Shannon Defends Himself, Part Three

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Parts One and Two

Wilson Shannon declared that he would not take a side on Kansas’ dispute over slavery, but also would not repudiate the acts of its proslavery legislature to entrench their ill-gotten gains. Did he not know about the fraud at the polls, or did he not care? If he affirmed the principle that Kansans should settle the slavery question for Kansas, then did the stolen elections not at least call the legislature’s legitimacy into question?

Shannon did not try to claim ignorance:

But it is said that there were illegal votes cast at the election of the members. It is very probable this is true. Few elections take place anywhere without some illegal votes being cast. But this is not a matter that can be inquired into by an executive officer after members have received their certificates of election, been sworn in, and served out their term of office. Could the President of the United States pronounce the acts of Congress void, and refuse to carry them into effect, because illegal votes had been cast for various members of the body that enacted them? The idea is simply absurd. But what had I to inquire whether illegal votes had been cast or not? My predecessor, who had the whole subject before him, and the means of knowing the truth, and to whose supervision the whole subject had been confided by the organic law, and under the solemn sanction of his official oath and under the broad seal of the territory, granted his certificate to each member elect, certifying that he had been duly elected.

We can give Shannon some leeway on the scale of the fraud, since he didn’t have the Howard Report to consult, but it beggars belief to suggest that Shannon had no idea of the fraud’s scale months after it took place. He doesn’t ask for such concessions, however. Instead he simply washes his hands of the matter. He could not undo the past, even had the law granted him the power to do so. Andrew Reeder had that power at the time, used it in a limited way, and then watched as the Assembly voted out the fairly elected members he had given it.

But what about those expulsions of legitimately elected, antislavery members? Did they not say something more about the legislature’s behavior? Shannon did not think so. The House and Council of Kansas had the power to judge the qualifications of their own members, end of story:

It is presumed they will always exercise it [the power to expel members] directly and in proper cases; but suppose they should not, will the absurd proposition be maintained that an abuse of this power renders void all their acts? Suppose the house of representatives of the United States should, in the exercise of this power, exclude, improperly, if you please, the whole delegation of a state, who produced their certificates of election, and admit a contesting delegation: Would any one claim that this would render void all the acts passed by that Congress, and that the President would have the right, and that it would be his duty, to nullify them, and treat them as having no binding force? No one would claim the correctness of a proposition so absurd.

Shannon held firm that no wrong worth mentioning had occurred, but even if it did he lacked the power to remedy it. He had a point with regard to undoing past wrongs, since he lacked a time machine as much as we do. But Shannon might have said that he would be vigilant at future elections, take reasonable precautions against fraud, and so forth. He could have offered at least moral support.

Instead Wilson Shannon found nothing but fault in the free state Kansans and their grievances. He might allow for a few illegalities here and there on the other side, but searched in vain for any cause for real concern on his part.

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