Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859

By Elizabeth R. Varon | Go to book overview

9
War to the Knife:
IMAGES OF THE COMING FIGHT

The antislavery consensus that the Dred Scott decision was a link in a chain of portentous events—by which the Slave Power escalated its claims that the Constitution protected slavery in perpetuity—soon found affirmation in Kansas. Railing against the proslavery Lecompton constitution that had been forced on Kansans, Congressman John Bingham, a prominent Ohio Republican, declared in a January 25, 1858, speech that the Lecompton government and the Dred Scott ruling embodied the same “precise principle” and the same “stupendous lie”: that “one class of men have no rights which another are bound to respect.” The Kansas and Supreme Court ruses alike, Bingham insisted, were the workings of a “base conspiracy” to perpetuate “the wild and guilty fantasy of property in man.”1

When Bingham delivered his speech to Congress in January 1858, the Lecompton controversy had been steadily escalating for a year. Back in January 1857 the proslavery legislature of Kansas, in defiance of territorial governor John W. Geary, had called for a constitutional convention to be held that September in Lecompton. Free staters boycotted the election of delegates to the convention, to the frustration of Geary's replacement, Robert J. Walker of Mississippi. President Buchanan, hoping that Walker could uphold popular sovereignty to pacify Kansas, had handpicked him after Geary resigned in a

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