Charles Sumner laid it all out for the Senate: The crime against Kansas admitted no denial, so instead his fellow senators had offered defenses. The Massachusetts Senator broke them down into four categories, the Apologies tyrannical, imbecile, absurd, and infamous. He went from the top:
The Apology tyrannical is founded on the mistaken act of Governor Reeder, in authenticalting the Usurping Legislature, by which it is asserted that, whatever may have been the actual force or fraud in its election, the people of Kansas are effectually concluded, and the whole proceeding is pleaded under the formal sanction of law.
In other words, Kansas’ first governor had the legal power to set aside bad elections and call for new ones, at least until the moment that the territorial legislature assembled at Pawnee. He failed to throw out the whole slate, or enough of it, so the apologists argued that the legislature’s formal legitimacy trumped all. Reeder accepted it and that made the bogus legislature the true government of Kansas, end of story. Congress had no business changing things, just
as the ancient tyrant listened and granted no redress to the human moans that issued from the heated brazen bull, which subtle cruelty had devised, This I call the Apology of technicality and inspired tyranny.
Of course that didn’t mean that Sumner let Reeder off. He criticized the governor for only permitting five days for election complaints to reach him. Reeder erred then and erred in accepting the great majority of the elections as-is. But his endorsement could not make a wrong into a right, “violence and fraud, wherever disclosed, vitiates completely every proceeding.” Furthermore, Sumner admitted that Reeder went to Kansas as Franklin Pierce’s proslavery “tool”. There, the governor’s “simple nature” and Pennsylvania upbringing worked to rouse his conscience to his proper duty. By turning on the legislature and serving the free state movement, Reeder atoned for his past errors.
Something certainly happened with Reeder, and he does come across as a man in over his head. He had no political experience to take with him to Kansas and he did repudiate the territorial government, though most probably he cared far less for slavery than he did for vindicating himself. The free staters came to Reeder, almost literally with his bag in hand and set to depart the territory for good. In exchange for joining them and serving as their spokesman, he demanded that their movement endorse his personal grievances against the legislature.