Goode for Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Frank Blair told the Missouri legislature that the future of the state hung in the balance. Would Missouri remain a backward slave state, scaring away immigrants and depressing its economy with slave labor? Would it oppress the white man by forbidding him to speak antislavery thoughts? By putting Thomas Hart Benton back in the Senate, Missouri would show itself as a state looking to the future. It would grow rich on trade passing through to free Kansas. Immigrants would flood not only into the new territory but to its elder neighbor. They would bring their labor and money, uplifting all.

But they would only come so long as Missouri looked properly inviting. If Missouri made itself the enemy of the white man’s republicanism, if it outlawed antislavery speech, if it subverted Kansas’ self-government, then it could hardly seem welcoming to an outsider. Let Kansas go free and enslaved Missouri would still profit. In fact, it would profit far more than if the nation saw it as the home of despots who yearned to apply the whip to white men.

Atchison’s supporters did not let that go by unchallenged. Blair had outright accused Atchison of trying to sabotage Missouri by his Kansas filibustering. More damaging still, Blair had a point. Atchison’s Platte County Self-Defense Association declared itself for outlawing antislavery speech. It embraced illegality when the law would not sanction its actions. It and other groups had broken the law already in Kansas, proudly and openly.

George W. Goode rose in the Missouri legislature to defend Atchison. Like Blair, he saw the senate race as the key to Missouri’s future:

The occasion was one of no ordinary interest. The most important matters of state are deeply involved in the result. The peculiar circumstances in which we are placed, force upon us the inquiry whether we are to continue a slave State, or humbly yield to an insidious influence, directed to the subversion of our State policy, and the substitution of free for slave labor.

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

The antislavery movement talked about an insidious influence seeking to subvert the white man’s government too. They imagined a slave power conspiracy that worked to enslave them all. Goode, like Stringfellow, imagined a conspiracy in Missouri to turn it into a free state.

I wish that I could believe that it was nothing more serious-nothing more permanent in its consequences; that a six years’ term of service in the Senate of the United States, with its ordinary incidents, were the only matters involved in the result of our present action; but I cannot so believe. I cannot if I would, suppress the conviction that this discussion, ending, as it is likely to do, in no immediate practical good, will prove to be the precursor of that spirit which I had hoped would be confined to the East and North, but which I am bound to believe from recent signs is only waiting for the expected happening of certain events to stand forth upon the soil of Missouri, and openly proclaim the triumph of its votaries here-the spirit of Abolitionism-it has already invaded our State in specious guise, and unless rebuked now, and here, in a manner to arrest its course and give peace and quiet to our citizens, we had as well make up our minds at once to submit to the disaster-the degradation and utter ruin which await us.

Abolition, not slavery, meant destruction and debasement. Goode set himself up as a mirror image of standard free soil rhetoric. The antislavery men, not the proslavery men, had their conspiracies. They would subvert the white man’s self-government. They designed ruin rubbed their hands in anticipation. The enemy stood before them in the person of Frank Blair, and behind Blair in the person of Thomas Hart Benton.

The Future of Missouri and David Rice Atchison

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Men of David Rice Atchison’s bent spilled over the Missouri border to make Kansas into a slave territory. They made their choice its non-voting delegate to Congress. Along the way they ate, drank, made dire threats, and physically stopped some Kansans from voting. All went very much according to Atchison’s wishes and his public suggestions. Members of the Platte County Self-Defense Association, a group Atchison helped found, had far less luck prevailing over Frederick Starr back at home before their adventure in election fraud. But their failure with Starr made success in Kansas all the more imperative. All of Missouri stood in the balance.

Most especially, for David Rice Atchison, his seat in the Senate stood in the balance. His ongoing feud with Thomas Hart Benton’s faction of the Missouri Democracy, which urged non-agitation over slavery and hoped for a freer, whiter Missouri in the future, had helped spark the initial Kansas crisis in Washington. Atchison had crossed over to replace Benton with a proslavery Whig a few years prior. That achievement put an end to a senatorial career as long as Missouri’s statehood, but Benton came right back with a seat in the House and he had many friends still in Missouri.

