The Lawrence Convention: Resolutions, Part Two

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

We left the Lawrence convention of free state Kansans with its grievance stated and its first few resolutions. These addressed fellow Kansans, urging them to set aside other issues and unite on the slavery question, but also struck a conciliatory note toward the Missourians who might invade to stop them by pledging that they had no designs to meddle with the Show Me State’s slavery. For matters within Kansas bounds, the convention had less conciliation in mind and more resistance. They did not and would not view the bogus legislature as a legitimate body and thus would not feel any obligation to follow its laws. Legally elected members should resign their posts to emphasize that and further deny the legislature to meet in Pawnee its legitimacy.

They did had more still to say. If the Missourians would not accept Kansas for the Kansans

in reply to the threats of war so frequently made in our neighboring State, our answer is, WE ARE READY.

Bring it on, Missouri. At this point they adopt a course reaching beyond mere passive resistance. The free state men declared themselves ready to fight. As resolutions themselves don’t shoot guns or throw punches, they laid out a more affirmative program:

Kansas has a right to, and does hereby invoke the aid of the general government against the lawless course of the slavery propaganda with reference to this Territory.

I don’t know what they expected Franklin Pierce and his very southern cabinet to do, even if they somehow prodded him to action without Jefferson Davis there to twist his arm. But they did try. If they flirted with revolution in declaring themselves unbound by territorial law, then they also reached out through more official channels for help. Maybe they only meant to give cover to their resistance, falling back on the claim that they had tried to do things the proper way and found the government deaf to their pleas. But if Pierce did stir himself to beneficial action, so much the better.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

That said, nobody waited on the president. The free staters set themselves to organization building:

a Free State Central Committee be appointed, and that each election district shall be entitled to one member, and each district having two councilmen, shall be entitled to two members.

This committee might have come out of the resolutions meant as the nucleus of a political party, but it could easily transform itself into more. The proslavery party had its blue lodges in Missouri from the very start, but their opponents could build organs in Kansas itself to work through.

More than the convention-goers recognized the potential for such an organization. This notice ran immediately beneath the resolutions in the June 30 Herald of Freedom:

We regret to learn that measures were taken by a few persons on Wednesday evening last, to organize the Democratic party in this Territory. Such a movement can result in no good to any one, but may do much damage. There is but one issue pending in Kansas, and that issue must be settled before others are precipitated upon us. The movement looks to us like an effort to suppress the public will, and we hope it will not be successful.

While Democrats might have a passively proslavery ideology, that did not make every Democrat a slavery enthusiast. Nor did every free state man in Kansas feel a paramount commitment to the cause. The organization of a separate party, especially the Democrats, presented a significant risk. They might very well siphon off a fair number of presently free state men and take them back closer to the national mainstream.

The Lawrence Convention: Resolutions, Part One

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

The free state men in Kansas had a problem: The proslavery men hijacked their territorial government and, by the letter of the law, had their seats in the legislature fair and square. They broke the law to get there, but did constitute the legal legislature of Kansas. The residents of Lawrence thus called together a convention to discuss how they should respond to the problem. The body to meet in Pawnee just a week after they did consisted of Missourians and Missourians’ anointed candidates, thoroughly committed to an enslaved Kansas and thoroughly hostile to any real or imagined abolitionists. It did not represent a majority of Kansans. What could they do? The Lawrence Convention, which included some of the free state minority who would head off to Pawnee the next week, had some ideas.

They declared themselves in favor of a free Kansas and

urge upon the people of Kansas to throw away all minor differences and issues, and made the freedom of Kansas the only issue.

No Democrats, no Republicans, no leftover Whigs for Kansas. The politics of the territory should and would hinge entirely upon the slavery question.

we claim no right to meddle with the affairs of the people of Missouri, or any other State, but that we claim the right to regulate our own domestic affairs

On first read, that might look like a simple disclaimer to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the Missourian filibusters who controlled Kansas’ elections did so on the grounds that Kansas, abolitionized, would serve as a base for the underground railroad and potentially for actual raids into Missouri to steal slaves. The free state men did articulate a consistently principled position, but the resolution also demonstrates an understanding of Missourian concerns and at least a rhetorical attempt to defuse them. They would make themselves good neighbors to slavery of the Missourians could extend the same courtesy to freedom.

we look upon the conduct of a portion of the people of Missouri, in the late Kansas election as a gross outrage upon the elective franchise and our rights as freemen, and a violation of the principles of popular sovereignty; and inasmuch as many of the members of the present Legislature are men who owe their election to a combined system of force and fraud, we do not feel bound to obey any law of their enacting.

