The Sixteenth District, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Gentle Readers, my copies of Nicole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era and Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke’s Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border arrived today. I interrupted my normal writing routine to read Etcheson’s chapter on the territorial election. I haven’t read anything from Earle and Burke’s book save the table of contents yet, but tore through Etcheson’s chapter. There I found many familiar incidents from the Howard Report, but also several more engagingly written, revealing moments that I will share in due course. She didn’t, at least in that chapter, shed any light on the eleventh district.

But we do have two more districts to look at. Andrew Reeder divided Kansas into eighteen, but the Howard Committee judged the election in the Seventeenth “fairly conducted, and not contested at all.” That leaves us with the Sixteenth and Eighteenth.

The findings for the Sixteenth District begin with a citation of the organization the border ruffians enjoyed back in Missouri. The committee cited H. Miles Moore, A. Macauley (rendered McAuley in the notes), and L. Kerr. No testimony from an L. Kerr appears in the listing of testimony for the district. An A. Kyle appears, but his testimony runs only a few paragraphs and doesn’t comment on organization at all. I don’t know who the clerks meant, but if anyone has an idea I’d love to hear it.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

A. Macauley painted himself as something of a good Samaritan. He told the Howard Committee that he heard about Andrew Reeder’s census ahead of time and knew neighbors who had repaired to Missouri for a while and would miss it. Wanting everyone counted, he

notified persons who I thought ought to have been taken in the census that they had better be on their claims, so as not to be overlooked by the assessors. This notice was without regard for party.

He went off to Missouri to give out notice personally. So far as that goes, one can admire Macauley’s civic spirit. But he made a separate trip that probably seemed just as civic-minded to him, even if we might disagree:

I was in Missouri at another time, before the election of the 30th of March, and at Platte City during the sitting of the circuit court. On that occasion there was a meeting of citizens, and several speeches were delivered; among the rest, I was called, and gave them the best turn I could.

The object and purpose of that meeting was to discuss the affairs of Kansas. The subject discussed in that meeting bore upon the subject of the coming election and the affairs of Kansas generally. I did make a list of what I considered to be legal voters in this district, and took a good deal of pains with it, prior to the election of the 30th of March. I included in this list none but those I considered settlers on the soil. It was for the purpose of giving information to the pro-slavery party and to satisfy my mind.

Macauley even had the list on hand that day, while giving his testimony. The committee asked if they could have it, or make a copy. Macauley asked for time to think about it, but ultimately yielded it up.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

The Platte City Macauley visited rested, and still rests, in Platte County, home to the eponymous Self-Defense Association. He doesn’t come out and say that he met with them by name, but it sounds like he did. If he didn’t, then he met with and spoke to some other group with similar politics. His civic duty ran both ways. He wanted everyone counted in the census who deserved it, but also

At the meeting of Platte City subjects were discussed of the affairs of Kansas and opposition to the Emigrant Aid Society. It was generally the belief, as expressed in the speeches, that the Emigrant Aid Society was importing paupers into Kansas to control elections in an unjustifiable and extraordinary manner, and to make Kansas a free State. The majority of the speakers, and I think myself among others, took the ground that the object of the Aid Society was to make a thrust at the institutions of Missouri. This was the pro-slavery sentiment of the people at the meeting. They expressed themselves that, if Kansas was made a free State, it would be through these societies, and, if they succeeded, they might as well give up every nigger they had in the State.

He might have quoted Negro-Slavery, No Evil chapter and verse, but then when a group to which one belongs produces a manifesto, it only stands to reason that the members will echo it. They tasked B.F. Stringfellow with writing it and voted approval for the work thereafter.

The Fifteenth District, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifteenth District, parts 1 and 2

Joseph Potter had one other peculiarity to share about happenings in the Fifteenth District. That peculiarity concerned not the spectacle of a member of the congressional committee tasked with investigating Kansas troubles including a contributor to the same troubles, but rather Potter himself.

Potter lived his life, at least up through 1856, in the Border South. He came to Kansas from Missouri honestly, back in October of 1854. He voted in the election for delegate back in November and supported the proslavery Missourians’ favorite, John Wilkins Whitfield. Nobody had to take him by the lapels and shake him. No one threatened him. Nobody stuck a gun in his face. Potter honestly preferred the proslavery candidate that day.

