Jumping the Governor

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Andrew Reeder faced unfriendly crowds on his way back from Washington to Kansas. One man told him of a denizen of Weston, Missouri, who promised to get together a mob and scour Kansas for the governor, fit him with a noose, and gainfully employ the nearest tree. Reeder answered back that he’d happily shoot dead any such man, even if he hanged moments later, but would not let such threats intimidate him. One resident of Weston, site of William Phillips’ lynching  (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and home to the Platte County Self-Defense Association, had a bit more in mind than threats.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, of the Self-Defensives, authored its manifesto (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Therein he described the dire threat that antislavery men presented to Missouri:

The security of our slave-property was not alone involved; our very lives were endangered. The negro-thief, the abolitionists, who induces a slave to run away, is a criminal of a far more dangerous character than the house-breaker, or the highway robber, — his crime of a far higher grade than that of the incendiary — it ranks, at least, with that of the midnight assassin.

Give slaves ideas about freedom and they make the incredible discovery that they dislike slavery. This would sunder the bonds of affection between them and their loving masters, they of the bountiful whips that always engender the dearest feelings. Racial annihilation would accompany financial ruin. Such threats required determined men to meet them head on:

the right of self-defence requires that we should resort to the strong hand for self-protection. We have no law by which the expression of abolition sentiments is made a penal offence, and yet it is a crime of the highest grade. It is not within even the much abused liberty of speech; but in a slaveholding community, the expression, of such sentiments is a positive act, more criminal, more dangerous, than kindling the torch of the incendiary, mixing the poison of the assassin. The necessity for a law punishing such a crime, has not, until now, been felt in Missouri. Until such a law is enacted, self-protection demands that we should guard against such crimes.

The sight of Andrew Reeder, still the governor and returning to Kansas to make yet more trouble, passing through Weston proved too much for Stringfellow to bear. He marched up to Reeder and demanded

an explanation of remarks which were represented as made by him at Easton, Pa., during his late eastern tour, and whether he had ever remarked that the conduct of the border Missourians was ruffianly, &c., and whether he -Gen. Stringfellow- was embraced under that expression.

Yes and yes. A challenge like this often meant a duel in the future. Admitting to the charge almost invited one. Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era reports that Stringfellow sought his satisfaction. Reeder, “sitting in a recumbent posture” per the Herald of Freedom, declined.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Furthermore, he

gave his private opinion that Stringfellow was responsible for the excitement along the border, and that it would never have existed if not for the course pursued by him in the agitating the public mind.

If Stringfellow could not have a duel, he could at least have a fight. He

approached him [Reeder] and struck him over the head, knocking him, with the chair on which he sat, to the floor, and, according to his own version of the affair, kicked him when down.

Etcheson, with access to sources I lack, fleshes out the story more than the newspaper did:

Stringfellow leapt on him, knocking him from his chair. Reeder went down with Stringfellow on top, but managed to free himself. Both men drew pistols. Hearing the fight, other territorial officials entered the room and restrained Stringfellow.

The Herald of Freedom reports that Reeder came out of this with a “scratched or bruised” face. If Reeder needed another reason to locate the legislature at Pawnee, aside his hopes to get rich and a general desire to keep business untroubled by Missourian meddling, Stringfellow had just given it to him. While proslavery men had abused private citizens and attacked judges of election, they had never before turned their spoken threats of violence against the governor into action. By attacking a legitimate authority holding a presidential appointment they went a step closer to outright insurrection.

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The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1 and 2

The proslavery majority of the Kansas Assembly purged itself of all its antislavery members save one, replacing them with men all right on the hemp and sound on the goose. Whatever faint hope Andrew Reeder had that they would set aside the vexing slavery question and instead join together with him to get rich off the lands around Pawnee came to nothing. They wanted to consolidate their victory and further secure Kansas for slavery, not waste it scheming with the governor over deeply questionable investments in a capital they didn’t want. Given how much they loathed him, Reeder can’t have felt much shock at the discovery.

In their own minds, the proslavery men had beaten Andrew Reeder in the March elections. They beat him again when they tossed out the results of the special elections he called in May. They could very well keep on beating him until he gave up or bled out. I planned to deal with these later, under the mistaken impression that a key incident took place after the legislature convened. Research today set me straight, so we must back up a few days and depart from the legislature’s dealings for the moment. I think it best to take these things in their chronological context, or as closely as reasonable.

