“The fates seem to be against us” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Nine

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Reeder’s diary.


Andrew Reeder, Kansas’ first governor and presently delegate to Congress for the free state government, remained in hiding in a hotel in Kansas City. He got scattered news of events in the territory, both of free state men suffering arrest and proslavery men crossing the border with an eye to destroying the movement to keep Kansas clear of slavery and black Americans. That news got more dire in the evening of May 15, but we will come back to events around Lawrence in time. For now, let’s stay with the delegate.

Come Friday, may 16, 1856, Reeder complained of the “monotony” of hiding out. He had only the women helping conceal him for occasional company. Reeder’s frequent informant, Colonel Eldridge, had gone off to Kansas and did not return as expected. The boredom could not last forever, though. That morning, Reeder relates that

the ladies had great difficulty in waiting on me. Mrs. E—- and Mrs. W—-, and a new-comer, all seemed as though their suspicions were excited, and they were on watch. Mrs. Coates and Mrs. Monroe Eldridge were in my room, and it was a long time before they could leave it. Mrs. Eldridge was probably seen to come out.

Reeder has changed rooms a few times now. It sounds like he presently occupied one officially vacant. With that story compromised, they moved him to another with the plan to let the room remain visibly open long enough for everyone to decide nothing unusual went on there. But either the unnamed newcomer or “Mrs. S.”, spotted Reeder during the move. She may not have known him as Andrew Reeder of Kansas fame, and rumors current put him captured at Leavenworth, but she had to know some odd man skulked about.

Boat after boat passes down before my window, and my confinement begins to be more and more galling and chafing. I must leave here soon, at all risks. My wife, to whom I dare not write, and could give no consolation if I did, must be alarmed at the newspaper accounts and Lowrey’s report, and I must get away from here.

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Kansas first governor pleaded with Mrs. Coates “to have her husband get me off as quick as possible.” Coates obliged, promising that he would try to get Reeder on the Amazon when it arrived on the night of the eighteenth.

That Sunday brought M.F. Conway and P.C Schuyler, both free state men headed into Kansas. Conway resigned his seat in the Kansas legislature rather than wait for the proslavery men to expel him. Neither knew that they had their delegate to Congress just across the hall, but they talked loudly enough of their plans for him to overhear. Sunday did not bring the Amazon, which did not arrive until Monday at noon. It went off without Andrew Reeder, as he could hardly risk boarding it on broad daylight. Even ample moonlight had him worried. Nor would he risk going to hide in a private house as his accomplices asked of him.

Reeder held out his hopes for the W. Campbell, but it also let him down. It arrived only at seven thirty Tuesday morning. She came with few passengers and had a quick passage from Leavenworth, which would have made for an ideal escape had the boat arrived in the dark. Reeder despaired:

The fates seem to be against us.


The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part Four

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice-General of the Kansas Legion

Parts 12, 3Squatter Sovereign article


You had to swear twice to join the Kansas Legion. The first time, you swore not to reveal what you would learn of the group and its business at the meeting where they planned to induct you. Then, reeling from the stunning revelation that this secretive group of antislavery men constituted a secretive group of antislavery men, must swear a more binding oath. The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion set this down word for word and Patrick Laughlin published it with the rest of the Legion’s secrets.

The Howard Report also contains a version of the oath, as remembered by Andrew Francis. Francis uses the Kansas Regulators. He joined after Laughlin’s original publication, some time shortly after October 11. At his induction, Andrew Reeder impressed on Francis that the Regulators had nothing to do with the Kansas Legion that Laughlin exposed. Other witnesses, notably Martin F. Conway, also testify to two organizations. Given the similarity between the groups, their identical politics, the short timespan between the fall of one and the presumed rise of the next, I don’t take this claim very seriously. Francis’s testimony suggests that he tended to take people very much at their word. That considered, I see the Regulators as unlikely to differ substantially from the Legion. Most likely, the members changed their name and altered a few habits rather than founded an entirely different group.