This already puts him in rare company among Howard Committee witnesses, so far as I’ve seen. Very few proslavery men seem to have come to testify. Most of those appear to have held elected office in Kansas at the time and so their absence would have probably have made them look quite guilty. They generally adopt the line that nothing untoward happened or blame the free state men for any trouble. Now and then one makes an attempt to justify discrepancies between the poll books and the census by appeal to recent immigration or accuse the February snows of preventing an accurate count.

Potter’s notoriety on that front, however, goes only so far:

I voted for General Whitfield at his first election, but on the 30th of March I fell over the fence and became a free-State man.

Did he really change his mind that day? Nobody stopped him from voting and so earned his spite. Nobody threatened him, but

I got over the fence that day because I thought we had men enough in Kansas to regulate our own affairs, and would have preferred to do so, and I fell over the fence in consequence of seeing so many there I thought were non-residents.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The Howard Report claims that Border Ruffian election stealing alienated previously unaligned Kansans, but here we have an example of it saying so in his own words. Potter must have seen much the same  back at the November election. The committee appears to have asked him about that, prompting a fascinating consideration of how Potter came to think differently before proverbial straw broke his back:

I was at the election at Pensenau’s on the 29th of November, 1854, and voted for General Whitfield. I saw some strangers there, but they did not throw me over the fence, as the sight of strangers on the 30th of March did, because I had not then begun to study into matters right. I do not know that the charge was made that I was a free-soiler before the 30th of March, though I must say I began to get pretty tolerably softened on that subject before then. I had begun to look into public affairs, and had about come to the conclusion that I would rather live in a free State than a slave State. I had come to that conclusion pretty much before I went to the election of the 30th of March, though I had not fallen over the fence then.

Potter lived previously in Kentucky and Missouri, both of which had consolidated slavery regimes. Kentucky had a notable debate over emancipation early in the 1850s, and the institution may have struggled to dominate Missouri, but in both states it formed a part of everyday life. It makes sense that Potter would just take it for granted and in such a place he might have had trouble finding antislavery arguments even if he had previous doubts. But removing to a place where the white populace had not clearly decided on slavery, where he did have access to antislavery opinion, and where he could literally see slaveholders and their supporters come over the border and overrule his right to self-government apparently generated a political awakening in him.

Frustratingly, Potter doesn’t go into detail about his change. It seems clear that he did not think slavery itself immoral, though he may have. He doesn’t treat us to any consideration of the fate of the slave. To the degree he speaks of motivation at all, it relates to Missourians coming in and dictating to him who should staff his government and what policy it should have. This immediately invites connection to Southern localism with its attendant suspicion of outsiders and distaste for their meddling in domestic affairs, but it would not do to take the Southern association too far. Northern fears of the slave power conspiracy appealed to something very similar, though they often cast the outsiders in more economic and political terms as slaveholding despots rather than by geographic association. Furthermore, though the antislavery movement never reached the heights to which the proslavery movement did in asserting local supremacy over national law, they did occasionally talk about nullifying things like the Fugitive Slave Act. Wisconsin’s high court went beyond talk, ruling it unconstitutional and thus unenforceable in the state. The Taney Court, of course, disagreed.

The Fifteenth District, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifteenth District, part 1

One could leave the Fifteenth District right here, but the testimony includes some novelties worth noting. These come to us by way of Joseph Potter. E.R. Zimmerman told us how each group of Missourian filibusters who arrived received cheers and heard speeches. Zimmerman, however, remained inside the polling place all day and so didn’t catch the speeches himself. Potter did:

I saw Major Oliver there, from Ray county, and I think Laban Withers, from Platte County. […] Major Oliver made us a fine speech.

The Howard Report helpfully identifies Major Oliver:

Many of the Missourians were known and are named by the witnesses. Several speeches were made by them at the polls; and among those who spoke were Major Oliver, one of your committee

Awkward. Mordecai Oliver eventually authored the Howard Committee’s minority report. You can see him in the picture, sitting on the left.  His name appears several times posing questions to witnesses, so he must have sat in the room and heard Potter tell him to his face what he had done in Kansas the year before. The testimony does not include the questions he posed, but to judge from Potter’s answer in the following, he asked for a summary of his words that day:

The first position Major Oliver took on that occasion was, to guaranty peace to us all. He was called on to speak by a number. I think the Major urged upon all present to use no harsh words; expressed the hope that nothing would be said or done to wound the feelings of the most sensitive on the other side. I think the speech was a first-rate speech, and was a peace speech. […] I took no exception to anything the Major said in his speech. The Major made a very fine speech, and a peaceable speech; and said that he felt that all were brothers, whether free-State or pro-slavery men, and that all had an equal right to vote; and undertook to guaranty that if there were free-State men there, they would be protected in their rights, as would the others.