Andrew Reeder came back to Kansas at the end of June, 1855. The June 30 Herald of Freedom reported that news of Reeder’s approach ran ahead of him and many crowds met his steamer as it went up the Missouri. Everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of the Pennsylvania lawyer. Some also wanted to have words:

He was several times rudely assailed by his enemies, but the Governor showed much coolness in warding off their wordy thrusts.

Or more than words:

On one occasion a gentleman approached Gov. R., and said he heard a friend at Weston, Mo., remark that if Gov. Reeder returned to the Territory he would gather up a company of men, ten thousand of necessary, and search every part of the Territory, if need be, to find and hang him.

Reeder thanked the man for his information and had kind words to say in return:

Tell your friend that whether he comes at the head of ten hundred or ten thousand men, it will make no difference; I shall never be mobbed; and your friend, if he makes a demonstration in that direction, may rest assured that his minutes are numbered, for I will put a ball through his head thought I know I shall be cut into inch pieces afterwards.

William Phillips

William Phillips

The Platte County Self-Defense Association based itself in Weston. The town hosted the lynching of William Phillips (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). None other than Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow himself lived there. A threat from that direction could mean very serious business, even if Reeder answered it with the customary bravado. He did not bring his family back to Kansas with him, which probably helped in mustering the expected courage of a nineteenth century man under threat.

All the same, the rhetorical violence aimed at the Governor by the proslavery party soon transformed itself into literal violence, just as it had for William Phillips.

The Case Against Expulsion

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The legislature of Kansas convened at Pawnee and immediately set for itself resolving vexing differences. Between the fraudulent elections of March and the smaller number of fair elections in May to rectify the March frauds, in however  limited a fashion, they had two men claiming a right to several seats. The legislature took seriously Andrew Reeder’s injunction that they set aside their differences and begin the great and necessary work of building Kansas. What better way to do so than to purge dissenters from their ranks? Thus, after the free soil men refused to resign, the Council and House formed committees that took two days to examine the cases and expel all the victors of the May special elections. In their places, as the committees ruled those elections void ab initio, sat the proslavery men elected by Missourians in March. Only one free soiler remained, the House’s Samuel Houston. He had a certificate of election that dated back to March.

But the free soilers did initially come to Pawnee, barring one who resigned in advance, and until expelled they occupied the seats they won in May. That meant that some of them sat on the committees on credentials, where they had a small role in deciding their own fates. They wrote a minority report that Houston entered into the record. It began with a direct repudiation of the majority’s doctrine that Reeder had only narrow, limited powers. Like the majority, the minority took its argument straight from the Kansas-Nebraska Act:

The government of Kansas Territory, in the opinion of your committee, is an official and progressive one, or, in other words, it is a government whose successive steps of progression is dependent on official action. Congress passes a law designating the president and senate of the United States as the means to a governor, and the governor, when thus appointed, becomes the organizing authority from which the legislative body emanates.

Congress, through the governor, organizes the territory, and through him continues to retain its connection, and hold and exercise such control as it may from time to time.

A territory, the minority might have added, thus differs from a state. Much of the wider southern interest in Kansas revolved around assigning to territories all the powers and prerogatives of states. This, surely only by coincidence, rendered the territory absolutely sovereign on matters of slavery. Few Americans, even among abolitionists, believed that the federal government had the power to abolish slavery within a state. Whatever one thinks of the minority’s conclusion, they certainly have it right that Congress reserved to itself considerable power over territorial government. It could even veto territorial laws.

All power thus flowed from Reeder, who acted as Congress’ agent in Kansas. Reading second twenty-two of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they found it

made him the sole judge of the returns when made out by the judges. It requires him to declare the person or persons having the highest number of legal votes to be duly elected, and confines his commissionary powers to members thus elected. And in the twenty-third section the governor is further specifically and definitely instructed how to judge of legal voters. It positively decides that no man but a white man, and that one an actual resident, shall be entitled to vote.

This would bear some unpacking. The twenty-second section begins by vesting in the governor and legislature the legislative power over Kansas. It goes on to specify:

And the first election shall be held at such time and places, and be conducted in such manner, both as to the persons who shall superintend such election and the returns thereof, as the Governor shall appoint and direct

The judges of election have authority over how they run elections, but so does the governor. Thus his instructions on the oath they must take and require of questionable voters fall under directing the manner of the election. He can’t personally come to each polling place and exercise his authority directly, but Reeder’s advance instructions do the same job. An election not conducted in the manner he proscribed would thus produce returns of questionable legality.

