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James Henry Lane

Photograph of James Henry Lane taken by  Matthew Brady.Free-state politician. Republican. Born: June 22, 1814. Died: July 11, 1866. Served in U.S. Senate: April 4, 1861, to July 11, 1866.

James H. "The Grim Chieftain" Lane, who finished out his Kansas political career as a U. S. senator, was born in Indiana in 1814. After studying law in his father's office, Lane was admitted to the bar in 1840, practiced law, and served with the Indiana Volunteers during the Mexican War. As a Democrat he also served as lieutenant governor of Indiana and as a member of Congress, during which time he cast a vote for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. He moved to Lawrence in 1855, where he gained the notoriety that assured him a prominent place in the history of the state and nation.

Lane joined free-state forces, despite his Democratic background, and soon became one of the Free State Party's most significant leaders. He was never an abolitionist, and he could be ruthless; Lane shot and killed a neighbor in 1858 over a boundary dispute. His detractors, then and now, paint him as an "unbalanced," pugnacious jayhawker.

Lane served as president of the Topeka and Leavenworth constitutional conventions, was elected one of the state's first U.S. senators. He raised the "Frontier Guard," recruited and commanded "Lane's Brigade" (actually, the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Kansas Volunteers), and was responsible for forming the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, the first regiment of African American troops to see action on the side of the Union during the Civil War.

Always controversial, Lane was a dominant force in Kansas and to an extent national politics for a decade. He was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1865. Shortly thereafter, he lost favor in Kansas after backing the reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson, including the president's veto of the Civil Rights Bill. Because of despondence, as well as ill-health (maybe even mental illness), Lane shot himself in the head in 1866. He was buried in Lawrence's Oak Hill Cemetery.

Entry: Lane, James Henry

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.