Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part Five

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Parts 12, 3, 4

Seizing the county seat from Leavenworth turned its proslavery men, at least temporarily, against the custom of Missourians coming over to decide Kansas’ elections. H. Miles Moore went all the way over to the free state movement, where he would win high office. Lucien Eastin, editor of the Leavenworth Herald did not go quite so far, but did rouse himself to damn now the very method by which he had gained his seat in the legislature. Kansans, it transpired, ought to govern Kansas after all. Having so declared, Eastin defended himself by reference to his career as a proslavery man. I doubt this pleased the editor of the Kickapoo Pioneer, which reminded him how he had come up.

The other proslavery town, all of forty or so people, took its loss as poorly as Leavenworth did. Delaware wanted the development that a county seat would bring as much as Kickapoo or Leavenworth, perhaps more as it had less to start from. Its industrious citizens kept a steamer running on the Missouri to bring voters from anywhere in its reach to the little town. The boat ran and the polls remained open for three days, learning Kickapoo’s totals and running the election long enough to beat them. A band, free food, and free alcohol entertained those who came. If Andrew Reeder had such amenities at Pawnee, he might have done better. William Phillips opined that Delaware could muster maybe fifty legal votes, but its returns included nigh unto nine hundred.

This, and a more plausible candidate in Kickapoo, led Wilson Shannon to pull an Andrew Reeder and set aside one obviously fraudulent election. This delighted the partisans for Delaware about as well as one would expect. They had stolen the election fair and square, and at some expense, after all. Their cooked count had a hundred more votes than Kickapoo could boast. What had Kansas come to if one could no longer steal an election by managing the bigger fraud? Delaware sued.

Phillips reports that

Even Kickapoo had to bite the dust before the sovereign will of “majority.” The election was referred to a court, which decided in favor of Delaware. This was, at least, consistent; for, as all the pro-slavery courts, which means all the courts in the territory, had decided in favor of bogus authority, it was not going to do to establish so dangerous a precedent as setting an election aside on account of any irregularity.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy's warehouse.

The Alton mob attacking Elijah Lovejoy’s warehouse.

In cracking a joke, Phillips made a broader point. For almost as long as the great controversy over slavery in the territories had raged, people proposed referring the matter to the courts. Roger Taney would have his say, but Phillips didn’t know that in 1856. He did know that the Kansas courts sided consistently with the proslavery party, all the way back to when they declared that the legislature could abandon Pawnee for the Shawnee Manual Labor School and remain a functioning legislature.

Digging a bit deeper, the principle that the proslavery minority must prevail ultimately constituted the chief tenet of white Southern political thought. They would take a majority if they could have it, but if they didn’t then so much the worse for the majority. Even the most aristocratic radicals often spoke softly about their dreams of rolling back the nineteenth century, but in practice the defense of slavery involved a great deal of trampling white republicanism. Kansas told that story to the nation writ large, but so did driving antislavery southerners from the South, the demands that northern states silence abolitionists, the Gag Rule in Congress, and the lynchings of dissenting whites.


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