The twenty-third section further specifies just what it took to legally vote in Kansas, criteria that the invading Missourians could not have met if they tried. Few bothered with even token gestures in that direction. Thus they voted illegally and Reeder had no right to issue their candidates certificates of election. In fact, the law required that he refuse since those men transparently did not possess a majority of the legal votes.

Furthermore, Reeder could not usurp the legislature’s prerogatives in denying certificates of election to the winners of the March frauds and giving them to the winners in May. The Kansas-Nebraska Act vest him legislative power and authority, if shared with the assembly. By accusing him of usurpation, the majority

assert[ed] that this legislative body exists before it can have a legal existence. Whatever latitude may be taken in state legislation, with reference to contested elections, they can form no precedent for us, for the plain reason that, while their governments are formed and complete, ours is in a forming state, and therefore not complete.

No legislature existed for Reeder to usurp when he set down oaths, set aside elections, and ordered new ones. None did exist until the second of July, 1855.

The minority went on to recount the bare facts of the many irregularities back in March: oaths not taken by judges, oaths modified by the judges, and voters not examined. Even if Reeder had colored outside the lines, and they insisted otherwise, he did it to stop obvious frauds and actual usurpations of his own legal authority.

The Case for Expulsion

JH Stringfellow

J.H. Stringfellow

The legislature of Kansas met in Pawnee, town of many imagined delights, and immediately took on itself the task of deciding just who belonged among its members. The proslavery majority unseated all the free soil members save one, who could claim his seat in right of an election during the Missourian invasion of March rather than the relatively fair special elections of May. In the vacated offices, the legislature placed the men who won the March elections. These included such a moderate voice as John Stringfellow. With a man like him in office, how could free soilers complain about harsh treatment? He only wanted to run them out of the territory and maybe, just maybe, kill Andrew Reeder if the governor refused to leave.

The purge of the legislature continued the dispute that the proslavery party had with Reeder over his calling for special elections to begin with. He had no power to do any such thing, to their minds, and so many proslavery men had boycotted the May elections. Legalities suddenly took on great significance when they injured the free soil side, compared to their relative triviality in the matter of something like proslavery Missourians making themselves Kansans for a day to control elections.

Though the decision obviously had far more to do with partisanship than principle, did the proslavery men have a legal leg to stand on? Our sympathies certainly lay elsewhere, but it only seems fair to ask the question. Previously, I could only go from the text of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Constitution to conjecture their case. But as I have the reports of the committees on credentials before me now, I have the benefit of their own words to share.

After laying out the basic problem that several seats had two claimants due to the two different elections, the committees proceeded to the question of what authority the governor had over elections. They discovered, unsurprisingly, that he had little at all. As the territorial executive, they adduced a general principle that Reeder’s powers extended only so far as clear grant of authority existed:

From the fact that his duties are clearly defined and pointed out, it would follow as a sequence that his authority should be just as clear and explicit. This may be truly said of all merely administrative or executive officers.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The explicit and clear authority ran as follows:

it will be seen that it devolved upon him [the governor] to declare the places at which, and the time when, the first election for members of the legislative assembly should be held, and that said election should be conducted in such manner, both as to persons who shall superintend such elections and the returns thereof, as the governor shall elect. This is nothing more than an authority to appoint judges of the election, and to direct the manner in which the returns shall be made. It cannot mean an authority to direct in what way the judges shall discharge their respective duties, for it should be presumed that they know the law, and are duly impressed with the duties they have to perform. We hold that a judge of an election, just as any other judge, has a discretionary power in all things where the law is silent, and when that discretion is once exercised, the result thereof becomes final, unless his action is subject to revision by another and higher tribunal.

Reeder could appoint the judges; he had no right power to question their decisions. He had no right power to proscribe a restrictive oath binding them to accept only the votes of Kansas residents. He certainly had no power to receive their returns and then decide that the election did not count and would be done over. No law of Congress or the territory placed any such restraints upon the judges, so they could do as they liked. The governor served strictly as their agent, a clerk who took the returns and wrote out certificates of election.

The committee went on to opine on the dangers of allowing the executive to decide who could and could not sit in the legislature. This looked dangerously royal to them, and they noted that even Bad Old England did not tolerate such an arrangement. Parliament made itself the judge of its membership, just as the US Congress did. Otherwise, the executive could simply expel anybody who did not vote as he liked. Reeder didn’t do that, of course. The proslavery majority did. They, after all, represented the people.

