The Man the Historians Forgot
by Lloyd Lewis
February 1939 (Vol. 8, No. 1), pages 85 to 103
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
Members of the Kansas Historical Society:
NOT long ago, at a luncheon in Chicago, your president, William Allen White, and I made the discovery that a certain Kansan, who has been dead down among the roots of your grass for more than seventy years, was a mutual favorite of our lives -- and apparently of nobody else's.
And Mr. White said that I must come out and tell your Society what I had learned about this dead Kansan. I replied that almost everything I had found out had come from your own State Historical Society, and that this dead Kansan would have been forgotten entirely if your Society hadn't been the kind of Society it was -- and is -- one of the best of all historical libraries, in that it has preserved not only the writings and memoirs and documents of important people, but of the plain people, the masses whom more pontifical and less intelligent historical societies ignore.
The man is your first senator, James H. Lane, who has been crowded out of the schoolbooks and the histories of the nation, and whom various forces might well have eliminated from Kansas' memory, too, if your collections hadn't preserved the record.
Where a man stands in history depends upon who keeps the record; more than that, it depends upon who lives to keep the record. If you are a favorite of the literary men, the history professors, the clergy, you have a head start toward a place in history. So much of the importance of New England in history is due to its early corner on the literary men, the book publishers, the college professors. We are not yet free, as a nation, from the historical prejudices of the New Englanders. For the sake of objectivity there are still too many midland biographers and historians and professors blandly adopting the historical viewpoints of New England -- a natural thing, perhaps, for men whose dream it is to be called some day to a full professorship at Harvard.
New England never liked Kansas' most influential citizen of the 1850's and 1860's. That is one of the reasons -- there are others -- why the schoolbooks of America either have no mention at all of Jim Lane, or merely dismiss him with a few sneering phrases. James H. Lane was a Westerner, an Ohio river man; he chewed tobacco when he could borrow it; he was divorced; he didn't pay his debts; he took
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the name of his Lord God in vain -- and in stride, he made no efforts to halt the fabulous tales of what his contemporaries described as his "worship at the shrine of Venus," and he only laughed when he was branded as the father of political corruption west of the Mississippi river. Such a man was not to be understood by the elegant authors of New England -- the Brahmins who in that day decreed what was good taste in literature.
James Henry Lane came barging into Kansas from Indiana in the spring of 1855, when the fate of the new territory was hanging in the balance between slavery and freedom. Across in Missouri the powerful political machine of Sen. David Rice Atchison was dictating the policy of Kansas, and from Washington the greater power of Pres. Franklin Pierce's administration was aiding the pro-slave forces.
Pitted against these formidable machines was only one organization in Kansas -- a little nest of New England Abolitionists in Lawrence -- Emigrant Aid Society colonists, whose very "Yankee" presence was enough to drive the border civilization of Missouri to a frenzy. At the head of the Lawrence New Englanders was Dr. Charles Robinson -- a physician, not a politician, although he learned something of politics -- a cool, calculating man, but without the training to match Atchison and the payrollers of the federal machine in politics.
With him was Old John Brown of Osawatomie, who scorned politicians, and dreamed of blood and war, the sword of the Lord and Gideon. Brown's experience in swaying other men's minds had been limited to a brief career as an unsuccessful wool merchant. He was a child in the hands of the slick politicians on the pro-slave side, and did commit, in time, a major blunder, the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown, the fanatic, said little and struck hard; Lane, by contrast, said much and killed few. Brown offended, Lane persuaded. Brown was a great failure in Kansas, Lane a great success.
Into Kansas were pouring midlanders, farmers from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky-men anxious to get land and not caring much about slavery except that they didn't want it where they were, cutting the price of labor. The bulk of this vote was unexcited, unintense, very cool toward the evangelistic, coercive, New Englanders. It was a scattered vote, with nothing to bind it together to vote effectively for Free Soil.
In this extremity of the Free-State population, there appeared Jim Lane, ex-congressman from Indiana, ex-lieutenant-governor, son of the political boss of southern Indiana, wheelhorse of Stephen A.
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Douglas who was the great politician of the midlands. Lane was a trained and veteran politician, and a gifted one -- a master organizer, a highly intelligent man. He came from Indiana where the babies to this day cut their teeth on a poll book, and he proceeded to poll Kansas. A Democrat he had been -- and still remained across four more years -- a typical Andy Jackson Democrat of the Ohio river regions. But he could count, and he saw that slavery was doomed if the votes could be counted. And he was the man to do it -- and he did it -- and while John Brown comes to the mind when "Bleeding Kansas" is mentioned, it was really Lane who did more than any other one soul to make Kansas free. He knew the tricks with which to overcome Sen. Davy Atchison from Missouri; he knew the ruses with which to outlast, outmaneuver the whole administration machine from Washington. It took a powerful politician to meet such odds, but Lane met them. And largely because his methods weren't of the purest, nor his devices of the most admirable variety, the idealists among the New England colonists disliked him. Their leaders resented the slow craft with which Lane absorbed them -- the real pioneers -- drew them into the main Free-State party which he came to dominate and which was ruled eventually by the midlanders, the Westerners themselves.
