Kansas Prohibitions on Anti-Slavery Material and Ending Slavery
“Bleeding Kansas” is a pivotal event in U.S. history. The documents compiled here reflect the contentious developments that unfolded as residents attempted to settle Kansas, using the theory of “popular sovereignty” to decide whether the state would permit slavery or not. These documents demonstrate efforts by slavery proponents to curtail the publication and spread of abolitionist materials.
This measure was passed as a way of defending slavery in Kansas while there existed uncertainty about the legality of slavery in the region. Moderate Democrats led by Stephen Douglas advocated for the policy of “Popular Sovereignty” in the 1850s. Popular Sovereignty left the question of whether a new territory would have slavery up to a popular vote. When new states were added, it threatened to overthrow a carefully constructed balance of slave and free states in the Senate. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise had ensured that slavery would not exist above the 36°30′ parallel (excluding Missouri itself), and admitted Maine as a free state to balance the slave state Missouri. In 1850 controversy emerged over the fate of newly acquired land in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Stephen Douglas and Henry Clay brokered a deal in which California was admitted as a free state while the Popular Sovereignty doctrine was allowed in New Mexico, Utah, and New Mexico. Additionally the South secured the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated the return of captured escape slaves be immediately returned to their masters. Republicans also made constraining the expansion of slavery as one of the central planks of their platform. Republicans assumed that the natural state of a territory was for a state to be free. Pragmatically they also wanted to stop the Westward expansion of slavery to weaken the coalition of slave owning states, with the hope that slavery would starve itself out.
In 1854 Douglas co-authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act with President Franklin Pierce. The law allowed for popular sovereignty in the Kansas territory, which was north of the 36°30′ parallel agreed upon in the Missouri Compromise. Many people came from outside the territory to attempt to decide the fate of the question of slavery in Kansas. Those who came in support of slavery were known as the “Border Ruffians” while those who came against slavery were known as the “Jayhawkers” (The University of Kansas’s mascot is the Jay Hawk in honor of them). Notable Jayhawkers included John Brown and several of his sons, who in 1856 reacted to the sacking of Lawrence by Border Ruffians, with the killing of five pro-slavery settlers in what became known as the Pottawatomie massacre. The violence collectively became known as “Bleeding Kansas”. John Brown would go on to attempt a raid on Harpers Ferry, with the idea of starting a slave rebellion to end slavery. In this the South saw one of the major realizations of their anti-abolitionist fears.
Those fears of a slave rebellion were manifest in this law. The Kansas Legislature realized that they might not be able to secure the votes to defend slavery, so they attempted to protect it through careful legislation. At the start of the bill one can see a fear over abolitionist’s aid of a potential slave rebellion. More critically one also sees the return to measures censoring the encouragement of a slave rebellion which one can also see in other measures from this chapter such as the sedition legislation proposed by Douglass in 1860, and the earlier laws passed during the Jackson administration regarding the mail.
While there were both slave and free capitals and constitutions of Kansas, the state was admitted as a free state.
What insights can we gather about how the defenders of slavery attempted to guard slavery through legislation? What is the role of informal expressions of power, such as violence in the fight over slavery? Contrast how these struggles are similar or different from those in England from earlier chapters.