This may sound a bit alien, but fits comfortably in the nineteenth century mainstream. The Whigs made it virtually a test of party orthodoxy to trust the legislature over the presidency, which corrupt King Andrew Jackson had proven inherently suspect. Even Democratic presidents had much greater deference toward Congress than one might see now. The executive of the day had a much more prime ministerial character. The American electorate also generated much more parliamentary returns, regularly electing a working majority from the party of the man who won the presidency.

Achieving Consensus

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder opened the first session of Kansas’ territorial legislature with a speech imploring the members to set aside their differences and work together for the good of all Kansans. It sounds very much like the speech any politician would give in such a situation. The legislators gave him the usual polite applause and took seriously his plea for sober judgment and achieving consensus. They began by taking up the most divisive matter they could, but one which had to have a solution before they could proceed much further. Between the special elections of May 22 and the regular elections of March 30, the Kansas House and Council had ten free soil members. Or did it?

From the March elections onward, the proslavery party refused to recognize any power vested in Reeder to set aside any elections. They maintained that the legislature itself had the power to judge the credentials of its members, not the governor. To them, anybody who won a special election in May but had not won the regular election in March also had simply stolen the seat of the rightful victor. They could not stand for that and would not lend such electoral fraud legitimacy by accepting even a minority of such members.

But these men, even if some of them published death threats in their newspapers, lived in the civilized nineteenth century. They could deal with fellow white men as gentlemen and cordially invited the ten free soilers to resign. The free soilers refused. But say they had not. Who would take their places?

In case of vacancy in the legislature, Andrew Reeder had the power to call for new elections. Actual vacancy, especially one that involved an absent free soil vote, would surely provoke no protests from the proslavery party about the governor abusing his power or exceeding his authority. It transpired, however, that Andrew Reeder already had called those elections. This occurred back in March, when every seat in the legislature stood vacant. In populating it for the first time, he had already decided who belonged in each office.

Or so petitions received by the legislature suggested. I have this by way of Etcheson, who cites volume five of Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society. Given the apparent wealth of sources therein, I wish I’d checked earlier to see if I could get a copy.

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

The report of the Committee on Credentials begins on page 180 (186 in the PDF) and states the issue quite clearly. For the Council:

elections were held throughout the territory, and returns made to the governor, who chose to regard the elections held in the second and third districts for councilmen as illegal and void, and issued a second proclamation, ordering elections to be again held in those districts on the 22d day of May last, and granted to J.A. Wakefield and Jesse Wood certificates of election, by virtue and in consequence of which they now hold seats as members of this body.

Gentle readers, you might remember Wakefield from the two past elections. Both (parts 1, 2) times (parts 1, 2, 3) he had brushes with proslavery violence. The poor guy could use a break. He didn’t get one:

Andrew McDonald, by a communication addressed to the president of the council, dated July 2d, 1855, contests the right of J.A. Wakefield to a seat in this body, because, as he says, at the election held in the second council district, on the 30th day of March, 1855, he received a majority of the legal votes cast for councilman.

A Hiram J. Strickler contested Jesse Wood’s seat on the same grounds.

In the House, literally under the same windowless and doorless Pawnee roof, faced the same problem. The men who won in March simply did not accept subsequent losses in May. That meant that either way, the legislature would exclude men who had won elections for their seats. Someone had to win and someone had to lose.

The proslavery majorities wasted no time picking their winners and losers. With the exception of Samuel D. Houston, who had won back in March, the committees found every free soiler owed his seat to an irregular election and so voted to expel him. In their places came the proslavery men elected by fraud back in March.

The House committee complained about the haste, as the whole business consumed all of two days:

The foregoing, your committee know, is very imperfect; but the shortness of the time allowed to investigate the subject referred to them did not admit of a more thorough and comprehensive report thereon.

The Kansas legislature concluded its business of expelling the men elected in relatively free elections and replacing them with those elected in blatant frauds on the Fourth of July, 1855. But they had achieved a consensus. In fact, they did Reeder one better and approached unanimity. All of one free soil man still held his seat at the end of the day.

Pawnee: Come for the Legislature and Nothing Else

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When last we left Andrew Reeder, he had called the Kansas legislature to meet at Pawnee. While situated far from the Missouri border and thus presumably more secure against Missourian meddling, Reeder’s choice for the seat of government probably had much more to do with how he planned to get rich off real estate investments thereabout. I hoped that Nichols would have more detail on what Reeder did and how he did it, but she tells essentially the same story that Rawley and Etcheson did. She does, however, give a much more memorable account of the place itself than the spare description from the Howard Report.

