Schuyler Colfax Holds Fast against Slavery in Kansas
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Pamphlet. Kansas—The Lecompton Constitution: Speech of Hon. Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana, in the House of Representatives, March 20, 1858. Washington, D.C.: Buell & Blanchard, 1858. 13 pp. Colfax’s speech attacking the proslavery Lecompton constitution became the most widely requested Republican campaign document in 1858, the year marked by Abraham Lincoln’s run for the Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. First and last pages separated.
“When the gentleman from Mississippi [Mr. BARKSDALE] was upon the floor, a little while ago, he put some interrogatories to me. He wished to know whether, if Kansas came here with a Constitution adopted by her people recognising Slavery, I would vote for her admission under that Constitution? I tell him now, emphatically, in advance of the speech which I have prepared, that I would not. When the Missouri compromise, that time-honored compact, was repealed, I declared then, and I maintain it now, that by no vote of mine shall that repeal be carried out … I would refuse to admit Kansas as a slave State under any contingency …”
“this is not a question of whether Africans are to be slaves, but whether freemen, of your own race and color, are to be made the serfs of the Lecompton usurpers; whether, in a word, the majority of the people of Kansas have any rights that Congress is bound to respect…”
In 1854, Republican Congressman Schuyler Colfax campaigned vigorously against Stephen A. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act, which essentially repealed the Missouri Compromise by mandating that the decision over whether or not to allow slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska territories would be made by the people (i.e., popular sovereignty). Ironically, despite Free Soil and Republican fears, migration into Kansas appeared to favor anti-slavery Northerners. But the 1855 territorial legislature was dominated by Southern emigrants, who proceeded to enact a harsh slave code, and who overrode military governor John Geary’s veto of a call for a state constitutional convention. The convention at Lecompton declared that “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.” The Lecompton Constitution was forwarded to Washington with a petition for statehood, despite its not having been ratified by the people of the state. Southern politicians threatened President James Buchanan that the South would secede if he did not support Lecompton. On February 2, 1858, Buchanan recommended that Congress approve the admission of Kansas as a slave state. Congress took up the issue in March, with brawls breaking out on the floor of the House. Republicans, said Colfax, should take to the streets and be “resolved to consign to political oblivion every man who aids or abets this gigantic crime.” The bill admitting Kansas as a slave state passed the Senate, but failed in the House, 120 to 112.
Schuyler Colfax (1823-1885) was a Whig and Republican politician from Indiana. He served as a Representative, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and as Vice President of the United States. His historical reputation is tarnished by his involvement in the big scandals – including Credit Mobilier – of the Ulysses Grant administration.
Hollister, O.J. Life of Schuyler Colfax (New York, 1886), 126-130.
McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom (New York, 1988), 162-169.