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The war went on in Kansas. Armed guerilla bands traversed the country, and fought when they met opponents. About two hundred people were killed in one year. But it is needless to give further details. Governor Shannon, on coming to Kansas, was even more favorable to the South than Reeder had been; but even he grew weary of the demands and the methods of the slavery party, and resigned the office. John W. Geary of Pennsylvania was appointed the next governor. Geary had been in the Mexican War, and was the first commander of the City of Mexico after its surrender. He was afterward the first mayor of San Francisco, but had returned to the East. He accepted the governorship of Kansas, arrived in the territory in September, and soon had a semblance of order among the people. Geary was a strong executive, and, like Reeder, he honestly desired to do justice to both sides. The emigration from the North and the South still continued; but the North had a great advantage over the South. In the North there was a large floating population who found it easy to pack their goods and go to the West; but the slaveholder was also a land owner. He found it unprofitable, almost impossible, to migrate to the new territory; and if he induced the poor whites of his section to go, they were apt to espouse the cause of the free-soilers. It was now believed throughout the country that Kansas would become a free state. But the Missourians had not given up. They soon came to dislike Governor Geary. They threatened to assassinate him, and they made his duties so uncomfortable that he resigned the position on the 4th of March, the day on which James Buchanan became President of the United States. Behold, the third of the Kansas-Nebraska bill Democrats who had gone west to put that popular-sovereignty law into operation--and all had turned free state or had resigned because they could not endure the methods of the slavery party.

James Buchanan, during the campaign of the preceding summer, had promised that Kansas should have justice if he were elected. Many supported him on this promise. We shall see if he kept his word. He chose for governor Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, his life-long friend, his fellow-member of the Polk Cabinet, and the author of the Walker Tariff. Walker accepted with much reluctance, only after the president had promised to sustain him in dealing justice to both sides. Arriving in Kansas late in May, 1857, he pronounced his inaugural, a document that the President and Douglas had read and approved. Walker was a slaveholder and a Democrat of the old school; and he had hoped to see Kansas a slave state. But he was honest to the core; and when he looked over the field and saw that three fourths of the people were of the free-state party, and that Kansas could not be made a slave state by fair means, he determined not to undertake the task. Furthermore, he determined to resist the Missourians if they attempted to use fraud. An election was called for June 15, to choose delegates to a constitutional convention. The free-state people were suspicious, and they refused to vote; the other side elected the delegates. The governor had promised that any constitution framed should be submitted to a vote of the people. The convention me at Lecompton in September, and it soon brought forth the notorious Lecompton constitution.

When it became known to the southern leaders at Washington that this Lecompton convention was composed of proslavery men, a moment was set on foot to have the territory apply for immediate statehood under this proslavery constitution which they produced. But the people of Kansas were clamorous in demanding a vote on their constitution. Governor Walker had promised them this right. James Buchanan had written him, as late as August 12, that he would sustain him. "I am willing to stand or fall, on this question of submitting the constitution to the bona fide settlers of the territory," wrote the President. This promise was doubtless honestly given; but in the following months the President experienced a change of heart. He fell under the spell of the southern leaders as completely as Pierce had done, and he determined to force the admission of Kansas under the slavery constitution framed at Lecompton.

Meantime the proslavery leaders in Kansas, to make a show of fairness, decided to submit their constitution in part to a vote of the people, and by an ingenious method they would save the constitution. The vote was to be for the Lecompton constitution with slavery, or for the constitution without slavery. No opportunity was given to vote against the constitution. But the whole arrangement was a farce and a snare; for if the constitution without slavery was adopted, it still contained the clause, "the right of property in slaves now in the territory shall in no measure be interfered with," and Kansas would practically become a slave state. The free-state settlers therefore refused to vote at all. This scheme did not originate in Kansas; it was hatched in Washington, in the brain of the southern politicians. But this fact is less strange than the fact that this President from Pennsylvania espoused the cause and sacrificed himself and his party in attempting to carry it out. Governor Walker stood aghast at these proceedings, which he could not prevent. A minion of the slave power approached him and declared that if he would espouse the cause of the Lecompton constitution, the presidency of the United States lay open to him.¹ But Walker spurned the offer, pronounced the scheme a "vile fraud, a base counterfeit," and declared that he would break with the administration rather than take a hand in the dastardly business. So much for Robert J. Walker; but James Buchanan--

¹Rhodes, Vol. II, p. 279.

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The Struggle for Kansas
Created May 20, 2000
©Kathy Leigh 2000
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