The Last Free State Man, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The Legislative Assembly of Kansas, now relocated to Shawnee Mission, tried to go about its business. Andrew Reeder vetoed every bill they passed on the grounds that unless they met in Pawnee, they simply did not constitute a legal body competent to make laws. This did not convince the Assembly, which overrode each of his vetoes. It did, however go some way toward convincing Samuel D. Houston to quit the Kansas House. The majority could not very well remove him and maintain their position that only Reeder’s special elections drew their wrath. By the rules they invented to get rid of the other free state members, Houston had his seat fair and square:

Elected as I was by more than a threefold vote over my pro-slavery opponent, a gentleman of intelligence and ability

Houston knew going in that the majority would make trouble. Like everybody else in Kansas, he had not missed the massive fraud in the March elections. But he had stuck with it, submitting a minority report dissenting from the purge of his free state fellows and continuing on with the legislature to the Shawnee Manual Labor School and through most of July because

I felt that I could not honorably disregard the interests and wishes of my constituents while there remained any just ground on which I could retain my seat. This fact caused me to continue in a position from which, ordinarily, in the circumstances, I should have retired on the reception of my certificate.

Resigning would deny his supporters the representation of their choosing, paradoxically making him guilty of the same denial of their free choice that the Border Ruffians practiced. But that odd situation aside, Houston stuck with the House knowing its faults in the name of practicality:

The pressing necessities of our people in this wilderness land, destitute as we are in a great measure of wholesome laws, organizations, and all those varied benefits which result from a well regulated, civil arrangement, I felt disposed to pass over much that was clearly illegal; but I am fully convinced that, bad as it is to be without law, it is far preferable to an organization effected at the sacrifice of all that is just and noble in individual position, and all that is grand, fundamental and distinguishing in American principles.

Any government beats no government, but Kansas had the option of good government too. Houston pronounced himself ready to make many small sacrifices of principle, but only so far.

In a representative government like ours, many things may and should be passed over; but there is a point beyond which we cannot go without the most servile surrender of all our rights and liberties.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison

Those little sacrifices add up, until a mass of technicalities can overwhelm the whole. Houston reached the limit of his tolerance and called it quits. One can anticipate Houston’s reasons from prior posts well enough, but I think it best to look into the specifics rather than construct a generic antislavery man and project him on each historical figure. Doing that would very much mislead us with regard to many of them, especially in a place like Kansas where the lines often blur.

Andrew Reeder came to the territory loudly advertising his proslavery bona fides, but once present made himself deeply obnoxious to the proslavery party. Yet that did not make him an antislavery man like an Abraham Lincoln or a William Lloyd Garrison. Rather his commitment to popular sovereignty pushed him into alignment against the proslavery Missourians who violated its cardinal tenet, to his mind, of Kansas for the Kansans.

However, delving into Houston’s reasons just now would make for a much longer post. Instead they shall come tomorrow.


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