The Peaceful, Mostly Honest Sixth District

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Something odd happened in Kansas’ Sixth District. Witnesses all agree that no violence took place. They testify that at most, only a few fraudulent votes made their way into the ballot box. (The Howard Committee disagreed and counted no more than 100 of the 350 votes tabuleted as legal.) Missourians came, but most seemed to behave themselves. Nobody reported them deterring anybody from voting. All three of Andrew Reeder’s judges appeared and remained in place for the whole day. John Hamilton, who ran for the lower house as a free stater and lost, testified that

There was no disturbance at the polls.


I know of no double voting that day.

Hamilton almost reported something serious.

Mr. Loring and Mr. Richardson, when the polls were closed, came to me and said they came to me as friends, to know if I intended to contest the election. I stated that if I had a majority of the legal votes in the district I should certainly contest it. They said if I did it would certainly be detrimental to the interests of myself and family. They said nothing further.

Nothing came of the threat. Ultimately Hamilton said

I was not induced to any course of conduct by any threats made towards me. I had repeatedly stated I should contest that election if I thought I had a majority of the legal votes there then. I did not contest it at that time, because there was not time enough to contest it; and I believed at the time a majority of the votes were against me. […] I never have ascertained that I received a majority of the legal votes there

If anybody had reason to complain, Hamilton did. He clearly thought instead he lost fair and square. Other witnesses say that he told them on the day of the election that his own friends voted for other candidates.

Joseph C. Anderson, who ran for the House and won, disagreed with Hamilton on one small point. He knew that some voted fraudulently:

I heard one man I can name, who was from Missouri, say he had voted, but I did not see him vote. My present impression is that I heard another Missourian say so. Mr. Loring was one of them. I tried to keep him from voting. I remarked to him, “Mr. Loring, you are not going to vote?” The object of my inquiry was dissuasive. I told him I did not want him to vote; that I did not want men known to be citizens of Missouri to vote there, for the reason that everybody was voting for me, and I did not want to have my election contested, or have any trouble about it.


I used every argument to prevent him from voting that I could think of at the time.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

William Barbee goes some way toward explaining how things went so well at Fort Scott. He took the census of the area and

Governor Reeder took me to be a free-State man, and requested me to hunt up suitable free-State men for judges of election, when I took the census, and said that he aimed to appoint two free soilers and one pro-slavery man for judges of election. He did do that in our district, and in the districts in which I took the census, which was over half the Territory in extent, so far as he could.

Barbee’s words have a kind of studied ambiguity about them. Reeder took him for a free-state man. Later Barbee expands slightly, saying

I passed for a free-State man with him, and that was the way I got the appointment to take the census.

Barbee’s late residence in Illinois might have helped too, but notice that he never calls himself a free state man. He ran for the legislature as a proslavery candidate. He also says that Reeder’s safeguards fell into place only so far as Reeder could manage. That scans as an allowance for less than perfect success, but added together with Barbee’s admission that he only allowed Reeder to think him antislavery, at least suggests that Barbee may have passed off some proslavery judges to Reeder as antislavery men. That might have stolen the election before the polls ever opened.

But Anderson and Hamilton both agree that the district had a proslavery majority of legitimate voters. It hardly needed stealing, as Anderson admits. It appears to have come by that majority honestly, even if a few Missourians voted illegally. Samuel A. Williams tesitified:

From the time I went into the district the emigration was very heavy from Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas, up to the time of the election, and settled on the Neosho and the streams in that neighborhood, and the district.

That fits well with the geography of the district, which ran all the way to Kansas’ southern border. One would expect people coming from south and east of Kansas to concentrate in just that spot.

The Fifth District, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifth District, part 1, 2

Having delved into the Pottawatomie, Big Sugar, and Little Sugar precincts we come at last to Bull Creek. The Howard Committee received testimony on events there from Dr. B.C. Westfall, who began by telling them that he had no legitimate business at the election of March 30, 1855 as he did not move to Kansas until January of 1856. He did, however, come extremely close:

I had resided for three years previous at New Santa Fe, Jackson county, immediately on the Missouri line, within ten feet of it.

