls. After much discussion it was finally decided to let the election go by default. This decision was reached at a convention held in Topeka, June 9th. Upon the same day the Free-State Legislature convened at the same place, but it attempted the transaction of but little business. It provided for the election of State officers on the third Monday in August, and made Topeka the State capital. The Free-State men determined to await developments under Governor Walker's policy.

The result of the election for members of the Constitutional Convention was entirely satisfactory to the Pro-Slavery party. There were no members from Free-State communities, and the character of the convention was such as the Administration at Washington and the Democratic party generally hoped would dominate all the institutions of Kansas.

A delegate convention of Free-State men met in Topeka, July 15th, to nominate State officers to be voted for in August. It provided for a mass convention to be held at Grasshopper Falls on the last Wednesday in August, to determine whether or not to take part in the election of a Territorial Legislature in the following October. On June 9th, Governor Walker delivered an address at Topeka, in which he invited and urged the Free-State men to participate in this election, and assuring them that in doing so they should be accorded every right to which free men were entitled and equal protection with all other voters.

When the convention met in Grasshopper Falls, August 26th, many of the Free-State men believed it impossible to win the Territorial Legislature, because of the unjust and unfair apportionment of the members to the various counties. This apportionment should have been made by the Governor, but was not, as he was not furnished with a copy of the act authorizing it until the time in which he should have performed his duty was past. By the terms of the law it became the duty of the President of the Council and the Speaker of the House to make the apportionment, in event of the failure of the Governor to do so. They did it to the satisfaction of the Pro-Slavery men and greatly to the prejudice and disadvantage of the Free-State party. In the deliberations of the convention the extreme Free-State men opposed the participation on the ground that to do so was to sacrifice and abandon the principles for which they had contended so long and suffered so much, in that it recognized and submitted to the laws of the bogus Legislature. A majority of the leaders and a great preponderance of the people believed it best to take part in the election. Lane, Robinson, and other men prominent in the councils of the party saw no sacrifice of principles in this course, and believed that there was the possibility and even the probability of success, and in that event, they saw great benefit to the Free-State cause. The people were beginning to know Governor Walker better, and to see that he really intended to have justice done if it was in his power. The convention voted to contest the election, and appointed a committee to prepare an address to the people. This address recounted the disadvantages under which the Free-State men entered the contest, not the least of which was the expected and usual invasion from Missouri. It was not so much intended to influence the action of voters at the election as it was to prevent discouragement in the event of failure to carry the Legislature.

When the Constitutional Convention met in September it organized itself into a working body and adjourned until after the election of the Legislature, intending, doubtless, to be governed largely in some parts of its work by the results of that election, especially in the manner of its submission for approval or rejection by the people.

The Legislative election was held October 5th, and resulted in a large majority for the Free-State party, although many belonging to it had refused to vote, believing that the inevitable invasion from Missouri would overcome any honest vote which could be polled in the Territory. The apportionment greatly favored the invading Ruffians, as it gave a large majority of the members to the border counties. Although Federal troops were sent to fourteen precincts, the Missourians cast several thousand fraudulent votes. In McGhee county there were cast twelve hundred and sixty-six votes, while at the election in the previous June there had been cast but fourteen votes. At Oxford, in Johnson county, the polls were kept open two days, and more than fifteen hundred fraudulent votes were cast. Frauds were committed at other points, but they were not of so extensive and glaring character.

Upon these fraudulent votes rested the hope of the National Democracy, as the Pro-Slavery party now styled itself. If the precincts of Oxford and McGhee were counted, the Legislature would remain in its control. But Governor Walker had made his assurances in good faith when he urged the Free-State men to take part in the Legislative election. It was quite apparent to him that the Oxford and McGhee returns were records of fraud and forgery. On the 19th of October the Governor and Secretary issued a proclamation rejecting the returns from Oxford, assigning as a reason that they were technically defective and erroneous. They disposed of the McGhee returns in the same manner on the 22d. The real reason for this action was the palpable fraud these returns recorded, and Governor Walker, in rejecting them, redeemed his pledge to the people that he would prevent and correct such so far as in him lay.