Big of Oliver, but in reading this we must remember that no free-State ticket existed to vote for in the district that day. You could come up and vote for the Missourians proslavery ticket or you could come up and vote for the Missourians’ proslavery ticket. Lest one think Oliver just trying to avert violence and make the best of a bad situation, Potter made clear Oliver’s politics:

Major Oliver gave us some grounds, I think based on the Missouri compromise, in regard to the right of voting. I was in no fix to listen to a speech as a man ought to, for I was somewhat sick and did not pay attention.

But even sick, Potter recalled enough:

I think Major Oliver excused the Missourians for voting, but I do not recollect upon what grounds.

In light of this, we clearly have Oliver getting up and cheerfully inviting everyone to come vote for the ticket he himself prefers. Though it may take us great struggle, I think we could all achieve such a heroic feat of magnanimity.

That said, Oliver got his way. Potter testified that he

saw no one prevented from voting. I heard no threats made in regard to voting.

The Fifteenth District, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Edmund R. Zimmerman reported to his post as judge of the election for the Fifteenth District the afternoon before the election. He stayed the night and saw the campfires of the small legion of Missourians who came to vote. Come morning, only one of his two counterparts appeared.

The strangers commenced crowding around the polls, and insisted upon having the polls opened. The residents left when the crowd came up.

Legal voters or no, Zimmerman and his fellow judge had a job to do. They settled on a third man to join them and appointed a pair of clerks. But then trouble began anew:

I had considerable difficulty in getting the other judges to commence the election. They would go out and whisper to the crowd outside; both of the other judges were pro-slavery men. I finally told them there was no necessity for deferring the matter longer, and we should open the polls.

One wonders what they hoped to gain by dragging things out. Maybe they intended to have the crowd riled enough to get Zimmerman to resign? Or maybe they were coordinating with the crowd on how to handle the actual voting? Zimmerman gives us nothing to go on. Either way, they had yet to reach the controversies over oaths and the like which had stalled other districts. The judges passed over those difficulties quickly, agreeing not to scrutinize votes excessively and settling on a short oath for dubious voters.

The first man who came up, when the oath was put to him, answered, “I’m here.”

This satisfied the proslavery judges, but not Zimmerman. To appease him, they insisted that the man swear to his actual residency in the district. In other districts, this kind of thing courted violence. In the Fifteenth, the voter grumbled and swore. Precedent set,

A number would come up, and when the oath was put to them, would say they had a claim, or held a claim, or owned a claim, or was there, or something of that sort.

All then took the oath anyway.

As they came up from their wagons they had hemp in their button-holes, and the pass-word that day was, “All right on the hemp.” A greater portion of the time there were men stationed where the votes were received and would examine the men as they came up, and would announce that they were “all right on the hemp.” I do not recollect that a man voted that day  but what had hemp in his button-hole, or on his hat, or some other place where it could be seen. I did not go out to see any of the delegations coming in, but I heard it announced that delegations were coming in, and I would hear cheers, &c.

The plantation belt in Missouri grew mostly hemp. If that obvious inference doesn’t suffice, then Zimmerman provided more direct evidence of the border ruffians’ politics:

There was a great deal of drinking and swearing that day; cursing the abolitionists’; and some intimated at the polls that I ought to be taken out, but none interfered with me further than threats.

They needed go no further as the only candidates on the ballot stood on the proslavery ticket. Briefly two tickets existed, one of proslavery men chosen by Kansans and one proslavery men chosen by Missourians but, as in the Fourteenth District, the Missourian proslavery ticket prevailed. The free-staters thought about organizing a campaign, but knowing full well that the Missourians would swamp out their legal votes they abandoned the idea.

The Missourians did, however, have to suffer crushing disappointment:

Not finding any abolitionist to fight that day, having expressed a strong desire to find one to whip, they got fighting among themselves. I saw one old grey-headed man, about fifty-five or sixty years of age, and a boy about ten years of age by his side crying. The old man was all bloody, having been beaten. Those men were armed, and one of them brandished a pistol in the window before my face. The man was drunk, and put the pistol in the window, with pointing it at me, though he said he would like to kill him an abolitionist.

