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.

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