Buchanan supports the Lecompton Constitution

In early 1858, the federal government was finally able to regain some measure of control over the Kansas territory, and the violence lessened. Both sides continued to battle in the political arena, however. As order was restored, it became clear to proslavery Kansans that they were outnumbered by abolitionists. Supporters of slavery, though, had an important ally in President James Buchanan (1791-1868), a Democrat who was sympathetic to the South. Aided by Buchanan, the territory's proslavery leaders made one final attempt to add Kansas to the Union as a slave state by presenting to Congress a proslavery state constitution called the Lecompton Constitution. ("Lecompton" comes from the fact that the constitution was signed in Lecompton, Kansas.)

Buchanan's decision to support the Lecompton Constitution infuriated Stephen Douglas, the architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas viewed the Lecompton Constitution as an obvious attempt to force slavery on the people of Kansas, even though the majority of its citizens did not want it. "Why force this constitution down the throats of the people of Kansas, in opposition to

Congressman Preston Brooks Cane
In May 1856, abolitionist senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts (above) was attacked with a cane by proslavery congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

their wishes and in violation of our pledges?" asked Douglas. He further claimed that neither the North nor the South had the right to resort to "trickery or fraud" in the struggle over slavery. "If Kansas wants a slave-state constitution she has a right to it," said Douglas. "If she wants a free-state constitution she has a right to it. It is none of my business which way the slavery cause is decided. . . . I will stand on the great principle of popular sovereignty, which declares the right of all people to be left perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way."

Led by Douglas, a coalition of Republican and Northern Democratic legislators blocked the Lecompton Constitution from being passed. Buchanan and his allies did not give up though. Instead, they attempted to bribe the people of Kansas into joining the Union as a slave state. They passed legislation that guaranteed the people of Kansas a large amount of additional federal land if they voted to accept the Lecompton Constitution in a special referendum. If Kansas voted against the controversial constitution, on the other hand, it would be unable to petition for statehood until its population reached ninety thousand. But this effort to bribe the citizens of Kansas failed, and the Lecompton Constitution was defeated decisively. In 1861, three years after the Lecomp-ton Constitution was rejected, Kansas was finally admitted into the United States as a free state.

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  • katharina
    How did buchanan and douglas respond to the lecompton constitution?
    7 months ago

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