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Kansas Prohibitions on Ending Slavery and Antislavery
An Act to punish offences against slave property
An act to punish offences against Slave property. Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislature Assembly of the Territory of Kansas:
Section 1: Every person bond or free who shall be connected of actually raising a rebellion or insurrection of slaves, free Negroes, or mulattos in this Territory shall suffer death. Section 2: Every free person who shall aid or assist in any rebellion or insurrection of Slaves, free Negroes or mulattos or shall furnish arms or do any overt act in furtherance of such rebellions or insurrections shall suffer death. Section 3: If any free person shall by speaking, writing or printing advise, persuade or induce any slaves to rebel, conspire against or murder any citizens of this Territory, or shall bring into printed, written, published or circulated, or cause to be brought into printed, written, published or circulated, or shall knowingly aid or assist in the bringing into printing, publishing, writing or circulating in this Territory any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet or circulation for the purpose of exciting insurrection, rebellion, revolt, or conspiracy on the part of slaves, free Negroes or mulattoes against the citizens of the Territory or any part of them, such person shall be guilty of felony and suffer death. Section 4: If any person shall entice, decoy, or carry away out of this Territory, any slave belonging to another with intent to deprive the owner thereof of the services of such slave, or with intent to effect or procure the freedom of such slave, he shall be adjudged guilty of Grand Larceny and on conviction thereof shall suffer death or be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than ten years. Section 5: If any person shall aid or assist in enticing, decoying or persuading or carrying away or sending out of this Territory, any slave belonging to another, with intent to procure or effect the freedom of such slave, or with intent to deprive the owner thereof of the services of each slave, he shall be adjudged guilty of Grand Larceny, and on conviction thereof shall suffer death or be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than ten years. Section 6: If any person shall entice, decoy, or carry away out of any State or other Territory of the United States, any slave belonging to another, with intent to procure on effect the freedom of such slave, or to deprive the owner thereof of the services of such slave and shall bring such slave into this Territory, he shall be adjudged guilty of Grand Larceny, in the same manner as if such slave had been enticed, decoyed, or carried away out of this Territory, and in such case the Larceny may be charged to have been committed in any county of this Territory, into or through which such slave shall have been brought by such person and on conviction thereof the person offending shall suffer death or be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than ten years. Section 7: If any person shall entice, persuade or induce any slave to escape from the services of his master or owner in this Territory or shall aid or assist any slave in escaping from the service of his master or owner, or shall aid, assist, harbor, or conceal any slave who may have escaped from the service of his master or owner, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than five years. If any person in this Territory shall aid or assist, harbor or conceal any slave who has escaped from the service of his master or owner in another State or Territory, such person shall be deemed guilty of felony and
punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than five years. Section 8: If any person in this Territory shall aid or assist, harbor, or conceal any slave who has escaped from the service of his master or owner in another State or Territory, such person shall be punished in like manner as if such slave had escaped from the service of his master or owner in this Territory. Section 9: If any person shall assist resist any officer while attempting to arrest any slave that may have escaped from the service of his master or owner, or shall rescue such slave when in custody of any officer or other person or shall entice, persuade, aid or assist such slave to escape from the custody of any officer or other person who may have such slave in custody whether such slave have escaped from the service of his master or owner in this Territory or in any other State or Territory, the person so offending shall be guilty of felony and punishmedent by imprisonment at hard labor for a time not less than two years. Section 10: If any Marshall, sheriff or constable or the deputy of any such officer shall when required by any person refuse to aid or assist in the arrest or capture of any slave that may have escaped from the service of his master or owner, whether such slave shall have escaped from his master or owner in this Territory or in any state or Territory. Such officer shall be paid in a Sum not less than one hundred nore more than five hundreddollars. Section 11: If any person print, write, or introduces into, published, or circulate, or cause to be brought into printed, written, published or circulated, or shall knowingly aid or assist in bringing into, printing, publishing or circulating within this Territory, any book, paper, pamphlet, magazine, hand bill or circular containing any statements, arguments, opinions, sentiments, doctrine, advice or innuendo calculated to produce a disorderly, dangerous or rebellious disaffection among the slaves in this Territory or to induce such slaves to escape from the service of their master or to resist their authority, he shall be guilty of felony and be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a time not less than five years. Section 12: If any free person by speaking or by writing, assist or maintain that persons have not the right to hold slavery in this Territory, or shall introduce into this Territory, print, publish, write, circulate or cause to be introduced into this Territory, written, printed, published or circulated in this Territory, any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet, or circular containing any denial oif the right of persons to hold slaves in this Territory, such person shall be deemed guilty of felony and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term not less than two years. Section 13: No person who is conscientiously opposed to holding slaves or who does not admit the right to hold slaves in this Territory shall sit as a juror on the trial of any prosecution for any violation of any of the sections of this act. This act is to take effect and be in force from and after the fifteenth day September A.D. 1855.