The oath that the Legion specified might not perfectly match the oath Francis recalled, even if he originally swore the same words. That could come down to actual changes, imperfect memory, or local variations in usage, but the two bear examination together all the same. The official oath begins

I, _____, in the most solemn manner, here, in the presence of Heaven and these witnesses, bind myself that I will never reveal, nor cause to be revealed, either by word, look or sign, by writing, printing, engraving, painting or in any manner whatsoever anything pertaining to this institution, save to persons duly qualified to receive the same. I will never reveal the name of this organization, the place of meeting, the fact that any person is a member of the same, or even the existence of the organization, except to persons legally qualified to receive the same.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

This substantially matches Francis’ oath. He references “the Almighty” instead of “the presence of Heaven” and phrases the obligations differently, but captures the same meaning. Francis adds that the oath required him to obey, to the cost of his own life, the commands of his superiors. The Legion’s oath has nothing like that. Instead, one must

support, maintain and abide by any honorable movement made by this organization to secure this great end [a free Kansas], which will not conflict with the laws of the country and the Constitution of the United States. I will unflinchingly vote for and support the candidates nominated by this organization, in preference to any and all others.

One could take the obedience unto death part as read, but the text doesn’t really suggest that. Someone could have added it in accord with local usage, but one wouldn’t expect local variants to have much traction in the immediate surrounds of the men who wrote down the original. A more severe version of the oath might have gone out after Laughlin put the Legion in the papers. Francis might have remembered things told to him informally as part of the oath. Or he might have resented the Legion/Regulators for letting him think Wilson Shannon supported them and added it out of spite.

Francis’ oath also bound him to commercial non-intercourse with proslavery men, to whatever degree he could manage. The Legion’s oath has no such provision. Nor does it require, as Francis claims he swore, that one must bear arms. However, the Legion’s constitution provides that encampments of thirty or more must form military companies and the prescribed rituals consistently refer to members as soldiers, so I don’t think he went far off script in reading that between the lines.

The Legion’s oath concludes

To all of this obligation I do most solemnly promise and affirm, binding myself under the penalty of being expelled from this organization, of having my name published to the several Territorial Encampments as a perjurer before Heaven and a traitor to my country-of passing through life scorned and reviled by men, frowned on by devils, forsaken by angels, and abandoned by God.

Frnacis didn’t call these lines out as such, but if they appeared in the oath he swore then they might well have discomfited him on religious grounds. He mentions such scruples in his testimony, as well as concerns about swearing to oppose the legislature’s work conflicting with his oath as a lawyer.

The induction ritual continued with a recitation of the familiar free soil grievances and the insalubrious effects of slavery upon the prosperity of the land. The Colonel would then teach the secret handshake, knocks, and passwords. The new member must not forget to whisper the latter. It wouldn’t do for every Atchison, Stringfellow, and Kelley to learn them.



Friends of the Free State Militia, Part Four

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Francis and the Regulators: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Friends of the Free State Militia: parts 1, 2, 3

My previous consideration of the free state militia in the fall of 1855 has focused on lesser known figures. However, Andrew Francis named a rather more famous man who signed up for the Kansas Regulators about the same time that he did. Francis’ testimony indicted another Andrew, Kansas’ first governor. Andrew Reeder saw fit to testify at length to the Howard Committee. He devoted most of his time to defending his conduct as governor, as one would expect, but after the recitations of threats against him for delaying elections, for setting aside elections, and the ever-fruitful subject of his land speculations, Reeder delved into his involvement with secret societies:

In the month of September, 1855, I was invited to become a member; assented, and proceeded to the place of meeting; found about 25 to 30 men assembled; was assured by the presiding officer that the objects were such as would not conflict with any of the obligations of an honorable man and a good citizen, and an assurance that if I so found them, i would not reveal the existence of the society, in case I desired to take the oath when I should hear it.