The New Englanders outlived Lane; they had a stronger hold on the sources of national publicity, on the educational system, and, to a large extent, they wrote Lane out of history, once he was dead -- and he was dead eleven years after his Kansas career began.
There was a still larger class to want him out of history -- the wellborn and the well-fed. Lane was for the masses, the rag tag and bob tail, so the conservatives didn't admire him, although they frequently couldn't resist him. And when he was dead and his tremendous personal charm had vanished with the Pied Piper music of his voice -- many of those who had followed him tried to fatten their own self-esteem by trying to pretend that he had been nothing but a trivial joke in their lives and in the life of Kansas -- an error, I assure you.
Clergymen, as a class, tried to forget him. They had a natural resentment against him because he had made a tool, a jest of their craft. And the clergy, with their close connection with colleges and public education, have been a power in the shaping of history.
One of his greatest strokes of genius -- and he was a genius -- was to turn the pulpit into the stump at any time, anywhere. It was a thing many men tried to do in that day, but nobody ever did it
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like Lane. Your Historical Society's collections have word pictures of him at such times -- a strange, magnetic man in his middle forties, six feet tall, slender, wiry, nervous, tremendously alive. He burst with vitality -- his voice was hypnotic. His hair was long and reckless, and above his ears black locks curled like horns. There was always the hint of Mephistopheles about him -- or of Dionysus, the god of revelry, who loved the plain people and spent his life with them. His eyes baffled men who tried to describe them -- they were deep-set and dull when he was quiet; black diamonds, reporters called them, when he was speaking. The touch of genius and its cousin, madness, always there somewhere behind the glaze or the flame.
He had a wide, loose mouth, as mobile as that of a Shakesperian "ham" actor. He was, indeed, an actor, an artist -- perhaps a great artist. Astute critics thought him the man of his time who could sway crowds most wholly to his will. A curious mesmerism would flow out from his gestures, his voice, his thoughts, a magnetic overtone that held crowds laughing, weeping or gritting their teeth, just as he willed. His voice could be a bugle call, or a lullaby.
He had what all great artists have -- the power to make the thing they imagine and conceive pass out from themselves and possess other minds.
Again and again is it recorded that Jim Lane's enemies feared to meet him lest they be charmed out of their principles.
If there were time I could cite you book and verse on the occasions when this vivid and electric man rose before hostile audiences and slowly, craftily, won them to his cause -- a Marc Antony oration on the plains. He could rise in front of a crowd where Western rivermen and horsemen stood fingering their revolvers and vowing to kill him, and within thirty minutes he would have them shouting "yea" to a resolution endorsing him for President of the United States. It is no wonder that the circuit-riding preachers of his day thought him Satan -- Satan in coonskin -- for he never knew what he wore, anymore than what he ate. Rags or broadcloth, he didn't care which, and sometimes he wore a vast black fur coat all summer long and never noticed.
He never bothered to attract men's eyes, it was their ears he wanted. "Give me your ears," was all he asked. He wrote few letters, and left no testaments to history -- always a bad thing to forget if you want to live in history. Whenever his political enemies
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had captured a community with tales of his sins, political or personal, there Jim would go and weave his vocal enchantments again. A camp-meeting suited him best for these returns from Elba. It was his delight to let it be known that he'd be there, then ride up in the night, steal into the back of the singing or bowed congregation, then go forward, kneel, then arise and make public confession of his sins. Slowly the evangelist in charge of the meeting would fade out, and there in his place would be Jim, reciting the human frailties of his life, recounting the gaudy temptations that beset him, picturing the picturesque frailties which struck him down even in the high places he had trod, and winding up by begging the farmers for their forgiveness now and their votes Tuesday. The compliment was one the voters did not care to resist, and in an incredibly short time Jim Lane became the most powerful, influential -- and I suspect the most intelligent -- political figure in the territory, and by the time statehood came, Jim Lane was the political boss of Kansas -- one of the first personal state bosses of a type since familiar all over America.