This took things a step farther. The free state men had called the legislature illegitimate, and would eventually settle on terming it the bogus legislature, but now resolved that a bogus legislature amounted to no legislature at all. It had no authority over them, whatever its legitimate legal forms, due to its fundamentally illegitimate constitution.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Such a resolution at least flirted with revolution. If the free state party did not recognize the authority of the legal legislature then what authority did they recognize as governing the territory? Andrew Reeder would make for a poor figurehead, as he seems still resolved to carry out his official duties. Those would require him to work with the legislature.

What about the eleven free state men who would have seats at Pawnee, at least for a few days? As some of them attended the convention and one, John Wakefield, chaired it, they had a suggestion:

Resolved, That the legally elected members of the present Legislature be requested, as good and patriot citizens of Kansas, to resign and repudiate the fraud.

Their very presence in the company of the others granted the latter legitimacy. For them to resign as a group would demonstrate thoroughly that the free state party had nothing to do with the bogus legislature and give further rhetorical cover to resisting its laws.

The Lawrence Convention

John A Wakefield

John A. Wakefield

The attack on Andrew Reeder by Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow constituted a new escalation in Kansas-related violence. A proslavery man had now raised hand and drawn pistol not just against a fellow civilian, but against the lawful governor of the state. Coming as the attack did just days before the opening of legislature, where his brother John would soon sit, Stingfellow’s assault served notice to any who had not already gotten the hint that the proslavery party would not content itself with holding a controlling interest in Kansas. Rather they must have it all.

But one hardly needed a crystal ball, or to read the Squatter Sovereign’s proclamations on the necessity of purging the territory, to know that the proslavery men would not read their dominance of the legislature as cause to compromise. Nor would they feel any timidity about turning their new powers upon the free state Kansans because they came by that power dishonestly.

The free staters could count. They knew very well that they would face a proslavery majority intensely hostile to them and their interests, whether it allowed their victors from the May special elections to sit or not. This put them into a difficult situation. Even before the legislature purged all its free state members save for Samuel Houston, it had the paradoxical combination of legal legitimacy and actual illegitimacy. By all the laws of the nation, its members had won their seats. They won them illegally, but had the certificates of election all the same. When they gathered on the second of July, they would take those seats and proceed to legislate even if they represented the wishes of only a minority of actual Kansans. That kind of thing might fly in South Carolina, where the political class imbibed a kind of hostility toward democracy that would have impressed some of the more authoritarian men of the century previous, but it would not suit most other corners of the United States at mid-century.

JH Stringfellow

J.H. Stringfellow

What could they do? They had a legislature simultaneously legitimate and illegitimate. They sent a protest to Congress, insisting that the popular sovereignty proclaimed in the Kansas-Nebraska Act required defense against Missourian invasions that proposed to “enslave” free, white Kansans. Congress did not oblige. On June 8, free state citizens gathered in Lawrence and discussed the problem. The June 30 Herald of Freedom reports

An animated discussion was kept up till a late hour. Prior to adjournment a committee was appointed to invite the several representative districts in the Territory to send five delegates from each to an adjourned convention to be held in Lawrence on the 25th of June, “to take into consideration the relation of the people of this Territory bear to the Legislature about to convene at Pawnee, &c.

Delegates came from the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and ninth districts. At an informal morning session, they appointed John (parts 1, 2) Wakefield (parts 1, 2, 3) their chairman and Jesse Wood secured a place on the committee of permanent officers. Both men would take their seats in at Pawnee exactly a week later. The legislature would expel them two days thereafter.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

With their officers appointed, the convention proceeded that afternoon to writing and voting through resolutions. They stated the problem bluntly:

certain persons from the neighboring State of Missouri, have, from time to time, made irruptions into this Territory, and have by fraud and force driven from and overpowered our people at the ballot box, and have forced upon us a Legislature which doe snot represent the opinions of the legal voters of this Territory; many of the members of said Legislature not being even residents of this Territory, but having their homes in the State of Missouri; and whereas, said persons have used violence toward the persons and property of the inhabitants

The named officers of the convention could have come straight from the pages of the Howard Report. These men had not merely seen things done, but in some cases had personally suffered assault, intimidation, and destruction of property. They knew the score and resolved to do something about it.