Reeder then heard the oath, declared it “unexceptionable,” and sore it. He affirmed, however, that he had never seen a written constitution for the Regulators. They must have learned from Patrick Laughlin’s exposure of the Legion not to put such things in writing. Reeder also told the committee that he only attended the meeting where he joined. By the time he testified, he had either forgotten or “forgotten” all the passwords save for the one that Andrew Francis testified to. All the same, he remembered enough of the oath to give an account quite similar to Martin Conway’s:

The principal points of the oath of initiation were-to labor by all honorable means to make Kansas a free State; mutually to protect and defend each other against violence; always to keep a firelock and ammunition in the house; to wear a weapon of defence, in the shape of a knife or revolver; to rush to the rescue of a brother who should be assailed by violence, whenever there was a greater probability of saving his life than of losing my own.

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Reeder read the oath Francis recited and declared, like Conway, that he recalled no promise to transact business as exclusively as possible with free State men, to obey orders to the point of death, to wear badges marking himself as a member, to take up arms against the government, and so forth. The governor admitted that badges existed, but added that as he received permission to wear one or not as he liked, he did not view their use as inherent or obligatory in membership.

For the rest, Reeder said

I have not the slightest recollection, and do not at all believe they constitute a part of the oath. I am very confident that I took no such pledges; and had they been proffered, I should have refused at once; and I could not have taken such an obligation, or had it offered to me, without recollecting it.

But had Reeder taken an oath against the laws of the Kansas legislature, he told a slightly different story:

it is possible that there may have been a pledge to oppose, disavow, or repudiate them as not binding, and not to avail myself of them, and such a promise I may have made and forgotten.

Even if he had, Reeder insisted, he did not intend or swear to pursue his opposition through force of arms. He would never have sworn that, and would have remembered if he did, because he deemed many of the legislature’s works “of so indifferent a character, and not peculiarly obnoxious in themselves” that he wouldn’t consider them worth fighting over. Reeder must here mean something like the ferry bill he vetoed and other workaday legislation. He certainly didn’t have in mind the more radical proslavery acts. If he had, then I doubt he would have long remained in the free soil party, even if he came initially out of spite against the legislature for his ouster.


Friends of the Free State Militia, Part Three

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Francis and the Regulators: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Friends of the Free State Militia: part 1, 2

Martin F. Conway told the Howard Committee that two secret societies operated in and about Lawrence in 1855. The first, the Kansas Legion, tried to expand across Kansas and failed. It probably didn’t help that Patrick Laughlin exposed them. The second, the Kansas Regulators, endured longer. Both groups aimed to defend free soil Kansans and their political activities, which they fairly construed as self-defense given the belligerency of the proslavery forces. Conway told the committee that his group did not propose to subvert the territorial government and gave a plausible explanation of how they managed the feat: Other states had wildcat governments that the Congress accepted, so why not Kansas?

In his testimony, Conway also gives the committee a sense of the Regulators’ size and level of activity:

I attended meetings of the society during the month of September [1855]. There were a great many initiated every night, ten, fifteen, twenty, and thirty at a time, many of whom would be strangers to me. […] Our meetings were weekly.

Assuming four weeks to the month, which fits that September almost exactly, Conway saw a minimum of forty and as many as 120 men sworn in. The town of Lawrence had under 1,645 people in the 1860 census, so a fair portion of the male population signed up. Andrew Francis’ reference to every man on the street wearing a Regulators ribbon seems relatively credible in light of that.

Conway found a different point to disagree with Francis, though. While he could not recall every word of the oath administered to him, and believed that the exact form varied from time to time, he remembered the general thrust of it. Francis had it that Regulators swore commercial non-intercourse with proslavery men, that they should keep ready at all times to bear arms for the free State even to subverting the government, oppose the legislature in all its acts, and that if someone had forgotten to swear them to some part of the oath it still applied. Conway did not remember, or chose to forget