After Jim Lane was dead many religious people said that he, in rejoining the Methodist church so often, had only used the sacred institution of conversion to gain political power. But it is not so simple and easy as all that, for Lane had a native love of drama; the theatrical elements in churches had a powerful natural appeal to him. There were no theaters on the frontier, and the camp-meeting supplied music, lyric oratory; it was filled with suspense while the saved wrestled with Satan for the souls of the unsaved.
In the 1850's and 1860's there was a simple formula for stump oratory: Get up, say that somebody had said something about you, repeat it twice, and then say "it ain't so." Lane took that common formula, made himself the king of Kansas -- he took that formula and went to the United States senate.
He would get up on a box or endgate of a wagon anywhere on the plains, and cry "They say Jim Lane is illiterate," and then disprove it by the eloquent and touching statement that his mother had come from Connecticut. He would shout, "They say Jim Lane is a murderer," and then refute it by asking people to remember how he had given his only horse to the ladies of Lawrence to start a public library.
He would begin, "They say Jim Lane is a libertine," and demolish the charge by saying that he had been 21 years old before he ever smoked a cigar, swore an oath or kissed a girl, and that he loved all
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virtuous ladies, particularly his darling wife. He would croon that so gently that his listeners would forget how his darling wife had left him and gone home to Indiana.
Well educated, cultured, born into the distinguished pioneer family of Gen. Arthur St. Clair, Mrs. Lane had borne with this roving husband for years. She had seen him rush off to the Mexican war; seen him course the state of Indiana making speeches; she had followed him to Kansas, but she had struck at being left in the raw, lonely frontier night after night while he rode the border, drumming up votes for freedom.
So she went back to the Southern culture of the Ohio river town of Lawrenceburgh, Ind., got a divorce on the grounds of desertion, and thought to marry again. But somehow she didn't. And after two years of reading of the exploits of her husband back in "Bleeding Kansas," she saw that Jim was sweeping through Indiana and Ohio stumping for the Republican party. And there came a day when the door burst open, and what did she do? -- Just what Kansas always did -- she flew into Jim's arms.
She knew his faults, and she knew he would never change. She knew she was going back with him to a life of loneliness, relieved by nothing but the creditors knocking at the door. She knew that she and the children would go hungry, but she also knew that always, sooner or later, the door would be bursting open and Jim rushing in, his hair flying, his eyes blazing, and his tongue cascading those winning, wooing words again.
The truth of the matter seems to be that Jim Lane seems to have loved life and human beings more than most men are capable of doing. Often he would destroy an enemy politically and then get him a job.
He would make preposterous promises, and then when unable to fulfill them, would tell the outraged victims that he loved them still, and they would forgive him because they had a strong suspicion that it was true.
One of the most dramatic pieces of testimony comes from John Brown, Jr., son of Old Brown, who was more rival than friend of Jim Lane in "Bleeding Kansas." John Brown, Jr., told how on the night before Lane's election as senator by the revolutionary body of Free-State men here in Topeka, Jim came to his room in the Garvey house, asked him to vote for him tomorrow; and when be was told that Brown didn't approve, how Lane poured out compelling oratory, and finally inducted young Brown then and there into a
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mysterious secret order, a new kind of lodge Jim was getting up -- a fraternity which would fight the Missouri devils, fire with fire. Thirty years later Brown remembered it. He wrote: "Never can I forget the weird eloquence of his whisper as he breathed into my ear the ritual of the first degree of the order, gave me the sign, the password, the grand hailing signal of distress, `Ho Kansas.' " And Brown recalled how the next morning Lane gave him the emblem of the order, and, after Brown had duly voted for Lane, sent him home to organize his settlements. But that was all. Brown said Lane never did anything more and the great secret order died from Jim's lack of attention.
Lane had used Brown, and Brown knew it, yet after a third of a century Brown would still say, "But he had my heart and hand then; he has them still. I would not be divorced."
Albert D. Richardson, the famous correspondent of the New York Tribune, knew Lane well in Kansas, and summed him up like this, "For years he controlled the politics of Kansas even when penniless, carrying his measures against the influence, labor and money of his united enemies. His personal magnetism was wonderful, and he manipulated men like water. He had a sinister face, plain to ugliness, but he could talk away his face in twenty minutes."
Which brings us to a point which years ago I hastily rejected as impious when it first entered my head while reading about Jim Lane: "He could talk away his face in twenty minutes."
Precisely that same thing was said of another man of that time, a man whose career, whose antecedents, whose basic faith was so strangely like Jim Lane's. The man is Lincoln. For Jim Lane was a mixture of Huey Long and Lincoln, and I don't know but that he was more like Lincoln.
