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.

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