Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

Leavenworth, just across the river from Platte County, had the population to make a county seat. While its proslavery men mobbed William Phillips back in the spring, they lacked the power to control the town. Thus Leavenworth became, in the minds of proslavery men across the river, “an abolition hole.” Such a place could not serve as county seat. That would naturally put the county officials to some degree under antislavery influence. Many in Missouri also had investments land around Kickapoo and Delaware, Leavenworth’s rivals. Putting the county seat elsewhere would thus both frustrate antislavery Kansans and prove personally lucrative. The Missourians knew their business and got to it. William Phillips recounts that

Leavenworth polled some five or six hundred votes, which I suppose the town and county adjacent could do at that time. Between Kickapoo and Weston the steam-ferry ran free all day. Missourians poured over as they had done at former elections, being naturalized in the ferry-boat by a ceremony in which whiskey, bread and cheese, figured extensively. Kickapoo, which might have been able to poll one hundred and fifty votes, rolled up eight hundred for the county seat.

The vote stands at five to six hundred for Leavenworth. Kickapoo has eight hundred. That left Delaware, where Phillips opined “scarcely anything” stood.

At Delaware, also, they attended to their interests. A steamer was chartered to run between Delaware and any point on the other side where there were votes. Public sentiment was aroused by a band of music, free whiskey, and other edibles, and kept aroused by objurgations on the “d—d abolitionists of Leavenworth!” Delaware struck out a new feature of electioneering. Instead of being satisfied with one day’s voting, they kept their polls open and the boat running until they had time to ascertain how many votes had been polled at Kickapoo, and also as much longer as it required to make up a larger vote. By the evening of the third day they had obtained nearly nine hundred (they could not have thrown more than fifty legal votes); so the polls closed in triumph.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

At some point the assault on democracy turns over into farce. Delaware’s returns asked too much. On receipt of the returns, “the first authority” named Kickapoo the winner and condemned Delaware’s three days of polling as “unheard of irregularity”. Phillips doesn’t name that authority, but he must mean the territorial government. Leavenworth acknowledged it and so would have conducted an election under its auspices. Likewise Kickapoo and Delaware, both solidly proslavery, had no reason to do otherwise. But by refusing to name it he can deny the government some measure of legitimacy and at least partially dodge questions about why he simultaneously held the body as illegitimate and cited its authority on the election returns.

By this point, early October, the legislature had adjourned. Phillips thus couldn’t damn them for accepting Kickapoo as the county seat. However, Wilson Shannon’s territorial executive recognized and cooperated with the legislature just as Andrew Reeder’s had. To endorse them would have undermined Phillips’ position and, in a work written in 1856, might yet do harm to the free state cause in general. The same sort of consideration went into how the Lincoln administration referred to and dealt with the Confederacy.

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