Almost a Leavenworth Election

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

We left Kansas only slightly bled. The proslavery mob at Leavenworth seized George Wetherell and supplied him generously with kicks and jumps on the back. Days later, they came back and destroyed the Territorial Register, the local free state paper. In both cases, the proslavery side had little in the way of forcible opposition and largely did its work in a straightforward, direct manner. Despite a close call at Lawrence, Kansas had yet to see anything like a pitched battle between bands of proslavery and free state Kansans. With a fairly miserable winter settling in, one might expect passions to cool and everyone to hole up until spring.

The free state movement had an election scheduled. On December 15, Kansas approved the constitution drafted at Topeka and the associated black law. That meant that the territorial government now had offices in need of filling. The next round of elections took place a month later, on January 15, 1856. We have, Gentle Readers, made it out of 1855. For the most part, the proslavery men seem to have followed past precedent and simply ignored free state elections. They had no legal standing, so who cared? Those living in and around Leavenworth had a different precedent to follow, written in their footprints on George Wetherell and the river mud on Territorial Register’s type.

Mayor Slocum of Leavenworth knew all about that precedent. He sent to Fort Leavenworth for help suppressing the mob back in December, to no avail. Rather than hazard a repeat of that performance, he

ordered that no election be held in Leavenworth city; and, as it was well known that any number of ruffians could be got from the adjoining state to enforce that order, it was not attempted.

William Phillips, who faulted his free state comrades for insufficient martial valor back in December, appreciated their plight better the next month. It may have helped that they chose to have the election anyway. As they didn’t dare Leavenworth, they removed to Easton, “some twelve miles distant” to have their vote two days later.

Eastin did not make for an ideal polling place:

by this arrangement it would be needles sot add that comparatively few could go to the polls through a deep snow in such severe weather, well knowing, as they did, that the chances for a fight even there were pretty good. In fact, while Leavenworth could have polled upwards of five hundred free-state votes, little more than a hundred were polled at Easton.

Per Phillips, the free state party arranged things with enough subtlety that the proslavery men didn’t have a plan in place to disrupt the election. They had to improvise.

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