One did not just make a day trip to Pawnee.  Nichols takes us there along with the legislators:

They had to make an early start, for Pawnee lay some 125 miles from the Missouri border and, therefore, almost that far from the Territory’s center of population. And they could not travel light, for scouts had warned them that Pawnee was a ‘paper town.’ They carried tents, pots, provisions.

[…]

at last, they came to the capital city, which still existed largely in its promoters’ imaginations. Two half-finished shacks and a windowless, doorless two-story stone capitol building were all that marred the beauty of the rim-nested spot. ‘It was a novel sight,’ reported James Christian, ‘to see grave Councilmen and brilliant orators of the House of Representatives cooking their food by the side of a log, or sleeping on a buffalo robe in the open air, with the broad canopy of heaven for covering.’ The only two things that were plentiful in the new capital, he said, were ‘rocky mounds and highly rectified whiskey.’ Pawnee was a long way from anywhere.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The proslavery party, from newspaper editors to legislators-elect, had every reason to hate Andrew Reeder. He set aside some of their elections, which they stole fair and square. He had not hurried through elections back when few save committed proslavery men lived in Kansas. He took precautions, however ineffectual, against fraud in the March elections. He tried to get Franklin Pierce to back him up with the Army. Now he dragged them across the length of Kansas to a transparently fake town which had no accommodations for them and expected them to sleep under the stars for a session of the legislature on top of it? Perhaps I lack a proper appreciation for the great outdoors, but I think that I’d want his head over the last one myself, highly rectified whiskey or not.

Reeder convened the legislature on the “sultry” second of July, 1855:

Looking much cooler than he must have felt in his high stock and best black broadcloth, he lifted his not inconsiderable weight from his chair and faced his unfriendly audience. He stood before it, his gray mustache curling in magnificent defiance of the wilting heat and, speaking with all the oratory befitting the time and the occasion, he came at last to his concluding plea: ‘I ask you, then, gentlemen, to lay aside all selfish and equivocal motives, to discard all unworthy ends and, in the spirit of justice and charity toward each other, with pure hearts, tempered feelings, and sober judgments to enter upon your duties.’

Reeder got the usual polite applause. Perhaps for a moment he thought he had overreacted in sending his family out of the Kansas, but given the things said about him in the papers one imagines he couldn’t have held such a thought long. Any hope that with the legislature seated, everyone would quiet down and get to the important business of making Andrew Reeder rich.

The legislators took Reeder at his word. Magnanimous in victory, they turned at once to burying the hatchet, soberly judging that it best belonged in their fellows.

The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery party in Kansas wanted Andrew Reeder gone. They said as much in their main paper, the Atchison Squatter SovereignFranklin Pierce did too, even if the president appointed him in the first place. The governor’s commitment to the integrity of elections did not help him in the slightest. Nor did his plan to profit off making Pawnee, in all its splendor, the site of Kansas’ legislature. But they counted Reeder an enemy and threatened his life almost from his first day in Kansas. Forced to work with him or face his veto pen, would they decide that getting things done trumped holding a grudge? Reeder came into all of this avowing his neutrality and commitment to popular sovereignty, not doctrinaire abolitionism. He had not set aside all their stolen elections. They still had a majority when they met. Even if they hated the man personally, they had things they wanted to do and had their way almost all the time. Surely they could find some way to compromise?

They could sprout wings and fly away nearly as easily. Right after the stolen elections of March, the April 3 Squatter Sovereign declared victory over

The entire forces of Abolitionism, Reederism, Free-Soilism, and other isms combined, completely Routed. Kansas declared in favor of Slavery.

We have the satisfaction and pleasure of recording one of the most brilliant political victories ever accomplished by any party.

By this point, the Pennsylvania Democrat who started telling people that if not for the cost of slaves, he’d buy one and take it to Kansas himself had transformed, at least in the minds of many, into the personification of Abolition. Thus victory was not simply a defeat for Reeder, but for all he stood for. Why should they compromise? They won the elections. Nobody had elected Reeder, and probably no “true” Kansan cared for him. John Stringfellow, editor of the Sovereign and member-elect of the Kansas House, doesn’t sound like a man eager to cooperate.

