The Trial of Josiah Miller

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

J.B. Donaldson told Lawrence that the innocent had nothing to fear from him. His army, alias posse, would only pose any danger to those that his duties required him to apprehend and those resisted him in the course of those duties. That meant the free state leadership, all of whom had warrants for their arrest courtesy of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury, and anyone in Lawrence who helped them. Listing those people by name may not return a list of the entire population of Lawrence as of May, 1856, but it would probably come close. Just as Donaldson would not take philosophically the threat to his life if he tried to come into town on his own, he people of Lawrence could not adopt a disinterested position toward an army converging on them and bent on their destruction. They had appealed to the military, to Governor Shannon, and finally to Donaldson himself to no avail. Running out of options and unsure they could pull off an armed resistance, it seems that some tried Shannon again.

William Phillips reports that shortly after Captain Walker’s harrowing escape with Shannon’s reply to the town, a new embassy went up to Lecompton to plead Lawrence’s case. Carmie Babcock, William Y. Roberts, and Josiah Miller can’t have hoped for much. Phillips summarizes their success in four words: “They failed, of course.” Barely out of Lecompton on their way back, they fell prey to one of the armed bands harassing travelers. It seems that Roberts and Babcock secured swift release. Miller had a worse time of it.

Miller edited the Kansas Free State, which occasionally feuded with the Herald of Freedom. Like the Herald, the grand jury declared his paper a public menace worthy of suppression. He hailed from South Carolina and in one of those small world moments, so did his captors. Recognizing him, his fellow South Carolinians

made up what they were pleased to to consider a court from amongst their own number, and, placing Mr. Miller before it, tried him for treason to South Carolina. After a hard effort some of the Carolinians, who knew him, and felt friendly, contrived to prevent his being hung, although he was found guilty. He got off after losing his horse and money.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Phillips identified Miller’s captors as part of Donaldson’s posse. They probably also hailed from Jefferson Buford’s expedition. He doesn’t give many details of the event, but it sounds like Miller suffered a trial much like Pardee Butler’s. One could read his friends arranging an acquittal two ways: either the mob wanted Miller dead and a few friends pulled a fast one to save him, or they wanted him to think that happened and really meant to give him a powerful scare. Mortal terror could do much, then and now, to silence political opponents.

The latter course may sound marginally more reasonable; terrorized people still live to see tomorrow. But its use does require the mob to share one mind on the subject. It only takes a few to translate threats into reality. To make such threats credible, they can’t lay far from what the mob might do anyway. Threading that needle, if they wanted to at all, required as much luck as conviction.

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“I’ll burn gun powder in your face.” More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part One

 

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom trumpeted proslavery violence in expectation of new horrors in the near future. With Lecompte’s grand jury ordering the apprehension of the free state leadership and a new invasion from Missouri in the offing, they had plenty of reason to fear. Thus the May 10, 1856 issue reported a series of attacks, from a highway robbery attempt that might have happened, to the easily confirmed shooting of J.N. Mace. For the most part, this all happened in the recent past. Another item took the paper further back, to December before coming up to the present.

At Leavenworth, a place

infested with a gang of outlaws, who, if they had their deserts, would swing on every suple sapling in the woods. Their chief business is to harrass and persecute Free State settlers. They butchered Brown-tarred and feathered Phillips-incarcerated McCrea, in a close and unhealthy prison, for doing that which he would have been a coward not to have done. They have destroyed a printing press, driven families from claims, and insulted and abused women.

I don’t know about abusing women, but Leavenworth had killed Reese Brown. A separate item relates that people back in Illinois had taken up a collection to fund the purchase of a claim for his wife and children. They tarred and feathered William Phillips, though not the William Phillips who reported for Horace Greeley. A proslavery mob destroyed the Territorial Register there. The shoe fit.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The proslavery men also came for the Leavenworth ballot box. That occasioned the story that the Herald proceeded to tell, courtesy of and starring a free state comrade of Reese Brown’s, “whose name we withhold for good reasons.” Anonymous stories like this deserve heightened scrutiny, but this one has the sound of more to it than the highway robbery account. Brown and our protagonist aided in the defense of the polls and judges of election at Leavenworth. Soon thereafter, a large band of proslavery men gathered across the river in Missouri. They must have meant to cross and join the fight.

Fortunately, the ferry-boat was on the Kansas side; and by accident it was cut loose from its moorings and sunk.