John H. Stringfellow
Speaker of the House of Representatives
- L. Johnson
President of the Council
Approved August 29, 1855.
Writ of Arrest for Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson
United States of America
Territory of Kansas sct.
To the Marshal of the United States for said Territory, Greeting.
You are hereby commanded to arrest Andrew H. Reeder, Charles Robinson, James H, Lane, George W. Brown, Samual W. Wood, George W. Daitzler [Deitzler,] George W. Smith and Gais (sic. Gaius) Jenkins, if they shall be found within the District of said Territory of Kansas and have them before the 1st District Court first Judicial District of the Territory aforesaid now sitting at Lecompton for the County of Douglas if the said court shall be then in Session, and if not then, before the said Court at said Lecompton sitting as aforesaid on the 2nd Monday of September next ensuing the date -hereof, to answer an indictment by the Grand Jury of the said Territory for the body of Douglas County aforesaid, for high treason in levying war against the United States, contrary to the form of the Statute in such case made and provided in such ease and also against the peace and dignity of the said United States of America.
Hereof fail not at your peril and have you then and there this warrant with the manner of its execution. Witness the honorable Samuel D. Lecompte Judge of our said Court this the 14th day of April. Anno Domoni Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Six.
Issued this 20th day of May A. D. 1856.
- Scott Boyle
Served the written warrant on George W# Brown and have him now in my custody.
May 20th, 1856. I. B. Donalson. U. S.
“Filed May 31, May 1856”
I hereby certify that I have served the written writ on Charles Robinson, by reading the same to him now in my custody in the city of Leavenworth and Territory of Kansas, May 25th, A. D., 1856.
- B. Donaldson by
- D. McMakin
Depty U. S. M.
Served the written warrant Tory- Depty on George W. Smith and Gais Jenkins, and have them now in my custody guarded by U. S. Troops.
May 21st, 1856
- B. Donaldson
- S. Marshal
The Grand Jury sitting for “adjourned” Term of the 1st District Court in and for the County of Douglas in the Territory of Kansas, beg leave to report to the Honorable Court that from evidence laid before them showing that the newspaper known as the Herald of Freedom published at the town of Lawrence has from time to time issued publications of a most inflamatory and seditious character denying the legality of the Territorial authorities, and advising and “commanding” forcible resistance to the same, demoralizing the popular mind and rendering life and property unsafe even to the extent of advising assasination as a last resort. Also that the paper known as the “Kansas Free State” had been similarly engaged and had recently reported the resolutions of a public meeting in Johnson County in this Territory in which resistance to the Territorial law even to blood had been agreed upon and respectively recommend [sic] their abatement as nuisances also that we are satisfied that the building known as the “Free State Hotel” in Lawrence had been constructed with the view to military occupation and defense. Regularly parrapeted [sic. parapeted]and port holed for the use of cannon and small arms and could only have been assigned as a strong hold of resistance to law thusly endangering the public safety—and encouraging rebellion and sedition in this county and respectfully recommend that steps be taken whereby said nuisance may be removed.
Owen C. Stewart
Letter from George Washington Brown to Eli Thayer
Under Guard, Near Lecompton, K. T.,
June 4th, 1856
Eli Thayer, Esq.
My Dear Friend: – You have learned ere this of my arrest at Kansas City, while on the way to the Territory, by an armed mob, and of my confinement here under guard of United States troops, with all communication cut off with the business world. You will also have learned of the destruction of the Emigrant Aid Co’s Hotel at Lawrence, of the burning of Doct. Robinson’s office ^dwelling^; the stealing of his papers, books and so forth; of his own imprisonment; and of the destruction of my two hand presses, the power press, all my type and fixtures for my extensive news and jobbing office, also my private papers and documents, and my extensive miscellaneous and law library, embracing over a thousand volumes of the choicest publications of the times.
The Demons of the slave power are rampant today, and all because they come in the name of the law, clothed with authority of the federal government.