JH Stringfellow

John H. Stringfellow

Under the heading Governor Reeder’s Popularity, the Sovereign continues:

We venture the assertion, that out of the three hundred and forty-six votes polled at the precinct in this District, not five out of the number could be induced to endorse Gov Reeder. We have never seen in any community, such a feeling against an executive officer. What is the hardest, we have have no means of redress. Unlike the citizens in our neighboring States, we have no say-so in the selection of our officers, and have to put up with any broken down politician the President may saddle upon us. We look upon Gov. Reeder as the tail end of a miserable broken down set of politicians, who have been boring the President for office since his inaugural, and who was sent here to Kansas, to be killed off, and his supplications for office put an end to. Pierce looks upon Kansas as a political slaughter Pen, and free soil candidates for office of long standing, are assigned the Governorship of this territory with the understanding that the Administration is not responsible for life or limb. If the feeling against the Governor is not soon lulled, the storm will raise to such a pitch, that a vacancy in the Gubernatorial chair of Kansas will result.

This from the proslavery men in the full glow of their March victories, before Reeder even set aside an election. The illusion of near unanimity about Atchison faded fast, though. The very next item proclaims that the district’s free soilers

as a general thing, acted wise and kept away from the polls.

Two items down

Free-soilers are getting too numerous in our neighborhood. They must be “smoked out.”

Another telling admission appears in the next column, under the heading Reeder Beat at his own Game:

Mister Governor Reeder, after gerrymandering, swindling, cutting out, taking off, putting on, throwing in, and taking out of this District, has succeeded in getting his forces handsomely whipped.

To beat Reeder at his own game, in their own words, the proslavery party would need to engage in gerrymandering, swindling, and all the rest. And just in case Reeder missed the direct death threat previous, the Sovereign emphasized that his presence alone made him so obnoxious that they could barely help themselves. If Pierce would not free them from Reeder, then

God only knows what the consequences will be. We hope; we pray that we may be spared the necessity of such desparate measures; but, if we are left with the alternative of living under a despotic government or choosing a more honorable mode of freeing ourselves, we are plain to admit that we shall choose the latter course. In the language of Patrick Henry-“Give us liberty, or give us death.”

Preferably the death of Andrew Reeder, of course. One can’t read things like this and not see the winter of 1860-1861, or April 14, 1865. On the second of July, the man who published these words would even find himself in the same room with Reeder. What could go wrong?

The Infamous Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When Andrew Reeder convened the legislature of Kansas at Pawnee on the second of July, 1855, in the middle of nowhere and in a building that lacked windows and doors, he can’t have expected manly hugs and mutual affirmations to define their working relationship. Almost everything Reeder had done in the territory alienated the proslavery party, which considered him an abolitionist. They had not shied away, at least in private but in ways that soon reached Reeder, threatened his life. Reeder took the matter seriously enough to have armed guards when he announced setting aside some of the stolen March elections and to leave his family in Pennsylvania when he returned to Kansas. But he had a job to do, and might have hoped that plying legislators with discounted shares in the Pawnee town association would sufficiently lubricate things.  The proslavery men did, after all, still have an overwhelming majority in the Kansas Council and House of Representatives.

If Reeder had any such hopes, he can’t have taken seriously much of what reached his ears. For that matter, the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, under editors John H. Stringfellow (Benjamin’s brother, and a member-elect of the Kansas House.) and Robert Kelley (Who liked to tell people that he learned printing and hatred of Yankees in Boston.), devoted part of their April 3 issue to Reeder and celebrating their victories. The paper, boasting circulation over two thousand and declaring both “The Union – It Must Be Preserved” and “The South, and her Institutions” had this to say about the governor:

In forwarding to the Judges of the Election the names of the legal voters in this District, Gov. Reeder was careful to put on the list the name of no person south of Independence creek. Out of two hundred citizens of Atchison, we could not find one recorded upon that paper. Even we, who have not been out of the territory since the election of Whitfield, were not honored with a place on that precious document; but, through the kindness of the judges, we were allowed to deposit a vote in the same box that received the tickets of those whom the Governor appointed to do the entire voting of the District.

That all sounds very partisan and corrupt but, even if true, the paper reports that the facilities in place to fix the problem worked just fine. Given that the author knew that very well, this scans as more like a preemptive defense of the election stealing: of course the list of votes doesn’t match the census or poll books, Reeder cut them off the rolls! Nobody in Atchison would require such excuses, or fall for them, but people elsewhere in the country might. Immediately after boasting about their circulation numbers, the editors asked for support from the South at large for a year or two. A newspaper man has to eat, after all.

JH Stringfellow

John Stringfellow

Lest anybody think the Squatter Sovereign took this imagined partiality as the cost of doing business, or endured it without complaint, the article immediately shifts to direct condemnation:

Such partiality in the Governor of a State or Territory is of too serious a nature to be permitted to pass unnoticed. if the present Administration does not look into the actions of this WORTHY official-judge him according to his works, and mete out his punishment accordingly, we shall be forced to admit, as has been charged, that it is as UNJUST and DISHONEST, as Reeder is ROTTEN and CORRUPT!

