From the California Digital Newspaper Collection:
Sacramento Daily Union 17 September 1868
THE FIRST FIGHT
(the Kansas-Nebraska contest)
A reader asks us to give some information regarding the Kansas-Nebraska contest and the opinions of the different parties thereto. That fight for liberty was so like the present one in the principles and purposes involved that we cannot do better than recall its record as a good guide for present action. The pro-slavery men were then trying to force slavery into Kansas, whether the people wanted it or not.
Now they are seeking to impose rebel rule upon the South, and to regain the balance of power in the nation against the will of the people clearly expressed in 1866. In 1850 they insisted that the Constitution not only protected slavery, but carried slavery with it into every Territory that Congress had no right to limit the extension of slavery, but on the contrary, was bound to protect it everywhere by positive law. Now we are informed that the Constitution protects treason in a similar manner, and deprives us of all right to prevent rebels from ruling us supremely.
In the contest for slavery extension there were three shades of opinion. The pro-slavery one, we have just described. The good old doctrine of the fathers that slavery ought not and must not be extended was the Republican platform. It was embodied in 1820 in tbe Missouri Compromise. In 1844, Alexander H. Stephens himself said he would oppose the acquisition of Texas if he thought it was merely for “the purpose of extending the area of human bondage” and that “he hoped to see the day when not a slave should walk on American soil.”
In 1850, both Webster and Clay declared against the extension of slavery. Clay’s words were: ” I never can, and never will vote, and no earthly power ever will make me vote, to spread slavery over territory where it does not exist.” But the compromise measures of 1850 were founded upon the supposition that no extension of slavery would result from them. California had been rescued from the clutch of slavery. The territories derived from Mexico (were protected, it was said, by a natural unfitness for the institution, an ordinance of God “against it, which, we were told, it was needless to re-enact.
The Missouri Compromise covered all the rest. The people settled down in the conviction that the slavery question was thus settled. Not so. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854. opening those Territories to slavery, was brought forward on the theory that the measures of 1850 bad admitted the want of power in Congress to legislate against the extension of slavery, and thereby had really repealed the Missouri Compromise restriction. Douglas doubtless excused himself by the belief that above 36* 30′ free labor would continue to outstrip slavery, and thus practically keep it excluded. He therefore took a middle ground on the theoretical question claiming that Congress could not legislate against slavery, but that the people of a Territory, when ready to form a State, bad the power to accept or reject the institution.
The slavery extensionists bad no intention of abiding by this doctrine of squatter sovereignty. They voted down Chase’s amendment that the people of the Territory ” might prohibit slavery,” and then passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Their border ruffians invaded Kansas, presented pistols at the heads of the election judges, giving them five minutes to resign or die; and by similar means the polls were everywhere controlled, and names enough were found in the Cincinnati Directory and other books of that kind to make out large majorities for the pro-slavery candidates.
By such bare-faced frauds the control of the Territorial Legislature and Government was secured; the notorious Lecompte and other Judges and officials were made interested parties in the legitimacy of those proceedings by giving them large interests in town, city, railroad and other corporations chartered by the Territorial Legislature, and thus slavery intrenched
The laws these slavery extensionists passed evinced both their diabolical spirit and their theories of the rights of slavery under the Constitution. Every official was obliged to take a test oath to support not only the Constitution, but the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. No one ” conscientiously opposed to holding slaves, or who does not admit the right to bold slaves in this Territory,” was allowed to be a juror in any case concerning a slave. Helping a slave to escape was made punishable with death. “If any free person, by speaking or by writing, assert or maintain that persons have not the right to bold slaves in this Territory,” or shall introduce or cause to be introduced any printed matter containing any such doctrine, ii “shall be deemed guilty of felony” and punished with imprisonment at hard labor with a ball and chain attached to him. To introduce, circulate or print any book, paper, etc., calculated to produce a disorderly, dangerous or rebellious disaffection among the slaves, or to induce them to escape,” etc., was punishable as a felony, with five years in prison. A militia Jaw was passed which made every voter subject to martial law on election day ; and all the officers being appointed by the pro-slavery Governor, the people were thus subjected to a military despotism.
The right of suffrage was extended to every ”free white inhabitant” of the Territory, that is, not even a day’s residence was required. Even Indians who had adopted civilized life were admitted, but a test oath excluded all who would not swear to support the Fugitive Slave law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Probably the world never saw more unblushing fraud than that enacted in Kansas, nor measures more absolutely despotic than those taken to force slavery into that Territory. Under tbe Lecompton Constitution, formed by the most palpably illegal means, the slave-lords tried to make Kansas a slave State; and they steadily refused to admit it as a free State, though a great majority of its citizens were in favor of it, and though the Kansas-Nebraska Act itself pretended to give the people liberty to accept or reject slavery as they pleased. It was not till after the slavery extensionists had seceded in 1861 that Kansas was admitted to the Union.
Can any one review these facts without believing that a righteous retribution has overtaken those who never scrupled, in behalf of slavery, to commit such crimes against law, against the Constitution, against human nature ? They talked loudly against treason, then it was treason against the supremacy of slavery. They applied test oaths, not to guard the polls against criminals but to disfranchise all who disbelieved in slavery. So far from being opposed to color when it would serve their purposes they enfranchised Indians, while they disfranchised freedom-loving whites. They established a military despotism, and carried their schemes almost wholly by fraud and force. They had to back them both a subservient Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, until the shameless and outrageous character of their proceedings drove the better portion of the Democrats into the Republican party, and obliged even Douglas himself to repudiate tbem. What else can we expect from this set of men now but just such unscrupulous and lawless conduct? Their principles and their feelings are the same, or worse. They are vindictively intent upon foisting rebel rule upon us. Their theory is tbat rebellion destroys no rights, and treason in behalf of slavery is no crime at all.
Let us take warning from the past, and have no more of such leaders or legislators. If these fellows persist much longer in their arrogance, they will rouse again in the people’s heart that wholesome maxim of Andrew Johnson : “Traitors must be punished and treason made odious.”