Suspending the Governor

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

With Samuel D. Houston gone, the Kansas legislature at last had the perfect unanimity for which it had long yearned. It could continue along passing proslavery laws and doing as it liked, overriding Andrew Reeder’s veto every time. The Assembly soon received still more glad tidings, as reported in the Herald of Freedom for the twenty-first of July, 1855:

It is reported that Gov. Reeder, on arriving at the Shawnee Mission, on Monday last, found a letter from Secretary Marcy, informing him that he was suspended. A meaner act, we conceive, was never consummated by any administration. Frank Pierce, for that act, deserves the detestation of every American citizen. Without manliness to ascribe his motive to its real cause, he pretends it was done for the Governor’s speculations in Kaw lands.

Reeder’s consultations with the president back in early summer made it clear that the Herald of Freedom had the right of it. Regardless of Reeder’s land speculations, Pierce’s real problem involved how the governor would not throw in wholeheartedly with the proslavery party in Kansas. He actually believed in popular sovereignty and wanted to give it a fair shake.

The Herald went on to argue that Reeder acted entirely properly, and for the good of Kansas as well as for his own pockets. Furthermore, no deal on the lands would have proceeded absent agreement from the Indian agent and presidential ratification:

it was agreed to convey certain lands to the above parties for $3 an acre, as soon as the bargain should be sanctioned by the Indian agent, and ratified by the President. Until this was done, it was no contract. The Indian agent has never sanctioned the agreement, neither has it been submitted to the President for his approval-consequently no harm has or can accrue to any one in consequence of the negotiations which passed between Gov. Reeder and his friends on the one hand, and the Indians on the other.

Pierce suspended Reeder for a crime that he not only knew Reeder had not committed, but which Reeder could not have committed without Pierce’s approval. Furthermore, the Herald of Freedom insisted, the deal would have worked out well for Kansas at large rather than just lining Andrew Reeder’s pockets:

The lands all around there could be bought from government for #1,25 an acre, but because persons could not reach the river with their produce they have been induced to settle in other localities. We were over these lands a few weeks ago and found them as valuable as any in the Territory, and yet they are entirely passed by, for the very good reason that there is no certainty of their having a market in the future on the river.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The lands in question ran between two Indian reservations, on which white men could not legally tread. One couldn’t simply go around. By buying the lands up, Reeder could open them to white settlement and everyone, excepting the Indians, would win.

Even that did not suffice. The Herald of Freedom informed its readers that Pierce ambushed the governor:

The governor visited Washington, and was in consultation with the President and heads of departments for three weeks. Not a word was whispered to Governor Reeder about his offending. The Governor gets ready to return to the scene of his labors, but at the unusual hour of near midnight a letter is put into his hands stating that certain explanations are wanted. The Governor replies hastily, and promises a statement in full, on his arrival in Kansas. A prominent member of the cabinet in the mean-time, away down in Mississippi, charges Gov. Reeder with being an Abolitionist, and intimates that he is probably removed for that cause.

Reeder and Pierce discussed his land deals during the governor’s visit to Washington. He left with an understanding that if dismissal came, Pierce would cite the land as his cause. But the business with the midnight letter does look rather suspicious. Pierce might have meant it as a final hint for the inexperienced governor that he should resign on his own, which Reeder simply missed. Or it might have come at such a time so that it would remain unanswered while Reeder traveled.

Andrew Reeder would not long remain in office, suspended or otherwise.

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