The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part Two

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy’s warehouse.

Part One.

On Saturday morning, April 14, 1855, flush with their late victory in stealing the Kansas elections, eight men arrived at the home and office of George Park in Parkville, Missouri. Park had the good fortune to find himself in Kansas at just that moment, but his business partner, a man called Patterson, did not and so received the resolutions that these eight men produced. Those resolutions demanded that he and Park get out of town and out of state, and abjure both Kansas and Missouri thereafter. Furthermore, the men would toss their printing press in the Missouri River. While they had Patterson there, they would also tar and feather him.

Patterson’s wife and Park’s absence got in the way of the tar and feathering plan, but a mob of two hundred gathered outside the house while the eight men within delivered their manifesto for Patterson to copy down. They made sure the press went into the drink and their numbers surely helped impress upon Patterson, and later Park, their firm commitment to finish the job if both men had not made themselves scarce in three weeks’ time.

The editors of the Herald of Freedom, had words of encouragement for their aggrieved fellow newspaper men:

We congratulate our friends on this happy termination of their business for the present in Missouri. A wider field, and one of greater usefulness, is opened for them by the hands of their enemies, and they will of course enter into its possession. The name of Cassius M. Clay was comparatively unknown to fame, until the mobbing of his press, while confined to a bed of sickness, and delirious with a burning fever. Since then he stands out in bold relief, and will be remembered with pride by ever True American while his enemies are forgotten, or covered with disgrace. The murdered LOVEJOY,-who would not rather inherit his name than that of the proudest warrior of ancient or modern times. It gathers lustre with age, and is enrolled with the martyrs of freedom.

Our friends of the Luminary, whose light has been measurably obscured by the darkness which surrounded them, has suddenly emitted an effulgence, which lights up the Union, and attracts all eyes in that direction.

Cassius Clay argued for some kind of emancipation in Kentucky in the early 1850s. Someday I hope to go back and delve into that matter.

Park and Patterson might have appreciated the kind words, but one imagines they would have preferred to let this moment in the spotlight pass them by. The Herald of Freedom continued at some length, crowing about the inevitable triumph of freedom. The North had had enough and would not give another inch to the South. What had the Missourians really accomplished, besides making the editors of the Industrial Luminary famous?

Mere given its publishers a notority, and driven them to the free States armed with missiles a thousand times more potent for effect against an institution which opposes free discussion. Suppose the Missourians should commit personal injury to Messrs Park & Patterson. – Those men would be venerated through all time, as is the case with the murdered LOVEJOY, and hundreds of others wielding a pen equally potent, furnished with increased facts, would arise, and on the wings of the press would pour a volley of invective which would enroll the names of the invaders of personal liberty, on the pages of infamy; and they would be handed down from generation to generation, accumulating in hatred as the age increases in wisdom and refinement.

But behind all the cheering, the Missourians had accomplished something not entirely adverse to their goal. They had made an example. They told any who heard of their deeds that Parkville would not take kindly to anything resembling antislavery. The Herald of Freedom tactfully encouraged its readers to take the hint:

Since Parkville has signalized herself by participating in the destruction of the public press, we hope every settler in Kansas Territory will seek another locality to purchase supplies. Let no person patronize a community where the press is enslaved. Franklin absolutely refused to lodge in a place over night where the grave-yard fence was neglected, or broken down; and freemen should refuse, upon the same principle, to patronize those who are unwilling their actions should be scanned by the Argus eye of the press, and to prevent which, they resort to its destruction.

We should understand that boycott as an act of retaliation. Deny Parkville your dollars because Parkville suppresses antislavery speech. But if one denies the town one’s custom, one also has less reason venture there at all. I can’t say that the Herald of Freedom intended this note primarily as a warning against going into a town known to host a hostile mob capable of violence, but it seems likely that the readers of the time would have understood the message both ways. They should keep their dollars and bodies out of Parkville out of principle, but also for their own safety.

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The Fuss and the Industrial Luminary, Part One

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Lovejoy’s warehouse.

Adam Fisher and Matthew France told the Howard Committee that they expected challenging voters in the special election at Leavenworth would lead to trouble. They could have cited Missourian mayhem going back to the March election, and even some from the delegate election in November of 1854, but they had more immediate concerns. Proslavery Missourians and their Kansas confederates had misbehaved much more recently than that. As their mission included controlling both Kansas and Missouri for the sake of Missouri’s slavery, they operated on both sides of the border.