The charge of treason against us is the most ludicrous ever brought against men. All connected with our arrest know it; and yet we have been denied bail, and shall be compelled to remain here on the open prairie, under a tent, exposed to an oppressive summer sun, and guarded by United States troops until September next, unless our friends in the East can contrive some plan for our liberation.
To remain as we are is to expose us to disease, if not death, before we
can get a trial. The hell-hounds of the South, under the patronage of officers clothed with authority by Franklin Pierce, have temporary supremacy in Kansas. We are willing they shall run not for a brief season, as we are confident they will be ultimately chained; we see, too, the end of slavery rapidly approaching, and deem their late acts in Kansas the crowning work in their destruction. To you to whom we are already so deeply indebted for past services in behalf of our cause we naturally look in the hours of affliction. To you we again appeal for sympathy and aid, and we feel sure it will be received. Your eloquence is needed to arouse a nation to action. Your energy is demanded to turn the losses of the people of Lawrence, and their sufferings to account in behalf of freedom.
I beg of you to withhold no effort in favor of our cause. Our triumph is the triumph of liberty every where. Our enslavement is the death knell of freedom in this republic – thoughout the world.
If the friends of free Kansas shall show by proper expression that they desire the Herald of Freedom to continue its labors, it will again rise from its ashes, and will continue as formerly a terror to tyrants. And this whether I continue a prisoner or otherwise. My executions are pledged to this work, in case I shall not be permitted to push it on, myself, and every dollar I have or may have is pledged to the cause work.
Remembering with gratitude your past
services and friendship, and begging a continuance of the same, I am, with assurance of esteem,
- W. Brown
Lecompton Constitution of the State of Kansas (Ultimately rejected August 1858)
ARTICLE VII.- SLAVERY.
SECTION 1. The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever.
SEC. 2. The Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owners, or without paying the owners previous to their emancipation a full equivalent in money for the slaves so emancipated. They shall have no power to prevent immigrants to the State from bringing with them such persons as are deemed slaves by the laws of any one of the United States or Territories, so long as any person of the same age or description shall be continued in slavery by the laws of this State: Provided, That such person or slave be the bona fide property of such immigrants: And provided, also, That laws may be passed to prohibit the introduction into this State of slaves who have committed high crimes in other States or Territories. They shall have power to pass laws to permit the owners of slaves to emancipate them, saving the rights of creditors, and preventing them from becoming a public charge. They shall have power to oblige the owners of slaves to treat them with humanity, to provide for them necessary food and clothing, to abstain from all injuries to them extending to life or limb, and, in case of their neglect or refusal to comply with the direction of such laws, to have such slave or slaves sold for the benefit of the owner or owners.
SEC. 3. In the prosecution of slaves for crimes of higher grade than petit larceny, the Legislature shall have no power to deprive them of an impartial trial by a petit jury.
SEC. 4. Any person who shall maliciously dismember, or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offense had been committed on a free white person, and on the like proof, except in case of insurrection of such slave.
SEC. 7. This Constitution shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States at its next ensuing session, and as soon as official information has been received that it is approved by the same, by the admission of the State of Kansas as one of the sovereign States of the United States, the President of this Convention shall issue his proclamation to convene the State Legislature at the seat of Government, within thirty-one days after publication. Should any vacancy occur, by death, resignation, or otherwise, in the Legislature, or other office, he shall order an election to fill such vacancy: Provided, however, In case of removal, absence, or disability of the President of this Convention to discharge the duties herein imposed on him, the President pro tempore of this Convention shall perform said duties; and in case of absence, refusal, or disability of the President pro tempore, a committee consisting of seven, or a majority of them, shall discharge the duties required of the President of this Convention.
