America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
1858: The Fruits of Lecompton

The Kansas crisis ran its destructive course well into the summer of 1858. Although the arguments for and against accepting the Lecompton constitution had been exhausted in December, the debate continued after Congress reconvened in January and grew increasingly acrimonious with each passing day. Except for a few wavering northern Democrats and southern Whig-Americans, members of the House had taken firm positions before the Christmas recess. The 75 southern Democrats unanimously demanded the admission of Kansas as a slave state; the 92 Republicans unanimously opposed. A small majority of the 53 northern Democrats appeared ready to defy their constituents and support the administration, but more than twenty of them, led by Thomas L. Harris of Illinois and Samuel S. Cox of Ohio, were determined anti-Lecompton rebels. A few Whig-Americans from the Upper South also appeared likely to join the opposition. Throughout the debate the division was close and the outcome in doubt.

None was more adamant in his pro-Lecompton stand than Buchanan. A budget of discouraging news during the winter merely drove him to fight more desperately, apparently heedless of the cost. A confidential letter from Governor Denver, dated January 16, advised him in the strongest terms not to press for the approval of the Lecompton constitution. The result of approval was certain to be renewed violence in Kansas. Denver urged the President to favor instead the passage of an enabling act providing for another convention to write a new constitution. Kansas moderates, he predicted, would then organize in opposition to the extremists and saye the state for the Democracy. A delegation of anti-Lecompton Democratic Congressmen called on Buchanan to plead with him and to warn him that he would not have the votes to win. Impatiently he responded that he was both committed and confident and was determined, if necessary, to drive Lecompton through "naked." 1

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