The First District, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder took reasonable precautions to safeguard the integrity of Kansas’ elections for the territorial legislature. He knew full well that Missouri men would come over, possibly with violence in mind, to vote and impose their verdict on Kansas. But the nineteenth century lacked the kind of intensive policing that might have ensured a free and fair election. The secret ballot had yet to come. Out on the frontier, law enforcement amounted to a smattering of local constables, federal marshals, and the generally reluctant help of the United States Army. No law yet forbade using the military for policing, that came at the end of Reconstruction, but many felt an understandable desire to avoid such roles on the grounds that they could compromise the military’s political neutrality and easily escalate into widespread declarations of martial law.

Those difficulties aside, Reeder knew very well that the proslavery party made the trouble to date. For judges of the coming election, he named free soilers over proslavery men two to one. He took special pains to do so in districts where Missourians would surely come. Would that suffice to keep back a network of border ruffians that extended across half the Show Me State? No.

The bulk of the Howard Report deals with this election. Most districts have at least a long paragraph of narrative, generously citing the relevant testimony. I don’t know how much I will delve into each one, but I feel at least one district deserves depth of coverage. One may as well begin at the beginning, a place which will have later notoriety as well. Kansas’ first district held its election at Lawrence, a name which bears some unpacking.

Amos Adams Lawrence

Amos Adams Lawrence

Lawrence takes its name from Amos Adams Lawrence, a Massachusetts abolitionist who declared in the wake of the Anthony Burns affair (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) that

We went to bed one night old fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists.

Lawrence donated considerable sums to the Massachusetts and New England Emigrant Aid Societies. More of his money went to the University of Kansas, which he helped found, and to the American Colonization Society. Some of it also bought guns to send to Kansas later on. Those guns waited yet in the future. The people of Lawrence did not, by and large, come to the polls armed.

F.P. Vaughn, late of Macon County, Missouri but moved to Kansas to settle on March 26th, 1855, came over amid the preparations for stealing the election:

I saw some stir about something before I left home; saw some persons going round about the county seat, taking certain persons out and speaking privately to them.

On his way to Kansas, Vaughn saw “a good deal of excitement” about the upcoming election. He

came on to Clay county, Missouri, and saw a young gentleman who said he himself was coming up to Lawrence-that there were a company of three hundred others coming to vote; said they certainly would vote if the Yankees were allowed to vote, and that if any resistance were offered, there would be a fuss; that the slaveholders of that county had offered to pay the expenses of three hundred, and that he was one of those who had been engaged to come; and that this three hundred would be sufficient for fifteen hundred votes, if they did as they had done in former elections of the Territory; that he knew of several men who, at former elections, had voted fourteen or fifteen times apiece, by changing their hats and coats and voting in the name of their neighbors; that all of them had voted four or five times apiece.

Once one commits to vote fraud, I suppose it only makes sense to do it often. One vote turns few elections, but if you and your three hundred friends each vote four or five times each, it adds up.

Vaughn crossed the Missouri River with some of the party:

One of them seemed to be a leader; said my ferriage would be paid if I was coming to vote. From that time until I got up to this district there were crowds of persons coming up in carriages, wagons, and on horseback, and some walking. I passed some words with them. In coming out this side of Westport I was challenged to know where I was from. The person with whom I was speaking said that they were from Independence, Missouri, and we are going up to vote-we are.

The Missourians made a bit of a nuisance of themselves, “hallooing and keeping up a noise all night.” Vaughn spotted several men he knew from Missouri, a few all the way from his native Macon County, some two hundred miles away.

I heard some of the people of Missouri say that they were willing to leave the whole question to be settled by the bona fide settlers of the Territory; others expressed a different feeling. A great many persons in Missouri are opposed to the Missourians coming here and meddling with the elections of Kansas.

Perhaps a great many did. It bears remembering that Missouri’s own divisions over slavery inspired much of the filibustering. But that great many did not, and probably could not short of violence, have stopped the Missourians who did care enough to go and steal Kansas’ elections in the name of slavery.

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