The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When Andrew Reeder convened the legislature of Kansas at Pawnee on the second of July, 1855, in the middle of nowhere and in a building that lacked windows and doors, he can’t have expected manly hugs and mutual affirmations to define their working relationship. Almost everything Reeder had done in the territory alienated the proslavery party, which considered him an abolitionist. They had not shied away, at least in private but in ways that soon reached Reeder, threatened his life. Reeder took the matter seriously enough to have armed guards when he announced setting aside some of the stolen March elections and to leave his family in Pennsylvania when he returned to Kansas. But he had a job to do, and might have hoped that plying legislators with discounted shares in the Pawnee town association would sufficiently lubricate things.  The proslavery men did, after all, still have an overwhelming majority in the Kansas Council and House of Representatives.

If Reeder had any such hopes, he can’t have taken seriously much of what reached his ears. For that matter, the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, under editors John H. Stringfellow (Benjamin’s brother, and a member-elect of the Kansas House.) and Robert Kelley (Who liked to tell people that he learned printing and hatred of Yankees in Boston.), devoted part of their April 3 issue to Reeder and celebrating their victories. The paper, boasting circulation over two thousand and declaring both “The Union – It Must Be Preserved” and “The South, and her Institutions” had this to say about the governor:

In forwarding to the Judges of the Election the names of the legal voters in this District, Gov. Reeder was careful to put on the list the name of no person south of Independence creek. Out of two hundred citizens of Atchison, we could not find one recorded upon that paper. Even we, who have not been out of the territory since the election of Whitfield, were not honored with a place on that precious document; but, through the kindness of the judges, we were allowed to deposit a vote in the same box that received the tickets of those whom the Governor appointed to do the entire voting of the District.

That all sounds very partisan and corrupt but, even if true, the paper reports that the facilities in place to fix the problem worked just fine. Given that the author knew that very well, this scans as more like a preemptive defense of the election stealing: of course the list of votes doesn’t match the census or poll books, Reeder cut them off the rolls! Nobody in Atchison would require such excuses, or fall for them, but people elsewhere in the country might. Immediately after boasting about their circulation numbers, the editors asked for support from the South at large for a year or two. A newspaper man has to eat, after all.

JH Stringfellow

John Stringfellow

Lest anybody think the Squatter Sovereign took this imagined partiality as the cost of doing business, or endured it without complaint, the article immediately shifts to direct condemnation:

Such partiality in the Governor of a State or Territory is of too serious a nature to be permitted to pass unnoticed. if the present Administration does not look into the actions of this WORTHY official-judge him according to his works, and mete out his punishment accordingly, we shall be forced to admit, as has been charged, that it is as UNJUST and DISHONEST, as Reeder is ROTTEN and CORRUPT!

One wonders what the Pierce administration could possibly have done to make proslavery men feel betrayed, after handing them the Missouri Compromise repeal. Possibly Stringfellow or Kelley held a torch for Cuba. They might have also recalled the administration’s early embrace of keeping the compromise in place and resistance to the repeal plan, but those positions came and went quickly over the course of barely a week a year prior and ended with an outcome that the Sovereign’s editors personally enjoyed every day. People have held political resentments for less, if often in the course of expressing other and more serious grievances.

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