Dark Days for Free Kansas

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

If one liked Kansas well enough to stick around, but did not like slavery, the history of the territory to date gave cause only for lamentation. Missourians had stolen their election for delegate to Congress back in November of 1854. The March elections for the legislature brought more Missourians and more theft. Both invasions came with the threat of violence. The Missourians even brought along a pair of cannons. On the second occasion, they carried out their threats and attacked antislavery voters.

Governor Andrew Reeder offered antislavery Kansans a thin sliver of hope in setting aside some of the legislative elections and, with one exception, the Missourians stayed home for those. That momentary respite sowed the seeds for further injuries, as the proslavery party did not accept Reeder’s power to set aside contested elections. When the legislature finally met at the start of July, 1855, the majority bent took up the task of expelling men who owed their elections to the fair contests that Reeder called in May. Each seat so vacated came into the possession of the victor of a fraudulent election back in March. This left all of two antislavery men untouched, one of whom resigned in advance of the session. The other tried to make the best of a bad situation, but soon gave up himself.

This left the free state men already in deep trouble, Franklin Pierce then dismissed their sometime ally Andrew Reeder, who had feuded with the legislature, and so left them completely without friends in the territorial government. Even before all that, they knew things looked bad and delegates from some districts met at Lawrence in advance of the legislature’s opening to discuss strategy. They rejected the authority of Kansas’ illegally elected legal legislature and declared for resistance. As the summer went on, the proslavery men imposed a draconian set of laws to defend and entrench slavery, eagerly sacrificing what men from free states considered their own sacred rights in the process. Resistance looked more reasonable than ever.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

But what kind of resistance? The Assembly’s laws effectively outlawed something as simple as speaking out against slavery, to say nothing of organized resistance on those grounds. The antislavery party could say that they rejected those laws as illegitimate, but they would have trouble accomplishing much from inside a prison cell. Yet if they did not organize and act, they would accomplish nothing. They made protests to Franklin Pierce. They held a mass meeting on the Fourth of July. Words, however, went only so far. No sternly worded letter to the president would bring them relief. Nor would encouraging one another with dramatic speeches. By late summer, 1855, the time for direct action had come.

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