Westfall went off to the election in Kansas all the same, coming to Bull Creek at the request of his neighbors and in a company of thirty or so. They made their camp with other Jackson county men, many of whom Westfall knew from his ten previous years living in the Missouri hinterlands.

The evening we arrived there Mr. Park, from Kentucky, and Mr. Payne, from Missouri, claiming to be two judges appointed by Governor Reeder, came to me and told me that the third judge the governor had appointed would not be at the election, and requested me to act as judge with them, as they had the appointment of judge in the absence of the other. I told them I would serve.

Andrew Reeder named John J. Parks, J.J. Clark, and Stephen Wright judges of the election for the Bull Creek precinct. Given Westfall worked from memory, he probably misremembered Parks’ surname. One can hardly confuse a Payne for a Clark or a Wright, though. Whoever came up to him with Parks lied about his credentials.

The night passed and some of the Missourians left Bull Creek for Pottawatomie, on the grounds that they lacked sufficient men then to steal the precinct away, but sixty went off to remedy that and in due course morning came. With it came the question of what the three judges would do about all these Missourians who came to vote, and how that would square with their oath as judges? Parks and Payne resolved the dilemma by refraining from swearing themselves or Westfall to any such oaths.

Someone else did swear on their behalf, though. After the polls closed, the judges went about preparing the returns.

the magistrate, or one who called himself a magistrate, certified to the governor that he had sworn the judges

That makes the score here one person lying about having an appointment from Andrew Reeder as election judge and one more claiming to be a magistrate, who in turned lied and said that the three judges had taken Reeder’s oath. Let’s add another really obvious lie to the list:

One gentleman by the name of Samuel wade, near New Santa Fe,. called out his name and we took it down. Shortly after he voted he came back and called out Jim Wade’s name, and I am pretty confident that was taken down. Jim Wade was a son of the old gentleman, some nine or ten years old at that time. I asked Mr. Wade afterwards why he had called out Jimmy’s name as a voter, and he said he had made him a claim on Bull creek, adjoining his own, and he expected Jemmy would become a resident of the Territory and a voter.

This races past blatancy almost to the point of parody. Jim Wade would not, under the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s provisions, have any right to vote in Kansas until 1865 at the earliest.

They did have some consciousness of the need to make things look good, though. Westfall found

upon the poll books some memoranda under the names of several persons- “Rejected, refusing to swear.” This was all got up for effect, as some free State men were looking on. It was all understood between the voters and the judges. When one of them would come to the window and the judge would say, “I think you live in Missouri, do you not?” To which the man would reply, “I have a claim in the Territory.” The judge would ask them if they would be sworn that they were residents of the Territory, at which they would pretend to get angry and threaten to whip the judges, and refused to be sworn. The matter, however, was all arranged beforehand. No one was sworn that day.

Westfall also commented on the candidates the Missourians preferred. He recognized the name of Henry Younger:

Henry Younger is a man of considerable wealth and has much land and many slaves in Jackson county, Missouri. I have known him since the fall of 1847, and he resided near Independence at that time. I do not know that he had moved into the Territory, and I do not think he has ever changed his residence since I knew him.

At least Westfall had no violence to report. They staged a show. They lied freely. But these particular Missourians didn’t shoot at anybody. They had no need with matters so well in hand.

The Fifth District, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifth District, part 1

We left William Chesnut objecting to fradulent voters out of Missouri coming to the polls at Pottowatomie Creek. The two judges appointed by the mob of Missourian border ruffians promptly testified that they knew each voter had a right to vote, end of story. At the end of the polling that evening, the three judges counted those votes and passed around the list to sign off. Chesnut refused.

The house was immediately filled with as many armed men as could stand on the floor. Until then they had all kept outside. General Coffee, candidate for councilman, was among the crowd

Coffee took a moment to speak to the mob and

he admitted that it was very aggravating for a public officer to refuse to do his evident duty, but still hoped there would be no bloodshed, nor personal violence used, on that occasion.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Then he went over and told Chesnut he’d best just sign off. That might keep the crowd from getting ideas about, say, the bloodshed that Coffee just brought up. Chesnut refused, knowing full well that they could do whatever they wanted to him then and there, promising that he would not sign if they kept him all night. The other judges opted to send along the returns without his signature and called it good.


then got up and came out of the house. On my way home, when I had got about fifty or sixty rods from Mr. Sherman’s house, a party of armed strangers, who stood a distance of probably fifty rods from me, discharged a number of rifles. They called names, and hooted and yelled as long as we remained in sight or hearing.

