The Assembly vs. Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The fullypurged proslavery Legislative Assembly had enough of Andrew Reeder. His constant vetoing proved that he would never work with them for any who had not already decided the governor secretly clung to abolitionism so hard that William Lloyd Garrison and Eli Thayer found it off-putting. They wrote to Franklin Pierce asking that he rid them of the troublesome Pennsylvanian. The letter doing just that had already gone into the mail, and would arrive only days later, but the legislature had no way to know that.

Showing cause would improve their case, so the legislature commenced with a “brief history of our territory, written and unwritten, since its organization.” They began with what they considered the almost unprecedented speed of settlement in Kansas, exceeded only by California’s progress. Debates over the future of Kansas, and by proxy the entire West, spurred tremendous numbers to come and lay their claims.

A people thus numerous, thus diversified from birth, education, previous associations, and present intention and objects, required, it seems to us, for their government, the most prompt action on the part of those called on to preside over them. From the month of May until October, there were no officers here, the governor appointed to organize the territory, under the provisions of the bill, arriving in the latter month.

A great number of people and no government at all has a way of emphasizing the need of the former for the latter. In its absence, informal and alternative power structures will develop. Unfortunately, these almost without exception involve gangs and warlords. Few people, save those who imagine that they will rise to the top of such a situation, welcome it. The legislators have their dates right. What took Reeder so long?

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Franklin Pierce, to start with. He signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law at the end of May, 1854, but neglected to appoint a governor until almost a month later. He gave Andrew Reeder the nod on June 29. Reeder, who I presume received word in Pennsylvania, took his oath on July 7. One can’t blame that first month on him, though the legislature wisely avoided telling Pierce that he caused the initial delay. Receiving instructions, packing up his household, and moving out to Kansas then took Reeder until October. One can fairly pin that time on him, though to judge by his return from Washington it seems that about at least a few weeks in transit come down to having to go by horse and steamboat.

So soon as it was ascertained by rumor that he had arrived (for he never in any way made it public), it was presumed that he would immediately order the census of the territory to be taken, an election for members of the legislative assembly to be held, and call them together at once, so that laws might be enacted for the preservation of the public peace and weal.

They go on to say that everybody received Reeder generously. Leading men of the Missouri border hosted him and introduced him around. Everybody also urged him to hurry up and get a census done so he could call together a legislature. This early legislature would, of course, come full of recent Missourians thanks to their geographic head start on anybody else interested in Kansas. The memorialists did not quite say that, but did paint a stark picture of a lawless Kansas:

the people knowing of no laws in force, an d the governor himself having no settled opinion on the subject-appointing justices of the peace in various sections of the territory, some of whom enforced the Pennsylvania, some the Ohio, and some the Missouri code, acting as a matter of course under his instructions-still, with all these various imperative necessities urging his compliance, he heeded them not, but assumed himself to act as the lawmaking power, by prescribing the various codes above, and usurping the powers of the judiciary in issuing writs, and sitting as an examining court upon the charge of “assault with intent to kill,” the prisoner being at the time incarcerated within the walls of a prison

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

I find it hard to believe that a lawyer would knowingly tell judges to use contradicting codes to decide their cases, though I suppose Reeder may have told them to use the law they knew best and so inadvertently done so. His inexperience might have come into play here as well. I have yet found nothing on the matter of the prisoner mentioned.

Given the context, and passages of the document I shall address in future posts, it wouldn’t surprise me if the memorialists stretched the truth and took a hesitance born of uncertainty and irregularities well within the norms of a newly opened territory as evidence of malfeasance. From all I have seen, Reeder came to Kansas very intent on giving popular sovereignty a fair go, with either slavery or freedom equally possible. The proslavery men arrived equally intent on otherwise, insisting popular sovereignty meant that slavery prevailed until someone forced freedom upon them. Thus even the most impartial and disinterested governor would have their enmity, since he would not at once throw in with them and prosecute their cause to its fullest.


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