For after you have heard all the topsy-turvy tales about Jim Lane, even believed all the half-affectionate, half-scornful anecdotes of his stormy career, even accepted all the stories of his riffraffish, scalawagism as partly true, you cannot laugh him off, or brush him aside. Always a figure of titanic accomplishment comes striding back through the fog. For when everything has been said and done, it was Jim Lane, more than any other man, who made Kansas free soil. He was the organizer of victory; he was the shrewd, scheming politician who knew what weakling to buy and what strong man to inspire. He was the man who called the neighborhood meetings by the side of the road, the mass meetings in churches, the delegate conventions in big halls. When civil war
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came to Kansas in 1856 and the name "Bleeding Kansas" was on the front page of every newspaper and was the great theme for debates in the United States senate, it was Jim Lane who led the fighting men, riding the night, directing the raids, the burnings, the stratagems -- wily as an Indian, dramatic as General Sheridan in the timeliness of his arrivals on the field.
Kansas laughed about him then, we laugh at him now, but just the same it was Lane who was the head of the executive committees, it was Lane who was chairman in the meeting of that Free-State experiment in revolution, it was Lane who was general of the fighting forces, Lane who wrote the resolutions, Lane who drafted the memorials and appeals for statehood, and when the Free-Soil men of Kansas territory had something formal to present to congress, it was Lane who was sent to do it.
Lane was a lawyer, but he had no time to practice; he was working for the cause of free soil. He took no time to earn money, because he was too busy with the cause of freedom. He might take a hasty flyer in real estate, then forget about it altogether.
Lane did believe in two things -- perhaps only two in the whole realm of life -- Kansas and freedom. Born in sympathy with slavery, he became one of the most effective orators and military planners for abolition. Born a Democrat, the son of the Democratic boss of southern Indiana, he became a pillar in the Republican party of the 1860's. He used every wile and trick in the realm of politics to save Kansas for freedom and the union for America. There was, I suspect, nothing he would not have done for the union. The same may be said of Abraham Lincoln.
Only the most innocent of people today still believe that Lincoln saved the union with beautiful words and tears. It took all the cunning -- the almost Oriental type of cunning in his sharp, deep mind to handle the voters so that the great purpose of his life, the salvation of the union, might be achieved.
Many of the Jim Lane men, fresh from the battles with Border Ruffians, went to Washington, D. C., in April, 1861, with Jim Lane, to gather around Lincoln in the White House and protect him from the threats of the Virginia mob.
Yes, when the dramatic hour came for Lincoln, and he was unarmed and practically alone in a Southern city with secession breaking like the surf around the White House, it was nobody but Jim Lane and a crowd of his war-hardened Kansas Jayhawkers who moved into the executive mansion and sat with their rifles waiting
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for the Southerners who never came. It is quite likely a tragedy for the United States that Jim Lane and the Jayhawkers were not still there on an April night four years later.
Lincoln is martyred and goes into history too noble, too exalted to be linked any more with Jim Lane, who committed suicide. Yet, when both were living, Lane may be said to have been President Lincoln's political viceroy in Kansas, and sometimes, perhaps, in the whole regions west of the Mississippi river.
When Lincoln wanted to name a Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his running mate upon the National Union ticket at the Baltimore convention in 1864, it was Lane whom he probably sent to engineer the delicate deal. Many men later claimed the honor, but the evidence points to Lane. When Lincoln began his campaign for renomination, it was Senator Lane whom he sent to open the drive in the East and in the West. Lane was the keynoter for Lincoln.
Lincoln himself once said that Lane was in the White House almost every day asking for favors for Kansas. The two men understood each other. Why not? Both were born near the Ohio river, Lincoln in Kentucky, Lane in either Kentucky or the Indiana shore -- no one can be sure, since he would claim either birthplace, depending upon whether he was talking to a Southerner or a Northerner. Both were poor. Both received rudimentary educations.
In 1814 Lane's parents left Kentucky for Indiana. Two years later Lincoln's did the same. When Lincoln was nineteen he went to New Orleans on a flatboat and saw slavery in its auction-pen aspects. Lane was in his early twenties when he went to New Orleans on a flatboat, and saw the thing which he later described as having turned him against slavery. A friend left the boat and went up to a plantation to ask for work as a carpenter. The planter drew himself up and said, "I bought two carpenters this morning."
Lincoln in the 1830's was clerking in a general store in Illinois, Lane was doing the same thing in Indiana. Both went to the legislature. Both wanted to be senator and both were disappointed in their home state.
Lincoln went to congress when he was thirty-five, Lane when he was thirty-seven. Lincoln was a soldier in the Blackhawk war, Lane in the Mexican war. Both studied law over the counter in country stores. Both, while young, were favorites of the wild boys of the pioneer civilization. Lincoln was popular with the uproarious Clary Grove gang. Lane was unpopular with his more sedate brothers because he was thick with the wild spirits along the Ohio river levee.
