Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part Three

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Sorry for the delay, Gentle Readers. For some reason this post did not go out as scheduled.

Parts 1 and 2

It turned out that even the official government of Kansas had some standards that it felt obligated to uphold for elections, even if it meant displeasing some proslavery men. Wilson Shannon looked at the returns for the county seat election of October, 1855, and saw that Delaware kept its polls open for three days in its attempt to deny Kickapoo the title. These scruples did not apply to Kickapoo, where a more expeditious fraud perpetrated with the aid of Missourians made that town the county seat instead of the more populous and somewhat antislavery Leavenworth.

William Phillips considered Leavenworth more antislavery than not, though also not aligned with the free state movement. It had a sizable proslavery contingent. These men, like their antislavery neighbors, wanted the county seat at their town. As the largest settlement in the area, they had a reasonable claim to it. A county seat would in time mean county courts which would require lawyers and clerks and draw more business to Leavenworth than it might otherwise enjoy. The value of their property would increase, more customers would frequent their shops, and everyone would get happily rich together. The border ruffians and Kickapoo took that chance from them.

Phillips reports that the previously proslavery editor of the Leavenworth Herald felt sufficiently aggrieved, despite his membership in “the Bogus Council of the Shawnee Mission” to take to printing homilies on the wrong the town had suffered. He had plenty of company:

All of the respectable, which means the property-holding, pro-slavery men about Leavenworth, looked solemn; so much so that their friends were seriously apprehensive that they would “ketch religion.”

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

From a man who owed his election to the border ruffian fraud on down, Leavenworth’s proslavery men had apparently had quite enough. They might like slavery, hate Yankees, and otherwise have all the correct prejudices, but they did not come to Kansas to find themselves pushed to the sidelines by their presumptive allies.

We would find H. Miles Moore among their number. His testimony to the Howard Committee confesses that he came first to Leavenworth to help steal the first delegate election back in November, 1854. He knew of preparations for the fraud at the Assembly elections the following March and saw David Rice Atchison’s company pass through. Moore’s second statement to the committee dates his permanent removal to Kansas to September, 1854 but he gave the next year in his first and had he gone over to stay before the delegate election he hardly would have needed to enter Kansas to vote illegally. The clerks who compiled the Howard Report didn’t always get the small details right. In their defense, they couldn’t work the text over electronically to spot errors.

To hear Moore tell it, the election hijacking had begun to bother him even on the day of the Assembly elections. He tried to convince free state men to attend the polls, even if he believed the Missourians “had some justification” for doing as they did. He came with them earlier, as he admits, to help secure slavery. The county seat asked too much to bear:

their course with regard to the mere local election for county seat was so high-handed an outrage upon the rights of the people of the Territory, of whom I had then become one, that I came to the resolution that I would no longer act with a party so regardless of the rights of others that they would interfere in a matter in which they could have no personal or political interest. I determined to act with the free State party so long as they were actuated by what I considered proper motives, though I would have continued to act with the pro-slavery party had they not acted as they did.

Moore went from at least somewhat proslavery over to the antislavery side, if with some cavils, and found himself off at Topeka for the constitutional convention. Reading the sources, one can’t miss the general trend of proslavery radicalism alienating its own allies within Kansas. Moore gives us a concrete example of the process almost as it happened. We can’t know the minds of every Kansan who took that journey in the 1850s, but they all had the same facts before them and through him, as with others, we can get at least a general sense of how people in his position at the time understood events.

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