The Governor’s Land Deals, Part Six

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Andrew Reeder sent his letter to the Secretary of State and went off to Pawnee to meet with the Legislative Assembly. We know how both of those worked out, but the answer he got back directly from Washington deserves some examination. William Hunter, Acting Secretary, wrote back on July 28, 1855.

Hunter commenced with the usual formalities about how they received his letter. Franklin Pierce read it.

he directs me to say that, after due consideration of the explanations which you offer in regard to your purchases of Kansas half-breed lands, and the facts in the case as reported to him and communicated to you by the department of the interior, he finds nothing in those explanations to remove the impressions which he had previously entertained of the character of the transaction.

One can read that as a simple declaration that Reeder failed to persuade, but the phrasing has at least a suggestion that Pierce did not care to let facts bother him. Whatever else the deal entailed, it had not yet and could not take place without Pierce’s signature approving it. Pierce had to know that very well, as Reeder’s original submission that generated these red flags came to his desk asking for that approval. That it did not dissuade the president speaks volumes.

Pierce may have had more damning information that he chose not to share. I went looking for G.W. Clarke’s letter to him, which exists in his papers per the Library of Congress finding guide, but the only collection I found online constituted a small selection of letters that did not include it.

Another lacuna, this time in the source itself rather than my ability to access it, comes into play hereafter:

He [Pierce] directs me further to say, that your communication is not less unsatisfactory in what it altogether omits to explain. The letter addressed to you by this department on the 11th ultimo distinctly mentioned other grave matters of accusation of the same class. You assume that, when circumstances exist in the conduct of a public officer which require the question of his dismissal from office to be considered, it is the duty of the executive to make formal specifications of charge, and upon this erroneous presumption you withhold explanation in regard to the matters alluded to, although they were peculiarly within your own knowledge, and you could not but be well aware that some of them, more especially the undertaking of sundry persons, yourself included, to lay out new cities on military or other reservations in the territory of Kansas, were undergoing official investigation within that territory.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Stop playing dumb, Reeder. Pierce knows what you’ve got up to. But in case Reeder really didn’t have it all together, Hunter named Pawnee specifically. That bit of begrudging candor motivated a swift retreat, as he named it as only one of apparently several sections of land under dispute. These receive no further references, save for the insistence that Reeder should know them without such details.

Strictly speaking, Reeder faced no charges. Thus no one had any obligation to give him details as to his supposed wrongdoing. But denying him such necessary details as what precisely he did wrong seems like a deliberate effort to provide the appearance of fairness, in that Reeder had a chance to explain, while denying its substance by making him unable to generate a satisfactory explanation if one did exist. Guilty or innocent, mistaken or malicious, Reeder lost all the same:

I have, therefore, by the direction of the President, to notify you your functions and authority as governor of the territory of Kansas are hereby terminated.

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