The National Democrats were in great rage at the course of the Governor. They held a mass meeting in Lecompton on the 23d, at which they passed resolutions of threat and indignation. But Governor Walker was not the man to be intimidated. Seeing that their threats were disregarded by the Governor, they appealed to Judge Cato, always a willing tool of the Ruffians. He issued a mandamus to compel the Governor and Secretary to issue certificates of election to the persons shown to have been elected by the fraudulent returns. They declined to obey the mandamus and offered to voluntarily yield themselves to arrest for non-compliance, but the Judge suffered the matter to go no further. Sheriff Jones was one of the defeated candidates who determined to obtain his certificate of election by force, and arming himself and taking a fellow-ruffian along, he strode into the Secretary's office, where he loudly demanded in coarse and threatening language that his papers be signed at once. No attention being given him or his threats, he departed much downcast. A committee of Free-State men waited upon the Secretary and offered to hang Jones if it would be any accommodation, but the Secretary declined to give them permission to perform an act which would give them such deep gratification.

This Legislative election and the action of the Governor and Secretary upon its fraudulent returns combine to constitute the turning-point in the political affairs of Kansas Territory. Against tremendous odds and such trials and obstacles as few people have encountered, the freemen of Kansas had now triumphed. They had gained control of the Territorial Legislature, the lawmaking power recognized by the Federal Government, and legal self-government was now for the first time within their reach.

General James H. Lane was appointed to organize the people to protect the ballot boxes at a Free-State convention held at Topeka, July 15, 1857. The Free-State convention at Grasshopper Falls on the 26th of August passed a resolution, "That General J. H. Lane be authorized and empowered to tender to Governor Walker the force organized by him under the resolution passed by the convention held at Topeka, on the 15th of July last, to be used for the protection of the ballot box."

Lane had thoroughly organized the Free-State forces in the Territory for the purpose of securing a fair election. So complete was his organization that the Border-Ruffians made no attempt at illegal voting in any of the interior precincts in the Territory, and to Lane, more than any other one man, was due the good order for the first time at the polls in any election held under the Territorial Government.

To this point, it appears, the Washington Administration had supported and favored Governor Walker's course in Kansas, as it was in accord with the policy insisted upon as a condition to his acceptance of the position. But the loss of the Legislature convinced the extreme elements of the Democracy in Kansas and Washington that the only issue for which they cared a straw was lost. They believed that it could be regained only by a course of masterly rascality. Many of the more moderate Democrats of Kansas admitted defeat, and were prepared to accept defeat. President Buchanan was not sanguine of the success of the slavery cause, from the time of Governor Geary's administration. But he had little influence himself in the affairs of State, and there were those in his Cabinet who had hope of yet forcing slavery upon the Territory. They realized that Kansas was the crisis in their affairs and fortunes, and they intended to make it a slave State or make their failure to do so a cause for civil war should no other sufficient cause arise. In the future fight in Kansas they must not be hindered by an honest and capable Territorial Governor, - so one of their first steps was to force such conditions upon Governor Walker that he would resign; if he failed to do that, they would find some way to remove him. They found the Constitutional Convention ready to hand, and its character was such that they knew they could rely upon it in any measure the future might show to their interests.

The Lecompton Constitutional Convention had met September 7th, and after effecting an organization had adjourned on the 11th to meet October 19th, when the result of the election for members of the Legislature would be known. When it was found that the Free-State men had elected a majority of that body, a fierce opposition to the convention arose. The freemen of the Territory said the convention should not form a constitution; that it was fraudulently constituted and represented only a minority of the people; and that if it was necessary to prevent its action, force would be used; whereupon the Administration provided United States troops for its protection.

Upon the day of its reassembling a Free-State convention met in Lecompton and demanded that it should adjourn and abandon the purpose to frame a constitution for Kansas. As no quorum was present, no meeting of the convention could be had; no quorum appeared for several days; the Free-State men hoped none would appear. Many of the moderate Democrats were indifferent, and were willing to acquiesce in the decision of the majority as expressed in the Legislative election. But not so with the rabid element; they finally secured a quorum. During a session lasting two weeks, a constitution was evolved which followed instructions from Washington, and there is little doubt that all the slavery features were prepared there, sent to the convention and adopted entire.

