The Governor’s Land Deals, Part Four

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder arrived back in Kansas at the end of June, 1855, and put pen to paper to explain himself to William Marcy, Secretary of State. Given that the authorities in Washington had already read his letter to Manypenny and found it unpersuasive, he had some work to do. He began by stating the problem:

I am thus put upon my defense to two separate charges: First, the purchase of half-breed Kansas lands; and secondly, other speculations in lands of the territory, apparently in violation of acts of Congress and regulations of the departments.

The very general manner in which these charges are stated, the entire absence of any specification on which to make a point or raise an issue and the omission to state in what particular the President sees any wrong to have been committed, and what act of Congress or regulation of the department has been violated, are matters of regret and embarrassment to me; because they preclude confidence in the pertinence of my reply. I need not inform so eminent a jurist as yourself how impossible it is, in matters of crimination and defense, to attain justice and truth without a distinct and unequivocal specification of the charge on the one side, and a direct, full, and pointed answer to it, on the other.

I have Marcy’s letter to Reeder. He demanded explanations “with reference to purchase of Kansas half-breed reservations” and “also to other speculations by you of lands in the territory, apparently in violation of acts of Congress and regulations of the department.”

George Manypenny

George Manypenny

Reeder addressed the Kaw lands in his letter to Manypenny. Other speculations could mean anything, though Pawnee makes for a good guess. In either event, Marcy declined to specify just how Reeder had broken the law. Nor did he specify what law the Governor broke. While Reeder, a lawyer we must remember, probably played a bit dumb here one must grant the point that apparently no one had told him just what he had done wrong. Should he waste time or incriminate himself by defending against something not yet charged?

Still, Reeder had what he had. In the case of the Kaw lands, Reeder had an excellent defense entirely independent of whether he had dealt legally with the men who owned them:

I have to say that I have purchased no such lands at all. With others, I have only agreed to purchase them in case the contemplated purchase shall receive the sanction and approbation of the President; and this, in my opinion, is a material and substantial difference. Until the President, by his approbation, and the vendors by the execution of their deeds, consummate the contract, it precludes us from any interest in the land, and even the privilege of entering upon, or possessing it. Vendors and vendees, until then, preserve all their rights unchanged and unaffected; and if the President shall not assent to the contracts, it will be the same as though they had never been made. If there is any wrong in the matter, it is not a wrong committed, but at most only a wrong attempted, and in the face of all probability, a wrong which we expect to be sanctioned by the President.

Reeder maintained this from the very start. Even had he proposed to swindle the Kaw out of their lands, no transfer took place. None could take place without Manypenny’s and Pierce’s signatures, which had not come. He could not do that wrong without their cooperation, which they had withheld. Therefore he remained innocent even if they had the right of everything else about the deal. If they wanted to stop dastardly Andrew Reeder, they need only refrain from signing off on the contract, as they had already done.

One struggles to see what Reeder intended to slip past both men given he submitted the contracts to them in full accordance with usual practice. On receiving a denial with listed causes, he resubmitted

to supply the formal deficiencies, and, in the beginning of May last, again laid the papers before the President, with an argument and brief from myself, to prove from the opinions of attorneys-general and the decisions of the supreme court that the vendors had a right to sell; depositions proving their identity, their competency to manage their own affairs, and the value of the land; proof that the matter had been brought to the notice of the Indian agent, and that he had made no objection; to which I add now my own assertion that I distinctly stated to him that we had agreed to purchase one tract, and would endeavor to contract for others; and although Mr. Clarke denies in a general way that the matter was brought before him, he is contradicted by my allegation and the deposition of a disinterested witness.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

This all sounds very much like due diligence. We have only Reeder’s word versus Clarke’s on his initial approval of the contract, and Clarke did go on to recommend Manypenny reject it, but the contents of his submission to the relevant authorities do not seem like something even the most brazen fraud would try to slip past people who had the papers at their disposal.

But what about the contents of those documents? What if the territorial officials and courts made a mistake? Given the primitive state of land survey in Kansas, often to the point of none at all, mistakes and disputes about who owned what tract of land, where reservations ended, literally came with the territory. They could have happened to anyone and one should not attribute such errors to malice. Thus, Reeder maintained, such a mistake simply did not warrant his removal.


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