Jumping the Governor

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Andrew Reeder faced unfriendly crowds on his way back from Washington to Kansas. One man told him of a denizen of Weston, Missouri, who promised to get together a mob and scour Kansas for the governor, fit him with a noose, and gainfully employ the nearest tree. Reeder answered back that he’d happily shoot dead any such man, even if he hanged moments later, but would not let such threats intimidate him. One resident of Weston, site of William Phillips’ lynching  (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and home to the Platte County Self-Defense Association, had a bit more in mind than threats.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, of the Self-Defensives, authored its manifesto (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Therein he described the dire threat that antislavery men presented to Missouri:

The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin.

Give slaves ideas about freedom and they make the incredible discovery that they dislike slavery. This would sunder the bonds of affection between them and their loving masters, they of the bountiful whips that always engender the dearest feelings. Racial annihilation would accompany financial ruin. Such threats required determined men to meet them head on:

the right of self-defence requires that we should resort to the strong hand for self-protection. We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

The sight of Andrew Reeder, still the governor and returning to Kansas to make yet more trouble, passing through Weston proved too much for Stringfellow to bear. He marched up to Reeder and demanded

an explanation of remarks which were represented as made by him at Easton, Pa., during his late eastern tour, and whether he had ever remarked that the conduct of the border Missourians was ruffianly, &c., and whether he -Gen. Stringfellow- was embraced under that expression.

Yes and yes. A challenge like this often meant a duel in the future. Admitting to the charge almost invited one. Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era reports that Stringfellow sought his satisfaction. Reeder, “sitting in a recumbent posture” per the Herald of Freedom, declined.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Furthermore, he

gave his private opinion that Stringfellow was responsible for the excitement along the border, and that it would never have existed if not for the course pursued by him in the agitating the public mind.

If Stringfellow could not have a duel, he could at least have a fight. He

approached him [Reeder] and struck him over the head, knocking him, with the chair on which he sat, to the floor, and, according to his own version of the affair, kicked him when down.

Etcheson, with access to sources I lack, fleshes out the story more than the newspaper did:

Stringfellow leapt on him, knocking him from his chair. Reeder went down with Stringfellow on top, but managed to free himself. Both men drew pistols. Hearing the fight, other territorial officials entered the room and restrained Stringfellow.

The Herald of Freedom reports that Reeder came out of this with a “scratched or bruised” face. If Reeder needed another reason to locate the legislature at Pawnee, aside his hopes to get rich and a general desire to keep business untroubled by Missourian meddling, Stringfellow had just given it to him. While proslavery men had abused private citizens and attacked judges of election, they had never before turned their spoken threats of violence against the governor into action. By attacking a legitimate authority holding a presidential appointment they went a step closer to outright insurrection.

The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1 and 2

The proslavery majority of the Kansas Assembly purged itself of all its antislavery members save one, replacing them with men all right on the hemp and sound on the goose. Whatever faint hope Andrew Reeder had that they would set aside the vexing slavery question and instead join together with him to get rich off the lands around Pawnee came to nothing. They wanted to consolidate their victory and further secure Kansas for slavery, not waste it scheming with the governor over deeply questionable investments in a capital they didn’t want. Given how much they loathed him, Reeder can’t have felt much shock at the discovery.

In their own minds, the proslavery men had beaten Andrew Reeder in the March elections. They beat him again when they tossed out the results of the special elections he called in May. They could very well keep on beating him until he gave up or bled out. I planned to deal with these later, under the mistaken impression that a key incident took place after the legislature convened. Research today set me straight, so we must back up a few days and depart from the legislature’s dealings for the moment. I think it best to take these things in their chronological context, or as closely as reasonable.