Aside from its provisions for the establishment of slavery the constitution was not bad in itself, although the manner of its formation would always have weighted with odium any provision it contained, however good. It provided that the boundaries of the State should remain those of the Territory; that the rights to slave property of the present inhabitants and the emigrants bringing slaves in the future were not to be interfered with; that free negroes were to be excluded from the State; that the constitution should not be amended, altered or changed until after the year 1864.

The manner of securing the adoption of the constitution, now that there was a known Free-State majority in the Territory and Governor Walker had demonstrated his antipathy to fraudulent elections, was a difficult question for the Pro-Slavery men. As no provision for its submission to a vote of the people was made in the act authorizing its formation, it had been charged by the Free-State men from the first that there was no intention that it should be submitted to a vote. But Calhoun denied this in a published statement, and the President wrote to Governor Walker July 12th, saying it would be submitted. Calhoun was Surveyor-General of the Territory, and the representative and confidential agent of the extreme and reckless element in Kansas of the Pro-Slavery party not only in the Territory, but in the South and in the Cabinet. He was chairman or president of the Constitutional Convention, and by it charged with the work of procuring the adoption of the instrument, and for this purpose clothed with unusual and extraordinary powers.

It is probable that had the National Democrats carried the Legislature, by fraud or otherwise, the convention would have been more liberal and have submitted the constitution to a vote of the people. Through the Legislature any action in favor of the Pro-Slavery party could have been had, and fair promises could have been made only to be overridden by fraud approved by that body. As the matter stood with them, the Legislature was in control of the Free-State men and Governor Walker had given indisputable earnest of honorable official action - hard conditions with which to be confronted by the Lecompton Constitution, its friends and advocates. In this perplexing dilemma a devious course was adopted. The whole constitution was not to be submitted, but a proposition which must adopt the constitution. Two forms of ballot were prepared. One was, "Constitution with no Slavery;" the other was, "Constitution with Slavery." A direct vote upon the constitution itself was denied. If the second proposition prevailed, the constitution entire was to be sent to Congress; if the first carried, then the sections establishing slavery were to be stricken out and the emasculated document sent to Congress.

Calhoun and not the Governor was to conduct the election, receive the returns, pass upon their validity, and do all other things in relation thereto which it was supposed an honest Governor would not do. Governor Walker now found himself occupying the same position reached by his predecessors. He was repudiated by his party in the Territory, and, while it is possible that he was not yet aware of it, he was abandoned by the Administration; and this for no other reason than that he had done precisely what the President had directed him to do. He was disheartened and disgusted with his party; he set out for Washington to consult the President. He found him wavering, halting, - full of excuses. When reminded of his former position on the question of submission, he took refuge in the subterfuge provided for him by the conspirators about him, - that he could not undertake to dictate to the Constitutional Convention. Seeing that he was deserted by the President as well as by his party, he realized that it was useless for him to return discredited to Kansas. He was powerless to perform his pledges to the people, and being so, there was nothing for him to do but to resign his position. This he did on December 17th, in a long letter to Secretary Cass, in which he sets out his reasons for accepting the Office, the President's position and assurances, and his change. The Secretary made a very lame reply.

Governor Walker espoused the cause of the Union in the Civil War, and reiterated his sentiments expressed against rebellion in the days of nullification. He advocated extreme measures. In April, 1861, he addressed a large meeting of the citizens of New York, in Union Square. In 1863 he was appointed financial agent of the Government in Europe, where he negotiated the sale of more than three hundred million dollars of the bonds of the United States with which to provide money to carry on the war.

Governor Walker was the ablest man appointed to a position in Kansas by the Federal Government in Territorial times. From the beginning of his administration dates the disintegration of the old parties in the Territory. He was true to his convictions and honestly endeavored to give the people a fair administration of their affairs, and when the action of the President made it impossible for him to do so he resigned.

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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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