Accidents do happen. The proslavery men went home cruelly disappointed. On the Kansas side, things settled down about Leavenworth with the murder of Brown until a week prior, when our nameless protagonist again went to Leavenworth. One of Brown’s murderers chatted him up. The paper reports a dialog we should treat with some skepticism, but its content doesn’t seem too out of order. The proslavery man remarked that Andrew Reeder had come back to Kansas and he “would like to see the d—-d scoundrel.” Brown’s compatriot called Reeder “a perfect gentleman.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery man took the free stater’s horse by the bridle to hold him and continued:

No doubt all such d—-d abolitionists as you think he is a gentleman. You are a d—-d robber, and will catch h-ll; you stole the ferry-boat last winter, and I now arrest you for it.

Our hero asked under what authority his opposite number proposed to make the arrest, at which point the border ruffian produced “a large bowie-knife.” Alas, he brought a knife to a gun fight. Brown’s fellow drew a pistol and offered his regrets. If he could not go free at once, he would “burn gun powder in your face.”

“Kill them! kill them!”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, Gentle Readers. Rather than write history, I spent mine putting together Lego and playing Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I intended to write after the Lego, but the game consumed the remainder of the productive portion of the day. I have no regrets.

That said, the nineteenth century hasn’t gone away. We left George Washington Brown telling the world the state of affairs in Kansas. Proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte had gotten a grand jury to summon the free state government leadership on grounds of treason. Charles Robinson, the governor, and Andrew Reeder, delegate to Congress and senator-elect, made a run for it. Robinson traveled openly and got caught at Lexington, Missouri. Reeder disguised himself and skulked about at night. He got clear of Missouri, though not without a few close calls and much delay. Brown informed his readers that, whatever happened with the antislavery leadership, ordinary Kansans remained in peril. The territorial government still stood against them, to the point of outlawing their platform. Beyond that, antislavery Kansans faced the threat of individual or mob violence for expressing their opposition to slavery in their territory.

From the general, Brown proceeded to the specific:

The hue and cry is now raised against Gov. Robinson and Senator Reeder. “Kill them! kill them!” is in the throats of every brawler who goes unhung in Kansas. Their movements are watched-their goings out and comings in carefully noted-and they are forced to seek a place of safety in the Free States.

Most of us probably read “hue and cry” as a stock phrase, but it originates in a literal call to apprehend wrongdoers. Brown has Robinson and Reeder’s situation dead to rights: orders existed for their arrest and posses had assembled to take them. If they should die while resisting, or “resisting” arrest, the proslavery party might well experience such remorse as to leave them hung over for a week. Both men feared their death if taken. Reeder fled Kansas, rather than stay behind as a test case, specifically because he had information that he would never live long enough to face trial.

Brown, like the free state leadership, saw the situation as dire. They had taken pains to avoid initiating major violence and, some hotheads aside, feared the results of an armed class of any scale. Proslavery and antislavery Kansans did kill one another over politics, but heretofore the murders happened on a personal scale or between small bands of men. Even a frontier government might contain that sort of thing without undue strain. But now, the free state men feared,

no earthly power can prevent a bloody collision. If it must come, the sooner we have whipped our enemies, the sooner will quiet be restored to the country. Human patience cannot long endure this system of terrorism and persecution. If we can secure quietude in no other way than by fighting for it, surely ’twere infinitely better that we pass through a sanguinary struggle than be made slaves!

Brown could have written all of that on almost any occasion; he had feared for his own life before. But until the grand jury acted, the official reaction to the free state movement had come to little more than rhetorical condemnation and largely unenforced laws. The violence they faced had come irregularly, in response to specific circumstances. While that had come under the color of law when a proslavery army invested Lawrence back in December, the town narrowly avoided destruction. No campaign had grown from that proslavery defeat; the Missourians went home on the instructions of their own leaders. Now a force within Kansas and with the power of the territorial government and its federal imprimatur had moved against them, a force which might call on the United States Army to destroy their movement.

Back in Lawrence with the Herald of Freedom

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We’ve followed Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson out of Kansas, both fleeing their arrest in pursuit of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury investigation. Reeder made it to safety, while Robinson got as far as Lexington, Missouri before proslavery men took him off his boat and back to Kansas. Both feared that they would share in Reese Brown’s fate if taken, killed either extrajudicially or after a jury declared them traitors. However, events progressed around Lawrence even without Reeder and Robinson in attendance. We left the Emigrant Aid Company’s town in the aftermath of Samuel Jones’ shooting. He had come to arrest the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had rescued free state militia leader Jacob Branson from Jones custody back in late November. The last time Wood and Jones crossed paths, a proslavery army came near to destroying Lawrence. The locals could hardly forget that so soon and took pains to distance themselves from whichever of them shot the infamous Jones in the back.