Andrew Reeder came back to Kansas at the end of June, 1855. The June 30 Herald of Freedom reported that news of Reeder’s approach ran ahead of him and many crowds met his steamer as it went up the Missouri. Everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of the Pennsylvania lawyer. Some also wanted to have words:

He was several times rudely assailed by his enemies, but the Governor showed much coolness in warding off their wordy thrusts.

Or more than words:

On one occasion a gentleman approached Gov. R., and said he heard a friend at Weston, Mo., remark that if Gov. Reeder returned to the Territory he would gather up a company of men, ten thousand of necessary, and search every part of the Territory, if need be, to find and hang him.

Reeder thanked the man for his information and had kind words to say in return:

Tell your friend that whether he comes at the head of ten hundred or ten thousand men, it will make no difference; I shall never be mobbed; and your friend, if he makes a demonstration in that direction, may rest assured that his minutes are numbered, for I will put a ball through his head thought I know I shall be cut into inch pieces afterwards.

William Phillips

William Phillips

The Platte County Self-Defense Association based itself in Weston. The town hosted the lynching of William Phillips (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). None other than Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow himself lived there. A threat from that direction could mean very serious business, even if Reeder answered it with the customary bravado. He did not bring his family back to Kansas with him, which probably helped in mustering the expected courage of a nineteenth century man under threat.

All the same, the rhetorical violence aimed at the Governor by the proslavery party soon transformed itself into literal violence, just as it had for William Phillips.

The Case Against Expulsion

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The legislature of Kansas convened at Pawnee and immediately set for itself resolving vexing differences. Between the fraudulent elections of March and the smaller number of fair elections in May to rectify the March frauds, in however  limited a fashion, they had two men claiming a right to several seats. The legislature took seriously Andrew Reeder’s injunction that they set aside their differences and begin the great and necessary work of building Kansas. What better way to do so than to purge dissenters from their ranks? Thus, after the free soil men refused to resign, the Council and House formed committees that took two days to examine the cases and expel all the victors of the May special elections. In their places, as the committees ruled those elections void ab initio, sat the proslavery men elected by Missourians in March. Only one free soiler remained, the House’s Samuel Houston. He had a certificate of election that dated back to March.

But the free soilers did initially come to Pawnee, barring one who resigned in advance, and until expelled they occupied the seats they won in May. That meant that some of them sat on the committees on credentials, where they had a small role in deciding their own fates. They wrote a minority report that Houston entered into the record. It began with a direct repudiation of the majority’s doctrine that Reeder had only narrow, limited powers. Like the majority, the minority took its argument straight from the Kansas-Nebraska Act:

The government of Kansas Territory, in the opinion of your committee, is an official and progressive one, or, in other words, it is a government whose successive steps of progression is dependent on official action. Congress passes a law designating the president and senate of the United States as the means to a governor, and the governor, when thus appointed, becomes the organizing authority from which the legislative body emanates.

Congress, through the governor, organizes the territory, and through him continues to retain its connection, and hold and exercise such control as it may from time to time.

A territory, the minority might have added, thus differs from a state. Much of the wider southern interest in Kansas revolved around assigning to territories all the powers and prerogatives of states. This, surely only by coincidence, rendered the territory absolutely sovereign on matters of slavery. Few Americans, even among abolitionists, believed that the federal government had the power to abolish slavery within a state. Whatever one thinks of the minority’s conclusion, they certainly have it right that Congress reserved to itself considerable power over territorial government. It could even veto territorial laws.

All power thus flowed from Reeder, who acted as Congress’ agent in Kansas. Reading second twenty-two of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they found it

made him the sole judge of the returns when made out by the judges. It requires him to declare the person or persons having the highest number of legal votes to be duly elected, and confines his commissionary powers to members thus elected. And in the twenty-third section the governor is further specifically and definitely instructed how to judge of legal voters. It positively decides that no man but a white man, and that one an actual resident, shall be entitled to vote.

This would bear some unpacking. The twenty-second section begins by vesting in the governor and legislature the legislative power over Kansas. It goes on to specify:

And the first election shall be held at such time and places, and be conducted in such manner, both as to the persons who shall superintend such election and the returns thereof, as the Governor shall appoint and direct

The judges of election have authority over how they run elections, but so does the governor. Thus his instructions on the oath they must take and require of questionable voters fall under directing the manner of the election. He can’t personally come to each polling place and exercise his authority directly, but Reeder’s advance instructions do the same job. An election not conducted in the manner he proscribed would thus produce returns of questionable legality.