any obligation required of any member to transact all the business he had, so far as he was able with free State men. I am positive I never heard any obligation required that, under all circumstances and at all times, members should hold themselves in readiness to take up arms in defence of free State principles, even though it should subvert the government, I do not remember any obligation requiring members to oppose to the utmost of their powers the laws of the so-called Kansas legislature. I do not remember of any such obligation as: “If any part of any obligation is at this time omitted, I will consider the same as binding when legally informed of it.” I do not remember any portion of the obligation requiring members to commit it to memory.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The things Martin Conway did not remember constituted the majority of the oath Francis claimed to swear. I find Francis’ account more credible than Conway’s, but they could both be right. Conway could have lied to the committee; he certainly pushed close to it in declaring the Regulators not subversive. He might have chosen to own up to his obvious involvement while denying the Regulators’ more radical practices. He might also have sworn a different oath which left out those provisions. James Lane could have exceeded his authority in swearing Francis to extra duties, or chosen to do so because as an outsider to Lawrence he felt Francis not as trustworthy as Conway or others. Lane doesn’t appear to have testified on the issue, so he can’t tell us himself if he did any such thing.


Friends of the Free State Militia, Part Two

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Francis and the Regulators: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Friends of the Free State Militia: part 1

G.P. Lowery told the Howard Committee that he had joined the Kansas Regulators, but that Andrew Francis and Patrick Laughlin had the gravely exaggerated the organization’s activities and ambitions. They existed only to defend free soil Kansans against attack by proslavery Kansans and Missourians who meant them harm. They did not extend across all Kansas, but confined themselves to the Lawrence area. They had no intention of subverting the territorial government. He might have meant the last point, but doing so would have required a very fine distinction between the physical protection of members of the free state movement and the same movement’s political aims.

Martin F. Conway, who we met resigning his seat in the legislature, added more to the record. He admitted to joining the Kansas Legion to

protect the rights of the people against the encroachments of the people of Missouri. It was formed in consequence the invasion at the previous March election, and the recent outrages in Leavenworth.

Conway puts the date of founding at the middle of June, which makes sense for a reaction to Missourian election stealing back in March, as well as the special election stolen in Leavenworth in late May. Given he refers to outrages in the plural and the date fits, he probably also had in mind the lynching of William Phillips. Conway identified the group as the one that Patrick Laughlin exposed in the fall. In stating that its activities aimed to protect the rights of Kansans, Conway casts it as an explicitly political group. That group boasted a written constitution and divisions all around Kansas. That would conflict with Lowery’s story, but Conway went on to explain

it was found to be cumbersome and unwieldy, and it fell into disuse, and I do not know as it ever accomplished anything.


Another secret society was afterwards formed, the proceedings of which were intended to be secret, but the existence of which was intended should be known to the public. It was instituted about the middle of September, 1855. The object of this society was to protect the movement of the people of Kansas for a free State organization against those attempts which it was expected the Missourians would make to defeat the movement.

This second group included Andrew Francis. It remained a political group, even if Conway couched its mission in terms of self-defense. The Kansas Regulators would defend the persons of free state Kansans, but Conway explicitly includes their political activities under its aegis:

In proceeding to accomplish the object we had in view it was necessary for us to have meetings, conventions, elections, and various other gatherings of the people, and knowing ourselves liable at such times to be attacked by pro-slavery men in the Territory, as well as by invaders from Missouri, we resolved upon this secret organization as a means of defence of ourselves and resistance to them.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

So they organized into regiments with appointed officers. Did they plan to subvert the government? G.P. Lowery said they did not. Martin Conway insisted that the Regulators operated “purely” defensively. But then he went on to say

the position we took in forming this secret society and in perfecting a State organization was, that as soon as the State government should be put in operation it would supersede the Territorial government, and the laws made under that territorial government, not by any violent method, but in the regular order of things as had been the case in other territories; that even if the Territorial laws had been valid and of full force, they would have been superseded by the State government as soon as Congress should recognize us as a State.

They would not subvert the territorial government, but rather supplant it. Other states had gone and declared themselves, then asked for admission to the Union. Kansas could do the same and have precedents to support its case. I don’t know that any of those efforts came in open defiance of the legally established territorial government, though. Conway envisions the State movement as “preliminary” and thus not technically subversive. They didn’t call themselves a state, but rather a movement organizing to make one.

The territorial government could, one supposes, see all of this and congratulate them on their fine civic spirit. John Stringfellow, Robert Kelley, and all the rest might line up to praise the free state men for their initiative. They might also sprout wings and fly.