Robinson’s arrest at Lexington took place on May 10, 1856. He remained briefly with a judge there, but soon the word came from the legal governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, that the territory wanted its illegal governor back on charges of usurpation of office. I meant to hop back to Kansas with Marcus Parrott’s letter to his brother about the current situation, but an unfortunate infirmity prevents that: I can’t read the handwriting with enough confidence to use it at present. I’ve asked some friends if they might make heads or tails of it, but for now Parrott must wait.

On May 10, 1856, the Herald of Freedom began its second page with an item titled “Another War Threatening Us!” It ran just beneath the endorsement of John C. Fremont for president, “subject to the decision of the national Republican convention.”

George Washington Brown opened up with just the kind of appeal in writing that Charles Robinson and Andrew Reeder hoped to make in print:

“Let our friends in the North be ready! Kansas is again invaded by armed ruffians. They are gathering in by tens, and fifties, and hundreds.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Brown probably had the numbers right, to judge from what I’ve seen elsewhere. The hundreds could come in the form of Jefferson Buford’s men. Smaller contingents fit with the pattern established at previous Missourian invasions: local groups would travel together and only collect once within Kansas. The free state editor also claimed that Wilson Shannon had enrolled the lot in the militia, as he had done back during the Wakarusa War. Shannon might well have repeated himself, particularly as the leaders of the proslavery force then proved amenable to calming their men and seeing them off to home when enrolled. Rumors also held that Shannon wanted to bring in the United States Army to handle any arrests, as had happened when Jones tried to take Wood from Lawrence, “but the other officials swear this shall not be.”

With so much of the present crisis looking like a repeat of the previous, one can’t fault Brown for expecting everything to continue.

Then Brown opted to dramatize the real fear that many in Lawrence must have felt, himself included:

The Reign of Terror has commenced. The bowie knife and revolver, the hatchet and hempen rope, are the instruments brought into requisition to awe, intimidate, and crush out the liberty-loving portion of our fellow citizens. Stealthy assassins roam over the country, under cover of night, dogging the footsteps of unsuspecting citizens, and watching the opportune moment to strike the cowardly blow. Men known of men to be murderers, walk unabashed, unwhipped of Justice, in the very presence of the shameless officers of misnamed Law, boldly and boastingly proclaiming their complicity in crime. No man’s life is safe from one day to another, if he has declared, never so mildly, his opposition to the aggressions of Slavery.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether you think Brown a bit purple here or not, you can’t argue with his facts. Proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies had bragged of their hooliganism. Samuel Jones started his career in Kansas by pulling a gun on the judges of election at Bloomington and telling them they had five minutes to let anyone vote or he would kill them. The bogus legislature made him a sheriff. Knives, revolvers, and hatchets all feature into violent clashes -some of which happened at night- as well as more mundane intimidation.

Trouble in Kansas City: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Six

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

With news of proslavery forces preparing for another march against Lawrence, and word that complying with the subpoena that Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury issued for him might end in his death, Andrew Reeder had quite enough of Kansas for the nonce. His planned escape changed routes repeatedly over the night of May 9-10, 1856. In the end, Kansas’ first governor and present free state delegate to Congress hid out in a house a mile south of Lawrence. He remained closeted there on the tenth, receiving news that whatever posse meant to take him had not appeared.

Reeder and three companions finally got going at nine at night, hoping to get past Westport, Missouri, before daybreak. Showing his face there would surely cause him trouble. Running late, they stayed the night at the home of a man called Fish and took the additional precaution of hiding the horses and carriage. The next day, Sunday,

Many persons passed, through the day, and stopped; among them Milt. M’Gee, who would have given his whole team to know who was up stairs.

I can only imagine how nerve-wracking Reeder must have found that. Sit up as silently as you can, hearing people come and go and knowing one misstep might put him into the hands of men bent on his murder. But he endured, set out again that night, and made it to Kansas City around two in the morning. There G.P. Lowrey and a Colonel Eldridge had a room ready, though Reeder says they had “dangerous neighbors across the passage.”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

A boat arrived at Kansas City on Monday, the twelfth. George Washington Brown came on it, fleeing his own arrest for running the Herald of Freedom. They had word that a mob might form to take Brown, though if they wanted him then they probably wouldn’t mind Reeder as a bonus. Reeder changed rooms to avoid them.

