The Election Returns

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

We’ve run out of districts and so concluded examining the testimony of witnesses to the Howard Committee regarding the Kansas legislature election of March 30, 1855. What did all of this come down to? Obviously, everywhere except in the Seventeenth District, proslavery forces came over from Missouri and voted, often in very large numbers relative to the number of qualified voters in the district. They came armed. They threatened violence. They carried out some of those threats, to the point of attacking free-State men, taking others hostage, and storming polling places. They would not even let known proslavery Kansans choose their own tickets, but instead imposed their choices upon Kansas. David Rice Atchison, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, and companies numbering in the thousands organized by their self-defense associations and blue lodges, and funded by well-heeled Missourian slaveholders trespassed so clearly and imperiously on the right of white men to their republic and self-government that they even alienated some of their fellow travelers.

The Howard Committee told the House

Of the 2,905 voters named in the census rolls, 831 are found on the poll-books. Some of the settlers were prevented from attending the election by the distance of their homes from the polls, but the real majority were deterred by the  open avowal that large bodies of armed Missourians would be at the polls to vote, and by the fact that they did so appear and control the election. The same causes deterred the free-State settlers from running candidates in several districts, and in others induced the candidates to withdraw.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

But did that matter? The Missourians won no friends when they came and stole the election for delegate, but by stealing it for John Whitfield, they only delivered the outcome that the Kansans themselves apparently preferred to the degree they cared at all. Working backwards from their testimony, surviving poll books (The sets for the Second and Eighth Districts had gone missing.), and the census rolls, the Committee reported

If the election had been confined to the actual settlers, undeterred by the presence of non-residents, or the knowledge that they would be present in numbers sufficient to outvote them, the testimony indicates that the council would have been composed of seven in favor of making Kansas a free State, elected from the 1st, 2nd, 3d, 4th, and 6th council districts. The result of the 8th and 10th, electing three members, would have been doubtful, and the 5th, 7th, and 9th would have elected three pro-slavery members.

The KansasNebraska Act set the size of the territorial council, which it had in the place of a Senate, at thirteen. Even giving the proslavery side every dubious district this would leave a council with a seven to six majority in favor of a free Kansas. That one vote majority might not have instantly abolished slavery and appropriated funds for secret abolitionist militias to invade Missouri and steal its slaves, perhaps with a few elections since they came across anyway, but even the worst case outcome makes for at least a slight antislavery victory.

The territory also had a House of Representatives with twenty-six seats:

Under like circumstances the House of Representatives would have been composed of fourteen members in favor of making Kansas a free State, elected from the 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th districts.

The results in the 12th and 14th representative districts, electing five members, would have been doubtful; and the 1st, 6th, 11th, and 15th districts would have elected seven pro-slavery members.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

That makes fourteen free state members to, repeating the previous generosity and giving every disputed seat to the proslavery side, twelve proslavery representatives. Again the free state party has at least a small majority, at absolute worst, and perhaps a more substantial one. Stealing the territorial delegate election annoyed Kansans, outraged them over the principle of self-government, and set them against the Missourians to some degree, but John Wilkins Whitfield would not shape the territory from his post in Washington. The legislature right there in Kansas clearly would and they had not chosen it. The Missourians took that task for themselves and delivered this verdict:

By the election as conducted, the pro-slavery candidates in every district but the 8th representative district received a majority of the votes; and several of them, both in the council and house, did not “reside in” and were not “inhabitants of” the district for which they were elected, as required by the organic law.

Injury alone would not suffice. Virtual unanimity in the legislature elected by their fraudulent votes did not suffice. The Missourians did not rest until they added the customary insult in the persons not only of illegal voters, but blatantly illegal officeholders. So much for Stephen Douglas’ hopes for popular sovereignty.

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