Stealing Kansas’ Delegate Election: Anniversary Edition

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

With Big Springs and Topeka, part one, behind them the free state movement had their next test at the congressional delegate election scheduled for October 1, 1855. The border ruffians inaugurated their campaign of fraud at the previous such election, a year prior. The proslavery choice, John Wilkins Whitfield, won the day. He might even have won anyway, but back in November of 1854 little strife had yet come to Kansas. Since then, the Assembly elections, Andrew Reeder’s choice to set aside some of them, the special elections, and the Assembly’s purge and slave code had all come. The official misdeeds alone would serve to alienate many Kansans, but their combination with regular acts of intimidation and occasional outright terrorism had done much to reshape the politics of the territory.

On the first anniversary, in terms of elections if not precise dates, the proslavery men of Missouri might have stayed home. Few could have missed that the free state men intended to sit out the first Monday of October, scheduling their own election for Tuesday of the week after. But if the proslavery radicals have proved anything, they have proved themselves decidedly not stay at home types. That Monday, Robert Morrow set out from Kansas City. He reached Westport, Missouri, around nine in the morning. He later told the Howard Committee that he

saw a good many persons coming this way and getting ready to come. I was passed, I should think, by forty or fifty people within the next six or eight miles. As far as I could see, these people who passed me all stopped at a place called Gym Springs, or the Council House, a place from six to eight miles from Westport. I was probably a couple of hours driving from Westport to that place. After passing by Gum Springs, coming this way, I do not think anybody passed me during the day. There was a crowd of about one hundred,l I should think, about 11 o’clock, around the place where they were voting at Gum Springs, and as many horses hitched to the fence. I did not know any of these persons. They travelled principally in buggies and on horses and mules.

Morrow added that he didn’t know of many who ought to have a right to vote at Gum Springs. The Shawnee lived there and he believed that whites could not generally settle in the environs, save for missionaries. Gaius Jenkins, who refused a request to go vote at Wyandotte, passed by Gum Springs and counted a hundred and fifty leaving its polls.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Over in Lawrence, a different version of the same story transpired. Andrew White told the Howard Committee that the free state men of Lawrence stayed away from the polls, as planned, but so did the local proslavery men, “as they did not like the arrangements.”

But those who came from Missouri paid their dollar and voted pretty freely. Some of them told me they were from Missouri, that they lived there then. they came up in companies of three, four, five, and perhaps a dozen together. I would walk away to them and inquire what part of Missouri they lived in, and they would tell me. While I was there I think there were at least fifty who lived in Missouri who voted.

Thomas Wolverton, a newcomer to Kansas, testified to much the same in the Second District. He circulated among the crowd

until 2 o’clock , and they were getting rather drunk and could not stay longer peaceably. One gentleman told me he came from Missouri, and camped at Bull creek; that he came very near freezing and swore that it was the last time he was going to come.

Naturally, Whitfield won handily. The Howard Committee could not get witnesses from every district, but where they could they came up with 857 illegal votes out of Whitfield’s 2721 vote total. Even with an incomplete sample, they could verify that 31.49% of his votes came from people not entitled to vote in Kansas, per the territory’s organic act. Given incomplete testimony and the difficulty of picking out frauds amid hundreds of names on a poll list, we must take that as a conservative number.

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