Back to top

Lecompton Constitution (Bailey, 1998)

Textbook

Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, eds., The American Spirit, 9th ed., vol.1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), 422-433.

Yet by 1857 Kansas had enough people, chiefly free-soilers, to apply for statehood on a popular sovereignty basis. The proslavery forces, then in the saddle, devised a tricky document known at the Lecompton Constitution. The people were not allowed to vote for or against the constitution as a whole, but for the constitution either "with slavery" or "with no slavery." If they voted against slavery, one of the remaining provisions of the constitution would protect the owners of slaves already in Kansas. So whatever the outcome, there would still be black bondage in Kansas. Many free-soilers, infuriated by this trick, boycotted the polls. Left to themselves, the slaveryites approved the constitution with slavery late in 1857.

The scene next shifted to Washington. President Pierce had been succeeded by the no-less-pliable James Buchanan, who was also strongly under southern influence. Blind to sharp divisions within his own Democratic Party, Buchanan threw the weight of his administration behind the notorious Lecompton Constitution. But Senator Douglas, who had championed true popular sovereignty, would have none of this semipopular fraudulency. Deliberately tossing away his strong support in the south for the presidency, he fought courageously for fair play and democratic principles. The outcome was a compromise that, in effect, submitted the entire Lecompton Constitution to a popular vote. The free-soil voters thereupon thronged to the polls and snowed it under. Kansas remained a territory until 1861, when the southern secessionists left Congress.

Tabs

How to Cite This Page: "Lecompton Constitution (Bailey, 1998)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/16983.