The Howard Report deals with matters in Missouri only in passing on this front, at the end of a paragraph describing rising hostilities and increased violence after the March election and citing no testimony:

This unhappy condition of the public mind was further increased by acts of violence in western Missouri, where, in April, a newspaper press called the Parkville Luminary was destroyed by a mob.

Nichole Etcheson’s footnotes came to the rescue. She points to the Herald of Freedom for April 21 and May 5, 1855. The Herald begins the story with the late April edition:

On the morning of Saturday last, eight men called at the office of the INDUSTRIAL LUMINARY, published at Parkville, Mo., by Messrs Park & Patterson, and presented to the latter a series of resolutions to the effect that they had determined to throw the Luminary press into the river and expel the publishers from the State. Mr. Patterson copied the resolutions, and had only completed the work, when a body of about two hundred men surrounded the Park House, in which was the printing office, while others set themselves to work to remove the press, agreeably to their resolve.

You don’t see many angry mobs show up with position papers these days. Given Patterson copied them, rather than recalling them later, it appears that the mob literally had a manifesto with them and handed it over. Someone had to write those down to begin with, and either present them to the group for approval or draw them up as a result of some kind of meeting. One might expect this to happen informally, but I’ve seen similar lists of resolutions written out and approved for another part of the fuss. Furthermore, witnesses have testified that men in Missouri used existing institutions like Masonic lodges to organize their invasion of Kansas. Without further information one can’t say for sure that everybody got together and had a nice vote on each resolve, but it seems likely something formal took place.

It was the design to have tarred and feathered the editors, but the absence of Mr. Park at Big Blue, in Kansas Territory, and the interference of Mrs. PATTERSON, in behalf of her husband, saved them from this apparent degradation.

We tend to picture asphalt tar and imagine that a person tarred and feathered died shortly thereafter as a result. The pine tar used at the time has a much lower melting point. Some varieties came liquid at room temperature, though the intention generally was to inflict pain upon the victim and so we can expect a studiously cruel mob to heat it up. The process involved stripping the victim to the waist, pouring the tar on, and then dusting with feathers before carrying the victim around town for public humiliation. This could happen on a cart or on the proverbial rail. Everyone around either had a great deal of fun and the satisfaction of a job well down, a terrifying and painful humiliation and reason to wonder what would come next if one remained, or a memorable lesson in what could happen to them if they stepped out of line.

But since his wife stepped in and they couldn’t get Park, the proslavery Missourians skipped ahead to the other festivities they planned for the occasion:

The work moved on without hustle or excitement, and the INDUSTRIAL LUMINARY, for having dared express itself as become an independent journal, was consigned to the watery element, there to remain until the glad shout of “freedom to the captive” shall be proclaimed throughout the entire State of Missouri.

They tossed it in the river, as a mob in Alton, Illinois did to Elijah Lovejoy’s press back in 1837. They also shot Lovejoy dead and burned the warehouse where he’d hidden the press. That press came to Alton because Lovejoy’s previous one fell prey to a mob on the far side of Missouri from Parkville, at St. Louis. Nobody in Missouri could have missed that lesson, least of all Park, Patterson, and the mob that threatened them with a sequel.

The mob had one more item on its agenda. Keep in mind that by this point the initial eight men in the house have grown to two hundred surrounding it:

The destruction of the press was not the finale of that day’s proceedings. — Resolves were passed by the rioters that they would assemble in three weeks from that day, and if Park or Patterson were either found in the State, they would execute summary vengeance on them; and if they dared to settle in the Territory, they would hang them.

Leave the state, or else. Go to Kansas and we will hang you. Nice of them to provide options.

The Fuss

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Adam Fisher told the Howard Committee that he did not personally fear for his life in the face of Missourians arriving to steal the special election at Leavenworth on May 22, 1855, but he preferred to avoid “a fuss”. Thus he took the votes of anybody who offered without much questioning. His free state colleague, Matthew France, risked more in moving to challenge many. All day long Fisher and the proslavery judge, J.M. Lyle, outvoted him. Then they, or Lyle alone but with Fisher’s willful ignorance, tricked France into signing a return that declared itself consisting of the votes of lawful, resident voters. He didn’t find out for some time that they’d done so.