They threw a fight and no one came, so they had to make their own fun.

The Fourteenth District, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fourteenth District: parts 12, and 3

The remaining precinct of the Fourteenth District, Doniphan, brought no former senators pledging to kill every abolitionist in the territory. Nor did the Missourians who came there try to bring a house down on the election judges. It appears nobody even got shot at or beaten. Richard Tuck testified that

There were no political fights or disturbances that day.

The Missourians still came and still stole the election, of course. Both sides claimed that they had a majority of the genuine settlers in the precinct, suggesting a fairly even split. In such a situation, even a few fraudulent voters could change the outcome. Missouri provided two to three hundred reliable proslavery men.

They came, as elsewhere, in a group that told of considerable organization and investment:

They had tents, wagons, and plenty of arms. Their arms were double-barrelled shot-guns, pistols, bowie-knives, and rifles. Each man seemed well armed. They had plenty of provisions, and whiskey and brandy together. They had either three wagons of provisions, or drove up one wagon three times.

None of that sets them apart from other groups of border ruffians, but I’ve let the point pass for a while and thought it worth reemphasizing. An organized, planned campaign stole the election. The occasional references to military ranks among the leaders of the Missourians may have referred to past appointments, but also spoke to the fact that the rank and file constituted willing members of a paramilitary expedition. They deserve the name filibuster as much as anybody who went off to Cuba, Mexico, or Nicaragua.

With regard to those guns, Tuck told the Howard Committee

They did not tell me why they brought so many arms.

On arrival

They stacked their arms up under the house they voted in. They voted in Mr. Foreman’s store. It was a frame building, a foot and a half high from the ground. They staid [sic] there all day, until they got ready to go home in the evening. They commenced stacking their arms under the building, and filled the space so well, that if there was any more room there I did not see it.

And whilst voting

They had as many arms as they could well carry; some of them had their pockets full of pistols.

With regard to the presence of firearms, one must make allowances for the nineteenth century frontier. Those allowances can go too far, though. Tuck came from Missouri himself and he clearly thinks the Missourians unusually well-armed. When someone hailing from essentially the same gun culture declares the border ruffians armed to the teeth, we should take that seriously. They didn’t just come packing, they came loaded down even by contemporary standards of the state they hailed from.

In such a situation, one can well imagine that few people raised a stink about the occasional enthusiast who thought one vote did not suffice:

Sometimes a man would go up and vote, and then go back and change his hat or coat, and sometimes both, and then go up and vote again. They would halloo out a different name every time. I saw some of them vote as many as eight or nine times, and one man might have voted a dozen times. Some three or four men were pursuing this course of voting.

By Tuck’s estimate, only thirty to forty of the men at the polls had a legal right to vote in the territory. Three extra voters alone gave the proslavery side a minimum of twenty-four extra votes.

The Fourteenth District, Part Three

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The Fourteenth District: parts 1 and 2

G.A. Cutler told us that no less a figure than David Rice Atchison himself came over to the Wolf River precinct of the Fourteenth District to ensure the election of proslavery men to the legislature. He and his Misosurians also convinced the local proslavery men to change their support to the Missourian’s preferred candidates, including Atchison’s lieutenant’s brother, J.H. Stringfellow. Cutler didn’t see or didn’t recognize Stringfellow’s brother Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, but other witnesses put him in the Fourteenth District that day as well. Cutler also testified that he saw no violence.

Maybe at Wolf River everything went fine. Bleeding Kansas or no, the Missourians did not necessarily have to conduct themselves violently to get their way. Success through intimidation gave them far less cause to do so. But the Fourteenth District had other precincts. A.A. Jamison saw more at Burr Oak, beginning with the Missourian’s arrival:

There was a firing of fire arms during the evening until late in the night. I saw them passing as I was at the road. The next morning the firing begun again.

Jamison does not say that, at least so far, the Missourians shot at anything and people, then and now, do sometimes shoot their guns in celebration or to signal to one another. But firing off guns in large numbers sent a message about the group’s willingness to use them more deliberately. Continuous fire of guns sounds much more like a ballistic telegraph spelling out ‘we mean business and will shoot you if you get in the way’ than a group of well-lubricated men simply having a good time.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

The free staters withdrew their ticket, but the Missourians resolved to make the withdrawal stick. Jamison testifies that

There was a party selected towards evening of good fighting men to stand and protect the polls until they were closed and they saw that all was right. Their reason for forming such a fighting party, as they said themselves, was, that they were afraid the free State men would come in and vote towards evening.