Before this Constitution shall be sent to Congress, asking for admission into the Union as a State, it shall be submitted to all the white male inhabitants of this Territory, for approval or disapproval, as follows: The President of this Convention shall, by proclamation, declare that on the twenty-first day of December, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven, at the different election precincts now established by law, or which may be established as herein provided, in the Territory of Kansas, an election shall be held, over which shall preside three judges, or a majority of them, to be appointed as follows: The President of this Convention shall appoint three commissioners in each county in the Territory, whose duty it shall be to appoint three judges of election in the several precincts of their respective counties, and to establish precincts for voting, and to cause polls to be opened, at such places as they may deem proper, in their respective counties, at which election the Constitution framed by this Convention shall be submitted to all the white male inhabitants of the Territory of Kansas in the said Territory upon that day, and over the age of twenty-one years, for ratification or rejection, in the following manner and form: The voting shall be by ballot. The judges of said election shall cause to be kept two poll-books by two clerks, by them appointed. The ballots cast at said election shall be indorsed, ” Constitution with Slavery,” and “Constitution with no Slavery.” One of said poll-books shall be returned within eight days to the President of this Convention, and the other shall be retained by the judges of election and be kept open for inspection. The President, with two or more members of this Convention, shall examine said poll-books, and if it shall appear upon said examination that a majority of the legal votes cast at said election be in favor of the ” Constitution with Slavery,” he shall immediately have the same transmitted to Congress of the United States, as hereinbefore provided; but if, upon such examination of said poll-books, it shall appear that a majority of the legal votes cast at said election be in favor of the ” Constitution with no Slavery,” then the article providing for Slavery shall be stricken from this Constitution by the President of this Convention, and Slavery shall no longer exist in the State of Kansas, except that the right of property in slaves now in this Territory shall in no manner be interfered with, and shall have transmitted the Constitution, so ratified, [to Congress the Constitution, so ratified,] to the Congress of the United States, as hereinbefore provided. In case of the failure of the President of this Convention to perform the duties imposed upon him in the foregoing section, by reason of death, resignation or otherwise, the same duties shall devolve upon the President pro tern.
SEC. 14. After the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, whenever the Legislature shall think it necessary to amend, alter, or change this Constitution, they shall recommend to the electors at the next general election, two-thirds of the members of each house concurring, to vote for or against calling a convention; and if it shall appear that a majority of all citizens of the State have voted for a convention, the Legislature shall at its next regular session call a convention, to consist of as many members as there may be in the House of Representatives at the time, to be chosen in the same manner, at the same places, and by the same electors that chose the Representatives. Said delegates so elected shall meet within three months after said election, for the purpose of revising, amending, or changing the Constitution ; but no alteration shall be made to affect the rights of property in the ownership of slaves.
Wyandotte Constitution (adopted as the State Constitution July 1859)
Bill of Rights
SECTION 1. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
SEC. 2. All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their equal protection and benefit. No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the Legislature which may not be altered, revoked or repealed by the same body; and this power shall be exercised by no other tribunal or agency.
SEC. 3. The people have a right to assemble, in a peacable manner, to consult for their common good, to instruct their Representatives, and to petition the Government, or any department thereof, for the redress of grievances.
SEC. 4. The people have a right to bear arms for their defense and security; but standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be tolerated, and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.
SEC. 5. The right of trial by jury shall be inviolate.
SEC. 6. There shall be no slavery in this State, and no involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.
SEC. 11. The liberty of the press shall be inviolate; and all persons may freely speak, write or publish their sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such right; and in all civil and criminal actions for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury, and if it shall appear that the alleged libelous matter was published for justifiable ends, the accused party shall be acquitted.
SEC. 12. No person shall be transported from the State for any offense committed within the same; and no conviction in the State shall work a corruption of blood or forfeiture of estate.
SEC. 13. Treason shall consist only in levying war against the State, adhering to its enemies, or giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the evidence of two witnesses to the overt act, or confession in open court.
Article V — Suffrage
SECTION 1. Every white male person, of twenty-one years and upward, belonging to either of the following classes, who shall have resided in Kansas six months next preceding any election, and in the township or ward in which he offers to vote at least thirty days next preceding such election, shall be deemed a qualified elector: First, Citizens of the United States. Second, Persons of foreign birth who shall have declared their intention to become citizens, conformably to the laws of the United States on the subject of naturalization.
Section content here.
EARLY ACCESS: Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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