The twenty-third section further specifies just what it took to legally vote in Kansas, criteria that the invading Missourians could not have met if they tried. Few bothered with even token gestures in that direction. Thus they voted illegally and Reeder had no right to issue their candidates certificates of election. In fact, the law required that he refuse since those men transparently did not possess a majority of the legal votes.

Furthermore, Reeder could not usurp the legislature’s prerogatives in denying certificates of election to the winners of the March frauds and giving them to the winners in May. The Kansas-Nebraska Act vest him legislative power and authority, if shared with the assembly. By accusing him of usurpation, the majority

assert[ed] that this legislative body exists before it can have a legal existence. Whatever latitude may be taken in state legislation, with reference to contested elections, they can form no precedent for us, for the plain reason that, while their governments are formed and complete, ours is in a forming state, and therefore not complete.

No legislature existed for Reeder to usurp when he set down oaths, set aside elections, and ordered new ones. None did exist until the second of July, 1855.

The minority went on to recount the bare facts of the many irregularities back in March: oaths not taken by judges, oaths modified by the judges, and voters not examined. Even if Reeder had colored outside the lines, and they insisted otherwise, he did it to stop obvious frauds and actual usurpations of his own legal authority.

The Case for Expulsion

JH Stringfellow

J.H. Stringfellow

The legislature of Kansas met in Pawnee, town of many imagined delights, and immediately took on itself the task of deciding just who belonged among its members. The proslavery majority unseated all the free soil members save one, who could claim his seat in right of an election during the Missourian invasion of March rather than the relatively fair special elections of May. In the vacated offices, the legislature placed the men who won the March elections. These included such a moderate voice as John Stringfellow. With a man like him in office, how could free soilers complain about harsh treatment? He only wanted to run them out of the territory and maybe, just maybe, kill Andrew Reeder if the governor refused to leave.

The purge of the legislature continued the dispute that the proslavery party had with Reeder over his calling for special elections to begin with. He had no power to do any such thing, to their minds, and so many proslavery men had boycotted the May elections. Legalities suddenly took on great significance when they injured the free soil side, compared to their relative triviality in the matter of something like proslavery Missourians making themselves Kansans for a day to control elections.

Though the decision obviously had far more to do with partisanship than principle, did the proslavery men have a legal leg to stand on? Our sympathies certainly lay elsewhere, but it only seems fair to ask the question. Previously, I could only go from the text of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Constitution to conjecture their case. But as I have the reports of the committees on credentials before me now, I have the benefit of their own words to share.

After laying out the basic problem that several seats had two claimants due to the two different elections, the committees proceeded to the question of what authority the governor had over elections. They discovered, unsurprisingly, that he had little at all. As the territorial executive, they adduced a general principle that Reeder’s powers extended only so far as clear grant of authority existed:

From the fact that his duties are clearly defined and pointed out, it would follow as a sequence that his authority should be just as clear and explicit. This may be truly said of all merely administrative or executive officers.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The explicit and clear authority ran as follows:

it will be seen that it devolved upon him [the governor] to declare the places at which, and the time when, the first election for members of the legislative assembly should be held, and that said election should be conducted in such manner, both as to persons who shall superintend such elections and the returns thereof, as the governor shall elect. This is nothing more than an authority to appoint judges of the election, and to direct the manner in which the returns shall be made. It cannot mean an authority to direct in what way the judges shall discharge their respective duties, for it should be presumed that they know the law, and are duly impressed with the duties they have to perform. We hold that a judge of an election, just as any other judge, has a discretionary power in all things where the law is silent, and when that discretion is once exercised, the result thereof becomes final, unless his action is subject to revision by another and higher tribunal.

Reeder could appoint the judges; he had no right power to question their decisions. He had no right power to proscribe a restrictive oath binding them to accept only the votes of Kansas residents. He certainly had no power to receive their returns and then decide that the election did not count and would be done over. No law of Congress or the territory placed any such restraints upon the judges, so they could do as they liked. The governor served strictly as their agent, a clerk who took the returns and wrote out certificates of election.