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Both were six feet or over-wiry, thin, inexhaustible frontier types. Lane was energetic, Lincoln was lazy. Both loved to talk, and did it well. Both were humorists. Both dominated conversations, meetings. Lincoln was slow, Lane was fast; Lincoln disciplined his mind, Lane did not. Lincoln was great in many ways, Lane can only be said, as his enemies admitted, to have had greatness in him.
But both were cut to a familiar border pattern. Each represented the common change of the Western voter from Andy Jackson Democracy to the Andy Jackson Republicanism of 1856 and 1860.
Each had been retired after one term in congress and had been tossed back into what promised to be obscurity, until the Kansas issue rose on the political horizon. Lane went to "Bleeding Kansas" in 1855 and rode the storm to his great ambition, the senate. Lincoln bestrode the Kansas issue in 1858 and rode the storm to the White House -- his great ambition.
Do you wonder then, that Lincoln made Jim Lane one of the most significant exceptions in his administration? Lincoln's plan of organizing the federal volunteer army was to place the patronage, the commissioning of officers in the hands of the various state governors. But when it came to Kansas it was not the governor who had the control; it was the senior senator, Jim Lane, and there Lincoln held him, despite the roars of protest from Jim's factional enemies, and in spite of hints that the injustice would be corrected, till the end of the war.
And it was obviously with the acquiescence, if not secret order of President Lincoln, that the constitution of the United States was strained in behalf of Lane. While still senator, Jim was commissioned a general in the army -- a thing forbidden by the constitution. The announcements went forth; Lane didn't resign his seat; he took command of the Kansas army on the border, led a great raid into Missouri-a most effective raid from a military point of view -- and in the face of an angry roar of protest, got away with it. Idolatrous biographers of Lincoln don't dig too deeply into it. It is all a mystery now. Papers were lost, official proof was missing, Jim showed that he had never signed his name as "major-general," only as "James H. Lane, commanding brigade" -- the thing was glossed over -- the constitution still lived -- and the Missouri army had been kept out of Kansas.
For that is one of the ways nations are saved and wars won. In
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times of stress and trouble the letter of the law didn't bother Lincoln much, nor Lane. There was a union to be saved.
And there is another strange story of Lincoln and Lane which the military men, the keepers of West Point tradition, do not explore too deeply. Early in the war, when the federal policy was to deal gently with private property in the South, to return all runaway slaves and keep the war aims solely that of preserving the union, Senator Lane came to Lincoln with a radical plan, not original with him in its generality, but specific with him in its concreteness.
Jim said that the milk-and-water policy of the West Pointers -- the General McClellan school -- was all wrong. He said the way to whip the South was not to jockey along the Mason and Dixon line, hoping to overawe the Southern states into a peaceful return to the old union as it was. He said it was time somebody got hurt. He said "slavery is the sore shin of the confederacy; kick it!" He said the way to break secession was to carry the war home to the civilian population. Make it feel the pinch, then it would call its armies to lay down their guns.
The President was very busy just then keeping radical generals from freeing slaves. He was broadcasting the policy of non-savagery toward our Southern brothers. But he gave his assent to Jim Lane to organize a great raiding expedition at Leavenworth and invade the South, carry the war home to the people of Arkansas, Louisiana, perhaps Texas. Lane went west across Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, preaching the new crusade. Every soldier, he said, was to ride a horse like a knight-errant and be attended by a negro squire, both horse and negro being picked up along the way.
Volunteers came running. Half-organized regiments in Chicago broke away to join Lane. John Brown, Jr., led a band of volunteers from Ohio to join the man from whom he would not be divorced and they brought to Kansas for the first time the new marching song "John Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering In The Grave." All over the midlands voices were saying that Lane was the coming man -- the soldier who would win the war. "The Lane policy" was debated in the newspapers. The legions began to gather, a Wild West army, cowboys, Mexicans, Indians, farmers, mechanics.
But Jim Lane's invasion was nipped in the bud, not by the confederacy but by the regular U. S. army clique. The West Pointers, the professionals, the academicians, hamstrung the venture. They bombarded Lincoln and the War Department with the charge that it was nothing but "Jim Lane's Great Jayhawking Expedition."
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And Lincoln let it die. The army as a whole was more important than any part. And in all the personal memoirs of the regular army men after the war, not one ever had the grace nor the insight to mention the now-obvious fact that what Lane had proposed doing in the winter of 1861-1862 was substantially what William Tecumseh Sherman did in the winter of 1864-1865.