France knew going in, however, that civil society in Kansas had gone downhill since the March election’s massive fraud. He told the committee

There was some excitement here at that time on political subjects.

That put it mildly. The Howard Report describes the changes wrought in Kansas by the first legislative election:

The invasion of March 30th left both parties in a state of excitement, tending directly to product violence. The successful party was lawless and reckless, while assuming the name of the “Law and Order” party. The other party, at first surprised and confounded, was greatly irritated, and some resolved to prevent the success of the invasion. In some districts, as before stated, protests were sent to the governor; in others this was prevented by threats, in others by the want of time, and in others by the belief that a new election would bring a new invasion. About the same time, all classes of men commenced bearing deadly weapons about their personas-a practice which has continued to this time. Under these circumstances, a slight or accidental quarrel produced unusual violence, and lawless acts became frequent. This unhappy condition of the public mind was further increased by acts of violence in western Missouri, where, in April, a newspaper press called the Parkville Luminary was destroyed by a mob.

France’s testimony added that the election in Leavenworth took place “just after the mobbing of Phillips.”

I take these two subjects together both for the obvious reason that both come in the aftermath of the March invasion and fraud and for a point that I’ve let slide lately. The Missourians who came into Kansas did not go out of an abstract desire that Kansas have slavery, though they did prefer that. Nor did they go entirely for their own benefit as future Kansans, as so many would come and vote only to turn around and leave again the same day. Rather they understood that a free Kansas would harbor abolitionists who would come over the border and encourage their slaves to steal themselves away. With slavery already seeming precarious in a Missouri that seemed more demographically Northern every year, and the concentration of Missourian slavery right on the Kansas border, they understood the future of Kansas as directly and profoundly entangled with the future of Missouri. Furthermore, if Missouri could not maintain its slavery, then what did that say about the peculiar institution’s future in Kentucky, in half-free Maryland, or in Delaware where the free blacks outnumbered the slaves?

A line on the map might separate Missouri and Kansas, then and now, but physical and human geography tied them together. Thus one would only expect that efforts to police orthodox opinion on slavery would cross the border. The Platte County men tried as much with Frederick Starr. If proslavery Missourians could steal elections and get away with it in Kansas, surely they could now run out antislavery subversives in their own midst.

That One District of Seven, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Sixteenth District, Leavenworth, reported the only proslavery votes in the May 22, 1855 special elections. There, unlike the seven other districts, Missourians flooded in to secure the election once more. They even came by riverboat, possibly with some free state men who decided to join in the election-stealing fun. But stealing an election took more than just showing up, however much intimidation an armed mob can provide. Some of them had to go ahead and vote. This brought them up against Andrew Reeder’s judges of the election, with two of three confirmed free staters.

If things went as they did back in March, one would expect dire threats. Intransigent judges might prompt the proslavery men to attack the polling place, perhaps literally. The Leavenworth judges, Adam Fisher, Matthew France, and J.M Lyle, proved insufficiently resolute to draw retaliation. France told the Howard Committee:

The question was talked of between the judges. The decision was, as made by Lyle and Fisher, that we could do nothing else but take all the votes that were offered. No man was challenged that day, and whoever wanted to vote, voted.

and

Nothing was said about the residence of voters when they came up, at all. The election passed off quietly.

Why did they yield? France did not, testifying that he challenged voters regularly. Lyle and Fisher overruled him. Fisher, who France called a free-state man like himself,

gave, as a reason, that we should be mobbed unless we took all the votes offered.

In his own testimony, Fisher claimed an understanding of who could vote legally more in line with frontier practice and the proslavery party’s preferences. Any man with an interest in the territory could vote, whether resident or not. But regardless of that

I did not feel frightened myself, but if we had excluded the Missourians from voting I do believe there would have been a fuss.

This brought matters to the returns of the election, which the committee had before them. The paper bore France’s signature. As he signed that paper under oath, what did he have to say for himself? Back then he swore that he had a return of legal voters. Had a year of increasing strife in Kansas turned him into a radical free stater, ready to lie for the cause? Not quite:

I was under the impression that the words were scratched off when I signed it. I had scratched it off of one blank certificate, and handed it over to the other judges to be filled up, and they or the clerk filled up a certificate and handed it to me to sign, and I did so without further examination, and did not notice that it was not the same one from which I had erased the words, “by lawful resident voters,” until two months afterwards.