The free state men might vote in the election. Obviously, this could not stand. Did those men, or any others, see any action? Apparently so:

The threats I heard after the free State ticket was withdrawn, were not to take life. I saw some fighting by fisticuffs. I saw a man about five minutes after he had been shot, but I did not see it done. I saw others who had their heads badly cut with clubs and stones.

Fights happen and the Missourians had enough alcohol to lubricate their fists, but this sounds a bit beyond regular brawling. Jamison didn’t see the fights themselves and didn’t testify to how they came about, but from context he seems to believe they came out of the political dispute. I wouldn’t call that conclusive, but it certainly looks bad for the Missourians.

The Fourteenth District, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

David Rice Atchison and his personal army of Missourians succeeded in convincing the proslavery Kansans of the Wolf River precinct to support his candidates instead of their own, including the brother of his favorite lieutenant, John H. Stringfellow. The other Stringfellow, of course, helped Atchison establish the organization that facilitated the Missourian election stealing and other, not always successful, efforts to police white antislavery sentiment. That job done, most of them moved on to other districts. All of this took place on March 29, 1855, the day before the elections for territorial legislature.

Dr. G.A. Cutler continues the story:

The next day the election commenced at Wolf river in very good order, and everything went on right for about two hours. The ice was running in the Missouri river, and none could get across till ten or eleven o’clock.

The usual story began thereafter. A Missourian named Felix Blakely came up to vote and a judge refused him.

There was a great deal of disturbance; Mr. Richardson [the refusing judge] was threatened considerably; they threatened to whip him if he would come out of doors, and wanted to do it in where he was, and he finally resigned.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Applying the punishment of slaves to a white man communicates very well the depth of the Missourians’ loathing for anybody with a whiff of antislavery about them. Richardson took the hint and resigned. The Missourians put up the usual proslavery judge who took every vote without question. Cutler, who stood for election as a free state man, saw no sense in remaining at the polls and left. He even told friends not to bother, since the Missourians had the numbers to steal the election anyway.

What about contesting the election?

I heard a great many threats in regard to contesting that election. Major General Richardson said, in a crowd in Doniphan, that myself and office should be thrown into the Missouri river if I contested the election or sent a protest against it. We all believed that if a second election was held it would be a bloody one. I afterwards heard threats against the governor of the Territory-that if he failed to sign the certificates he should not live two hours. I heard these threats in Doniphan and in Missouri. I also received an anonymous letter, stating that if I contested the election I should be put out of my misery, or something to that effect. These threats were frequent.

But those threats did not see execution:

I saw no violence offered to any voter, except doubling up of fists, &c.; no blows struck.

Of course the proslavery men got their way. We know that in other districts they had it in them to do the violence they threatened, if not quite to the point of cleansing the territory of abolitionists. We can’t know if the Missourians at Wolf River would have gone the whole way if further frustrated, but Richardson took them seriously enough to resign and Cutler himself opted not to contest the election. In light of that, it makes more sense to take the threats as credible statements of intent.

The Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Districts

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Much of this series has repeated the same story over again: Missourians flooded over the border into Kansas and stole its elections by casting illegal votes. When opposed, they escalated things to threats and pointed to the large stockpiles of weaponry they brought with them. If that didn’t work, and it appears that the threats of violence alone usually sufficed, they would escalate further to actual violence. At times they manhandled people. At times they opened fire. Once they even tried to bring a house down on top of recalcitrant judges of the election. The Howard Committee couldn’t tell what happened in the Eleventh District. Though common, Missourian electoral hooliganism did not extend everywhere. It did not reach the Twelfth District at all. The Howard Committee reported that

The election in this district was conducted fairly. No complaint was made that illegal votes were cast.

The Thirteenth District reverted to type. When the judges would not take dodgy votes, the Missourians threatened to tear down the house. The judges took the better part of valor and left, which freed the Missourians to set up their own judges. They did so and then all went smoothly. The free-state voters stayed away.

