A Nineteenth Century Sitcom Moment

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Patrick Laughlin’s testimony gives one an idea of how the Kansas Legion established encampments: sending men along with sealed books that they would open and use to swear in other men. When they had enough to make arming them worthwhile, they could see George Washington Brown of the Herald of Freedom for letters of introduction to take back east and trade for guns. But by his own admission, Laughlin did not stay in the Legion long. His stated aversion to its secret society trappings further probably meant that his friends at Doniphan neglected to share the full ritual panoply with him. All in all, Laughlin’s testimony sounds like that of a man suckered into the affair. He sounds like a fairly simple, plainspoken man. Perhaps he believed too much in the good faith of his fellow antislavery Kansans. Maybe he didn’t possess the sharpest mind on the prairie. He might have just fallen prey to the singularly gifted deceivers.

Andrew Francis had a more detailed view of the organization. After serving as a bearer of returns for the free state party’s delegate election, he came to Lawrence with those returns. Arriving there, Francis ordered a man standing about to see to his horse. With arrangements made, the two went inside and Francis complained that

Reeder could have got a great many more votes if he had canvassed the Territory, while, for my own part, I did not think he was a gentleman or any part of a nice man. He asked me to why; and I told him I had written some four or five letters to Reeder, upon different subjects, seeking information, and could get no answer to them, and I thought if he had been a gentleman, or anything like it, he would have answered them.

I may have spent too much of my youth watching forgettable situation comedies of the 1980s, but I suspect that one needn’t spend that time as I did to see where this had to go. Francis harangued Andrew Reeder about the generally low character of Andrew Reeder. Whether Reeder wanted to strangle Francis or struggled to contain his laughter, Francis does not say. After introducing himself, Reeder explained that he had only one letter from Francis and that just arrived. This must have smoothed over some of the awkwardness, since Reeder and Francis then shared a meal and walked around Lawrence, talking politics. Had someone scheduled two dates for the same time, I suspect an aerial pastry exchange might have ensued.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Whatever embarrassment Francis suffered, he had proved trustworthy enough to work the free state election and carry its returns to Lawrence. This made him a good man to see about involving in the Kansas Legion. He admitted to the Howard Committee that he lacked a pristine antislavery pedigree:

when I came into the territory I cannot say that I belonged to either party; I took the position that slavery was just and legal, but, as a matter of expediency, I would prefer to have Kansas a free State, provided there were no negroes allowed to live in the Territory. If they were to be here, I preferred that they should be under masters. There was no organized party of my opinion, when I first came into the Territory,. in the section of the country where I settled. I assisted in the organizing of a party some four or five months afterwards, called the “free white State party,” the leading principle of which was “slavery before free negroes.”

That lack, however, put him well within the free state mainstream. Once Francis and his party ascertained that the larger free state movement comported well with their own aims, he happily joined in. That happiness would not long endure.


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