One wonders what the Pierce administration could possibly have done to make proslavery men feel betrayed, after handing them the Missouri Compromise repeal. Possibly Stringfellow or Kelley held a torch for Cuba. They might have also recalled the administration’s early embrace of keeping the compromise in place and resistance to the repeal plan, but those positions came and went quickly over the course of barely a week a year prior and ended with an outcome that the Sovereign’s editors personally enjoyed every day. People have held political resentments for less, if often in the course of expressing other and more serious grievances.

The Luxuries of Pawnee

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder called Kansas territorial legislature to meet at Pawnee. The overwhelmingly proslavery body, stolen fair and square by the Missourians, did not particularly want to meet so far into Kansas and so far from Missouri. Nor did many of them thrill at the chance to heed Reeder’s summons and develop good working relationships with the man. By his own admission, some had threatened his life. That tends to make further interaction with people difficult.

Reeder earned their ire by not letting them have elections before any free soilers arrived in Kansas. He saw how they pick-pocketed the territory and made off with its delegate to Congress in the one election he did call early and so issued firm instructions to the judges of legislative elections back in March to exclude non-residents from voting. When those measures did not suffice, Reeder set aside some of the elections the Missourians stole and called new ones. Then he went off to Washington in hopes of getting support from Franklin Pierce to resist Missourian dominance of Kansas.

And now he had come back, without any real help from the president, and called the legislature to meet in the middle of nowhere. Reeder defended his choice on the grounds that distance would mitigate against Missourian intervention. Considering that the legislature wanted to meet virtually on the Missouri border at the Shawnee Mission, one can’t argue with the idea in principle. But Reeder had his personal interest in Pawnee. According to his testimony, the town association gave him a few shares in their venture when he toured the territory. Robert Wilson, who sold him some shares, thought him one of the original stockholders. Either way

Prior to the time that the seat of government was located at Pawnee, Governor Reeder tried to get an interest in the real estate property about there, and made several claims for his friends in Pennsylvania.

Those efforts paid off:

Governor Reeder had a claim of about eighty acres near Pawnee, and was interested in one or two other claims. His nephew, Col. Hutter, had a claim near town. It was some time in February, 1855, that I first heard Governor Reeder speak about locating the capital at Pawnee. I had heard that spoken of before then, but not by him. He spoke of it after he had become interested in the town, and the real estate near there.

Wilson also told the Howard Committee that Reeder coveted the claim of a Mr. Dickinson. The association raised $1,200 to buy him out. As a shareholder in the association, some of that money probably came straight from Reeder’s own pocket. He expected to see it back with the business and settlement that the territorial capital would draw out to the middle of nowhere. But the legislature might not oblige. Reeder had a plan to grease those wheels:

Governor Reeder said to me that we ought to sell shares to the members of the legislature for less than we would to other persons, so that the capitol might remain at Pawnee. I sold Judge Johnson five shares in that way, and with that understanding. I sold Governor Reeder some twenty shares, but I cannot say as it was with any such understanding as that.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Reeder might have bought those additional shares with the intention of selling them at the discounted rate himself. Absent access to his papers, I can’t say. The fact remains that he very clearly chose Kansas capital with an eye to his personal profit. Wilson describes Pawnee very clearly as not an obvious place to locate a government:

Pawnee is a little south of west from here, some 125 miles on the extreme western borders of the population of this Territory, and will not be the center of population unless we get a railroad.

A railroad could change many things, and Kansas had to look like a good spot for one, but no one could miss that the Pacific railroad languished in Congress for years by this point.

Reeder argued that he had to seat the government at Pawnee because the town, meaning himself and his partners, had spent a lot of money preparing the place. When the legislature arrived, Reeder said, they found

The building in which they assembled was of stone, two stories high, about forty feet by eight, well provided with seats and writing-tables. Ample accommodations for boarding and lodging existed in the town

He went on to name four boarding houses which together could serve as many as a hundred and ten people, though he admitted one of these stood two miles from town.

Wilson told a different story

The house of the association has never been finished, and has no windows or doors in it; that is the house the legislature met in.

I don’t know about Reeder, but I suspect that most people then and now would feel the presence of seats and writing tables did not much distract from the absence of windows and doors. Even in summer one might want those, and one certainly would come winter.