A mob of 30 or 40 assembled, headed by Milt. M’Gee, who came into the hotel, and going by mistake to O.C. Brown’s room, they dragged him out and took him down town-discovered their error and let him go. Col. Eldridge came up and informed me, that I might be prepared. Sent out for about 50 Michigan emigrants, who had come up to-day and camped near town.

A marshal involved himself then, forming a posse against the mob. Reeder gives frustratingly little detail on that. His marshal sounds like local constabulary rather than a federal marshal. Given he held a public position in Westport, he probably didn’t lean antislavery. He may have intervened on the grounds of public order, particularly if he knew in advance that the mob had the wrong Brown.

Eldridge told Reeder that the mob didn’t know about or suspect they had him near to hand; they just wanted Brown. The delegate doesn’t seem so confident of that. At one point

Looking out of my front windows, however, I saw and heard M’Gee, H.C. Pate, —– Winchester, —– Brockett, and another, in conversation, and Pate was instructing a man to go in and look for someone, and describing me, so that from what I heard I recognized the description.

Regardless, the mob didn’t care to pick a fight with the marshal’s posse, “suddenly” departing. Yet

In the evening it was found that men were posted all around the house to prevent any escapes – all over the hill back of the house and in the hacks and wagons in front, besides those walking up and down the street.

“With a borrowed overcoat and cap” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

On Thursday, May 8, 1856, Andrew Reeder met with some friends in Lawrence. He had planned to accept his arrest while Charles Robinson bolted Kansas to raise money and arms for the free state government’s defense. Kansas’ first governor changed his mind on learning that if he went to Lecompton, he might not make it out alive. He wrote to Governor Shannon and Judge Lecompte asking that they guarantee his safety in exchange for cooperation.

Reeder’s concern for his life must have grown still further when a new rumor came in

that the enemy were ordered to muster at Lecompton, and had scouts out over the country, and that men were prepared to come from Kickapoo and Atchison, most of them Missourians, of course.

The Missourians at arms would have stronger resolve than the small posse that had tried to take Reeder before. Lawrence could outnumber a dozen or so men without trouble, but not thousands as might come over the border again. Particularly as Reeder learned that Lawrence had a mere “ten kegs of powder … and only 200 Sharps’ rifles.” Five thousand cartridges on hand meant that those rifles wouldn’t soon go silent, but they still numbered only two hundred, with three cannons to back them.

Friday, May 10, Charles and Sarah Robinson quit Lawrence “openly,” leaving the free state government to Lieutenant Governor Roberts. Reeder got word from Shannon and Lecompte. He found Shannon’s answer “unsatisfactory.” Lecompte wrote only to say he would give no answer. With that news, Reeder decided he had best get out of Lawrence before it fell under siege. He

left in a buggy with Lyman Allen, and with a borrowed overcoat and cap, drove to the ravine and walked down its bed to E.W. Clark’s, where [he] remained secreted all day.

While Reeder hid, the free state militias gathered around Lawrence and posted guards on the road to Lecompton. Three hundred had come by the evening. Friends called on Reeder at Clark’s, including William Howard of the Committee and Lieutenant Governor Roberts. The luminaries visited Reeder in hiding apparently to convince him to get out of Kansas, arguing that his absence would avert battle. G.P. Lowrey offered the use of a skiff and horses to get Reeder to Nebraska, but he decided to go by way of Topeka. Further consultation prompted Reeder to opt for a westerly route. About midnight he went back to Lawrence to make the necessary arrangements. The delegate spent the remainder of the night in a house a mile south of town.

 

“If he arrested me, he did so at his peril” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Four

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3

A Mr. Fain, late of Georgia, had a grand jury subpoena for Andrew Reeder, Kansas’ first governor and present delegate to Congress under the free state government. He took it to Reeder on the evening of May 7, 1856. The delegate decided that he didn’t care for an arrest just then, pointed to irregularities in the warrant, and sent Fain on his way. The next afternoon, he saw Fain in Lawrence. Reeder’s “Georgia friend” came to town with an armed posse. He went upstairs to speak with Mordechai Oliver, the Howard Committee’s lone proslavery member.

He soon came into the room and informed me he had an attachment for me.

