Ian Michael Spurgeon now takes a closer look at this notorious politician to reassess both his position swings and his role in history. Taking readers from the halls of Congress to the bloody plains of Kansas and Missouri, he challenges prevailing views of Lane as a self-serving demagogue, arguing instead that he was a steadfast champion of both the Union and his own conception of democratic principles.
In revising popular notions of one of Kansas’s most prominent figures, Spurgeon focuses on the last twelve years of Lane’s life to analyze his larger political actions and principles—and finds a consistency in his ideals that few historians have recognized. He delves more deeply than previous works into key aspects of Lane’s career, such as his time in Indiana, his participation in Kansas’s constitutional conventions, and his evolving view regarding slavery. And in addition to contending that Lane subscribed to the 1854 Democratic principles of popular sovereignty, he also observes that the Free State Party’s nonalignment with national parties made it possible to be a Free-State Democrat—just as it was possible to be antislavery yet antiblack.
Ranging widely over the Civil War era, Spurgeon not only challenges views of Lane that have long been etched in stone but also provides insight into such important themes as the breakdown of the Second Party System, the rise of sectional conflict, and the diverging cultures of East and West. He persuasively shows that Jim Lane was not quite the scoundrel that history has made him out to be and offers a new perspective on Northern Democrats during a tumultuous period of realignment.