America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Politics as Farce: The Lecompton Constitution

On the seventh of September delegates to the Kansas constitutional convention, elected by the small proslavery minority the previous June, were to meet at Lecompton, the drab little territorial capital overlooking the Kansas River. That was just two weeks after the shocking failure of the Ohio Life and Trust, when the financial panic filled the columns of the press and was foremost in the public mind. Yet, even then a conservative Philadelphia editor believed that the panic was a more transitory event than those he feared would soon occur in Kansas. He described the ingredients of a crisis which, "unless averted in season and with decision," would bring with it "more intense and bitter strife" than that territory had yet experienced. Fearing that the convention would attempt to coerce the admission of Kansas with a constitution "framed and adopted by a packed jury," he begged the administration to honor its commitment to determine the will of the majority by an honest vote. Failing that, the convention would "stir up the embers of discord again, and raise a fire which human agency may not easily extinguish." 1

Prior to their election, the delegates from Douglas County, among them, John Calhoun, had publicly pledged to vote for the submission of the Lecompton constitution for popular ratification. That was before the free-state party, at its Grasshopper Falls convention, had decided to take part in the election of a new territorial legislature. Its decision made it likely that free-state partisans would also turn out if they were given an opportunity to vote on the constitution. Proslavery support for submission consequently declined. "This constitution," the St. Louis Missouri Democrat boasted, "if submitted to the people . . . at a fair and free election, would be voted down by an overwhelming majority. The members know it. . . . They are trying, therefore, to avert this inevitable result." 2

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