A rod measures sixteen and a half feet, for a distance of between 825 to 990 feet. I have the impression that accuracy at that range asked more than guns of the time could offer. That said, your pacifist author knows slightly less about late antebellum rifles then he does about gun-type nuclear weapons. I thus leave it to the reader to let me know if the Missourians had a reasonable expectation of hitting Chesnut at that range or if they did it entirely to frighten him. They did not pursue Chesnut so it appears that if they did want to kill him, they didn’t want to do so very badly.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Aside his inconvenient scruples, the Missourians may have had one more grip with Chesnut. They feared the pauper armies of the Emigrant Aid Societies, coming to take their Kansas out from under them. Chesnut testified that he didn’t

know positively of any who came out under the auspices of any aid society except myself; and I came out under the auspices of the New York society, called the Kansas League. I paid my own expenses, and derived no service from the society, except information about the best modes of getting here and the country here. They asked me no questions about my politics.

All of that made him a very far cry from the fevered imaginings of the Benjamin Franklin Stringfellows and David Rice Atchisons of the Missouri frontier, convinced that they must save Kansas for slavery or lose Missouri to freedom. Chesnut paid his own way, rather than coming as a pauper. The aid society didn’t ask him about slavery. He received from them only information. However much he failed to live up to expectations, Chesnut had the basic fact of his association with the Kansas League to cast him as the villain of the day. But all that said, they don’t seem to have treated him any worse than any other person who got in the way of stealing the election.

The Fifth District, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

I don’t mean to skip the Fourth District, but the Howard Report summary runs only two paragraphs which only repeat the story of the previous districts (First: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; Second: parts 1, 2, 3; Third: parts 1, 2, 3, 4) without any mention of violence or other unusual activity, save that the Missourians also held an election for governor while present. One of Andrew Reeder’s judges appeared and the Missourians appointed the other two. The free staters, finding the polls swamped, stayed away.

Andrew Reeder’s proclamation divided the Fifth District into four precincts: Bull Creek, Pottawatomie Creek, Big Sugar, and Little Sugar. In the Little Sugar precinct, nothing untoward happened and the election proceeded smoothly.

At Big Sugar, James M. Arthur, Elisha Tucker, and John E. Brown served as judges of the election. The polls opened at Tucker’s house. The Brown named did not deliver any of the fireworks one might expect. So far as I can tell, he only coincidentally shared a name with the famous John Brown of the Harper’s Ferry raid. That Brown had yet to reach Kansas. All three judges had their names listed in Reeder’s proclamation as the judges of record for the precinct. They swore each other in, each using Reeder’s oath.

Arthur told the Howard Committee:

About the time the polls were opened, a large number of strangers came into the yard and demanded to vote. I wanted to swear them as to whether they were residents or not, and they refused to swear. Mr. Brown, one of the judges, told me then, I must take their votes or resign. I asked Mr. Tucker, the other judge, what should be done, and he said he considered them legal voters, without swearing or asking them any questions. I thereupon resigned.

One has to wonder if the famous John Brown ever heard about this John E. Brown and his activities during the election. I imagine he would have had some things to say, possibly with blades and bullets.

Arthur’s resignation, given without apparent threat to his life, made for smooth sailing at Big Sugar. He testifies that he spent much of the day still around the polls and appears to have suffered no harassment during his brief tenure as a judge or thereafter.

