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James Lane

"Free Stater", one of the first two U.S. Senators from Kansas

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on June 22, 1814. His father, Amos Lane, was a well-known lawyer and a prominent political figure in Indiana. After completing his primary schooling, James studied law in his father's office, and was admitted to the bar in 1840.

During the Mexican War, Lane served as a Colonel under General Zachary Taylor. He also commanded the Fifth Indiana Regiment, which he had raised, in the Southern Campaign, under General Winfield Scott.

Lane's political career began when he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Indiana, in which position he served from 1849 to 1853. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1853 to 1855. His vote in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively ended his political career in Indiana, so he opted to emigrate to the Territory of Kansas in 1855.

Originally a Democrat like his father, Lane joined the Free State forces almost immediately upon reaching Kansas, and was a member of the first general Free State convention at Big Springs in September of 1855. Although he was never an abolitionist, Lane still fought for equality between whites and blacks, and against extension of slavery into Kansas. He presided over the Topeka Constitutional Convention in the autumn of 1855, and was second in command of forces in Lawrence during the "Wakarusa War." In 1856, Lane was elected to the U.S. Senate under the Topeka Constitution. But, since there were disputes over the validity of the Constitution, Congress refused to seat him. In May of that year, Lane and other Free State leaders were indicted for treason. Lane left Kansas for safety reasons, and spent a few months touring northern cities and giving fiery oratories that aroused enthusiasm on behalf of the Free State movement. He returned to Kansas with John Brown in August 1856, and took an active part in the domestic feuds of 1856-1857.

As soon as Kansas was officially admitted to the Union in 1861, Lane was elected as one of the new state's two U.S. Senators. Almost immediately upon reaching Washington, he organized a company to guard President Abraham Lincoln. In August of 1861, having by then gained the ear of Federal authorities and become intimate with President Lincoln, Lane returned to Kansas with vague military powers, which he exercised in spite of protests from the Governor and regular departmental commanders. In the autumn he led a brigade of 1,500 men in a devastating campaign along the Missouri border. In July of 1862, he was appointed commissioner of recruiting volunteers for Kansas, a position in which he rendered faithful service while often in conflict with state authorities. One of his accomplishments in this position was formation of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, the first regiment of black troops to see action on the Union side.

Lane worked hard for Abraham Lincoln's re-election in 1864, and equally hard on behalf of Lincoln's Reconstruction Program. After Lincoln's assassination, radical members of the Republican Party tried to pressure Andrew Johnson to punish the South severely, something Johnson was unwilling to do. When Lane broke with the Republican Party to defend Johnson's policies, he suddenly found himself being accused of involvement with fraudulent Indian contracts. The accusations aggravated Lane's already fragile mental health, and he shot himself in the head on July 1, 1866; he died ten days later at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas.

SEE ALSO
Mexican War
John Brown
President Abraham Lincoln
President Andrew Johnson

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The West >> Kansas >> History

This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.