The other judges tricked him. A defect like having that line scratched out prompted Reeder to order new elections back in April. It might have done so again. When the committee had Fisher on hand to question, they delved into the matter with him. He declared that he signed the certificate of election without reservation but

I don’t know whether the words “by lawful resident voters” were in the certificate or not. I don’t remember whether they were in or not. […] The certificate of election appended to the poll-books in the possession of the committee seems to be like the one I signed. I do not know whether I objected to or consented to an alteration of the certificate-I did not care to have it altered myself or not.

Fisher seasoned his testimony liberally with proclamations that he didn’t know or couldn’t say with certainty one way or the other. It quickly reaches past what one might reasonably attribute to faulty memory into studied evasion. One has the impression that Fisher knew very well at the time, but took pains to ensure he could claim ignorance later. His reference to the Missourians raising a fuss may sound like something one’s grandmother might say about who got the last piece of cake, but a fuss in Kansas could mean violence. As peace and good order had not prevailed in Kansas during the year between the special election and his testimony, one can’t judge him too harshly for persisting in his cultivated ignorance.

That One District of Seven, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Six of the districts where Andrew Reeder set aside the returns of March 30, 1855 and called for a new round of voting for the Kansas legislature proceeded well enough. Nobody came over from Missouri to terrorize the voters, attack the polling place, or show off their collections of knives, guns, and cannons. One could almost think we’d left Kansas behind. But that leaves one district of the seven, at Leavenworth.

To hear some of the witnesses tell the story, nothing untoward happened there either. Amos Rees, as mentioned yesterday, insisted that “[t]he slave party took no interest in it”. Maybe Rees had the right of it with respect to Leavenworth’s local proslavery party. He could also have meant only to describe the behavior of the men who would otherwise have contested the election, not voters or proslavery men at large.

Matt France, one of the judges of the election for Leavenworth, saw something else:

There were a great many persons that voted that day, that I believe were non-residents of the Territory. I was well acquainted with the men of this district, and I had not seen those persons since, and had not seen them before. There was a boat came in that day, the name of which was “Kate Kassel.” There were some men came to the polls soon after and voted. Some voted one ticket, and some another. There were different colored tickets used that day by the different parties, so that we could distinguish them. The other strangers voted the pro-slavery ticket, which I think was of a green or bluish tint. The free-State ticket was white.

Reading this carefully, it seems that the boat delivered a mix of voters. The other strangers must refer to Missourians, the men France didn’t recognize. That would fit with a consistent proslavery vote on their part. The Kate Kassel appears to have run a normal route rather than a special charter as had happened back in March and so one would expect a diversity of voters upon it. By calling them strangers, though, France implies also that he didn’t know them. Had some free-state men gotten in on the vote fraud?

William Adams, who counts himself among the proslavery party in his testimony, appears to have thought something like that happened. He also testified that Missourians had come, whether Amos Rees saw them or not. On the Kate Kassel himself, he

saw one of the free-State candidates on the boat. I couldn’t tell what he was doing. He was on the lower deck among the hands. After that, some twenty or thirty of the deck hands came up and voted the free-State ticket. From my knowledge of the Missourians, who voted here that day, I think it was about a fair stand off.

At this point, why wouldn’t free-state men get in on the vote stealing? They knew very well that Andrew Reeder had not tossed out all the fraudulent election returns, and couldn’t bet on a second round of special elections if the Missourians struck again, so they might yield some of the moral high ground but in so doing come off with another seat or two that better represented the will of actual Kansans.

Such deeds fall short of the heroism we hope for in historical figures that have our sympathy, but the past doesn’t neatly divide into the perfectly virtuous and perfectly villainous. Election fraud, if on a far smaller scale than the Missourian’s operation in Kansas, had a long and distinguished history on the American frontier. The deeds themselves may have stunned New Englanders accustomed to more orderly exercises of the franchise, but out in the west a rougher standard more accepting of drinking, brawling, and very flexible standards of residence prevailed.

One should not take this too far, of course. Atchison went over with a band, pledged to bloody murder if necessary, but told correspondents that he refused to vote himself. Purge Kansas of antislavery men in fire and blood? Sign Bourbon Dave up. Voting? That just asked too much. One should, of course weigh this against the fact that if he had then his famous name would appear in a poll book. On a broader front than the concerns of one senator, even westerners saw what the Missourians did in Kansas as excessive.