What had been unthinkable when a Kansas politician proposed it was a proper and brilliant stroke of strategy when executed by a professional soldier three years later. "Jayhawking" became a great feat when the regulars performed it. The arming of negroes had been a mad idea when Lane had practiced it in 1861, but it was a noble measure when the army came to it two years later.
As a matter of fact, Lane had been an instinctive soldier as an Indiana colonel in the Mexican war and as Free-State general in the "Bleeding Kansas" revolution. His Kansas campaigns are models of how guerrilla warfare can be successful with a minimum loss of life. Lane's leadership of the Kansas volunteers in the Civil War was far wiser than the regulars ever admitted. You see, none of the professional people liked Lane -- the army men were jealous of him, the clergymen had their natural resentment, the professional literary folk of New England disdained him, the legal profession had scorned him, partly because he ignored the law, and partly because he was reckless with such juries as he faced.
The importance of Jim Lane is not in the law, nor in the establishment of your Kansas institutions, although he was among the first to give land for your state university, nor in the railroads which he helped to bring Kansas -- and he pulled wires, coaxed, bullied, intimidated capitalists till they gave the young and sparsely settled state its full share of the transcontinental roads then being built.
His national importance lies not in the fact that he loved Kansas and everything about it, but in the fact that he was among the first of all Americans to see the practical way of establishing a political party which would halt the extension of slavery.
Other men saw it too, but Lane was among them, at once more visionary and practical than most.
Lane saw that fusion was the way out of the dilemma which convulsed the nation after Stephen A. Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska bill shattered the old system of compromises by which the nation had been held together, half-slave and half-free. His mind was
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the main forge in which the repellant metals of Kansas' early population were fused into a powerful political party -- the one that triumphed in the end. To all intents and purposes the campaign was over within 18 months after Lane arrived. It could not be crowned for five years to come, but Kansas, as I read the record, was safe for freedom by the autumn of 1856.
Lane organized Fusion not as a Republican but as a Democrat. He fought to keep Kansas in the control of a party which should be merely Free Soil, neither Republican or Democrat. What that party should do, where it should go, he left up to old parties back East. Whichever would help Kansas the most would get his sanction. He took his story to Senator Douglas, the great Northern Democrat, and if Douglas had listened to him the history of America might have been spared the bloody pages of the Civil War. Lane had gone for fusion of Northern interests against the slave South by 1856. Douglas could not see as far ahead and turned it down.
National leader that he was, Douglas had drifted away from the common people; he did not know them in that moment as did Jim Lane. So he remained in the Democratic party, split it, lost the Presidency. If in 1856 he had been as quick as his former henchman, Jim Lane, to see that the Northern voters would unite in a new party, using Kansas as an issue, he might well have been its nominee in 1856 or 1860, or both. In which case Abraham Lincoln would have died revered and respected as merely the leader of the Illinois bar.
Stephen A. Douglas did not go for fusion in 1856 -- he had to wait five years for the light. But eventually he fused, in 1861, at the gates of Civil War.
Although Lane still shouted that he was a Democrat, an Antislavery Democrat, he came out of Kansas in 1856 to stump the Middle West and East for the new Republican party. It had resolved to help Kansas; in fact, its big issue was freedom for Kansas. It drew from the remnants of the Whig party, but its great appeal was to Antislavery Democrats -- the old Andy Jackson men, on the hard and bony knees of Old Hickory had learned to hate the Secessionists of the Deep South.
And as the Republicans of 1936 made much of the Liberty League and Al Smith, so did the Republicans of 1856 star Jim Lane -- with better results, however. In the campaign of 1856 Lane stumped back and forth across the regions east of the Mississippi, telling the tragic story of "Bleeding Kansas" and begging for all who loved
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the memory of Andy Jackson to vote for Fremont and against Buchanan.
He was sent into Ohio, a pivotal state, to discredit the Democratic national convention at Cincinnati and to tell the voters that it was now nothing but a creature of the rich, the reactionary, the economic royalists and the malefactors of great wealth who had no sympathy with the white laborer and farmer. Lane's great meeting was scheduled for Chicago on the night of May 31 -- a Saturday night when the workingmen would be free, and the sailors in from the lakes and the longshoremen up from the docks, and the farmers across from the fields. For, make no mistake about it, the Republican party was a radical, almost a New Deal party in 1856. It was the masses against the classes.
To this great Chicago rally, which Lane was to headline, came many shouting delegates from Bloomington, Ill., where two days before Abraham Lincoln had crossed the Rubicon, left the Whigs and come out for Fusion.
And to add to the hysteria the telegraph had brought the news that the Pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri had just burned the town of Lawrence, and that in Washington, a South Carolinian named Brooks had clubbed Senator Sumner of Massachusetts to the door of death because Sumner had spoken too violently in his philippic "The Crime Against Kansas."
