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Stephen Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed each new territory to exercise “popular sovereignty,” meaning a popular vote.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
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:
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.