BUCHANAN, James. Letter signed ("James Buchanan") as President, to the Electors of Connecticut (Nathaniel W. Taylor, et. al.), Washington, D.C., 15 August 1857. 17 pages, folio (13 3/8 x 8 3/8 in.), on rectos only, neatly tied at top margin with green silk ribbon, the last leaf torn and repaired, otherwise fine. [With:] A copy of the letter from the Connecticut Electors to Buchanan with draft notes; The New-Haven Memorial to the President..., Boston: John Wilson and Son, . 8o. 12 pp., stitched. (Sabin, 52997).
BUCHANAN'S SPIRITED DEFENSE OF THE LECOMPTON CONSTITUTION AND POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY IN KANSAS: "IT IS THEIR RIGHT TO DECIDE...WHETHER THEY WILL CONTINUE, MODIFY, OR ABOLISH SLAVERY"
A lengthy, historically important letter defending his support of the pro-slavery territorial government in Kansas. After the Kansas-Nebraska act opened the Kansas territory to the possibility of slavery, pro-slavery forces battled free soilers for control of the conventions convened to draft a state constitution. The struggle to control Kansas became what one historian called "a hell of a storm that made the debates of 1850 look like a gentle shower" (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 123). Buchanan angered anti-slavery interests by appointing a southerner, Robert Walker, as territorial governer in charge of the election of delegates to a constitutional convention. Free-soil partisans largely boycotted the elections which chose delegates, and when the convention met in Lecompton (7 September-7 November) it was predictably dominated by pro-slavery delegates and drafted a Constitution which would have made Kansas a new slave state.
A group of Connecticut Electors, infuriated by events in Kansas and Buchanan's support of the Lecompton Convention, petitioned the President, charging him with "'levying war against a portion of the United States' by employing arms in Kansas to uphold a body of men and a code of enactments purporting to be legislative, but which never had the elections nor sanction nor consent of the people of the Territory." In his lengthy reply, Buchanan angrily defends his actions: "Under these circumstances what was my duty? Was it not to sustain this Government? To protect it from the violence of lawless men who were determined either to rule or ruin?...Would you have desired that I should abandon the Territorial Government, sanctioned as it had been by Congress, to illegal violence, and thus renew the scenes of civil war and bloodshed which every patriot in the country had deplored?"
Citing the wording of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Buchanan makes an impassioned defense of the people's right to choose whether a slave code would be enacted. He cites in his support the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Dred Scott: "Slavery existed at that period and still exists in Kansas under the Constitution of the United States. This point has at last been finally decided by the highest Tribunal known to our laws. How it could ever have been seriously doubted is a mystery. If a confederation of sovereign states acquire a new territory, at the expense of their common blood and treasure, surely one set of the partners can have no right to exclude the other from its enjoyment by prohibiting them from taking into it whatsoever is recognised to be property by the common constitution. But when the people, the bona fide residents of such territory proceed to frame a state constitution, then it is there right to decide the important question for themselves whether they will continue, modify, or abolish slavery."
Buchanan ardently defends the validity of the Lecompton Constitution and the upcoming convention: "a fair opportunity was presented for all the qualified resident citizens of the territory, to whatever organisation they might have previously belonged, to participate in the election and to express their opinions, at the ballot box on the question of Slavery. But numbers of lawless men, still continued to resist the regular territorial government. They refused either to be registered or to vote and the members of the convention were elected, legally and properly, without their intervention. The Convention will soon assemble to perform the solemn duty of framing a constitution for themselves and their posterity...it is my imperative duty to employ the troops of the United States...in defending the Convention against violence whilst framing the constitution and in protecting the 'bona fide inhabitants' qualified to vote...when it shall be submitted to them for their approbation or rejection." Addressing the issue of a Free-Soil Convention called to frame a separate constitution, Buchanan questions their validity: "Following the wise example of Mr. Madison towards the Hartford Convention, illegal and dangerous combinations such as that of the Topeka Convention will not be disturbed unless they shall attempt to perform some act which will bring them into actual collision with the Constitution and the laws. In that event, they shall be resisted and put down by the whole power of the Government. In performing this duty, I shall have the approbation of my own conscience and as I humbly trust of my God."
Buchanan rather perversely asks for the support of the memorialists: "by exerting your influence in allaying the existing sectional excitement on the subject of Slavery which has been productive of much evil and no good, and which if it could succeed in attaining its object would ruin the slave as well as his master; this would be a work of genuine philanthropy."
While the Lecompton Constitution was approved by the delegates, it was rejected by the voters, but Buchanan nevertheless recommended that Kansas be admitted under it. The Constitiution was approved by the Senate, but stalled in the House of Representatives, partly due to the unexpected opposition of Stephen A. Douglas.