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.

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