John A. Wakefield, most recently of Iowa and before that Minnesota and Illinois, had stood for election back in November, 1854, to become Kansas’ non-voting delegate in Congress. He stood again in March of 1855, aiming for a seat in the legislative council. That all brought him to Bloomington’s polls on March 30. He had a bit of a sleepover the night before, with fifteen or twenty voters bunking with him before heading off to the polls the next morning.
Wakefield’s party arrived in time to see a few hours of Missourians come to Bloomington. The judges of election called Wakefield up to help them fill out the poll books for the day. He doesn’t say why, but I imagine they expected that he had a good handle on who might have arrived after the February census.
Some of the Missourians knew Wakefield by sight. He had tried to challenge the returns for the November delegate election. He had stood then, and did stand now, as a free state candidate. Furthermore, some of them might have remembered seizing him by the lapels, shaking him, and threatening his life back in November. Whey they saw him called up to the window to help with the election, it did not go over well:
This gave offense to the Missourians and they cried out “Get Wakefield out of there; he has no business in there.”
Undeterred, Wakefield helped fill out the poll books and then went around to the window to see that the judges took their oaths properly. That might make him a busybody, but as a candidate he had an understandable interest in seeing the election follow proper procedure and even beside that as a Kansan he had an interest in seeing that only qualified voters voted.
The polls opened. A few Kansans voted, but
then the Missourians crowded in and surrounded the house, and demanded to vote.
We already know that the judges declined to allow any unknown voters who didn’t swear an oath that they resided in and intended to remain in Kansas.
By this time there was a great excitement, a loud din of voices, and many threats against the judges. They cried out, “Get Wakefield away from the window; he has no business there.”
To us that sounds reasonable. Why should the candidate be let breathe down your neck while you cast your vote? But Wakefield did not intimidate anybody and Americans of the era had no expectation of a secret ballot. Quite the opposite, who you voted for generally became public knowledge as you voted. Unless you hid the ticket, and received it in secret, anyone who cared to know could probably learn in advance.
All the same, the Missourians shoved Wakefield away from the window.
A man by the name of G.W. Ward came to me and said, “Judge Wakefield, if you have any influence over those judges, you go and tell them to let the men vote.” I told him that I never advised men to do wrong.
The same Ward stood as the proslavery candidate and testified that nothing at all untoward happened on the proslavery side at the election.
A man then, that I have since understood was named Jackson, got on to a small log and made a very inflammatory speech. He told them to divide themselves into companies and time a white ribbon in the button-holes of their coats, that they might know their party from the abolitionists
Wakefield may not have seen it, but others testify that about the same time as they broke into companies the Missourians went to their wagons and took up arms. Claiborne Jackson, incidentally, came to Lawrence as one of the leaders of the Missourians and helped direct a detachment of them to go over to Bloomington. His past adventures included a role in removing Thomas Hart Benton from the Senate and he would go on to win election as Missouri’s governor in 1860 on a Unionist ticket, even though he fully intended to take the state out of the Union however he could manage it.
The real action got going then:
The excitement by this time was very great, and they were threatening to kill two of the judges, Burson and Ramsay, At this time I saw a number of men with a large piece of timber to pry the house over, and also a piece of short timber for a fulcrum; and another company came with a piece of short timber to batter the door down. But before they attempted to batter the door down, Parris Ellison, one of the judges of the election, opened the door from the inside, ran out with the ballot-box in his hand, hallooing out “Hurrah for Missouri!” He immediately returned to the house, and as he did so the mob rushed in to get at Burson and Ramsay.
Wakefield did not see the five-minute ultimatum that Sheriff Jones delivered, but Burson and Ramsay came out a few minutes later and asked him what to do.