Fresh off the filibusters’ success in Kansas, Atchison came up for reelection. At this time, before the Seventeenth Amendment, state legislatures elected senators. Benton contested the election. So did a proslavery Whig, Atchison’s friend and west Missouri neighbor Alexander William Doniphan. In years past, Doniphan had refused an order to execute the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, at the conclusion of Missouri’s violent expulsion of the Latter-Day Saints from its bounds. The Missourians believed the Mormons abolitionists, among other things, and some of them saw their violent work in the 1850s as a continuation of the same struggle.

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

The debate in the Missouri state house laid out the issue in stark terms. Just as Atchison wanted, slavery dominated the election. Benton’s lieutenant, Francis Preston Blair, Jr., spoke for him to the legislature. William W. Freehling summarizes his argument in The Road to Disunion, Volume Two. Blair

denied that Bentonians sought to abolish slavery. Rather, they sought to save white republicanism. All true republicans, emphasized Blair, believed democrats can discuss anything, from whether to rotate crops to whether to use slaves. All true unionists understand that Atchisons proslavery illegalities would smash the national republic. All true entrepreneurs wince that Atchison’s antidemocratic repressions will deter free white laborers from the Kansas plains.

All Missourians should hope for a free labor Kansas, continued Blair, because only then would Kansas and Missouri flourish., Compared to slave labor, free labor brought more people, more enterprise, and more profits to an area. Missourians, by controlling Kansans’ trade, would boom alongside the free labor neighbor. The economic takeoff would bring still more free laborers to Kansas and Missouri. Still more people would mean still more prosperity. If Atchison’s antirepublican coercions prevailed instead, Missouri would receive sparse migrants, enjoy scarce free speech, and achieve scant prosperity.

Francis Preston Blair, Jr.

Francis Preston Blair, Jr.

Further South, talk like that could get a man lynched. In Missouri, one could say such things and be a member in good standing of a powerful faction in the state government. Blair expected this argument to put Benton back into the Senate, not fit him for tar and feathers. He could very well have just read from Negro-Slavery, No Evil and declared Benton its antithesis. B.F. Stringfellow, Atchison’s lieutenant, laid out his position starkly in that pamphlet:

We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

The Kansas Census, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Looking into the origins of Kansas’ settlers, as reported in the first territorial census, turned into much more of an undertaking than I expected. From looking at national censuses, I expected a by-district tabulation of who came from where. The Howard Report does not appear to include any such thing. Instead the full lists of qualified voters, separated by district, appear with where each voter hailed from listed right after his name. Counting them all up takes quite a bit of time. To help preserve my sanity and eyesight, I’ve thus opted to make a smaller project of it using the breakpoints I sketched out yesterday.

Today then brings the censuses of the second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eleventh districts. Those five led the pack in level of vote fraud perpetuated at their polling places in the November election for delegate. By February, they had only twenty slaves between them as befitting districts where we would expect a majority of antislavery settlers.

Do the numbers back that up? No.

Overview of the place of origin of Kansas' voters

Overview of the place of origin of Kansas’ voters

One would expect a decisive northern inclination to match the presumed antislavery inclination in the districts that had the greatest number of fraudulent votes, but the top five give only two districts with such populations, the notorious seventh and the almost evenly split sixth. At least for these districts, if the Missouri filibusters moved in based on where the people who truly resided there hailed from, they did not operate with the best information. The second and fourth districts come up with a clear southern majority and the eleventh possessed voters entirely from the South.

Many of the Southerners in those numbers hail from Missouri, which accounts for 280 of the 573 voters (48.87%) all by itself. We know that Stringfellow and others feared for the future of slavery in the Show Me state. It had sent Thomas Hart Benton, famously silent on the subject, to the Senate for decades. Furthermore, much of Missouri looked demographically quite northern. Many of those Missourians probably did not care all that much about slavery one way or the other. They could accept it or do without, so long as they got to decide on the fact themselves. But some of them would have loathed the abolitionists as outside interlopers or out of old fashioned racism. Thus, especially in light of these figures, we shouldn’t presume that everybody from Missouri came over with South Carolinian or Mississippian ideas, or as a covert free soiler. The numbers just don’t give us enough information to make that call.

