No actions of the Bogus Legislature were more controversial than passage of the "Act to Punish Offenses against Slave Property " and other slavery statutes. Although it patterned its statutes on those of Virginia and Louisiana, the Bogus Legislature went well beyond those states. [Cheatham, Legislate Slavery, 157].

The Kansas Slavery statutes were widely circulated nationally and often reprinted. Clergyman John McNamara, in his book on his time in Kansas, included the statutes, calling them "the black and cruel Law in the Draco-Kansas Code." [McNamara, In peril, 152] Pro-slavery leader Benjamin Stringfellow, on the other hand, boasted to interested southerners that Kansans "now have laws more efficient to protect slave property than any State in the Union." [Etchison, Great Principle, 22]

Anthony Burns

His arrest in Boston under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act incited riots and protests in 1854 and led to the Massachusetts Personal Liberty Act of 1855.

The importance of enacting strong slavery statutes was central to the pro- slavery cause. If southern settlers were to come to Kansas, it must be safe for them to bring their slaves. Moreover, there was a substantial concern that the number of slaves escaping from western Missouri could rise, as it in fact did. By 1857, the number of runaways had increased tenfold and the state of Missouri was providing special patrols. [Sheridan, From Slavery in Missouri, 30]

Authorship of the Kansas Slavery statutes is disputed. Ward Connelly wrote that the slavery program " had been prepared in Missouri immediately after the election of the Legislature (and) had been agreed upon at Weston, Missouri, by Judge William C. Price, Senator Atchison, and other rabid Pro- Slavery men." [Connelly, History, Ch. 21] John Holloway said that legislator Joseph Anderson was the author [Holloway, History, 403] and John McNamara blamed W. P. Richardson. [McNamara, In peril, 152] Anderson's legal training and acknowledged skills make him the more likely draftsman of the codes.

Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution required states to surrender escaped slaves, but northern states often refused to extradite. As part of the Compromise of 1850, Congress passed a new Fugitive Slave Act which greatly favored slave owners. In Section 28 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Congress explicitly extended the Fugitive Slave Act to the Territory of Kansas.

Reaction in the north to the capture of runaway slaves led to state legislation attempting to contravene the Fugitive Slave Act. The Massachusetts Personal Liberty Act of 1855, for instance, guaranteed the writ of habeas corpus, the right to a jury trial and other procedural devices that protected runaways, making it difficult for slave owners to prove their case in court and costly to do so. [Massachusetts, Acts and Resolves 1855, 924] As part of their deliberations on the Slavery statutes, the Bogus Legislature adopted a resolution asking Governor Reeder for copies of the Compromise of 1850 and the Massachusetts Personal Liberty Act of 1855, if he had them. [House Journal, 47] Some of the Bogus Legislature members probably attended a July 12, 1855, Lexington, Missouri Pro-slavery Convention where 226 delegates from 26 Missouri counties met with Atchison and Benjamin Stringfellow to consider retaliation against northern states enacting liberty laws. [Shoemaker, Missouri's Proslavery Fight, 335] Reacting to the Massachusetts Act, the Kansas legislators intended to balance the scales.

The Offenses Against Slave Property Act made:

  1. "Decoying" any slave away from his owner punishable by death.
  2. Aiding or assisting decoying a slave punishable by death.
  3. Bringing decoyed slaves into Kansas Territory from any other state or territory punishable by death.
  4. Raising a rebellion or insurrection among slaves, free negroes or mulattoes punishable by death.
  5. Aiding or assisting in any such rebellion or insurrection punishable by death.
  6. Resisting any officer attempting to arrest a slave punishable by two years at hard labor.
  7. Printing or publishing any book, pamphlet, etc. calculated to produce "dangerous disaffection" among slaves punishable by five years at hard labor.
  8. Speaking or writing that "persons have not the right to hold slaves in this Territory" punishable by two years at hard labor. [1855 Statutes, Chapter 151]

The Judiciary Committee of the Council debated the death penalty provisions and decided the crimes warranted death. Chairman Richard Rees explained:

"....At first presentation of the subject, there was an apparent severity which seemed not to be in consonance with the crime. But when we view the offense in its peculiar bearing upon our institutions at this particular time, it assumes more the character of treason against the laws, than an ordinary crime.(and) may, in its incendiary tendency, lead to consequences of the most fearful character. it is an offense, the frequent recurrence of which we may well imagine might light the bonfires of civil war, and result in bloodshed more fearful than a thousand murders. We are, therefore, in view of this, prepared to sanction the penalty of death, and respectfully recommend the passage of this act." [Council Journal, 61]

Lawrence Kansas Tribune
September 15, 1855

Editor John Speer defied the Bogus Legislature by directly violating the "Gag Law" in its exact words.

John Speer, editor of the Lawrence Kansas Tribune, published a broadside on the effective date of the Slavery act, challenging the "gag law" provision, making it a crime to speak or write that "persons have not the right to hold slaves in this Territory. The broadside was printed in large display capitals, so that, as Speer said, "the infatuated invaders who elected the Kansas legislature as well as the corrupt and ignorant legislature itself may understand-so that, if they cannot read, they may spell it out." [Cory, Slavery in Kansas, 230] Speer was indicted for violation of the statute but never tried. The unconstitutionality of the "gag law" troubled many Kansans and the 1857 legislature reconsidered the 1855 statute. Despite its pro-slavery makeup, the legislature, with the encouragement of Governor Geary, repealed the offending section. [Cheatham, Legislate Slavery, 156]

In other statutes, the Bogus Legislature:

  1. Required an oath from every officer, elected or appointed, to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Law. [1855 Statutes, 438]
  2. Disqualified any person opposed to slavery as a juror. [1855 Statutes, 377, 378]
  3. Required an oath from every attorney to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Law. [1855 Statutes, 118]
  4. Made homicide excusable when correcting a slave and cohabitation of a slave with a white woman punishable by castration. [1855 Statutes, 205]
  5. Made petit larceny and misdemeanors committed by slaves punishable by whipping. [1855 Statutes, 252 ff]
  6. Disallowed the writ of habeas corpus to slaves charged with crimes. [1855 Statutes, 345]
  7. Made wearing ball and chain mandatory for all prisoners serving hard labor sentences. [1855 Statutes, 146]

The first free-state legislature, elected in October 1857, repealed the slavery statutes with a few simple words. During their existence, no one was ever prosecuted for violation, though oaths were required of officials, jurors and attorneys. The effort to encourage slavery in Kansas failed. The February 1855 census showed 192 slaves and 151 "free negroes." The June 1860 census, taken eight months before the Wyandotte constitution forbidding slavery took effect, showed 625 "free negroes" and only 2 slaves. [Elliott, Grasshopper Falls, 184]

Charles Clark