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central issue of the 1860 presidential election, the most significant in U. The seemingly unanswerable “Kansas Question” and the issue of slavery’s expansion split the venerable Democratic Party into Northern and Southern factions, allowing the Republican Abraham Lincoln to win the election without a single Southern electoral vote.
One of the central conflicts between Douglas and the Southern wing of his party (a wing that would be essential to winning the nomination in 1860) was Kansas’s proslavery “Lecompton Constitution.” In 1857, three years after Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, the territorial legislature—which was overwhelmingly proslavery since Senator David Rice Atchison led 5,000 Missourians into Kansas to stuff ballot boxes and suppress the Free-State vote in 1855—convened to craft a state constitution, dubbed the “Lecompton Constitution.” The new compact explicitly enshrined slavery in the proposed state and protected slaveholders’ rights, despite the growing majority of bona fide antislavery settlers in Kansas, many of whom had boycotted the referendum on the new constitution.
Far from popular sovereignty, it was a glaring example of a constitution matching the political outlook of the people it was supposed to represent.
When the abolitionist John Brown arrived in Kansas Territory in 1855, he joined a growing band of settlers from the North who hoped to keep slavery and slaveholders out.
Yet unlike most antislavery partisans, who wielded words, petitions, and moral suasion to attack the South’s “peculiar institution,” Brown arrived with weapons and a willingness to use violence to keep Kansas free.
Brown’s assault on the South further emboldened disunionists in the region and drove a wedge between these Fire-Eaters and Douglas, the presumed Democratic front-runner.
Douglas, the original author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, had long harbored presidential aspirations.He fell short in 1856, succumbing at the Democratic convention to the eventual winner, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.The next three years were full of frustration for Douglas, who had proposed that the new law’s “popular sovereignty” provision (allowing the settlers in a territory to decide for themselves whether slavery would be legal or not) would democratically heal divisions in Kansas.The election of a Republican president, on a platform promising a halt to slavery’s expansion at the Missouri-Kansas border, was a turning point not just for the region, but for the entire United States.National political events between “Old Osawatomie” John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry and the commencement of the Civil War in April 1861 unveiled the centrality of Kansas in the larger contest.The address catapulted his campaign onto the national political stage.The other national figure damaged by John Brown’s raid and the further sectional polarization that followed in its wake was Lincoln’s longtime rival from Illinois, Senator Stephen Douglas.We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong.That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason.” He went on to look clearly ahead to the coming canvass and warned secessionists: “So, if constitutionally we elect a [Republican] President, and therefore you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with. We hope and believe that in no section will a majority so act as to render such extreme measures necessary.” Two days later, still in Leavenworth, Lincoln spoke even more politically, calling any attempt “to identify the Republican party with the John Brown business” an “electioneering dodge.” A reporter noted that in “Brown’s hatred of slavery [Lincoln] sympathized with him.While the raid itself turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, Brown’s foray into Virginia had far-reaching political implications for the entire nation – already in the midst of the 1860 presidential campaign.As historian Nicole Etcheson writes in her essay on this website, “Northerners were reminded of the horrors of a slave system that provoked men to such drastic violence.