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.

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