The First District, Part Six

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Sorry about the tardy post. Technical oversight on my end.

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The Missouri border ruffians came over in the hundreds to filibuster Kansas for slavery. They had provisions sent ahead, their expenses along the way paid, and they came with weaponry up to and including a pair of cannons. By threatened and some actual violence they intimidated the people of Lawrence into not resisting as they stuffed the ballot box. But all of that takes us only up to when they started voting.

At the polling place, the Missourians had their last obstacle to overcome. There waited three judges of election appointed by Andrew Reeder, who knew very well that they would try something and so stacked the panels nearest Missouri with two free soilers each wherever he could. Reeder further published instructions to the judges that mostly covered their logistical duties but did give them means to ensure the elections’ integrity:

They must be satisfied of the qualifications of every person offering to vote, and may examine the voter, or any other person, under oath, upon the subject.

What made for a qualified voter?

By the territorial bill it is provided as follows:

“That every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years, who shall be an actual resident of said Territory […] shall be entitled to vote at the first election”

Reeder unpacked that for the judges:

By the term “white,” as used in this and other laws of a similar character, is meant pure unmixed white blood. The man who has any mixture from the darker races, however small the proportion, is not regarded as a white man. This has been repeatedly decided, and may be regarded as settled.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Immigrants fresh off the boat got special allowance to vote if they swore an oath that they would take up citizenship, but anybody the judges knew to have a single black or Indian great-great-great grandparent did not qualify even if his family lived in North America since Jamestown.

But one must expect such things of nineteenth century America. The clincher for Reeder, and the key bone of contention for the filibustering Missourians, came next:

It will be seen that the act of Congress is drawn with much care to exclude non-residents from the polls. It provides that a voter shall be an “inhabitant” and “an actual resident.” A voter must dwell here at the time of offering his vote; he must then have commenced an actual inhabitancy, which he actually intends to continue permanently, and must have made the Territory his dwelling-place to the exclusion of any other home.

If they had the courage to face down a mob armed with cannons, the judges of election had the tools at their disposal to keep the Missourians from voting. For the First District, Andrew Reeder charged Hugh Cameron, James B. Abbott, and N. B. Blanton with safeguarding the election. Cameron does not appear to have testified before the Howard Committee, but Abbott and Blanton both did. History records how well things worked out, but their stories will bear some examination in future posts.

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