The Third District, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Missourians tried their best and surely terrified many of the legal residents with their weapons on display and open talk of using them, but in the Third District an election without notable violence did take place. But that did not mean everything went smoothly. The district’s two proslavery judges of the election wanted to appoint clerks to help them from among their friends crowded about. The lone free state judge, Henry B. Burgess, said he read no authorization to do any such thing in Andrew Reeder’s instructions to them.

The other districts had clerks without trouble. Burgess might have just had an especially literal mind when it came to his instructions, but given that they closed him up in a room crowded with proslavery men, while ushering his own friends out, it seems more likely that Burgess had a problem with the people nominated and the possibility that by letting them clerk, he would give any meddling they did with the paperwork a further patina of legitimacy.

That matter, however, could wait. The judges moved on to more weighty matters:

That matter of importance was the taking of the oath prescribed in the proclamation. Both Mr. Watts and Mr. Stateler [the other judges of the election] claimed that the governor had transcended his authority in prescribing that oath, as he had no right to interpret the organic act in regard to citizenship, as the judges claimed that any man in the Territory, no matter how short or how long a time he had been in the Territory, was a resident, and entitled to vote; that they had as good a right to interpret the organic act as the governor, and they refused to either take or administer the oath prescribed. There was then considerable discussion and some unpleasant feeling.

The judges’ refusal put anybody who cared about the integrity of Kansas’ election into a serious bind. If they refused to serve, the rules stated that the crowd should replace them. Even if Burgess had the wherewithal to compel the judges to follow the rules as written, he would end up with two more proslavery judges acclaimed by the mob. But the bystanders did not take his objection lightly:

During this discussion the room was pretty thoroughly filled, and a large crowd outside clamorous that the election should commence. I sat near the window, and frequently heard the remarks: “The damned Yankee” – “the God damned Yankee” – “the blue-bellied Yankee should never come out there alive” – “put a knife in him” – “shoot him, damn him, shoot him,” repeatedly; which expressions I understood applied to me and my course there.

Good assumption, Henry. Discontent extended to those in the house as well. The owner, Thomas Stinson

came into the room from the inside door, in apparent rage; stepped very quick; had a very heavy hickory cane, with a grub-butt, which he raised over his head I think with both hands. His first remark to me was, as near as I can repeat it, “You God damned blue-bellied Yankee abolitionist, you said that any man who would marry an Indian was a damned sight meaner than if he had married a nigger, and God damn you, I will smash your brains out.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Wait…what? Burgess gives no context for Stinson’s claim. Neither the other judges of the election nor Stinson gave the Howard Committee testimony, so they’re no help in explaining the outburst. I suspect Stinson invented it for the occasion and his real problem involved Burgess’ insistence on following his instructions. To judge from how he cleared the room of Burgess’ friends and let the proslavery men remain, he seems strongly involved with the latter.

Burgess claimed the protection of the other judges in his official capacity. He also stuck a hand into his overcoat. Burgess doesn’t claim that he had a gun, but if Stinson thought that and it spared him a beating, so much the better. The combination of that and some kind words talked Stinson down, but his antics drove Burgess over the edge. Clearly the election could not happen here. Burgess asked the other judges for suggestions to relocate, but they said nothing.

Very well, they could do the election without him. Burgess made to leave and found himself locked in. A man from Independence stopped Burgess and told him not to go. That could get awkward. Burgess persisted, but the Missouri men and Thomas Stinson refused to unlock the doors and let him out. Word came back from Stinson that Burgess would remain until the end of the election, and Stinson would “settle with [him] then.”

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