Returning to Kansas Empty-Handed

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder set off for Washington, hoping to secure proclamations against election-stealing Missourian border ruffians, instructions for federal officials in Kansas to oppose them, and publicity for their outrages on the white man’s democracy. If he could get it, he would also take orders for the military to step in and preserve order. Two weeks of consultation produced from Franklin Pierce only condemnations of antislavery agitation and a promise that if he fired Reeder, he would do it on account of Reeder’s land dealings rather than his stand in favor of clean elections. Pierce’s response came from his own disposition, his likely personal impotence within the adminstration, the hard political environment it faced given the Democracy’s losses in the 1854 elections, and deep-rooted ideological commitments. Reeder might not have known that at the time, given his own political inexperience, but he asked far more than most presidents would care to give in such circumstances.

Reeder left his family behind in Pennsylvania and returned to Kansas, arriving on June 24. While the KansasNebraska Act designated Fort Leavenworth as the territory’s temporary capital, Reeder had the authority to call the legislature where he liked. The law also granted him the finances to make his decision a reality:

That there shall hereafter be appropriated, as has been customary for the territorial governments, a sufficient amount, to be expended under the direction of the said Governor of the Territory of Kansas, not exceeding the sums heretofore appropriated for similar objects, for the erection of suitable public buildings at the seat of government, and for the purchase of a library, to be kept at the seat of government for the use of the Governor, Legislative Assembly, Judges of the Supreme Court, Secretary, Marshal, and Attorney of said Territory, and such other persons, and under such regulations, as shall be prescribed by law.

That revenue would go a long way out on the frontier, and draw other money along with it when the legislators all arrived and needed lodging, food, and facilities. The value of any nearby land would wax accordingly. The people of Kansas’ various towns thus had an intense personal interest, completely aside any political concerns, in where Reeder would locate the seat of government. They had lobbied accordingly, as Reeder testifies in the Howard Report:

About the time of the decision of the returns of the election the members elect then assembled requested that I should convene them at the Shawnee Mission, which I could not consent to do, inasmuch as the Pawnee Association had already expended considerable money in the erection of their building, and because I did not consider the Shawnee Mission a suitable place for their meeting.

Reeder doesn’t say, but one wonders if they asked him at that tense meeting where he announced setting aside some of the elections from March. He then resided at Shawnee Mission and there

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.

William Phillips

William Phillips

One can’t blame Reeder for a reluctance to transact business there, especially as almost anything he would likely do with the overwhelmingly proslavery legislature stood a strong chance of only further aggravating them against him. Did he want to end up like William Phillips? The Mission did not sit all that far from Westport, after all. To reach Pawnee, one had to traverse the settled length of Kansas. This had to seem like a better choice.

That said, many other communities in Kansas could have served just as well. Reeder insisted on the thriving metropolis of Pawnee instead, which a year later receives this stirring recommendation in the Howard Report:

There are about three houses in Pawnee now; two of them owned by me, and one by the association. Two of them are not occupied, and one is occupied by the chaplain of the military post there.

Even without foreknowledge that Reeder involved himself in land speculation, on would have to find his fixation on Pawnee decidedly odd.

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