Which brings us to the Fourteenth District and its thirty-five witnesses. I have to slow down and take this one in more detail for reasons that shall soon become obvious. There the Missourians came, as usual, and Dr. G.A. Cutler testified that at the Wolf River Precinct

There was considerable whiskey demolished. They were all armed to the teeth.

Firearms and alcohol go together exceptionally well, if one’s goal is mayhem. Fairness, however, requires us to keep in mind that most nineteenth century gatherings of men involved quite a bit of alcohol. Cutler quickly moves beyond the tired old news and into something novel:

This crowd was under the command of General Atchison.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Atchison, as in David Rice Atchison Missouri’s very recently former Senator who helped make all of this possible and saw in Kansas a way to save his career as well as his slaves. Atchison and the Missourians would not leave Kansas to the Kansans. They wouldn’t even trust the territory to the proslavery Kansans:

The proslavery citizens there wished to have Mr. Thomas Vandersluyee and Joel Ryans; and Atchison’s company wanted Stringfellow and Kirk elected. They could not agree very well.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

An Atchison wanted a Stringfellow for elected office? One might think he meant Benjamin Stringfellow of Negro-Slavery, No Evil (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) fame. Atchison instead preferred John H. Stringfellow, Benjamin’s brother. That Stringfellow then lived in Kansas, at the town of Atchison.

Both sides of the dispute, good proslavery men, knew they had a common interest. Why not come together?

A man got up and made a speech and as near as I can recollect his words, he said: “Gentlemen, we want to unite on one ticket. There are 1,100 coming over from Platte county, and if that ain’t enough we can send you 5,000 more. We came to vote, and we are going to vote, or kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district. I think he said “district” but it was “district” or “territory”. I asked a man nigh to me, a stranger, who that was, and he said it was old Davy Atchison.

Atchison and his people came here to save slavery? Can’t you good proslavery sorts see that? And if they can’t vote, they and their thousands will kill all the abolitionists. What more can they do? Why not vote for their candidates? This apparently convinced the proslavery Kansans, as Cutler tells us that they settled on Stringfellow and Kirk.

The Silent Eleventh District and a Request for Recommendations

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

In keeping with my new policy, I shall pass over the Tenth District quickly. The Howard Committee found ten men who lived on the Wyandotte reservation who voted proslavery. They appear to have had the legal right to vote, but not in that district. Eleven Pennsylvanians, who the committee found had not properly established residences before the election, also voted. They opted for the free state ticket. The judges questioned both parties under oath and let both vote. The votes of neither party changed the outcome of the election, which the committee declared “conducted friendly.” They further noted that the Tenth constituted “the only one to which the invasion from Missouri did not extend.”

The Eleventh District stretched out over the middle of nowhere, even by the standards of the nineteenth century frontier:

This election district is sixty miles north from Pawnee, and one hundred and fifty miles from Kansas City. It is the northwest settlement in the Territory, and contained, when the census was taken, but thirty-six inhabitants, of whom twenty-four were voters. There was on the day of the election no white settlement about Marysville, the place of voting, for forty miles, except that Marshall & Bishop kept a store and ferry at the crossing of the Big Blue and the California road.

One might hope the middle of nowhere would offer a cleaner election. The committee determined, as best they could, that Marysville returned all of seven legal votes…and three hundred twenty-one fraudulent of the illegal kind.

Would such a dramatic fraud make for eager actual Kansans flooding the committee with damning testimony? It might have, but things did not turn out that way:

Your committee were unable to procure witnesses from this district. Persons who were present at the election were duly summoned by an officer, and among them was F.J. Marshall, the member of the House from that district. On his return, the officer was arrested and detained, and persons bearing the names of some of the witnesses summoned were stopped near Lecompton, and did not appear before the committee.

Lecompton later became home to the proslavery Kansas legislature and loaned its name to the infamous constitution they drew up in 1857. That the witnesses, or people sharing their names, found themselves stopped nearby looks very suspicious. That goes double in light of the arrest of the officer carrying the summonses. Regrettably, the Howard Report appears to contain no testimony from him either. I’d quite like to know what happened, aside the obvious. Did the proslavery forces do something especially egregious and cover it up, or did the Eleventh District witnesses just present a useful target of opportunity as part of a broader campaign to interfere with the committee’s work?

