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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Up to the passing of Kansas and Nebraska Law


The

greater part of the territory which Douglas proposed to develop lay within the limits of the Louisiana Purchase and north of latitude 36 deg. 30'. It was therefore free soil by virtue of the Missouri Compromise. But the Southerners now disputed the validity of that Congressional enactment, and affirmed their right under the Constitution as they interpreted it to take and hold their "property" in any territories belonging to the United States. Douglas had some reason to fear Southern opposition to his plans on other grounds, for the South would naturally have preferred that the main road to the Pacific Slope should run from Tennessee through Arizona and New Mexico to California. If Kansas and Nebraska were declared closed against slave property their opposition would be given a rallying cry and would certainly harden. Douglas therefore proposed a solution which would at any rate get rid of the Slavery debate so far as Congress was concerned, and which had also a democratic ring about it acceptable to his Western instincts and, as he hoped, to his Western following. The new doctrine, called by him that of "Popular Sovereignty" and by his critics that of "Squatter Sovereignty," amounted to this: that the existing settlers in the territories concerned should, in the act of forming their territorial governments, decide whether they would admit or exclude Slavery.

It was a plausible doctrine; but one can only vindicate Douglas's motives, as I have

endeavoured to do, at the expense of his judgment, for his policy had all the consequences which he most desired to avoid. It produced two effects which between them brought the sectional quarrel to the point of heat at which Civil War became possible and perhaps inevitable. It threw the new territories down as stakes to be scrambled for by the rival sections, and it created by reaction a new party, necessarily sectional, having for its object the maintenance and reinforcement of the Missouri Compromise. It will be well to take the two points separately.

Up to the passing of Kansas and Nebraska Law, these territories had been populated exactly as such frontier communities had theretofore been populated, by immigrants from all the States and from Europe who mingled freely, felt no ill-will to each other, and were early consolidated by the fact of proximity into a homogeneous community. But from the moment of its passage the whole situation was altered. It became a political object to both sections to get a majority in Kansas. Societies were formed in Boston and other Northern cities to finance emigrants who proposed to settle there. The South was equally active, and, to set off against the disadvantage of a less fluid population, had the advantage of the immediate proximity of the Slave State of Missouri. Such a contest, even if peaceably conducted, was not calculated to promote either the reconciliation of the sections or the solidarity and stability of the new community. But in a frontier community without a settled government, and with a population necessarily armed for self-defence, it was not likely to be peaceably conducted. Nor was it. For years Kansas was the scene of what can only be described as spasmodic civil war. The Free Soil settlement of Lawrence was, after some bloodshed, seized and burnt by "border ruffians," as they were called, from Missouri. The North cried out loudly against "Southern outrages," but it is fair to say that the outrages were not all on one side. In fact, the most amazing crime in the record of Kansas was committed by a Northerner, the notorious John Brown. This man presents rather a pathological than a historical problem. He had considerable military talents, and a curious power of persuading men. But he was certainly mad. A New England Puritan by extraction, he was inflamed on the subject of Slavery by a fanaticism somewhat similar to that of Garrison. But while Garrison blended his Abolitionism with the Quaker dogma of Non-Resistance, Brown blended his with the ethics of a seventeenth-century Covenanter who thought himself divinely commanded to hew the Amalakites in pieces before the Lord. In obedience to his peculiar code of morals he not only murdered Southern immigrants without provocation, but savagely mutilated their bodies. If his act did not prove him insane his apology would. In defence of his conduct he explained that "disguised as a surveyor" he had interviewed his victims and discovered that every one of them had "committed murder in his heart."


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