Achieving Consensus

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder opened the first session of Kansas’ territorial legislature with a speech imploring the members to set aside their differences and work together for the good of all Kansans. It sounds very much like the speech any politician would give in such a situation. The legislators gave him the usual polite applause and took seriously his plea for sober judgment and achieving consensus. They began by taking up the most divisive matter they could, but one which had to have a solution before they could proceed much further. Between the special elections of May 22 and the regular elections of March 30, the Kansas House and Council had ten free soil members. Or did it?

From the March elections onward, the proslavery party refused to recognize any power vested in Reeder to set aside any elections. They maintained that the legislature itself had the power to judge the credentials of its members, not the governor. To them, anybody who won a special election in May but had not won the regular election in March also had simply stolen the seat of the rightful victor. They could not stand for that and would not lend such electoral fraud legitimacy by accepting even a minority of such members.

But these men, even if some of them published death threats in their newspapers, lived in the civilized nineteenth century. They could deal with fellow white men as gentlemen and cordially invited the ten free soilers to resign. The free soilers refused. But say they had not. Who would take their places?

In case of vacancy in the legislature, Andrew Reeder had the power to call for new elections. Actual vacancy, especially one that involved an absent free soil vote, would surely provoke no protests from the proslavery party about the governor abusing his power or exceeding his authority. It transpired, however, that Andrew Reeder already had called those elections. This occurred back in March, when every seat in the legislature stood vacant. In populating it for the first time, he had already decided who belonged in each office.

Or so petitions received by the legislature suggested. I have this by way of Etcheson, who cites volume five of Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society. Given the apparent wealth of sources therein, I wish I’d checked earlier to see if I could get a copy.

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

The report of the Committee on Credentials begins on page 180 (186 in the PDF) and states the issue quite clearly. For the Council:

elections were held throughout the territory, and returns made to the governor, who chose to regard the elections held in the second and third districts for councilmen as illegal and void, and issued a second proclamation, ordering elections to be again held in those districts on the 22d day of May last, and granted to J.A. Wakefield and Jesse Wood certificates of election, by virtue and in consequence of which they now hold seats as members of this body.

Gentle readers, you might remember Wakefield from the two past elections. Both (parts 1, 2) times (parts 1, 2, 3) he had brushes with proslavery violence. The poor guy could use a break. He didn’t get one:

Andrew McDonald, by a communication addressed to the president of the council, dated July 2d, 1855, contests the right of J.A. Wakefield to a seat in this body, because, as he says, at the election held in the second council district, on the 30th day of March, 1855, he received a majority of the legal votes cast for councilman.

A Hiram J. Strickler contested Jesse Wood’s seat on the same grounds.

In the House, literally under the same windowless and doorless Pawnee roof, faced the same problem. The men who won in March simply did not accept subsequent losses in May. That meant that either way, the legislature would exclude men who had won elections for their seats. Someone had to win and someone had to lose.

The proslavery majorities wasted no time picking their winners and losers. With the exception of Samuel D. Houston, who had won back in March, the committees found every free soiler owed his seat to an irregular election and so voted to expel him. In their places came the proslavery men elected by fraud back in March.

The House committee complained about the haste, as the whole business consumed all of two days:

The foregoing, your committee know, is very imperfect; but the shortness of the time allowed to investigate the subject referred to them did not admit of a more thorough and comprehensive report thereon.

The Kansas legislature concluded its business of expelling the men elected in relatively free elections and replacing them with those elected in blatant frauds on the Fourth of July, 1855. But they had achieved a consensus. In fact, they did Reeder one better and approached unanimity. All of one free soil man still held his seat at the end of the day.

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