At Pottowatomie Creek, William Chesnut (no relation to Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina or his wife, the better-known Mary Boykin Chesnut of Civil War diary fame) had Andrew Reeder’s commission as a judge of the election. He arrived at the polling place around eight in the morning. His fellow Reeder-appointed judge, Allen Wilkinson, disqualified himself by standing for election. The third judge, O.F. Cleveland, did not appear. Chesnut, as the sole judge on the ground, claimed the right to name replacements.

a stranger came forward and told me he was from Missouri. He was armed with a revolver and a knife, and had a rifle in his hand. he told me his party would appoint the judges. I remonstrated with him, and named two persons for judges that I thought were qualified. He told me that if I made any trouble with them they would dispose of me with very little ceremony.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

But anyway, the stranger went on, “with a kind of sneer,” how would Chesnut like to run the election? Chesnut answered that he wanted to run the election by the rules Andrew Reeder set down. The stranger disagreed with the usual Missourian claims and furthermore that Chesnut

could see they had come well prepared, and would vote, and let the consequences be what they might.

And if Chesnut insisted on remaining, “It would be at his own peril.”

Chesnut did not move, so the stranger went off and came back with a new proposal. He could stay on, but just let everybody vote without asking anything about them or demanding they swear an oath to their residency in Kansas. And by the way, in addition to the Missourians a large party of Bostonians camped out nearby and they planned to come vote too. The Missourians consulted with them and they agreed that no one should have to answer any questions or swear anything. No such party of Bostonians existed, of course.

The Missourians then appointed two judges to share the panel with Chesnut. One of them Chesnut knew lived in Kansas, but in the Bull Creek precinct. The new judge

said that he had his washing done there and was, therefore, a voter.

With the new judges appointed, voting proceeded at a steady clip. Chesnut raised objections and each time another judge said he knew the voter and knew him qualified to vote.

The Third District, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Third District, Parts 1, 2, 3

The proslavery border ruffians who came over from Missouri to dominate Kansas’ elections for territorial legislature had their way in the Third District as much as in the First or Second, if with less attacking the architecture and gunfire. Nobody even suggested that obstinate free soil judges, like Henry Burgess, should have their heads torn from their shoulders by a Missourian who, one presumes, ate a lot of spinach.

The Missourians held Henry Burgess as a hostage while they voted and finally let him go some time thereafter. They tried to get him to sign off on the returns, but Burgess refused. When he earlier offered to sign off if they let him write up a report of what happened, they declined to oblige him. But once clear of the mob, Burgess wrote his report and sent it off to Andrew Reeder so he would know that his hopes for a fair election where only Kansans voted came to naught. If Burgess could not preserve the election, he could let everyone know how badly it went.

Kansas’ proslavery settlers, in turn, had not quite finished with Henry Burgess:

I was indicted for telling the truth in regard to the election, in making an affidavit in a protest against the election setting forth the facts, and sent in to the executive of the Territory. I was not bound over before a justice of the peace. I suppose the first complaint was made before the grand jury; a warrant, I understood, was in the hands of a deputy marshal of this Territory for me, and before it was served I hitched up- my team and came down here, as I had understood before this time a bill was found against me. I have never learned who my accuser was, nor upon what testimony the indictment was found. The indictment was found, as far as I can recollect, about a year ago, during the sitting of the court early last spring, and it is still pending.

Nothing appears to have come of Burgess’ indictment by the time the Howard Report went to press, but having it hang over him could not have been fun. Maybe it amounted to a one-off threat with no intention of really prosecuting him. Maybe someone intended it as an insurance policy, hoping he would take the hint and keep quiet.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Another minister got a bit worse. John Long testified, based on his lengthy time on the frontier in various states, that

it is frequently the case that there are fights at election, but I never saw much of it myself where I have been.

He did, however, see possibly the only actual violence at Tecumseh on election day

Just at evening, pretty near time to close the polls, I had got on my horse to go home, and the Rev. Mr. Gilpatrick (whose name I afterwards learned) was standing near the door, and I saw someone strike at him, but I do not know who he was.

Gilpatrick went into Thomas Stinson’s house, the polling place, and asked for his protection. Stinson opened the back door for him, but refused to give shelter. Long went into the house and tried to walk Gilpatrick out the front.

He remarked that he had been insulted; that he had come there to vote and could not have the privilege of voting. I remarked that it was not worth the while, as there was a great deal of excitement, and we had better not try to vote.

They went out together and Gilpatrick found a friend of his to stick with in safety. It didn’t come to much, but Long thought someone had really hit him, if not hard enough to draw blood or leave a mark immediately visible.

