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.

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