The Assembly vs. Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1 and 2

The Kansas Legislative Assembly wanted rid of Andrew Reeder and his supposedly abolitionist ways. They wrote to Franklin Pierce with a list of their grievances, not knowing that his dismissal of the governor had already gone into the mail. After opening remarks about the months it took Reeder to arrive in Kansas and how he dithered instead of at once calling for a census so he could proceed to constitute a legislature, their complaints took on a more pointedly sectional tone.

In the midst of all this confusion, turning coolly from those who had thus warmly welcomed him, associating with those only from one particular section of the union, persisting in not adopting that course which alone could produce order from this chaos, it is not singular that loud complainings should be heard, and that sinister motives should be attributed to him for his conduct.

Reeder had to be up to something. Just look at how he hung out with Yankees! The men of Missouri welcomed him, fed him, and received the cold shoulder for their trouble. But this confesses perhaps more than the authors intended, connecting his perceived dissociation with the proslavery party directly to their suspicions about him. If the legislators intended to couch their complaints in a national context, they would have done better to avoid moving on from Reeder shunning their company immediately to a complaint about his land speculations. One could read it easily as an admission that they found Reeder’s dealings suspect not for the facts of the transactions, but rather because he didn’t hang out with them.

He then commences a tour of observation through the territory, for the ostensible purpose of preparing for a census, etc., but which from his subsequent conduct proved to be only one of speculation, for he was known to be a large shareholder in many of the various town companies throughout the territory.

That at least sounds plausible. Reeder’s testimony to the Howard Committee refers to him taking off to the interior of the territory on personal business as well as in the course of his official duties. Whatever balance he struck between the two, he very obviously intended to become a wealthy man off Kansas lands. The memorialists, however, probably would have found less to object to in identical behavior on the part of a confirmed proslavery man.

After his tour, Reeder did order the census promised. That it took place in February earned the proslavery party’s ire. Reeder seems damned either way on that account. Had he done it sooner, that might have pleased them. Doing it in February did not deliver the numbers they preferred, so instead he should have presumably waited.

The census, taken in the snow or not, led directly to the March elections, where Reeder proved himself a tyrant in the eyes of the petitioners. He declared that he had

the right to decide contested elections, thereby virtually claiming the right to override the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot-box, and to fill the legislature with whomsoever he chose-virtually disfranchising every man in Kansas Territory

JH Stringfellow

John H. Stringfellow

At best, the proslavery men had a weak and very technical case that Reeder exceeded his authority in striking down elections where he had evidence of fraud. His actual crime remained that he would not permit the Border Ruffians and their Kansas confederates to do what they accused him of.

That Reeder set aside only a few elections and still left the proslavery party with a commanding majority in the Legislative Assembly did not suffice. They had to have it all. Nothing less would satisfy lynchers like Richard Rees and A. Payne, signatories and participants in the mobbing of William Phillips (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), to say nothing of Speaker of the House and brother of Reeder’s assailant John H. Stringfellow.

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