One could combine this with the numbers of slaves present in the same districts as a rough metric, but that too has problems. One need not own slaves to support slavery and making Kansas into a slave state. A settler could easily come to Kansas from a slave state with dreams of striking it big and then becoming a slaveholder. Likewise the filibuster votes could have come to these districts not because they housed free soilers in great numbers, but because they lay near the border and had few enough people to make stealing the election for delegate an easier matter. Outnumbering seven legal voters requires less effort than outnumbering hundreds. Of course those same small numbers also permit subsequent settlement to change the polity of a district with equal ease in the months between the election and the census.

The Kansas Census, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder ordered up his census of Kansas and, as one would have trouble fraudulently residing in Kansas for a few weeks and one could always come back over for the elections instead, we can consider it a fairly good picture of settlement at the time,. In doing so, we must keep in mind that the census deliberately excluded the Indians that still lived in the territory in considerable numbers. Nineteenth century Americans thought little about that, but we need share all their biases.

Incidentally, the New York Times Disunion blog had a good piece about American Indian soldiers from my neck of the woods yesterday. I particularly liked how it highlighted the Indians’ motives for signing on with the Union:

Raymond J. Herek, in his regimental history “These Men Have Seen Hard Service,” explained, “Many of the Indians joined because they believed the South was out to enslave all of them. The young warriors were going to fight for their own freedom, their homes, and their lands, where the graves of their families were located.”

Herek taught the one Civil War history class I’ve had back in 1999. His book seems to have gone out of print. I regret now that I didn’t get a copy back in the day. Anyway, the Indians’ motives sound extremely American. The white North held many convinced that the South aimed to enslave everybody, or do the next best thing to it. We can easily slip into imagining that white American and Native American lived in vastly different worlds and rarely interacted, but here we have a clear sign that they shared some of the same space mentally as well as physically.

But back to Kansas. In March of 1855, the territory had 8,601 inhabitants. That number included 192 slaves and 151 free blacks. The great majority claimed native birth, with only 408 registering themselves as foreign-born.

The Kansas census returns (click for a larger version)

The Kansas census returns (click for a larger version)

I apologize for the slightly grainy image. You can see the original here.

Slaves have come to Kansas, whether the repeal of the Missouri Compromise permitted it or not. On the ground, the proslavery men had their way in more than just the election. Keeping slaves out would have required Reeder’s tiny territorial government to do something about it and any such act, as well as challenging its capabilities, would constitute a radical provocation. Voting with their feet, proslavery Missourians had done more than force their choice of delegate on Kansas. They had enacted their interpretation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Less than two hundred slaves might not make a permanent mark on the territory, but it gave them a far more consequential win in practical terms than their non-voting delegate John W. Whitfield did. They had made Kansas into a de facto slave territory.

In seeing the number of slaves broken down by district, I wondered how their concentrations compared with the vote fraud back in November. Intuitively, one would expect the less enslaved areas to have more fraud, since the Missouri men needn’t steal the election in districts they knew they had well in hand. The population grew, and very well could have moved around within Kansas, in the three months between November’s polls and February’s census, but we can use the census figures as at least an approximation. A district safe for slavery three months previous, and thus not requiring much fraud, would probably remain safe in February.

The November vote and February census returns

The November vote and February census returns (click for a larger version)

By percent illegal votes, the eleventh (97.14%), seventh (96.69%), second (86.21%), fourth (81.27%), and sixth (76.19%) lead the pack. We would expect to find few slaves in them come February. The seventh and fourth had just one each. The second district had seven. The sixth leads the pack with eleven. The eleventh had none. Together those twenty slaves made up 10.15% of the territory’s slaves.

That all sounds right. At least on the extreme end, the pattern matches expectations. But does the converse hold as well? Did the districts with the least fraud end up with the most slaves? The census found the most slaves, as a percent of the total population, in the seventeenth district (15.33%), followed by the eighth (11.36%), the ninth (9.30%), thirteenth (4.93%), and twelfth (4.86%). None of those districts had a single illegal vote cast in November.

What about the least enslaved districts? Those would likely hold the most voters that the Missouri filibusters would have had to worry about in November. Four districts had no slaves at all, but the eighteenth did not exist for the election and so we must set it aside. This leaves the first, tenth, and eleventh districts. The eleventh had the greatest percent of fraudulent votes cast. The first and tenth had no illegal votes. Widening the net to include districts with just one slave adds the fourth and seventh districts to the list. In the fourth district, 81.37% of the votes cast came from non-residents. In the seventh, 96.69% did. The pattern doesn’t match exactly, but a trend seems present. Unfortunately, I don’t have a map of Kansas’ districts at the time to compare and see if proximity to Missouri played a role.