Nichole Etcheson recounts western objections on page 60 of Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era:

A Kentuckian wrote, “How any virtuous and patriotic man can justify the lawless and armed mob of Missourians who went to Kansas to control the elections, is marvellous to me.” Another Southerner wondered “how the Missourians can expect to be sustained by any persons who have the slightest pretentions to fairness, or even to civilization.” Missouri state legislator George R. Smith publicly declared, “Important as I consider it to my own interest in slaves that Kansas should be a slave state, I would not violate the laws of my country to make it so, nor would I advise others to do so.

The Howard Committee’s summary includes reference to the Kate Kassel’s arrival and men from there voting, but doesn’t call out any of them as free-staters voting illegally. Whether they cheated or not, it hardly changed the result. William Adams might have thought the parties about even, but Leavenworth produced 560 proslavery votes to 140 for the free-state ticket. The Missourians could cheat bigger and better, even if this time around they restricted it to the one district.

The Proslavery Election Boycott

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Report told the House of Representatives that of the seven districts where Andrew Reeder, armed with evidence and formal complaints, set aside the elections of March 30, 1855 and ordered new ones, six districts conducted fair elections free from any border ruffian filibustering. Reeder’s action prompted strong objections on the proslavery side, which believed he had no power to cast out any election results. The integrity of those elections owed something to the scruples of Missourians, though not quite on the grounds that they’d subverted enough democracy for the season.

J.H. Day testified:

The candidates of the pro-slavery party considered that the governor had no right to set aside the election of the 30th of March, 1855, and order a new election; and they took but little interest, and left the people to do as they pleased about it. […] I never heard the legality and fairness of that election questioned by any one, unless in this way-that the governor had no right to order it.

William H. Adams agreed:

We did not consider that election as a legal election, as the candidates had before been elected.

As did Amos Rees:

The slave party took no interest in it, thinking that Reeder had no right to set aside the former election, and took but little interest in it; and I may and may not have voted myself.

Lucian J. Eastin had it from the proslavery candidates themselves:

I heard one of the pro-slavery candidates say, on the morning of the election, that he was not a candidate, and this was the expression of all three of the candidates-that they did not recognize the right of Governor Reeder to set aside that election, and, therefore, they considered the election was invalid.

They did have at least a narrow legal point to stand on here, but one must admit also the obvious self-interest involved. The proslavery men won their election, by whatever means, and so had no reason to consent to any attempt to run it over again. If they won, they stood only to gain what they already had. If they lost, then by participation they gave legitimacy to taking their victory away. Why snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Day, Adams, Rees, and Eastin all testified to the view from the Leavenworth district, but the fact that the Howard Committee could find no one willing to testify that other districts saw any problems with the special election suggests strongly that the border ruffians in Missouri and proslavery Kansans alike, by and large, boycotted the election.

Their boycott did not greatly help the free state cause. Free-state men went from having zero seats in the legislature to picking up six of the contested districts. This still left the proslavery men with what Nichole Etcheson calls “an overwhelming majority.” The material available in the Howard Report doesn’t give me a clear enough picture of what the reconstituted legislature would have looked like with those six of seven contested districts going over to free soil men to offer an exact whip count. Some elected more than one member of the council or the house. Others overlapped with adjacent districts that did not have their returns set aside. The data surely exists and perhaps some historian has done the work down to the person. I started the project but soon realized that it would take more time than I presently have to give it.

The proslavery party did not exert themselves greatly because they saw Reeder’s special elections as illegal. Participation would also have legitimated any possible defeat. But it further seems clear that even if they lost all the special elections, the proslavery party would still have a commanding majority. If the free staters won a few seats instead of zero seats, how would it really matter in practical terms? In light of these concerns, I defer to Etcheson’s judgment and expertise.

Did Reeder have the power to set aside elections?

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

On the sixth of April, 1855, Andrew Reeder and his armed bodyguards faced off against an equally armed gang of proslavery men and announced to them that seven of the seventeen elections that the Missourians stole from Kansans would not stand. Instead, new elections would fill those seats. As widespread, flagrant fraud characterized both of Kansas’ previous elections, surely doing the same thing all over again would solve things. But what else could Reeder have done? He took precautions beforehand and appears sincere a year later in saying that he didn’t have the evidence at the time to set aside more elections than he did. He had no army on hand to stop Missourians at the border, nor an independent and sophisticated law enforcement apparatus to safeguard the polls.