The Third District, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Third District, Parts 1, 2

Kansas’ Third District’s lone free state judge of the election for the legislature, Henry Burgess, found that his two proslavery counterparts and the mob they had would not let him leave the polls. He only heard that the owner of the house, who had threatened to beat him with a cane. All of this came just shy of a year before Preston Brooks turned caning into a national sensation. Burgess and the proslavery judges could not agree on the oath to which they had to swear one another. He thought it perfectly legal and they thought it beyond the governor’s authority to demand that they only let actual residents of Kansas vote.

But now that they had him as a prisoner in all but name, the proslavery judges had a compromise for Burgess. They out voted him, so why not do it their way? Burgess agreed in principle, but then one of the proslavery men realized that he could still cause problems for them. They pressed Burgess further: Would he write a report to the governor stating his agreement to their variant oath? Furthermore, would he sign off on the returns?

I said I would if they would allow me to send up with the returns a statement of the facts. This they would not accept, and proposed that we should resign, and allow the people there to elect judges to suit themselves. To this I objected, because the highest officer in the Territory had appointed us to that office-the highest trust in the Territory-and refused to vacate my seat.

No one said anything about telling Andrew Reeder any facts, not to mention how if they all resigned, the Missourian mob would just appoint a full panel of proslavery men.

Someone came in and checked on the judges, telling them they better get the lead out. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, three men came in and politely informed the panel of the restless non-natives.

Their language was gentlemanly. They said that if the election should not go on, they would not be responsible for the consequences that might result from it. They then retired. In about ten minutes more, I should think, another deputation waited upon us, and the speaker then was a rough, uncouth man, in language and manner. He wanted to know what in hell was the matter that the election could not go on; and that we had better be getting out of there pretty damned soon, or we would catch hell.

Watts, one of the proslavery judges, told him that they had no trouble at all except for this one judge…and stared across the table at Burgess. The uncouth man then answered

if he knows what is good for himself, he will be getting out of here pretty God damn soon, or he would catch hell.

Yet the impasse remained. The proslavery judges wanted to steal the election. Burgess refused. One judge proposed they all resign, since as ministers their inability to get things settled reflected poorly on Christianity. The crowd agreed to give them ten minutes but

Very soon we heard cried, outside, “Five minutes left.” I had heard prior to this, from outside, “We have given them ten minutes, and then, damn them, we will put them out,” and the reply, “Good! there are only ten minutes left them, dman them.” I heard the remark, “Hang the damned abolitionist, damn him, hang him;” and then from others, “Hanging is too good for him.” They sang out, “Three minutes left,” and “Two minutes left.” When the two minutes was sung out, Mr. Stateler rose and said, “I will not stay here any longer-I will not be responsible for the consequences.”

Burgess asked the other judges if they thought the crowd would really do something. Watts said they would not but Stateler apparently thought otherwise. Watts suggested again that they all resign, but Burgess still would not  yield. Resigning would imply some kind of endorsement. But clearly they could not go on as they had. He told Watts to go to the window and tell the crowd they would retire and leave things to them, letting them have their way but denying them official imprimatur.

Burgess didn’t catch what Watts actually told the crowd, but they cheered and he saw the mob setting up a new election panel as he left. Unlike some other mobs, this one let a free state judge go unmolested. Burgess didn’t give them a chance to change their minds, but rather left directly.

The border ruffians had their election, stolen from Kansans fair and square, but they had not heard the last of Henry Burgess.

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.”

The Third District, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Not every polling place can come with an exciting and horrifying story of stolen democracy. After two districts of fireworks (The First, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and Second, parts 1, 2, 3) the Howard Committee’s report on the Third District of Kansas comes off a bit dry. The Missourians arrived, armed to fight the Mexican War all over again, in both a contingent of two hundred dispatched from Lawrence and one that came directly to the polls at Tecumseh. They amounted to three to four hundred men crowding about the polls.

They said they came to vote and whip the damned Yankees, and would vote without being sworn. Some said they came to have a fight, and wanted one.