I speculate that the filibusters might have conceded distant districts or districts where they knew a large majority of northerners lived. They voted for the delegate at large, so if the proslavery voters concentrated in a few places it didn’t harm their chances. One’s district just decided one’s polling place.

Without the map I can’t look at proximity. If anybody knows of one, I’d love to see it. I have the boundaries Reeder set for each district, but no cartographical skill with which to make my own. I can, however, delve into where the settlers hailed from originally. That will come tomorrow.

The Kansas Census, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

John W. Whitfield would have won the election for delegate to Congress with or without the help of the Missourians who crossed the border to vote fraudulently for him. Most actual Kansans didn’t care much either way, quite reasonably considering that Whitfield’s election would have very little to do with how the territory developed into a state. He would go to Congress and do little of import for a very short time. If men from Missouri wanted to raise a huge fuss and perpetrate a blindingly obvious fraud over that, more power to them.

When Andrew Reeder ordered up a census, that did matter to local Kansans. The census takers would come to them, going door to door. Their returns would help Reeder apportion seats for the first territorial legislative elections. Here one had a profound chance to influence the fate of the territory, but also one hard to hijack. Coming over the border to vote took a one-time engagement and a bit of daring. To make it on the census, one would have to stay in Kansas, possibly for weeks as the census takers made their rounds. Reeder sent out instructions and materials at the end of January, but did not get the last of the returns until the third of March. Nobody who didn’t already want to come to Kansas for good would likely bother staying so long. The Howard Report includes no mention of any such person.

Fraud or no, Reeder took the census very seriously. He sent instructions that remind us of how nineteenth century white Americans viewed the world:

You will not include army officers or soldiers of the army, or persons attached to troops in the service of the United States, unless they intend to remain and reside in the Territory when not on service, nor will you include any Indians or persons of Indian blood.

An Indian could not be a citizen. Nor could anybody who had Indian blood. If one had a child with an Indian, that child could not be a citizen. Like the full-blooded Indians, the child would literally not count. This stands out in part because so many Indians still lived in Kansas, according to contemporary accounts. The census counted 8,601 people, including men, women, and children. It counted slaves and free blacks. It counted the foreign-born. But it had no room whatsoever for Indians. A slave had some place in the white man’s world, if only as a piece of property.

But Reeder did not write out just military men, who did not really count as settlers since the War Department ordered them to go to their posts, and Indians:

As this is an enumeration of inhabitants and not property, you will enter the name of no man by reason of owning or claiming land here, or of his intention to remain here, but only those who actually dwell here at the time of taking the census.

We can understand that provision all too well, but should keep in mind that to Reeder and his census someone crossing from Missouri to vote and an Indian who lived on the land for generations equally ought have nothing to do with Kansas and its governance. Such matters did not concern them.

The census required a tally of qualified voters and here, as in the previous, Reeder must have had in mind some of the shenanigans of the November election:

In noting the qualified voters you must ascertain from your own observation, and the best information you can procure, who are entitled to be thus considered and designated. A qualified voter must be free, of white blood, twenty-one years of age, an actual resident of the Territory, welling here with the bona fide intention of making it his home, and a native or naturalized citizen of the United States, or a declarant who has sworn to support the Constitution of the United States and the act organizing the Territory.

Non-citizens who had taken such oaths could vote in many states at the time. They had a path into the political process. No such door opened for Indians, or women, or slaves.

A Gratuitous Fraud

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The men who crossed over from Missouri to vote in Kansas’ first election obviously felt that they had a strong in the outcome. If Kansas turned free, that could mean the end of slavery in Missouri down the road. It might mean the end of slavery in the whole Border South, which would leave the Upper South exposed and eager to sell its human property still further south. The Lower South would then find itself in a racial apocalypse. But sectional loyalty went only so far. Most who went to Kansas to steal its election and name John Whitfield its first delegate to Congress had their back yards in mind, not the fate of slavery in Delaware or Georgia decades down the line. They saw interloping Yankees with their multimillionaire corporations trying to buy their personal futures, and those of their neighbors, out from under them.