Surprisingly, it seems that the third time delivered on the proverbial charm. The Howard Committee found no illegal voting in six of the districts that went back to the polls. Kansas improved its performance from one free election in eighteen to one in seven. That success, however, came with the fact that Reeder had not set aside the other elections. The Missourian border ruffians still had their way in those districts. Furthermore, by setting any elections aside Reeder exceeded the authority that the proslavery men thought vested in him. They thought that the legislature itself judged the qualifications of its members, not the territorial executive. Back in Washington, just that rule had held since the ratification of the Constitution.

A quick scan of the Kansas-Nebraska Act does not reveal any explicit authorization for Reeder to set aside elections. He did have powers related to elections, including calling them, drawing districts, and apportioning seats, but insofar as the results of those elections come under his power, I’ve found this:

the first election shall be held at such time and places, and be conducted in such manner, both as to the persons who shall superintend such election and the returns thereof, as the Governor shall appoint and direct

[…]

The persons having the highest number of legal votes in each of said council districts for members of the Council, shall be declared by the Governor to be duly elected to the Council; and the persons having the highest number of legal votes for the House of Representatives, shall be declared by the Governor to be duly elected members of said house: Provided, That in case two or more persons voted for shall have an equal number of votes, and in case a vacancy shall otherwise occur in either branch of the Legislative Assembly, the Governor shall order a new election

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

The KansasNebraska Act did specify who counted as a legal voter and required election by a majority of legal voters, but it did not clearly vest in Reeder the power to investigate illegal voting and set aside elections where it determined the outcome. Maybe Stephen Douglas and Phillip Phillips, with the approval of Atchison, his F Street cronies, and Archibald Dixon assumed that. The law did not, however, come out and say it. By the strictest, most parsimonious reading of the law, the governor’s power over elections expired with their conclusion. He could set out oaths, despite the Missourians’ claims, and require the swearing of voters, but possibly nothing more.

This does not make for a conclusive argument. Nor did the proslavery men take it up out of disinterested legal scholarship. They further did not burden themselves with contrary facts when it came to claiming that the Kansas-Nebraska Act authorized their cross-border voting. Even the more legally scrupulous often contented themselves with a fake claim or the argument that their presence that instant in Kansas counted as legal residence with intent to remain, conveniently ignoring then their conscious design to leave immediately after the election.

In this case, however, they appear to have really believed that Reeder had no such power. By setting aside elections, he had transgressed on their rights and stripped from them the essential power of white men in the white man’s democracy to elect their government to chart their future. Before now, they might have thought Reeder a secret abolitionist for his attempted neutrality. Now the governor had gone and proved it to any who still required proof. Kansas got at least some fair elections, but they came at the inevitable cost of further aggravating the proslavery party by taking away some of its late triumphs.

Contesting Andrew Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

We left Andrew Reeder setting aside elections in seven of the seventeen districts where illegal voting took place. The fourth of April deadline, coming so soon after the thirtieth of March elections, didn’t make for a great deal of time to gather the necessary ten witnesses, draw up papers, and deliver them in order to contest the outcomes. Given such a highly visible process and the threats of Missourians on the ground on election day, many Kansans probably chose the better part of valor regardless. A few testified that they did when the Howard Committee came through the next year.

Reeder’s testimony sheds light on both his choices:

About the time fixed as the return day for that election a majority of the persons returned as elected assembled at Shawnee Mission and Westport, and remained several days, holding private caucuses at both places. I had frequent conversations with them, and they strenuously denied my right to go behind the returns made by the judges of the election, or investigate in any way the legality of the election. A committee called upon me and presented a paper, signed by twenty-three or twenty-four of them, to the same effect. Threats of violence against my person and life were freely afloat in the community, and the same threats were reported to me as having been made by members elect in their private caucus.

