Quitting Pawnee

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder summoned the legislature across the length of settled Kansas to the middle of nowhere. They found at Pawnee that they would sleep in tents. Their capitol building had neither windows nor doors. The proslavery majority preferred the comforts of home. This, not coincidentally, meant somewhere within walking distance of Missouri. Reeder’s efforts to enlist them in his land scheme did nothing to induce them to stay. Thus the legislature first took before it achieving unanimity by expelling the antislavery members and then moved to the next most pressing matter: getting themselves out of Pawnee. Instead, they would convene at the Shawnee Mission.

They wrote and passed a bill moving the seat of government. It went to Reeder, who returned it with his veto and a message explaining why. He focused not on the money he stood to lose, at least for purposes of the official message, but rather on a provision he considered “peculiarly objectionable”:

It provides “that, until the seat of government is located by law, the governor and secretary of state (by which is doubtless meant the secretary of the territory) shall respectively keep their offices at the Shawnee manual labor school.”

That amounted to telling the federally appointed executive what to do and where to go. Reeder maintained that his authority came from Congress. The Legislative Assembly had no rightful power to dictate where he transacted business.

Then things get complicated. The Assembly designated their seat at Shawnee a temporary location. Reeder argued that they had no such power, as Congress had already set a temporary seat of government back in the Kansas-Nebraska Act:

SEC. 31.And be it further enacted, That the seat of government of said Territory is hereby located temporarily at Fort Leavenworth; and that such portions of the public buildings as may not be actually used and needed for military purposes, may be occupied and used, under the direction of the Governor and Legislative Assembly, for such public purposes as may be required under the provisions of this act.

But it further vested in Reeder the power to choose where the legislature should first meet. Thus this bill could constitute a further usurpation of his authority. If the legislature declined to meet where he summoned them, had they not acted in defiance of the law?

They could only get around this by declaring a permanent seat of government, which they had not done. Reeder granted that the legislature had such an authority and, barring a veto from him on different grounds, he must abide by any such law passed. However, the Kansas-Nebraska Act specifically required his concurrence to set a permanent seat. That meant, at least arguably, that the Assembly could not override Reeder’s veto on such a bill.

Reeder devoted most of his veto message, which I found in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Socieety, Volume 5, to these technicalities. But the final paragraph raises other issues:

I may add that I cannot perceive the expediency of the bill. Its effect will be at once to adjourn your present session to the place mentioned, and whilst I am prepared to admit that the legislative assembly are satisfied of the existence of sufficient reasons for this step, those reasons are not apparent or convincing to me; and on the other hand, it is the loss of the time (more valuable because limited) which our organic law allots to the legislative session, and because it will involve a pecuniary loss, in view of the arrangements which have been made at this place for our accommodation.

Those arrangements, remember, constituted tents and a building open to the weather. The members of the Assembly cooked their own food over open fires. Who stood to lose money on a relocated legislature? Not so much the territory, but Andrew Reeder and his fellow investors in Pawnee.

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