The Howard Report cites the testimony of Lewis O. Wilmarth on the last point:

I talked with quite a number of the crowd, and they said they had come here to whip the damned Yankees; but they were afraid the Yankeess were playing them rather a Yankee trick in not voting. Several them said they came purposely to fight, and they wanted to get into a row. One man remarked, if he could get the boys to joinwith him, he would go up to Topeka and wipe the people into the river; that he was good for half a dozen. They were all armed with guns, pistols, and clubs, which they brandished around very much, rushing to that corner of the yard where there seemed to be any excitement.

But Wilmarth adds:

I saw no violence offered to any one who desired and offered to vote, though I heard a great many threats.

It bears repeating that credible threats alone, especially in large numbers, can do much to deter voters even short of violence. One must approach the polls wondering if any of the hundreds of people armed to the teeth and swearing violence against you might mean it. People in crowds like that often find themselves worked up into doing things they would never do alone.

The lack of violence, especially in light of the Missourians apparently spoiling for it, bears some examination.  For whatever reason, Andrew Reeder’s careful stacking of the election panels with two free state men to one proslavery man did not hold in Tecumseh. The Third District had two proslavery judges of election to one free state judge. Maybe he thought the district an unlikely one for the Missourians to jump. Maybe he wrote it off as a loss in exchange for securing other districts more vulnerable. Maybe he mistook the men he appointed and thought he had two free staters on the panel. In any event, he ended up with just the Reverend Henry B. Burgess committed to the election’s integrity.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Burgess arrived at the house of Thomas Stinson ahead of the other judges and waited around for a while before seeking them out. He found them in conversation with some other men. Burgess doesn’t call them Missourians, but they were off with the two proslavery judges in an otherwise empty section of a yard. He walked up to introduce himself and overheard some suspicious dialog:

“We understand it.” One of the gentlemen-I do not know whether it was the other judge or one of the company there-said. “The thing is perfectly understood.”

They went off into the house and Stinson asked that people clear the room for the judges.

There was something like an attempt to clear the room, and, after turning out some of my friends, I think the outside door was then locked. The inside door, opening into another room, remained so that it could be passed, and the room remained as full as before.

That promising start led into the judges suggesting they elect clerks…and it so happened that the proslavery judges had a few friends here that could help. Burgess objected on the grounds that their instructions gave them no power to choose clerks, but the panel set the matter aside to address more important issues.

The Storming of the Second District Polls, Part Three

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

Storming of the Second District Polls: parts 1, 2

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield: parts 1, 2

The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, parts 1, 2, 3

Wakefield’s testimony does a good job by itself in covering what happened at the Bloomington polls on March 30, 1855,. but he missed one more incident worth noting. Wakefield and the judges of the election, the witnesses considered so far, would naturally draw proslavery wrath. That doesn’t excuse what the proslavery men from Missouri did on election day, but one would reasonably expect them to get the worst of it and that their experience thus might not give a good indicator of how the Missourians treated others. Their testimony does include the Missourians obstructing access to the polls, and of course the actual taking of the polling place by force, but the judges spent their time inside the building or run off to safety elsewhere. Wakefield did much the same.

The Howard Committee had testimony from an ordinary voter of more serious mistreatment than harsh words and intimidation. J. N. Mace came to vote on March 30, arriving later on in the day as he lived seven miles from the polls. By the time he reached Bloomington, the Missourians had already crowded the polls.

There was a very large crowd around the window there, so that it was very difficult of access. I heard cries from the crowd that “no damned Yankee should vote there that day; that the first man who took the oath, they would rip his guts out.” Those were the words they used.

The threats of violence did not take long to find physical expression. Mace made it to the window after a good hour. He came in right behind a man who offered to swear an oath to his residency in Kansas. That voter left when told that the crowd would murder him if he did. Mace

then stepped forward to the window, when a man on my right took hold of my arm and said, “Unfold that vote and let me see it.” I told him I came here by the United States law to vote, and that law gave me the right to vote by ballot; and if I could not vote so, I would not vote at all.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Missourians pressed: Would Mace swear an oath? If the judges asked, he would. He did, however, give way to an older Missourian to vote first.

After he had voted, I stepped forward, put my hand inside the window, and gave my name; when, at a word, from one of the two men who stood one on each side of the window, I was seized by the people in the crowd and dragged from the polls through the entire crowd. They made shouts of “Kill the damned nigger-thief,” “Cut his throat,” and many cries of that kind. I saw revolvers cocked and bowie-knives drawn, all around me, at that time.

