Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bradley G. Bond

Advisor Department



In 1855, former Indiana congressman James Henry Lane entered Kansas territory determined to take a leading political role during the controversial quest for statehood. Over the next twelve years, his career seemed to follow an irregular, inconsistent path of ideologies and actions. He had supported Stephen Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but later fell out with the Democratic party. During the Kansas territorial period, he became a leading political and military figure in the extralegal Free State movement, joined the Republican party, championed Abraham Lincoln, and became one of the new state's first senators. When civil war erupted across the nation, Lane led destructive raids into Missouri, advocated abolition, and joined radicals in promoting black military service. Yet, after the war, Lane backed Andrew Johnson's opposition to the Radicals in Congress and their Civil Rights bill. Historians have largely portrayed Lane as either an unprincipled opportunist, demagogue, and radical, who acted only in ways to promote his own career, or a hero and noble (though tragic) convert to the Republican and antislavery folds. However, both approaches are only two-dimensional. This study endeavors to look at Lane three-dimensionally. As a result, he is seen as a man who cannot be labeled so easily. This dissertation argues that Lane did have guiding principles, that he was surprisingly consistent to those principles, and that apparent contradictions during his political career were primarily understandable responses to external events. James Lane maintained a strong devotion to democratic principles, and a great concern for the integrity of the Union and of his political party. Overall, while James Lane was certainly an ambitious politician, he labored to protect his guiding principles during the nation's most trying periods.