A secondary source might have answers here, but I’ve yet to acquire one. Do any readers know of a good book on Kansas before the war? It appears that Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era surveyed the subject most recently. Jonathan Earle’s and Diane Mutti Burke’s Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border sounds interesting, but as a collection of essays probably works better as a companion to a survey than in lieu of one. I can read both, and that sounds like something I would do, but it can take me quite a while to get through a single book, let alone two.

The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Districts

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

A programming note first, Gentle Readers:

I got myself thoroughly confused with the testimony on the Sixth District and previously claimed that only a few Missourians illegally voted, forgetting that the Howard Committee counted somewhere around 250 illegal votes, while simultaneously ruling that even had only legal voters gone to the polls the election would have come out the same. I’ve edited Friday’s post to reflect that.

Also the next few districts have uneventful summaries, so I shall move quickly through them.

The Howard Committee collected no testimony of violence in the Seventh District, but the Missourians came two to three hundred strong. Two of Andrew Reeder’s chosen judges declined to serve and the Missourians replaced them with more amenable men. They refused to take the oath Reeder set out, but instead made up their own. Likewise they declined to make any Missourian swear to his residency in Kansas. One man asked that they at least swear unknown voters to having a claim in Kansas, but the judges opted not to. Some genuine residents, seeing hundreds of Missourians lined up against them, did the math and realized voting would only waste their time.  Of those who did vote legally, a majority went for the free-state candidate. The other guy, Mobillon McGee, rode to victory on the back of illegal votes. He had an actual claim complete with saw mill and house in Kansas, but actually lived in Missouri “where he owns and conducts a valuable farm.”

The Eighth District earns itself no more than four lines in the Howard Report. Though legally distinct, Andrew Reeder joined it with the Seventh for purposes of the election.

its vote was controlled by the illegal votes cast there. [Tn the Seventh District] The census shows 39 votes in it;’ 37 votes were cast, of a whom a majority voted the free-State ticket.

The Ninth District held the seat of government at the time. Neither the committee’s summary nor the testimony report any violence or threats. However, all five witnesses called testified that a large number of Pennsylvanians, many hailing from Reeder’s home town of Easton, came into the district shortly before the election and left shortly thereafter. They appear to have had their expenses paid by Aid Societies. Two witnesses related to the committee claims that each Pennsylvanian had $25, possibly from Andrew Reeder’s wife, to cover their expenses out to Kansas.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Reeder may very well have brought them, the closest thing to pauper abolitionist mercenaries of Missourian nightmares that the Howard Report has yet offered up. He had the business of setting up facilities for the government, including a capitol and trying to arrange lodging for the legislature when they arrived. Nineteenth century crony capitalism could certainly include hiring people from way back east to come out to do the work. Reeder and some local Kansans around Pawnee appear to have thrown in on real estate speculation, which would do much to explain why Reeder wanted the seat of government out in the middle of nowhere at Pawnee instead of more centrally located. Fewer people meant less competition and cheaper land.

More of the testimony concerns this real estate deal than the election itself. Reeder or his confederates apparently induced the local military garrison to clear out a group of Irish settlers, tearing down their houses and then tearing the roofs off the sod huts they made to replace the structure. They took a strong interest in buying one man out and apparently tried to give shares in their enterprise to members of the legislature at a discount to induce them to vote for keeping the government at Pawnee. It didn’t work, though, and later on they found out that the whole area sat inside the military reservation and so nobody could stake claims there.

The men who came from Pennsylvania, whether they came at Reeder’s bidding or not, did largely go and vote. Does that make them just like the Missourians? Not necessarily. The Howard Committee satisfied itself that many of the Pennsylvanians came out with full intent to settle. The witnesses seem to agree, testifying that they came on Reeder’s word about the wonders of Kansas, including iron mountains, and discovered the hard way that he misled them. So they resolved to leave, but had motives that sanctioned their voting. If they made that decision before the election and still voted, then they had no right to do so. In the absence of statements on that count, we can’t say. One might argue that they came as government employees, and some did, but the Kansas-Nebraska Act specifically allowed even men at military posts to vote in Kansas’ elections provided they intended at the time to stay in the territory.

What does all of this boil down to? It seems that some Northern, free-state men might have cast illegal votes for a change but we don’t have any way to know for sure. They could have still intended to settle when they voted, only thereafter deciding that the land did not justify their remaining. Even without mountains of iron, the frontier had its attractions. Either way, the few people in the Ninth District seemed more concerned with their real estate speculation than with the politics of the day.