But Mace had an idea. He would appeal to the crowd’s patriotism.

After I had been dragged out of the crowd I regained my feet. I had a small American flag under my arm. When I got to my feet, I unfurled it and held it over my head. I told them that we were here, and had no law to protect us, and I sought protection under the American flag, which was universally respected in foreign countries, and I supposed it would be here. The crowd did not seem to understand what it meant, and they let me alone. Some of them asked what it meant; and some one of their party said they had better not kill a man when he was under the American flag.

That only went so far. The Missourians came with their own flag, with just a single star. Some in the mob suggested that their banner took precedence over the false one of the United States. I don’t want to read too much into that, but thousands of Americans would make the same calculation a few years down the road. They might consider themselves proud Americans, but also proud white men of a slaveholding society. If the Union, with its federal flag flying over abolitionists, threatened slavery, many would choose slavery first.

Mace doubled down on the flag:

I then said, “Who calls this flag false are traitors.” One man who had a large cloak on, threw it off and came up to me, and, thrusting his fist in my face, asked me if I called him a traitor. I said, if he called that flag false, he was a traitor. Then another man stepped up to me, and told me to take that back, at the same time opening a clasp-knife, and put it so it touched the breast of my coat. Another man had a revolver, which he held close to my ear. Another man struck at me with a club, and a friend of mine turned it off with his arm, and it struck somebody else.

Before anything further could happen, the Missourians lost all interest in Mace. Their fellows had just burst into the cabin housing the polls and the election judges for the big standoff. Why sate one’s appetite for mayhem on the bit players when the protagonists become available?

The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, Part Three

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

Storming of the Second District Polls: parts 1, 2

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield: parts 1, 2

The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, parts 1, 2

We left John A. Wakefield, free state candidate for the territorial council and hostage to the proslavery Missourian border ruffians just taken from the house of Nathaniel Ramsay, one of the judges of the election, at gunpoint. He wanted to make a fight of it, but thought better of it when the unarmed bystanders reminded him that the numbers and guns favored the Missourians. He gave up his double-barrel shotgun on the Missourians’ pledge of his safety.

The Missourians demanded Wakefield come back to polls and tell the crowd that he had nothing to do with the judges obstructing their right to steal the election. He could do that easily enough, as that came down to Andrew Reeder’s instructions and the judges’ adherence to them. So Wakefield

went back with them, and got up in a wagon and made them a short speech, stating to them that I had been an old soldier, and had fought through two wars for the rights of my country; and I thought I ha da privilege there that day. I then went on to state that they were in the wrong; that we were not the abolitionists they represented us to be, but were free-State men, and that they were abusing us unjustly, and that their acts were contrary to the organic law of the constitution of the United States.

That took guts. Wakefield had already faced down an armed mob bent on violence, surrendered himself to them, and went back with them into a larger mob full of people who considered him the author of their particular woes. Arriving there, he got up on a wagon and told them off.

The Missourians did not all appreciate it:

A man cried out while I was speaking several times, “Shoot him! he is too saucy.” I then made an effort to those who gave their security that I should not be hurt. When I got done speaking and got off the wagon, a man came up to me and told me he wanted to tie a white ribbon in my button-hole, or the boys would kill me. I at first refused, but he insisted, and I let him do it; and then I turned round and cut it out with my knife.

The Missourians took up the white ribbons as a badge to identify themselves when it looked like things would get violent.

This all speaks to some Missourians quite ready to murder an old man for imagined slights and real, if somewhat remote, threats to slavery. Wakefield also found men among the border ruffians who would not go that far and took pains to protect him, not just during his speech but thereafter. That said, they protected him after they made off with the election and after they bested him in a standoff. The very same men appear quite ready to shoot Wakefield, and anybody else in Ramsay’s house that got in the way, not all that long before.

The matter finished, Wakefield made to leave. The Missourians asked him to stay and vote now that they had everything settled, but Wakefield demurred. By the time he left the polls, before noon and no more than three hours after the affray began, the actual Kansans had made themselves scarce.