The committee went on to opine on the dangers of allowing the executive to decide who could and could not sit in the legislature. This looked dangerously royal to them, and they noted that even Bad Old England did not tolerate such an arrangement. Parliament made itself the judge of its membership, just as the US Congress did. Otherwise, the executive could simply expel anybody who did not vote as he liked. Reeder didn’t do that, of course. The proslavery majority did. They, after all, represented the people.

This may sound a bit alien, but fits comfortably in the nineteenth century mainstream. The Whigs made it virtually a test of party orthodoxy to trust the legislature over the presidency, which corrupt King Andrew Jackson had proven inherently suspect. Even Democratic presidents had much greater deference toward Congress than one might see now. The executive of the day had a much more prime ministerial character. The American electorate also generated much more parliamentary returns, regularly electing a working majority from the party of the man who won the presidency.

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.

Pawnee: Come for the Legislature and Nothing Else

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When last we left Andrew Reeder, he had called the Kansas legislature to meet at Pawnee. While situated far from the Missouri border and thus presumably more secure against Missourian meddling, Reeder’s choice for the seat of government probably had much more to do with how he planned to get rich off real estate investments thereabout. I hoped that Nichols would have more detail on what Reeder did and how he did it, but she tells essentially the same story that Rawley and Etcheson did. She does, however, give a much more memorable account of the place itself than the spare description from the Howard Report.

One did not just make a day trip to Pawnee.  Nichols takes us there along with the legislators:

They had to make an early start, for Pawnee lay some 125 miles from the Missouri border and, therefore, almost that far from the Territory’s center of population. And they could not travel light, for scouts had warned them that Pawnee was a ‘paper town.’ They carried tents, pots, provisions.


at last, they came to the capital city, which still existed largely in its promoters’ imaginations. Two half-finished shacks and a windowless, doorless two-story stone capitol building were all that marred the beauty of the rim-nested spot. ‘It was a novel sight,’ reported James Christian, ‘to see grave Councilmen and brilliant orators of the House of Representatives cooking their food by the side of a log, or sleeping on a buffalo robe in the open air, with the broad canopy of heaven for covering.’ The only two things that were plentiful in the new capital, he said, were ‘rocky mounds and highly rectified whiskey.’ Pawnee was a long way from anywhere.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The proslavery party, from newspaper editors to legislators-elect, had every reason to hate Andrew Reeder. He set aside some of their elections, which they stole fair and square. He had not hurried through elections back when few save committed proslavery men lived in Kansas. He took precautions, however ineffectual, against fraud in the March elections. He tried to get Franklin Pierce to back him up with the Army. Now he dragged them across the length of Kansas to a transparently fake town which had no accommodations for them and expected them to sleep under the stars for a session of the legislature on top of it? Perhaps I lack a proper appreciation for the great outdoors, but I think that I’d want his head over the last one myself, highly rectified whiskey or not.

Reeder convened the legislature on the “sultry” second of July, 1855:

Looking much cooler than he must have felt in his high stock and best black broadcloth, he lifted his not inconsiderable weight from his chair and faced his unfriendly audience. He stood before it, his gray mustache curling in magnificent defiance of the wilting heat and, speaking with all the oratory befitting the time and the occasion, he came at last to his concluding plea: ‘I ask you, then, gentlemen, to lay aside all selfish and equivocal motives, to discard all unworthy ends and, in the spirit of justice and charity toward each other, with pure hearts, tempered feelings, and sober judgments to enter upon your duties.’

Reeder got the usual polite applause. Perhaps for a moment he thought he had overreacted in sending his family out of the Kansas, but given the things said about him in the papers one imagines he couldn’t have held such a thought long. Any hope that with the legislature seated, everyone would quiet down and get to the important business of making Andrew Reeder rich.

The legislators took Reeder at his word. Magnanimous in victory, they turned at once to burying the hatchet, soberly judging that it best belonged in their fellows.

Adventures With Old Books and Old Biases

Alice Nichols' Bleeding Kansas

Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas

Since I began looking for them, the availability of out of print histories for reasonable prices has often surprised me. They often appear in the form of library withdrawals, with all the heavy use that implies, but still in readable condition. Now and then I get a genuine, pristine first edition. Rarely do sellers ask more than ten dollars.