The room in question housed the committee’s proceedings. They had gotten to their fourth witness of the day and eighty-seventh overall, Joseph Steward. He had information for them on the elections for the Kansas legislature. Reeder declared, as he had the day before, that he had privilege from arrest thanks to his status as Kansas’ delegate to Congress and asked the committee to protect him. The Howard Committee had that power and Congress had sent them to Kansas with a sergeant-at-arms specifically so they could arrest anybody who tried to interfere with their business and haul the guilty party off to Washington for contempt of Congress proceedings.

But Reeder tells that the committee felt otherwise:

They decided they had no power to interfere, but Howard and Sherman expressed a positive opinion in favor of my privilege from arrest; Oliver differing from them on that point. I then stated how I was privileged, made a full explanation, and declared that I would protect myself, and warned the officer that if he arrested me, he did so at his peril.

That sufficed; Fain took Reeder at his word and departed. He had a posse with him, but may not have wanted to seize Reeder in front of the congressmen. Given how well Sheriff Jones’ arrest attempt had gone for him not that long ago, and Fain’s previously-expressed concern for his safety probably played a major role in his decision. Jones got shot while in the company of United States soldiers and Fain lacked such an exalted bodyguard.

Reeder’s travail did not end there. He and the free state leadership agreed that Reeder should submit to arrest in time, which would put him in Lecompton without bail for at least six months. The delegate got word that if he went, he would be “in danger of nightly assassination and daily insult.” Given the option between fighting the good fight, either in Kansas or Congress, and risking his life “in some miserable dog-hole”, he would rather pass on the latter. That evening he wrote to Governor Shannon and Lecompte promising that if he had their guarantee of safety and ability to return to his work on the committee at the end of his questioning, he would come before the grand jury as required. He did that on the advice of unnamed friends and likewise mulled with them whether he should wait on an answer, ready to fight it out if the posse came, or quit Kansas.

Reeder’s friends came to no consensus for him save that if the US military got involved, as they had on Jones’ behalf, he must submit.

“I was not yet ready to be arrested for treason” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2

We left Andrew Reeder, Charles Robinson, and probably the antislavery members of the Howard Committee. They had news of indictments handed down against Reeder, Robinson, and most everyone else who held office in the illegal free state government of Kansas territory. They agreed that Reeder should submit to arrest, as his national reputation would make him an ideal rallying point for the free state party’s friends abroad. Robinson should get out of Kansas and set to work raising money, men, and guns. It might come to armed rebellion at last. If it did, the free state men resolved to fight it out and hope for the destruction of the proslavery territorial government. They had to act soon, or Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury would have the entire leadership imprisoned before the fall elections.

Reeder’s diary puts this all as happening on May 7, 1856, a Wednesday. Next, “toward evening” a Georgian named Fain called on Reeder and “very politely” told the delegate that he had a subpoena for him.

I requested him to let me see it, and he handed me a copy. On looking at it I discovered that it was very irregular in form, and, as I was not yet ready to be arrested for treason, I determined not to obey it. I accordingly so informed the officer, giving, as the reasons, my privilege as Delegate in Congress, and the informality of the subpena.

The Congress itself hadn’t decided on whether or not Reeder had any privilege as delegate, but he persuaded Fain not to make an issue of it. Instead the Georgian took his leave and came on Reeder’s grand jury informant, James Legate. Fain asked Legate where he might find Charles Robinson. Legate told him that Robinson had gone off to Topeka. Fain felt sure enough in Tecumseh, but Topeka worried him. He asked if he could go and conduct his business there in safety.

Legate mischievously told him he did not know, that he must run his own risks, which so alarmed the Georgian that he at once turned back to Lecompton. The same evening we went back to Topeka; stayed till after breakfast the next day.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Reeder doesn’t say it in so many words, and Robinson declines to note his movements in detail, but it sounds like Legate told Fain that Robinson had gone while the governor remained nearby. Reeder’s “we” might or might not include the governor, but he says that Fain “was told” Robinson had gone rather than that the governor actually had.

Possible Delegate Reeder found himself back in Lawrence later on May 8. There he continued his work representing the free state side before the Howard Committee, starting at two in the afternoon. He didn’t shake Fain for long, though. He reports that he

saw my Georgia friend of yesterday come in and go up stairs for a consultation with Major Oliver, and some friends; had a small posse with him, all armed.

“We will wipe out the damned Territorial Government” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

James F. Legate served on Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury. After they voted to arrest the free state leadership and destroy the Free State Hotel and suppress Kansas’ antislavery papers, he went to warn Kansas’ former governor and present free state delegate to congress, Andrew Reeder. Reeder and the leadership put their heads together at Lawrence and decided that they might soon need to fight with guns as well as words. They made emergency plans to call together the state legislature to bulk up their institutions and endow them with a stronger legal basis. Governor Charles Robinson would go East “to raise men and arms”. Except for the travel plans, Robinson already did that job as the Emigrant Aid Company’s agent in Kansas. Reeder would stay behind and submit to arrest, his high profile making him the ideal choice for public relations.