They might just as well have stayed home. The Howard Committee did

find that in this, the first election in the Territory, a very large majority of the votes were cast by citizens of the State of Missouri, in violation of the organic law of the Territory.

But it immediately continued:

Of the legal votes cast, General Whitfield received a plurality.

The men of western Missouri who crossed over cared intensely about Kansas’ first election. The actual Kansans did not. Most of them came to Kansas to further their own interests. They might or might not understand those interests as wrapped up in slavery, but coming to Kansas to stay meant establishing your claim, building shelter, acquiring livestock, and all manner of frontier chores that consumed prodigious amounts of time and energy. By November, most Kansas settlers probably had better things to do than run off to the polling place. They had problems like winter, which required solutions like four walls and a roof. According to the Howard Committee, not half of the legal voters in the territory made it to the polls.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Practicalities aside, the election did not have much to recommend it. Who would get excited over a non-voting delegate to Congress? Moreover, that delegate would serve only a short term. On top of that, from inside Kansas the election did not appear to touch strongly on the slavery issue. Who expected a mere congressional delegate, set to leave the state to take up his seat in Washington, to play a decisive role in settling Kansas’ future as a slave or free state?

This leaves us with an odd spectacle: outsiders stole an election that the locals did not mind having stolen as they didn’t much care about the outcome. Furthermore, Whitfield would have won the election even without the help of interloping Missourians. If Kansans did care, they apparently got the outcome they preferred.

The Howard Report concludes

even though it did not change the result of the election, it [the vote fraud] was a crime of great magnitude. The immediate effect was to further excite the people of the northern States, and exasperate the actual settlers against their neighbors in Missouri.

Thus the Missouri men stole an election they would have won anyway had they stayed home. They stole it from voters who largely did not care one way or the other about it. They conducted a conspicuous, obvious, occasionally violent fraud that made a mockery of the democratic process, and with it secured a short term for a non-voting delegate to Congress. In so doing, they outraged the North and alienated otherwise neutral Kansans.

Crowd Surfing for the Vote

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

So far, the testimony given to the Howard Committee has dealt with fraudulent voters in great numbers. They came over from Missouri for the day armed and determined to make their choice for Kansas’ delegate to Congress binding on actual Kansans. Their presence alone probably intimidated some people. Large numbers of armed men, especially the well-lubricated kind, tend to do that. They made some threats and challenged a few voters, but all the testimony I’ve read and presented so far deals with people who got to vote in the end, even if the last of them barely squeaked by thanks to his having sufficient friends and his lone vote going up against near six hundred votes of Kansans for the day.

That doesn’t make for much of a bleeding Kansas, does it? Nobody has even gotten physical, despite the threats, except the men who confronted John Wakefield. But the Howard Report does include another incident of physical aggression at the polls.

I had some difficulty finding the proper testimony. It appears the committee’s clerks did not take all the care they should have in checking the citations, as the report points the reader to the testimony of John A. Landis for this story. I read his testimony and found nothing of the kind within it. Apparently they meant to cite John A. Lindsey, who tells the story:

I was present at the election on the 29th of November, 1854, in Leavenworth City. I was not much acquainted with the people here, but from appearances believed there were a large number of non-residents here. I did not go to the polls to vote myself until the afternoon; but I took several persons up to vote, and there was quite a crowd around the polls, and it was with great difficulty that they could get to the polls. I think that they mostly voted. Right around the window where the voting was going on, I think there must have been from 75 to 100 persons, and the town was full of persons. There were then about three or four houses in town. When I went to vote myself in the afternoon, there were some persons who kept in front of me. I did not know any of them, except a man known as Dick Murphy. When I would try to get in, they would pull me by the coat, crowd me, and I could not succeed to get through the crowd.

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

Even Wakefield got trouble only when the Missouri men suspected that he would challenge their illegal votes. William Johnston got to vote provided he dropped his own challenge. In Leavenworth, something like a human wall seems to have formed around the polling place. But Lindsey had a way through:

I then went round and hurrahed for General Whitfield, and some of them who did not know me said, “There is a good pro-slavery man,” and lifted me up over their heads, and I crawled along on their heads, and put in my vote.

People protested, went to prison, fought, and died for the vote. I have never before heard of one crowd surfing for the vote. Take that, Dick Murphy.

