There were two very important political movements during the year 1857. One was the projection of the Lecompton constitution, the other was the election of a new territorial legislature. As was said before the pro-slavery people had changed their policy. It had become evident even to them that slavery could not be established in Kansas by force and violence. So there were no more armed invasions from Missouri. But the contest was not ended by any means. It had become a contest of diplomacy instead of arms. The pro-slavery party had the advantage in being in possession of the forms of law. The free-state party had the advantage of preponderating numbers, and probably of skill in management. The pro-slavery men had given up the idea of force, and they had given up the idea of establishing slavery by a fair vote of the people. They had one resource left. The old Shawnee legislature had been elected for two years. Its second session commenced in January, 1857. The plan that they now adopted was that this legislature should provide for a constitutional convention, which should form a constitution, and send it to congress, expecting congress to admit Kansas into the union under it. Thus Kansas would be a slave state in spite of the wishes of three-fourths of its people. The bill for this purpose was very skillfully drawn. Dr. Gihon, Governor Geary's private secretary, says it was drawn up by the southern senators in Washington, and sent to Kansas ready for the legislature to pass. At all events it was so skillfully drawn that the pro-slavery men could easily keep control of the government from beginning to end. Governor Geary opposed the movement, and this brought him into conflict with his former friends. He offered to sign the bill, if a clause were inserted requiring the constitution to be submitted to a vote of the people. But they said, "this would defeat the object of the bill, which was to secure Kansas to the South as a slave state, beyond any possibility of doubt." They said, "the South has reached a crisis, and must have Kansas." They said if the "constitution were submitted to a vote, the free-state fellows would vote it down. If Kansas were a slave state, however, the abolitionists would leave it." The bill, therefore, passed as it had been proposed. Governor Geary vetoed it, but the legislature passed it over his objections.
The election for delegates to this convention was set for June 15th. As the day approached the question arose, shall the free-state men vote at this election, and shall they try to get control of the convention? The question was discussed among the people, and at conventions called to confer on that subject. Governor Walker urged them to vote. But the free-state men saw so many objections, that it was finally decided to let the election go by default. They said it was the product of the old bogus legislature which they had repudiated, and to vote for delegates would be to recognize the acts of that body. Then the bill creating the convention, provided for a census and registration. None could vote who were not in the territory March 15th. The large free-state immigration of the spring was thus excluded. The census was taken by the county officers who were all pro-slavery men. While they were careful to register all pro-slavery voters, hundreds of free-state men were omitted. Worse than this, in nineteen interior counties, which were strongly free-state, no census whatever was taken, and they were practically disfranchised.
The sixteen counties where the census was taken were either on the Missouri border or near that border, and frauds would be easy. The whole thing was framed to give the convention to the pro-slavery party without fail. The free-state men argued that against such odds they had no chance of success, and that it was both more consistent and more wise to ignore the whole thing. When the election took place, therefore, pro-slavery men alone voted, and only about twenty-two hundred votes were cast out of a registration of nearly ten thousand voters. The convention therefore was unanimously pro-slavery, as it was intended to be.
Meanwhile another question began to loom up which obscured that of the convention. In October a new territorial legislature was to be chosen. Should the free-state men participate in this election, and endeavor to get possession of the law-making power of the territory? Governor Walker was very anxious they should do so. Hon. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, also urged them to participate in that election. If they could only get control of the legislature, they would have in their own hands the power by which the pro-slavery party had so grieviously harrassed them for two years. There were many reasons urged for not participating. The apportionment of members of the legislature was based on the defective census taken in the spring. The census gave the pro-slavery sections all the advantage in the apportionment. Besides this was the fear that fraud would be practiced as it had been before, and the legislature would be stolen from them whatever the real vote might be. Governor Walker promised them, however, that they would have a fair election, and that fraud and violence would not be permitted. After an examination of views and many conferences and conventions, the free-state men decided to go into the election, and they made a thorough canvass of the territory to that end.
The election occurred October 5th. The governor was as good as his word in preventing violence at the polls, or any invasion of foreign voters. He had troops at all the voting places where there was any fear of trouble, and the election passed off quietly. The next morning the free-state people were made jubilant by the returns. They had won in the contest, and the coming legislature was theirs by a large margin. The people of Lawrence were particularly enthusiastic. They had been harrassed for two years by acts of that bogus legislature which everybody knew was a fraud, but from whose grasp they could not be delivered. Their leading men had been hounded continually by writs and prosecutions which had no valid basis, but which dragged them before a court in which they could get no justice. Many of them had been imprisoned for months on charges which their accusers did not dare to have investigated, and so did not deign to bring them to trial even before their own partisan courts. Others were compelled to keep in hiding, or leave the territory to avoid arrest, and escape persecution. Now the power which had been so effectively used to annoy them, they could use for the furtherance of order and good government. The people of Lawrence had entered into the election with great spirit, and Douglas county had polled a large vote.
