The Assembly vs. Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 12, 3, 4

The petitioners from the Kansas Assembly realized that by arguing that the one and only temporary seat of government remained at Fort Leavenworth, as per the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they had painted themselves into a bit of a corner. Their relocation to Shawnee Mission involved declaring it the temporary seat of government. Proud hypocrisy rarely leaves center stage in politics, especially the sort of personal politics under discussion, but they had to at least make it sound consistent and principled. What better way to do that than blame someone else?

from the action of Congress, Fort Leavenworth is not now the temporary seat of government. The bill provides, in the thirty-first section, that such buildings as may not be needed for the use of the military, shall be used for the governor and legislative assembly. A subsequent clause of an appropriation bill provides for the appropriation of $25,000 to be expended upon the contingency, or rather the appropriation made upon the contingency, that the requisite buildings could not be obtained from the military or war department. That appropriation having been made and paid over, proved conclusively that the contingency mentioned has arisen, and that the buildings are refused.


Now, if Fort Leavenworth is the seat of government, and the place for the legislature to meet and transact business, then this absurd consequence follows: That they must meet and transact business at Fort Leavenworth; that they shall not use any of the buildings already erected there; that they shall not have any of the money to erect other buildings which could be occupied.

So Fort Leavenworth initially served as the seat of government, but did no longer. When the organization of Kansas began, Congress gave over to the territorial government any surplus buildings it might require for its business. If no such buildings existed, the territory would have $25,000 to buy land and build its own. A separate grant of the same sum remained in reserve for a permanent capital set at some later date.

The inference that the government must meet at the designated seat seems to follow plausibly enough. The buildings there did not suffice, so the territory spent its money as directed. Someone, carefully hidden by the passive voice, refused those buildings. They dated to before any elections took place, and so Reeder must have spent the money on them. The Assembly did not yet exist to do so. However, these two parties found themselves uniquely of one mind in declaring them now unacceptable. Thus even if the legislature must meet at Leavenworth, it would not use those buildings. Furthermore, with the money spent, they would have no more to build or buy any that did suit them.

Or so I read it. I confess finding the argument very difficult to follow. The scenario they describe looks absurd enough, but how they arrive at it from their premises rather eludes me. Surely they could change their minds and used the buildings already bought, or at least make a convincing argument for their insufficiency. They did as much for Pawnee. Furthermore, why Shawnee Mission instead of Leavenworth? Both sit near enough the Missouri border.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The legislators had an answer:

Now, as the law never contemplated an absurdity such as this, forcing a legislative assembly, even though composed of squatters, to meet out-of-doors and forbid their erecting houses, we infer that the thirty-first section of the bill is virtually repealed; and having no seat of government selected by competent authority, the selection of the point for a temporary seat of government legitimately belongs to the legislative assembly, whenever and wherever convened. And we further submit, that according to the spirit and letter of the law, we have that right, even if Fort Leavenworth be the seat of government. We submit that, as all government is for the good of the governed, and as this is one of the legitimate subjects of legislation, vested in every state in the union; and as there could have been no intention on the part of the wise and good men who framed this bill, when they fixed the seat of government temporarily, to have done so other than for the comfort and convenience of the sovereigns; that they never intended to fix an arbitrary rule which the people could not alter, if found inconvenient; that it was more a permission granted by Congress that we might have use of those buildings, or sit at that point, than a command, and we should not select another point, if more desirable.

Congress gave them permission to use surplus federal properties; it did not require them to do so. They could have the government wherever they liked, and as the government they jolly well could decide where to do that on their own. To insist on Leavenworth would, like insisting on Pawnee, force them to live in tents and work under the open air. They had refused the buildings there, if for no reason they cared to share with Franklin Pierce or anybody else.

As men of thoroughgoing principle, I have no doubt that they would have endured legislating outside and sleeping in tents, to the point of refusing perfectly good shelter offered freely, if they must. They might also have grown wings and flown to a more pleasant venue. But the circumstances did not require them to test themselves and so produce such prodigies.


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