But you know that part in comedies when someone tries to crowd surf and the crowd has other ideas?

Then someone who saw my ticket cried out, “He is a damned abolitionist, let him down!” and they dropped me.

Only proslavery men could crowd surf their way to the ballot box.

Many others that I supposed to be pro-slavery men voted in the same way. That was the way of voting by several persons in the latter part of the day-by lifting them over the heads of the crowd to the polls, to enable them to deposit their vote. I know no free-State men, except myself, who voted that way. All the free-State men on the ground, whom I know, that day voted by crowding up through the crowd, as voters generally had to do, except those who were passed over.


The difficulty was not at the polls, but in getting to them; and I thought that difficulty grew out of the political opinions entertained by the voters. The pro-slavery men were handed over the heads of the people, and handed back again without any trouble.

Other witnesses confirm the great crowd around the polling place. To vote in Leavenworth, one had to either express one’s proslavery bona fides or chance pushing and shoving through an armed, likely drunk crowd of Missouri men. How many people would dare that? We can’t know how many the crowd turned away. Those voters might have escaped direct violence, but force prohibited them from exercising the franchise all the same.

Juneteenth Comes Again

I forgot Juneteenth again this year. Again, Andy Hall reminded me. This is a small reworking of what I wrote last year on the subject.

What’s Juneteenth? Today in 1865, the Union general who had just taken charge of Galveston and assumed the military governorship of Texas, issued an order that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” This surprised no one, since the arrival of the Union army had meant freedom in fact since fairly early on the war and in law since the Emancipation Proclamation. But it mattered in that as of that date not a single slave remained in the United States.

If national holidays express something about national values, or at least what the nation wants its values to seem like, why have we not made Juneteenth one of them? I always hear about how the United States is a free country. Americans love their freedom. Doesn’t the literal end of slavery in America count as freedom?

I never heard of the holiday until the internet told me about it a few years back. One would think that a nation so obsessed with freedom would treat it, or maybe the day of the Emancipation Proclamation, as a second Fourth of July. I’m not a patriotic person; most of the flag waving celebrations leave me cold. But even I know when it’s the Fourth. My state recognizes Juneteenth, as do forty-one others, but we can probably all see how much that has done to raise its profile.

I suppose it gets ignored for the same reason we ignore Emancipation Day. To make a national fuss over it would require us to grapple with slavery and own up to freedom as a kind of national project, not a crystallized perfection handed down from men in powdered wigs.

Who could legally vote in Kansas?

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

I have frequently accused the men who crossed from Missouri on election day, 1854, of stealing that election. They voted fraudulently in someone else’s election, which sounds like stealing to me and probably does to most readers. When a band of outsiders come in and vote, swamping the votes of people whom the elected official will notionally represented, it goes against the very idea of holding elections. Many Americans understood that at the time and likewise saw Kansas’ elections as illegitimate frauds. The Howard Report denounced the cross-border voting as “unlawful interference” that

has been continued in every important event in the history of the Territory: every election has been controlled, not by the actual settlers, but by citizens of Missouri; and, as a consequence, every officer of the Territory, from constable to legislators, except those appointed by the President, owe their positions to non-resident voters. None have been elected by the settlers; and your committee have been unable to find that any political power whatever, however unimportant, has been exercised by the people of the Territory.

Emphasis in original.

I think that most Americans would understand intuitively the magnitude of this. Many of us gripe about the electoral college every four years, myself included. Why hold the election if our votes don’t actually matter? Worse still, why hold it when people not governed by the result at all have a deciding vote? At least presidential electors hold American citizenship. If the Canadians or Mexicans came over and voted, electing their chosen president to run our executive branch most of us would probably consider ourselves citizens of an impotent, compromised democracy. People in other countries certainly have that opinion when the American military comes in and takes over their governments. Once upon a time, we considered similar actions by the Soviet Union in especially dire terms.

The Missouri filibusters did not necessarily agree. They understood the future of Kansas and the future of Missouri as deeply connected. Only a line on a map separated most of the two lands; people passed freely back and forth. Many of the settlers came from Missouri to Kansas and retained personal and business connections there. Many Missourians saw Kansas as inherently theirs to have due to its proximity. Why wouldn’t they?

