The Governor’s Land Deals, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The occasion of Andrew Reeder’s suspension, officially for his land speculations, seems like a good time to delve back into that matter. Not coincidentally, I also found some useful documents on the subject. I hope to provide more detail than I could previously. I found the documents in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 5Said volume could benefit from a more modern organization, but one can’t complain too much about a compilation from the 1880s.

The collection starts off with a letter, dated June 1855, from Reeder to Commissioner Manypenny of Indian Affairs. He reminded Manypenny of contracts for the sale of four tracts of land owned by the Kaw, drawn up on January 10, 1855, and submitted for Manypenny’s approval.

These contracts were, for convenience sake, made in the name of Judge Johnston, but it was well understood that Judge Elmore, Colonel Isacks and myself were equally interested.

Isacks lost his commission over these deals.

Manypenny looked the contracts over and reported to Franklin Pierce, dated January 15. He

recommended that these contracts be not confirmed; you allude to them as “disreputable attempts of certain official functionaries to speculate in these lands”; you characterize them as “having a demoralizing tendency upon the inhabitants of the territory, both Indians and whites”; you state that “these purchases are the result of a systematic plan to forestall competition in the purchase and monopoly, at low prices, of these reserves”; you undertake to quote from an indorse as “entitled to the fullest credit” a letter, in which it is said that the grantors have been “cheated,” and, at the close of your report, you say that they “disclose a condition of things among the federal officers which, if not rebuked, must soon produce a state of demoralization in the territory, the effects of which must be as lamentable as the acts themselves are disgraceful.

Reeder further noted that Manypenny spread the governor’s fame by ensuring that the report saw publication by the House of Representatives and thus saw general circulation. One can imagine Reeder’s delight at the nation learning of his disreputable attempts to cheat people. But we need not imagine; Reeder told us.

Under other circumstances the law and the logic of your report would make a beautiful and amusing theme, but matters of graver import exclude the discussion. You have thus raised an issue between yourself on the one hand, and myself and three of the territorial officers on the other, which must be settled, not in a corner, but in the full blaze of day and before the whole public; and it is no less grave a question than, whether on the one hand we are dishonest, dishonorable men, guilty of revolting fraud, or whether, on the other, you are a vile and unscrupulous slanderer, who does not recognize the binding obligations of truth and justice, or the sacredness of private character. You have publicly and deliberately asserted the one side of that issue, and I now as deliberately assert the other, and before I am done with you, sir, I intend to do with my assertion what you have not attempted to do, and cannot do with yours-establish it by competent proof.

One can get the impression of a bumbling, well-intentioned naif from Reeder. In office for the first time, he alone believed in popular sovereignty and wanted it to have a fair shake. His inexperience speaks for itself, even if seasoned statesmen did no better after his removal. The same man, however, could draw a pistol when attacked. He may very well have written the above in the knowledge that Manypenny, “the vile and unscrupulous slanderer,” could take it as a challenge and show up with his own gun to settle matters.

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