Something like delirium -- and revolution -- was in the air, as the crowd, singing the "Marseillaise," saw Jim Lane, the hero of "Bleeding Kansas," actually appear before them on the platform.
In the newspapers of the midlands, letters had been appearing from Kansans asking, "Where is Jim Lane? Send him back to us. He is the only man who can save Kansas."
There were wild cheers as Lane was introduced there in Douglas' home town as the man who had renounced his leader and defied him for the cause of human liberty. It was the moment for Lane's greatest speech, just as two days before in Bloomington it had been the moment for Lincoln's greatest speech up to that time. Lincoln had risen to the occasion with words so eloquent that reporters forgot to take it down and this, his "lost speech" became famous.
Lane, too, rose to the occasion so thrillingly that nothing but confused and hysterical reports were kept. The Chicago Tribune said, "Language is inadequate to describe the effect of his recital of Kan-
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sas' tale of woes -- the flashing eyes, the rigid muscles, the frowning brows." What people remembered most was how, when the introductions were done, and wild cheers rose and crashed and eddied around him, "he stood there," as a witness tells us, "mouth firm shut, gazing with those wondrous eyes of his into the very heart of the throng. Before he spoke the fascinating spell of his personality had seized upon the whole vast audience-and for over an hour he controlled every emotion in that great gathering."
That night Jim Lane made Chicago see Kansas as a blackened and charred land, peopled with widows kneeling to kiss the cold white lips of husbands murdered by Proslavery Democrats; he made them see Kansas, which he called "the Italy of America," ravished and despoiled by butchers from Democratic Missouri; he made the large foreign-born population of Chicago roar with rage as he told how the Pro-slave power had denied the Irish and Germans citizenship in Kansas. He branded the federal administration as abettors of demons and assassins, and he held up that long bony forefinger like a tremendous exclamation point and warning light as he cried, "Before God and these people, I arraign Pres. Franklin Pierce as a murderer."
As he ended, pandemonium took the scene. Lane had let loose havoc and the dogs of war. Gamblers threw their pistols onto the stage, begging Lane to take them to Kansas and use them; sailors threw their wages onto the platform at Lane's feet; staid businessmen tossed in their purses; it is said newsboys cast their pennies up, women wept, men wept, the people milled around the platform singing, shouting.
They were the Commune that night, and Jim Lane was Danton, and it was all very well for our record as a safe and sane nation that the American Tuileries were 800 miles away.
Nor was it a passing craze of a single night. Next day it was found that $15,000 had been pledged to raise aid for the revolutionists in Kansas, and that men were volunteering to go and fight the Proslavery armies which were backed by the federal power in the bleeding territory.
And some of the emigrants who did go from Chicago went with bayonets. And when the largest body rolled overland through Iowa and down into Kansas it was called "Lane's Army of the North." Not "settlers," not "'49ers," not "emigrants," but an "army." It was the overture to the Civil War, and Lane was waving the baton. He
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was at the army's head till he neared Kansas, then he spurred on in advance, making one of the best rides in the history of the Wild West, riding so hard that his companions -- one of them Old John Brown, of Osawatomie -- fell by the wayside, unable to keep up with this strange leader who never seemed to sleep nor eat but to feed himself upon eloquence. Lane never took alcohol, they say, and I believe them, for, after all, what could it have done for him?
The story of Jim Lane's return to Kansas is in your records -- how, to spread terror among the Border Ruffians, the enemy, he magnified the size and number of "Lane's Army of the North"; and how, to encourage the all but beaten Free Soilers, who had begged for his return, he broadcast the whisper, "Look for Captain Cook on a white horse."
Everybody knew that Captain Cook would be Jim Lane, for whom the government held an indictment for high treason, if not a price on his head.
The amazing propaganda that he spread did cow the Pro-slave bands, and it did inspire the Free Staters to a superb burst of activity, with men marching through the night to bombard enemy blockhouses, burn and shoot. And it was a matter for cheering when through the darkness the marching men heard, "Here comes Captain Cook," and turned to see it was Old Jim, his eyes a-fire.
This was the campaign which swept the border, and settled the fate of Kansas so far as armed force was concerned, and it is known elsewhere than in your state. But what is not generally remembered is that Jim Lane's most sensational speeches in Chicago, Cleveland and other midland cities, a month previous, were one of the most vital factors in the national financing of the Republican party.