Among the means resorted to by the pro-slavery managers to prevent free-state success was that of yoking the free-state counties with pro-slavery counties on the border. Thus Douglas county was yoked with Johnson county, and the combined district was allowed eight members. But the free-state men were able to overcome this. Douglas polled 1638 votes for the free-state ticket and 187 for the pro-slavery ticket, while Johnson county only reported a small majority the other way. The morning after the election showed some 1500 majority for the free-state candidates. But the second day after election put another face on affairs, and the enthusiasm of the people of Lawrence changed to indignation. The little precinct of Oxford, in Johnson, was reported as having cast 1638 votes, overcoming the large vote of Douglas county and giving the election to the pro-slavery candidates. Everybody knew it must be a fraud, and nobody pretended to deny it. But the returns were regular, and sworn to by the judges. On inquiry they found that the polls had been open for two days at Oxford. On the first day 91 votes were cast, the utmost limit of the legal vote. That night they had messengers at all the precincts in Douglas county to watch the count. As soon as the result was known they rode during the night to Westport and reported the size of the free-state majority. The polls were opened again at Oxford, therefore, and 1547 additional votes reported. Notwithstanding this large vote, but few people were about the polls that day. The names on the poll list were not known in that community. It was afterward found that the list was written in alphabetical order, and had been copied from the Cincinnati directory.
The people of Lawrence were in what might be called a "state of mind" when they learned these facts. They found the English language a feeble medium through which to express their feelings. Those who had opposed voting said "We told you so." Some were in favor of one thing and some another. But it was finally decided to appeal to the governor. He had promised them an honest election, and it was his assurance that induced them to go into the election. He could do no less than protect them from a fraud so manifest and bold. They drew up a protest, therefore, in which they narrated the facts, and asked him to throw out these fraudulent returns and give certificates of election in accordance with the honest choice of the people. The following are a few of the names attached to this protest: G. W. Smith, A. Newman, C. Hornsby, J. M. Coe, August Wattles, J. F. Griswold, Samuel Walker, George Ford, E. D. Ladd, H. W. Baker, Gaius W. Jenkins, James Christian, and many others.
The pro-slavery people protested against the governor's interfering with the returns. They said he had no right to go back of the returns. It was his duty to give certificates to those elected by the face of the returns. The legislature must be the judge of all the rest. But the governor was as indignant as the people. The case was so plain that there was but one course to pursue. To give certificates to men elected by such unblushing frauds would be an outrage beyond anything yet endured. He refused to recognize the Oxford returns, therefore, and gave certificates to the free-state candidates. It hardly seems credible that an act of such manifest justice should be made the ground for the governor's removal from office. Yet such was the case. Governor Walker went to Washington soon after the election to confer with the administration. He got no satisfaction, and was soon after relieved of office.
The free-state men were very much rejoiced at the governor's decision. But their joy was not without mixture. There was still a fly in the free-state ointment, and a very large fly it was. They now had the territorial legislature, but the pro-slavery people had the constitutional convention. The free-state people had paid little attention to this during the summer, thinking it of very little consequence. But their enemies had not taken all this trouble for nothing. That constitutional convention was created for a purpose, and they did not propose to let it die on their hands. The convention met at Lecompton September 7th, but after organizing and doing some preliminary business they adjourned to October 19th. This would be after the territorial election. They met again October 19th. The election being over and the territorial legislature 'having passed into free-state hands, it behooved them to make the most of this last remaining instrument for establishing slavery in Kansas. They framed a constitution which declared that ''the right of a slave owner to such slave and its increase is the same and inviolable as the right of any property whatever." The constitution was sent to congress without being submitted to a vote of the people of the territory. The free-state people who had thus far looked upon the movement as of little moment, now began to be alarmed. If congress should accept the constitution, all they had done would mean but little. Their success in the territorial election could be of little consequence if this Lecompton constitution was to supplant the territorial government. They bestirred themselves, therefore, to put the real facts before congress, and prevent its adoption if possible. They knew the president would urge it, the senate would accept it, and the house was very close.
A convention, therefore, met at Lawrence December 2nd to confer as to the most effective means for preventing its adoption. It was one of the largest and most influential free-state conventions that had been held. There were one hundred and thirty delegates, and nearly every district was represented, and by the strongest men they could send. All the trusted leaders of the party were present, and the feeling on all hands was very intense. The debate was one of the ablest ever' conducted since the settlement. The delegates felt that they might be on the eve of thrilling events, and might be making history faster than they thought. The debate had something of the spirit which one may suppose animated the continental congress on the eve of the revolution. The burden of every speech was that this bogus constitution should never be forced upon them by any power or under any circumstances. " Appealing to the God of justice and humanity, we do solemnly enter into league and covenant with each other that we will never, under any circumstances, permit the said constitution, so framed and not submitted, to be the organic law of the state of Kansas, but do pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to ceaseless hostility to the same."
In addition to all this, Acting Governor Stanton had been petitioned to call together the new legislature in special session to provide for getting the sense of the people in some authentic manner. Stanton at once called the legislature together, and they met five days later, December 7th. They passed a bill providing for a vote on the Lecompton constitution January 4th, the day for electing state officers under that constitution. Over ten thousand votes were recorded against it that day. But the pro-slavery people rigged the election, and there was no negative vote.
At Washington the president urged the adoption of the constitution. The senate passed a bill to that effect, but it failed in the house. The house passed a bill submitting the constitution to a vote of the people of Kansas, and this failed in the senate.
Finally a compromise, called the English bill, passed both houses, submitting the constitution indirectly to a vote of the people. This vote was taken August 2nd, 1858, and the proposition was voted down in Kansas by an overwhelming majority, nearly five to one. This ended the Lecompton trouble, and was the last attempt to fasten slavery upon Kansas.