Some context here: Westport and Shawnee Mission both form parts of the Kansas City metropolitan area today. Especially given the proximity, the fact that the proslavery men sometimes chose to hold their meetings in Missouri seems a tad unsubtle. One supposes that now and then they preferred to meet closer to home. The council of Kansas would had thirteen seats and the Kansas House twenty-six. Thus a petition signed by twenty-four members amounted to 60.54% of the whole legislature.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

At least the proslavery men behaved themselves. They had a peaceful dispute with Reeder over the extent of his legal authority which they would resolve, if necessary, by murdering him. This attitude toward dissent has a long pedigree, then and now, in American history. The white man’s democracy, in a slave state, included the freedom to do most anything you wanted to any black person you could afford or come up with a good excuse for, and quite nearly as much to any white man who dissented from slavery. That ended for the whites more often in their leaving town in a hurry, often after a violent attack, seizure, and disfiguring public humiliations like tar and feathering than outright death but one got the message all the same.

Reeder insisted that he simply did not have the information he needed to set aside the other elections in good conscience, though he had of course learned by the time he testified. He had no filings or facts put before him at the time, so they had to stand. Furthermore, he insisted that five days sufficed for a deadline as the farthest-flung settlements in Kansas took only three days to reach from his office. I believe him, but find it hard to set aside the influence of persistent death threats on his thinking. Maybe he had ice water in his veins, but few people put on a show of so much sangfroid without it taking a real psychological toll.

The governor took precautions. He got together a few friends to take with him to the meeting where he would announce his decision on the contested elections. They met on the sixth of April, 1855:

Upon one side of the room were arrayed the members elect, nearly if not quite all armed, and on the other side about fourteen of my friends, who, with myself, were also well armed.

Armed, mutually hostile bands of men in a room together to hear about the very thing that set them against one another. Sounds positively relaxing, doesn’t it? The expected violence scene from a western did not then erupt. The seven districts would have their new elections on May 22, 1855. Surely nothing would go wrong then.

Contesting the Elections

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The Missourians stole the Kansas legislature from the Kansans, antislavery or otherwise. Andrew Reeder saw them coming. It would have been hard to miss them, in fact, considering he had himself talked with at least one future questionable voter. Nichole Etcheson relates this story from back in late 1854 in Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Missouri men had come over to press for a quick legislative election so they could consolidate their early lead in settlement:

When Reeder quizzed the delegation’s leader, F. Gwinner, about his place of residence, Gwinner claimed to live on Salt Creek in Kansas Territory. “Do you live in a house?” Reeder asked. No, Gwinner demurred, he had no house but had located a claim. “I believe I have your residence in my pocket-book,” Reeder replied, pulling from his wallet a playing card marked “Gwinner’s Claim-Oct. 21, 1854. Like many other Missourians, Gwinner had marked his claim by nailing the card to a tree while continuing to live in Missouri. Reeder’s secretary had found the card while hunting. When Gwinner admitted owning the card, a three of diamonds, Reeder teased him, “Why your card was rather low-some fellow might have come along with the four of diamonds, and jumped your claim.” The governor and his guests enjoyed a good laugh and parted amicably.

Gwinner might have come to live in Kansas permanently before the election, of course. Reeder couldn’t then know for sure. At the time, one could laugh. Nobody had a gun drawn on them, a cabin stormed, or decapitation threatened yet. After the delegate election, things may not have seemed so funny. The March elections would have taken more humor still from the situation and subsequent events would have left only a grim residue for most Kansans of the day.

Reeder placed his hopes in appointing two free state to one proslavery judge of election in districts where he expected Missourians. The governor overestimated Missourian scruples. He testified:

an invading force from Missouri entered the Territory for the purpose of voting, which, although it had been openly threatened, far exceeded my anticipations.

A panel of election judges could hold against dozens of Missourians. I speculated, based on the testimony of William Barbee, that Reeder may not have found all the free staters he hoped to take those posts. Etcheson has a J.W. Reid informing a correspondent

I learn that a larger portion of the Judges are friendly to us, unknown to Reeder.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

She cites papers I don’t have access to so I can’t dig in and see if Reid named Barbee as a principal here, but it seems likely.

Even if Reeder had the judges he thought he had, the might hold against dozens of Missourians. Hundreds, in some cases north of a thousand, swept them easily aside. But Reeder had another weapon at his disposal. In his proclamation of the election he reserved right to set aside contested elections:

In case any persons shall desire to contest the election in any district of the Territory, they shall make a written statement, directed to the governor, setting forth the particular precinct or district they intend to contest, the candidates whose election they dispute, and the specific causes of complaint in the conduct or return of the said election; which complaint shall be signed by not less than ten qualified voters of the Territory, and with affidavit of one or more such voters to the truth of the facts set forth therein. Such written statement must be presented to the governor at his office on or before the fourth day of April, A.D. 1855; and if it shall appear that the result of the election in any council district might be changed by said contest, a day will be fixed for hearing the same.