Organized wealth and the conservative powers were against the young party. Its supporters were poor. But in the money which orators like Lane collected for the relief of Kansas, came the sinews for the new party. Most of the states organized Kansas committees, and these had a central committee in Chicago, which united the workmen, since the chief issue of the campaign was, "Kansas -- shall it be free or slave?" it was an easy matter to unite the moral and philanthropic cause of Kansas relief with the Republican campaign. Every speech made for Free-Soil Kansas was a Republican speech.
Without Lane's inflammatory speeches in the midlands, would this money-raising device have been so effective? Probably not.
We must have done with this intriguing man. A word will wind him up. He went to the senate; he was a power in the renomination
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of Lincoln in 1864, in the new Fusion which Lincoln decreed for that campaign, the joining of Republicans and war Democrats in the National Union party, and when the war was over and reconstruction at hand, Jim went with President Johnson for reconciliation toward the South. Not so prominently as some, but enough to set the Abolitionists and his old factional enemies, the New England Black Republicans, calling him a traitor to his party.
Was he gravitating back toward the Democratic party, as was Johnson and so many of the conservatives who had been close to Lincoln? Probably so.
Probably Lincoln himself, at the hour of his death, was gravitating away from the Radical Republicanism of New England and upper Ohio. We do not know, but it is likely.
When Senator Lane voted to support President Johnson in the fight with the Radical Republican congress, he heard that Kansas had risen against him, and that where he had been yesterday boss, and king, now nobody would speak to him. He went with the Lincoln program of mercy toward the South -- and it wasn't popular. He also heard himself denounced and investigated by senators on the charge of having taken cash bribes from Western contractors.
He came home to Kansas and shot himself through the head, and to his enemies who lived after him and had their hand in the writing of history, this was enough to prove him guilty. His friends, in the main, were the inarticulate masses, who had nothing to do with textbooks. But to the neutral mind which studies Lane's whole life, these easy explanations for his death are not convincing.
The man had lived the last eleven years of his life facing down charges as serious as these. Indeed, Jim Lane in 1858 had outfaced and lived down the charge that he had murdered his neighbor in a fight over a waterhole. He had walked the streets of Lawrence an outcast after that catastrophe, yet within three years had come back to be elected United States senator and to become king of Kansas.
He had always thrived on accusations against himself, and had climbed by turning them to his own account. Was he devastated because Kansas disapproved him politically? Hardly that. He had met political midnight many times before, and with a whirlwind campaign had turned it once more into dawn.
His whole life belies the charge of bribery, for he never cared for money. It was not his medium of exchange. He had never taken time to collect it. It didn't interest him. What could it bring him compared to the things his silver tongue could bring?
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He was a genuine artist, and genuine artists are fools where money is concerned. Jim Lane would rather bind fifty farmers in the spell of his oratory than win a fat fee arguing a case before twelve jurymen.
The hunger of his own children, the gauntness of his own frame are the witnesses against the charge that after a life of ignoring money he suddenly sold out for a few thousand dollars.
No; as I read the record of his life, Jim Lane shot himself because with the end of the Civil War, he saw his whole world gone, his era dead, his age vanished. He was the pioneer, the adventurer, the restless hunter for new horizons, and the glories of that time had vanished. He was a revolutionist, and the revolution had been won and was thenceforth to be in the hands of the corporation lawyers. He was a fighter, and the war was over.
After Appomattox America had set its feet in the path of the merchant, not the politician; in the way of the advertising agent and the realtor, not the spellbinder on the newly cut stump. And Jim Lane probably saw it.
In 1866 he came home and looked at Kansas. Was this fat and peaceful land the place where only ten years before he had been Captain Cook on the white horse riding in the glare of burning barns? Were these quiet business men who were now meeting in chambers of commerce the ragged boys who had manned the rifle pits upon which he stood firing them to bravery with his oratory?
He had had a lot of fun, and now he couldn't have it any more. He had slept at Lincoln's door in a night of peril with his naked sword, literally, across his knees, and now Lincoln was gone.
His own careless investments in real estate had, through no effort of his own, amazingly given his children comfort at last. He hadn't been the best father in the world, but he had been tender with his children whenever he thought of them, and, after all, few fathers had taken their children to see Lincoln as often as he. Kansas didn't need him any more; it was free, the negro was free. What was there to make speeches about now?
Jim Lane saw that the rules had changed; as William Allen White puts it, "Jim Lane saw the counters were different," and all at once he saw that Kansas and America were going to bore him.
Here was a civilization with which he could not cope. In the whole of the United States there was now, henceforth, no fuel for the great fires within himself to feed upon.
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Imagination can picture him, standing there, and remembering back, recalling, now, of a place often mentioned in the religious litanies of his Calvinistic boyhood, a strange dreaded region in which the fuel was promised to be everlasting. This might be the place for him now.
He would go and see.