The books have tremendous usefulness to me not just in chasing down the footnotes but also in the different style that one finds in older histories, if bringing with it certain downsides. One does deal with passages that reflect the prejudices of the authors’ times. At least in the field of nineteenth century American history, older works usually have a much stronger narrative focus. That translates into detail that a more recent author might stick into a footnote or just send you off to the archives or library for.

The modern approach has many advantages. It can do a much better job of communicating ambiguity and complexity. Almost always, a modern history draws on a greater diversity of perspectives. But sometimes the interpretation runs so thick that it threatens to drown out the narrative entirely, or risks focusing so much on voices from below that the actions of more political actors seem almost like forces of nature rather than the conscious decisions of people. Older histories, even with their sometimes abhorrent biases and very narrow focuses, can add that detail back in. One just has to work to balance it out and proceed with some care.

So I ordered up a copy of Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas, hot off the presses from 1954. It came with its library card still intact, originally from the stacks of the Hamline University Library and replete with the wonderful smell of old books. It still has the card in the back, which informs me that all of four people took it out between December of 1959 and April of 1988.

The book sat in a plastic bag outside my door for a few hours. I found the cover oddly soft. Opening it, I discovered why:  a good quarter-inch of water had infiltrated and soaked through along the edges. This disappointed me a bit, but mystified me more. It has not rained in my town in at least a few days. Where did the water come from? I feared a dog or some other animal ministered to its needs, but smell only water and old book. Rather than digging right in and risking the binding and pages to my questionable dexterity, I gently put the book on a register to dry. It swelled, but still closes and the binding held. All of the text appears intact.

Also Alice Nichols' Bleeding Kansas

Also Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas, but with added swelling

To my great amusement, Nichols dedicated the work to Jeb Patterson, George Park’s partner at the Industrial Luminary (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 7) and there expressed her regret that she knew so much about other men of the age, but nothing about him save that his type went into the Missouri River in March of 1855 and he, contrary to those she knew far more about, preached a middle path.

Nichols makes my point for me. I don’t know that I find the middle path between slavery and freedom, which implies some slavery in any compromise, conforms that well to the right and good. That seems like a mighty white position to stake out. Such things matter to me far more than they probably did to a historian writing in the 1950s and educated in the decades before, of course. She also castigates northerners in her prologue:

So bitter was the struggle over the Territory of Kansas, so deliberately was it used to arouse and spread hatred that even the Northerners, who had done so much to make a peaceful solution to the slavery problem impossible, came to realize that they had gone too far. When Kansas was finally admitted to the Union after four Southern states had withdrawn from it, early in 1861, Congress, as if aghast at the tragic consequences that threatened from this final defiance of the South’s States’ Rights stand, jointly resolved to submit an amendment to the Constitution designed to establish slavery in the United States forever.

Still more Alice Nichols' Bleeding Kansas

Still more Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas…still legible!

This all scans as quite partisan, almost to the point of Lost Cause argument. Southerners act strictly, perhaps even nobly, in defense; Northerners relentlessly and hatefully on the attack. Nichols casts the Civil War as fundamentally tragic, a fratricidal affair we would have done better without. I don’t know that the slaves wold have agreed. Nor do I agree with her that any real hope existed for a legislative solution to the slavery question. Any such solution would have taken at least several more decades to come about and faced an increasingly recalcitrant white South. No such solution would likely have brought black Americans to anything approaching the gains toward equal citizenship that they have made in the history we know. I don’t rush to the grisly business of weighing lives, but nor do I view the replacement of the war against black America with a war that temporarily split white America and ended the other war as a poor trade. Four million lives then, and unknown millions more thereafter, make a stronger argument than seven hundred thousand or so.

But I say that in 2014, sixty years later. Nichols and I alike come from somewhere. We inherited our attitudes, if with modification, in our particular times and places. That neither accuses nor excuses either of us, but I try to keep these things in mind when using older works. The kind of scrutiny differs from, but overlaps with, that one uses when reading accounts by contemporaries to the events in question. What little I have so far read suggests that she took care with her facts. Our differing biases aside, I expect to make good use of her book.