The Pawnee Land Scheme

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder’s real estate dealings have hung over a few posts without further explanation. I hoped to find a better source than those I have on hand, but have so far failed. I’ve got a copy of Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas in the mail that may shed more light, but it might not arrive until the middle of November. What follows comes from Reeder’s and other testimony in the Howard Report, Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, and Nevins’ Ordeal of the Union, Volume Two.

Reeder himself begins the account with his visit to Franklin Pierce. The president

stated that the most pertinacious complaints of me had been made to him, and the most urgent demands had been made for my removal upon every ground that could be got up; that Gen. Atchison pressed it in the most excited manner, and would listen to no reasoning at all.

Atchison’s involvement speaks volumes. Bourbon Dave had no trouble stirring up others to go steal elections, and even coming with them to watch, but corrupt land deals? There he drew the line. One had to have some standards. To hear Reeder tell it

As to the charges of purchasing Indian lands and interests in towns, he said he was entirely satisfied as to the former, that it was all fair and honorable, and that hundreds had done so before me-ridiculed Mr. Manypenny’s objection to it, and said he had rebuked him when he talked to him of it; he was, nevertheless, sorry under the circumstances of this case, that I had many any purchases, as they made a pretext for my enemies to annoy him with demands for my removal.

Manypenny served as Indian Commissioner. He had negotiated the cessation of Indian lands back in 1853 which helped grease the Kansas-Nebraska wheels and drew controversy then due to his close relationship with prominent southerners and how he managed, surely by pure accident, to not extinguish Indian title to lands in Nebraska suited to a Pacific railroad. He had the job of reviewing purchases like Reeder’s, and in the governor’s case made

a most violent and high-tempered report against them upon the grounds of unfairness, as well as of technical want of conformity to the rules of the department.

This all happened back in January, by which time Atchison had let everyone know that he wanted Reeder gone. Reeder certainly looks bad in all of this, but Manypenny likewise looks short of disinterested and innocent. It sounds like Reeder tried to improperly buy Indian lands reserved, in the language of the time, to the “half-breed Kaw.” He apparently examined the land in the guise of his official business, which may have made the corruption harder still to deny. The War Department later found his partner in the deal, an officer, guilty of “irregularities” in buying the land. Manypenny’s objection probably came on both material and political grounds.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

Which brings us to Pawnee. Aside the investments in building the place up for the legislature, which Reeder had an interest in, the governor cited its distance from Missouri as the chief appeal. This prompted considerable controversy:

as soon as it was ascertained or suspected that I would call the legislature together at that place, it was at once assailed through the press and otherwise to break it down; that a free-State population recently had commenced settling in and around it; that it was obvious its natural advantages would attract emigrants; that its distance from Missouri would constitute a great objection to the projectors and friends of the foreign invasion of our Territory, whilst the same reasons would,l in a few years, make it a rallying point for northern men, and draw about it a large settlement; that this was foreseen by the Missourians, and hence their hostility to it and their determination to break it up; that I had been informed by a reputable and credible citizen of Missouri that General Atchison had written to General [Secretary of War Jefferson] Davis on the subject, and that difficulties had been started in regard to the military reserve of Fort Riley, and as to a dispute between the commanding officer there and a couple of intruders, which had so resulted that the War Department had declared it, wrongly as I believed, within the military reservation, that after a number of houses had been erected, besides a large hall for the meeting of the legislature, and after it was known throughout the States that my proclamation had convened the legislature there.

Reeder paints this as a kind of convoluted misunderstanding. He designated Pawnee the seat of government, knowing it had a fort nearby. Fort Riley had a military reserve which nobody had yet surveyed. Some settlers, before all of this, had come in and received permission to set up a town near to the fort but on land not within the unsurveyed reserve. Much the same had happened previously with Leavenworth, the military reserve’s boundaries running around the town but not quite intruding thereafter. Reeder had nothing to do with it until he arrived in the area on his tour of the territory. He and his party then received shares in the Pawnee town association as a gift. He hadn’t meant to speculate in federal lands; mistakes happen.

Conflicts over land, especially land still waiting on a proper survey, recur throughout the American frontier. Abraham Lincoln’s father removed from Kentucky to Indiana in hopes of getting more secure title to land than he could hope for south of the Ohio. The question on Pawnee seems to come down to whether Reeder made a mistake, or a “mistake”. He came to Kansas as a first-time participant in such matters, which argues for the former, but his education as a lawyer argues for the latter. His continued insistence on Pawnee rather than another settlement distant from Missouri, further argues that he had his personal profit in mind. More on that tomorrow.