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

J.B. Crane testified that in his district

There was some dispute about the polls, about the right of Missourians to vote-some saying that any man having a claim in the Territory had a right to vote, no matter where he lived.

They could and did easily fabricate those claims. Some went so far as to say that their residence at the moment of the election granted them the right to vote in Kansas. They lived. They stood in Kansas. Thus they lived in Kansas. If they lived in Missouri before, so did many others. If they lived in it thereafter, every white man had the right to move freely.

This all sounds a bit flippant, and the finer points of the law certainly did not convince people from Missouri to come over in great numbers. But no body save the United States Congress then had the power to declare what constituted a legal voter in Kansas. It specified only:

That every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years who shall be an actual resident of said Territory, and shall possess the qualifications hereinafter prescribed, shall be entitled to vote at the first election, and shall be eligible to any office within the said Territory; but the qualifications of voters, and of holding office, at all subsequent elections, shall be such as shall be prescribed by the Legislative Assembly: Provided, That the right of suffrage and of holding office shall be exercised only by citizens of the United States and those who shall have declared on oath their intention to become such, and shall have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act: And provided further, That no officer, soldier, seaman, or marine, or other person in the army or navy of the United States, or attached to troops in the service of the United States, shall be allowed to vote or hold office in said Territory, by reason of being on service therein.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

How long did you have to reside in the territory to count as an actual resident? Could one acquire residence via staking and registering a claim? Did residence require intention to stay or to live exclusively within Kansas? The judges of elections had the legal power to rule on these things, but many of the judges that Andrew Reeder appointed found themselves set aside by Missouri mobs and replaced by those with a more expansive idea of legal residence.

Does that fig leaf of ambiguity suffice to exonerate the Missouri filibusters? It might have done so in their minds, but I doubt many others would agree. Few crossing the border probably cared about such things at the time. They understood themselves as acting in self-defense, against invasion and subversion by outsiders, which trumped all legal niceties. Missouri had too much riding on the future of Kansas to risk letting Kansans set its course. They began setting things to right, in their own minds at least, by electing John Whitfield.

The Testimony of W. F. Johnston

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Matthias Reed told the Howard Committee of a great number of Missouri men coming into Kansas’ seventh district to vote in the election for a delegate to Congress, which they won handily. To hear Reed tell it, everything went fairly well. The presence of so many armed Missourians might intimidate local voters, but he said nothing about any direct threats or violent confrontations. One could imagine that everyone just stood around, perfectly civil with their guns out and politely speaking among themselves while taking turns voting.

William F. Johnston saw otherwise. He, like Reed, hailed lately from Missouri. He came into Kansas in August of 1854 and brought his family over in early November. Like Reed, Johnston saw

a great many wagons and tents there, and many individuals I knew, from Jackson County, Missouri. I was among their tents and I had a conversation with some there, and they told me they had come with the intention of voting. I went up to the polls and it appeared to be very quiet.

So far, so good. But as soon as Johnston reached the polls, things changed:

As I had a different colored ticket from the rest of our party, who had intended to vote for Flanigan, it was challenged by Frey McGee, who had been appointed one of the judges, but did not serve. Lemned Ralston was serving in his place, and lives on the road between Independence and Westport, Missouri. I had been acquainted with him since the year 1847.

This requires some explaining. The United States did not have the secret ballot anywhere in 1854. Instead, most often parties or individual campaigns would print ballots at their own expense and distribute them to the voters. By design, each party ticket looked different from the other. They used different sizes of paper and, as Johnston recounts, colors. The party ticket would naturally include the correct votes, from the printer’s perspective, for each race contested.

Johnston retaliated by challenging the vote of a name named Nolan, who he knew from Jackson County:

I first asked if he had come over here and taken a claim, and he said he had not. Finally the thing was hushed up, as I had a great many friends there from Jackson county, and it might lead to a fight if I challenged any more votes. We both voted, and I went down to the camp. I saw a great many there I knew who had voted in Missouri the August before, at which election I was one of the judges.

Johnston had friends in the right places, so he got to cast his vote. He did not get to question the right of the mob of Missourians who came to Kansas that day to cast their votes as well. A Missouri man himself, who had served as an election judge no less, still had good reason to fear violence if he pressed matters. The border-crossing filibusters would let him cast his one little vote against their near six hundred, but not question the legitimacy of their intervention.