They talked about organizing the militia and how armed resistance might soon come, but what came next seems less clear:

We did not determine what we would do as a last resort in case the General Government took the field against us, and gave us the alternative of backing our or levying war against them. This would not be the silly sham treason for which indictments are found now, but actual treason at least in the latter, although as holy and glorious in spirit as the dawn of the Revolution of ’76. Robinson declares that at least we will wipe out the d—-d Territorial Government absolutely and effectually, and to this we all assented.

In one respect, this demonstrates a shift in free state thought. They might actually go to war with the United States, a course they had refused to consider in public or private. To hear it from Robinson, the most peaceable of the group, speaks volumes. His own version, which includes Sherman and Howard in the discussion, differs slightly:

there was a possibility of a general conflict of arms; that should it be impossible to avoid such conflict without a surrender of the Free-State cause, it must be met, and if met the Free-State men should take issue rather in defense of the State organization than offensively against the territorial.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Robinson stresses the contingency of the choice for arms more than Reeder does, but he agrees in substance. The free state governor might prefer peace, out of conviction, disposition, or circumstance, but he had asked the legislature to vote up an army and stood high in the ranks of the Kansas Legion. Battle with the United States would put them on new and much more dangerous ground, but free state militias had already mustered to fight border ruffians. In contemplating the Union itself, at least in Kansas, as an instrument of the slave power deserving forcible resistance they put themselves in line with the rescuers of fugitive slaves and diehard abolitionists in just the way they had vigorously denied only months before.

 

 

“Perhaps I should better be arrested” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury ordered the arrest of the free state leadership, which brought their plight to a new low. Mobs had come to destroy them back in December, but that time Governor Shannon brokered a peace. He ought to have done, considering he did his best to get the border ruffians to Lawrence to start with. Now the free state men faced down the territorial judiciary. They had long feared such a confrontation, probably all the way back to the passage of the laws against antislavery politics. According to Andrew Reeder’s diary, which may benefit from some hindsight, they had the sense that the chances of legal action had lately increased. Reeder reports that on May 6, after seeing witnesses with the Howard Committee, he had tea and then returned home alone through the woods. He considered that a “rather imprudent” choice. The arrest orders went out on the day previous, though he didn’t know at the time.

The next day, Reeder again attended the Howard Committee. They adjourned at four in the afternoon and Reeder

Learned from the best authority (a grand juror and others) that the plan we had so often heard of was about being carried out, to paralyze the Free-State party; that the grand jury now in session at Lecompton had been charged by the court [….] that not only all the officers of the State Government, but all the judges of election, were indictable.

Reeder says that similar things had happened previously, but no one had pressed the case and drunken jurors lost the indictments in the street. Lecompte, who Reeder calls “a man of frivolous mind, little ability, less integrity, great perversity and indolence, and limited knowledge of the law” had presided over that court as well. Fortunately, grand juror James F. Legate, went to warn Reeder.

Armed with the news, Reeder met with Governor Robinson and Lieutenant Governor Roberts to decide how to respond. Recognizing a decapitation strike when they saw one, they resolved to move against it. Reeder tells of plans to summon the free state legislature before the proslavery men could arrest the lot. The legislature could then establish a court to order the other territorial court to release any men taken. On the more plausible and practical front, this likely presaged a clash of arms. Thus

It is agreed also that some one shall go East to raise men and arms to prepare for this emergency, and for several reasons that Robinson would better go, after issuing his proclamation for the Legislature to assemble, leaving Roberts to act in his place. I suggested that I would like to have them try one of their indictments for treason on me, and that perhaps I should better be arrested.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

As the former governor, Reeder likely had the name recognition to make political hay out of his captivity. He aligned with the free state party now, but had come to Kansas a regular National Democrat bearing a commission with Franklin Pierce’s signature. No one could mistake him for an antislavery radical or a tool of New England abolitionists, both descriptions that applied justly to Robinson. They could damn Kansas’ first governor as an aggrieved spoilsman bent on revenge, but that accurate charge only made Reeder an ordinary politician. The fact that proslavery men would come for him along with the radicals would do much to prove that they had, in fact, taken it on themselves to trample the rights of all white men.