Electing a Territorial Legislature

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder, governor of Kansas, had his census returns on March 3, 1855. With them in hand, he could draw districts and call Kansans to elect their first territorial legislature. Though Reeder had no more expertise in organizing a territory than any of us did, he took pains to do it right. According to his testimony to the Howard Committee, Reeder

immediately proceeded to make the apportionment, designate such new election precincts as had become necessary, to appoint election officers, and to prepare necessary forms and instructions; and on the sixth or seventh of March my proclamation for the election on the thirtieth was completed, and despatched by express to the printing office, about forty miles distant; a large number of copies were received by me of the printer, and immediately distributed through the Territory, under arrangements previously matured for that purpose.

First timer or not, Reeder knew his duties and made preparation to carry them out in advance. Even before he set the official date, he told people who asked him that he expected the election in late March. Reeder named several proslavery men who he told, but he behaved impartially:

I did not hesitate at any time to state to person around me, of both parties, all that I could know myself in relation to the day of the election, and I did not communicate it to the Emigrant Aid Society or their agents, or any one else in the States, except, perhaps, to some persons in the State of Missouri.

Reeder testified to all of that after things had gone badly wrong, but he had his eyes open during the election for delegate back in November.

In the appointment of justices of the peace, constables, census takers, and officers of election, I was careful to select men indiscriminately from both parties, with a view to treat all persons fairly, and afford no cause of complaint. At the election of the twenty-ninth of November, a large majority of the officers of election were, as I believe, pro-slavery men. Of the twelve men appointed to take the census, six were pro-slavery men. A fair proportion of the justices and constables were also pro-slavery men.

That did not go swimmingly. Proslavery Missourians had set aside his election judges, when they did not prove reliably proslavery, and blocked, intimidated and violently accosted various voters along the way to stuffing the ballot boxes with their own fraudulent votes.

At the election of the thirtieth of March more than one-third of the election officers were, as I believe, pro-slavery men. Anticipating, however, an invasion of illegal voters from the State of Missouri, I was careful to appoint in most of the districts, especially in those contiguous to Missouri, two men of the free-State party and one of the pro-slavery party.

Reeder had a rough time of it from way back:

Notwithstanding all my efforts, however, at fair and impartial action, my person and my life were continuously threatened from the month of November, 1854, As early as the 15th day of November, 1854, a meeting was presided over by a citizen of Missouri, at which I was bitterly denounced, and a committee appointed, composed partly of citizens of Missouri, who waited upon me, and insisted upon an immediate election for the legislature.

He could have folded then. Reeder could very well have made a token effort and called it good, washing his hands of the Missouri-based election stealing. But the man who told people back East that he regretted not having the money to buy a slave to take himself to Kansas, sounding for all the world like a proslavery man himself, committed himself thoroughly to impartiality. When the proslavery party started breaking the rules, he identified them as the problem and took affirmative measures to curb their excesses. It seemed that for once the nation had a man in office who genuinely believed his professed impartiality and commitment to letting the ballot box rule the day on slavery questions.

What could go wrong?

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