That sounds simple enough. If problems arose, deliver notice to Reeder and he would look into things. But the elections took place on March 30th and one had only until April 4th to get together ten witnesses, draw up a document, and get it to Reeder. Testimony indicates that in some districts, Missourians lingered for a day or so after the election. Given their behavior during the election, few would leap to the chance to provoke them. Then one has to account for travel time in a relatively undeveloped territory and the difficulty one might have in gathering ten men willing to swear to Missourian malfeasance, a worryingly conspicuous task in sparsely populated areas where everyone might soon know one another by sight and quickly learned one another’s business. In some districts, Missourians threatened the lives of anybody who seemed likely to contest.

Reeder could have set aside all the elections, but between intimidation, poor infrastructure, and a tight deadline he received notices only from the First (“the words “by lawful resident voters” were stricken from the return”), Second (oath administered by an unauthorized person), Third (“material erasures from the printed form of the oath were purposely made”), Fourth (same as the Third), Seventh (judges not sworn at all), Eleventh (election held by voice vote rather than ballot), and Sixteenth Districts (“by lawful residents” stricken from the returns).

Although fraud and force in other districts was equally great as in these, yet, as the governor had no information in regard to them, he issued certificates according to the returns.

Out of seventeen districts with fraudulent outcomes, only those seven had their results set aside and new elections ordered.

First Impressions of Foner’s Class

I thought that I might comment on the online course experience from time to time.

Signing up proved painless. It appears sections shall see weekly release, each containing a lecture by Foner broken up into five to ten minute segments. These pretty clearly date to last year and come straight from his classroom, unlike the more scripted video of him talking to the camera about the class. After each section comes a question based on its content. They’re multiple choice questions geared more toward making you aware of how much attention you paid, rather than real tests. I would have liked it more to sit through the full hour or so of Foner in one go, but suppose I shall survive.

I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Foner deliver a talk. He does it well and with all the charm one would hope for. He told some good jokes. On the subject of his role as historical adviser in a Broadway flop about the Civil War, he noted that the critics objected to the music and the choreography, but nobody criticized it for historical inaccuracy.

The inclusion of images Foner showed the class, many of which one can also view on the course website, really helped. If you haven’t watched or listened to David Blight’s course it bears doing, but none of his materials make it into the video. You have to take his word for it or find them yourself.

The first lecture covered the usual introductory ground. I don’t know if I picked up much new from it, as expected from an introduction, but I always enjoy seeing historians drawing meaning out of sources and he did as great a job as one would expect dissecting a painting of a stump speech in Missouri.

On a shallow level, and fully aware of my own receding hairline, I also appreciated Foner’s comb over. For some reason I had also assigned him roughly the voice of a friend of mine from Virginia, which made the contrast with his actual New York accent.

After the first segment I looked into the readings and found that I’d have to buy the books. I expected something like that, though I held out some hope for online texts. I broke from my custom in the interests of economy (I just ordered Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told today as well.) and opted for ebooks. That option did not exist for Gienapp’s The Civil War And Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection so I will have to miss out on it for now. Fortunately nineteenth century documents of historical import appear online frequently. Unfortunately, the suggested readings work by page number rather than title. As a nice bonus, I already own Foner’s book on Lincoln and slavery. I may see about getting a copy of Gienapp before the end of the course, but it looks like it’s nearly out of print and pricey.

The terms of service include some language about not sharing content from the course. I don’t know if that would extend to the full reading list, but it may. Instead I’ll just note that it includes a book by David Brion Davis on slavery that I planned to read anyway, a survey of the 1850s that I had not heard of, and a promising-sounding book on counterrevolutionary ideology in South Carolina. …and I have a lot of reading to do in the next two weeks.

I opted not to participate in the discussion section, at least for now. I skimmed through it, but the interface left a bit to be desired and my antisocial habits won out. At the end came a quiz with more real content on it. I received nine out of ten because I misplaced an Oscar Wilde quote. Sorry about that, Gentle Readers.