Thomas Drummond: The gathering storm

Editor’s Note: Today is the third installment of a six-part series on Thomas Drummond, who led a short but fascinating life as a senator, newspaper editor and Civil War hero. He is buried in the Methodist Cemetery on Newell Avenue, St. Clairsville. The authors are Edmund A. Sargus, a federal judge, and his son, Edmund C. Sargus, a writer in Tampa, Fla. Both are from St. Clairsville and have co-authored a book on the life of Thomas Drummond.

From 1857 through 1860, Thomas Drummond participated as a newspaper

editor in the most heated debate in American history. Today, it is hard to imagine

Vinton, Iowa, a town of five hundred inhabitants, supporting two newspapers,

which, every week, took diametrically opposed views on the question of slavery.

Likewise, Drummond fought the same battle in the halls of the Iowa State Legislature, as the House and the Senate debated the same issues.

From the drafting of the Constitution, slavery had been a contentious issue.

The original Constitution permitted slavery without ever using the word, but banned the importing of slaves. In 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery north of a line running east to west from the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.

As the number of slaves increased in the South and the institution was banned in the North, the issue would never disappear. By the 1850’s, new territories west of the Mississippi sought statehood. Each new application for statehood brought a renewed debate should the new state permit or ban slavery?

The answer would determine control by one side or the other of the United States Senate.

No legislation did more to incite the anti-slavery movement and the creation

of the Republican Party than the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sponsored by Senator

Stephen Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed each new territory to exercise “popular sovereignty,” meaning a popular vote. The first state to test this idea was a harbinger of what was to come.

Voters from the North and South flooded into Kansas; the state became a war zone.

Drummond was an outspoken critic of both Douglas and the Kansas- Nebraska Act. Drummond called popular sovereignty a complete abandonment of

Congress’ obligation to regulate or ban slavery in the territories. He quickly pointed out the fatal flaw, which was the issue of “who constitute the ‘people’.”

Did it include those who were simply present in the territory to vote, or only those with a permanent residence? Scores were killed while two separate territorial governments claimed to have won the election. As Congress debated, Kansas did not become a state until 1861.

On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court ended the debate by

deciding the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Chief Justice Roger Taney

held that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories, which at that

time included almost half of the lands of the United States. The decision not only

invalidated the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but asserted that even the revered Missouri

Compromise of 1820 was also unconstitutional.

Drummond, like most members of the new Republican Party, was incensed.

The framers of the Constitution saw slavery as a necessary evil in 1787, according

to Drummond. They fully expected it to wither and die. Instead, he wrote on

October 8, 1857:

Slavery is none the less encroaching. The mania for its extension,

instead of abating, really keeps pace with the efforts to crush it. Yet,

while slavery continues militant, while it struggles for vitality and

longevity, so vigorously, it will meet an unflinching opposition.

By 1858, Drummond became an enthusiastic supporter of Abraham Lincoln,

in his quest to defeat Senator Steven Douglas. Drummond described Douglas as a

“most finished demagogue, and the most dangerous foe to free principles that can

be found in the United States.” (Nov. 13, 1858).

Douglas, once re-elected, reversed course and opposed the admission of

Kansas as a slave state. In early 1859, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York

Tribune, proposed Douglas as the presidential nominee of the new Republican

Party. According to Greeley, who commanded the largest Republican newspaper,

Douglas could unite all those opposed to expansion of slavery. Drummond quickly

shot back:

Unfortunately, the [Republican] Party is just now cursed with a lot of

officious political mid-wives . . . . The basis of Republicanism is its

recognition and advocacy of the “inalienable rights of men” and its

purpose a steady and unceasing opposition to slavery extension, and

to the very existence of the institution itself. This at least is the

Western Republicanism and the party in the West is not to be sold out

by its professed brethren in the East. The Republican Party adopts

. . . “the bloody, brutal manifesto” of Abraham Lincoln

. . . that there is and must be a steady conflict between Slavery and

Freedom until one or the other goes to the wall, until this Union

becomes all slave or all free.” (May 10, 1859)


Only a few months later, the country was riveted by yet another convulsion.

John Brown led twenty armed accomplices and seized the United States military

arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown hoped to spark a slave rebellion.

Brown’s forces killed six and injured nine others. All but one of Brown’s men

were either killed or captured. Brown was executed after a quick trial in a Virginia


Opponents of slavery had mostly negative reactions to Brown’s violent

mission. The famous abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, one time partner of St.

Clairsville’s Benjamin Lundy, called Brown “misguided.” Abraham Lincoln

decried the raid and said, “John Brown was no Republican.” (Feb. 27, 1860)

Drummond too wrote that the Republican Party “is not a band of John

Brown’s and does not endorse its invasion of Virginia.” Yet, in the Vinton Eagle,

he printed the following:

Historical Quiz

Who settled Virginia? Answer: John Smith

Who unsettled Virginia? Answer: John Brown

But Drummond was soon involved in the raid’s aftermath. One of Brown’s

accomplices, Barclay Coppock, escaped back to Iowa, where Brown had been

headquartered. The Governor of Virginia requested an extradition warrant asking

the Governor of Iowa to return Coppock to Virginia for trial on charges of treason.

Governor Samuel Kirkwood, a close ally of Drummond, met with several State

Senators, presumably including Drummond, and wrote out a list of legal

deficiencies in the extradition documents. The Virginia officials became angry and

refused to leave the Governor’s office without his approval of extradition. A fist

fight erupted and the Virginians were physically ejected from the Statehouse.

Several weeks later, a corrected version of the extradition warrant was

delivered. Governor Kirkwood reluctantly signed the documents. Coppock,

however, had been alerted and absconded. Drummond and others were accused of

tipping off Coppock. Democrats demanded a full investigation. On the floor of

the Iowa Senate, Drummond spoke on January 27, 1860:

It is true that I immediately said [upon learning that the extradition

warrant would be signed], “I would give five dollars towards paying a

messenger to go and apprise Coppock of his danger” and I would have

done so if I had the opportunity. I say it, sir, openly and boldly that


never with my consent shall the remaining son of that widowed

Quaker mother at Springdale, Iowa, be handed over to the tender

mercies of Virginia . . . never with my consent shall he be swung off a

Virginia gallows to further appease Virginia slave driving vengeance.

Luckily for Drummond, the Coppock incident was soon overshadowed as the

nation split in two.

In September of 1859, Drummond, a widower, married a second time.

Katherine Drummond delivered a son, James Drummond, Jr., in July of 1860.

Tragically, the child died two months later. Once again in grief, Drummond sold

his share of the Vinton Eagle and immersed his sorrow in Abraham Lincoln’s

presidential campaign. Lincoln handily won Iowa. Drummond hoped to join his


Drummond was prophetic when he wrote that the struggle would continue

“until this Union becomes all slave or all free.” He, and the rest of the country,

were about to see the horrific cost of that struggle.