“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.

The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee had a problem. They had come all the way out to Lawrence to gather testimony on how Kansas had gone so badly wrong as to end up with two governments, both of which elected a delegate to Congress. They put the dueling delegates, John Whitfield and Andrew Reeder, in charge of making the case for their respective parties. The night after their first meeting in the unofficial free state capital, someone shot Samuel Jones in the back. The attempted assassination of one of the proslavery party’s most militant field leaders in Lawrence did not make a visit appealing to many proslavery witnesses. John Whitfield gave notice that his people, understandably, no longer felt safe in coming to town.

In response Mordechai Oliver, the member from Missouri, moved

On account of the excitement now prevailing in the city of Lawrence and the surrounding country, growing out of the assassination of sheriff Jones when engaged in the lawful discharge of his duty, which assassination and consequent excitement he believes will deter parties and witnesses from coming and appearing before the committee, he objects to proceeding with the investigation further at this time at this point, and suggests that the committee adjourn to Fort Leavenworth

The Committee met in the Free State Hotel, literally discussing the assassination attempt on Jones under the same roof where he had convalesced. A note in the minutes relates that they met in the morning, but adjourned at once out of respect for his plight. They came back together to answer Whitfield’s letter and weigh Oliver’s motion. The majority went against Oliver’s motion for removal and they answered Whitfield in writing. They understood the plight of his proslavery witnesses and would accommodate them

at their earliest convenience, at any suitable place, giving you ample notice and the benefit of our subpoena to collect as many witnesses as you may desire, at such place as you may designate.

Name the place and the committee would come to hear Whitfield’s evidence. They could hardly deny the safety concerns for his people after what happened the night before and meant to go around Kansas for the convenience of witnesses anyway. However, they would not just abandon Lawrence and informed Whitfield that he ought to stay around. They had antislavery witnesses who also deserved a hearing, who had no safety concerns about the town, and Whitfield needed to come along so he could cross-examine them and help the committee learn the truth of things. If Whitfield didn’t feel personally safe enough, he could send his lawyer instead.

Representing Kansas and the Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The question of what to do about Kansas continued to occupy the Congress in March of 1856. Would the nation stay the course with the bogus legislature and its laws, authorizing them to write a constitution with slavery and come into the Union down the road? Would they roll back the clock to last year or the year before, wiping aside all the territory had done and starting from scratch? Or would they admit the illegal free state government making their Kansas into the Kansas, free of slavery and blacks? Unsurprisingly, no more consensus existed on Kansas then than two years prior when Stephen Douglas, at the behest of Archibald Dixon and the F Street Mess, repealed the Missouri Compromise and started the mess.

John Sherman

John Sherman

The continuing debate over what to do with Kansas addressed the question of its future, immediate or otherwise. It also bore on Kansas’ present. John Wilkins Whitfield and Andrew Reeder had both arrived in Washington and presented their credentials to the House of Representatives. Kansas, entitled by law to one non-voting delegate, now had two. Choosing between Whitfield, the proslavery Indian agent twice elected to the post by fraud, and Reeder, the former governor elected by the free state government in an illegal election, meant choosing between the two governments. The House’s Committee on Elections asked the authority to call for papers and testimony on the question. Southerners objected. The House had a northern, anti-Nebraska majority. That majority had its cracks, but if it investigated then few could doubt the eventual verdict.

James Orr (D-SC)

James Orr (D-SC)

To forestall that risk, James Orr (D-SC) suggested that the House yield the question to a pair of southern lawyers. They would naturally judge Whitfield the more qualified man and seat him. Nobody fell for that. On March 19, over the unanimous objection of the South, the House voted to authorize an investigative committee of three men. One Democrat, Mordechai Oliver of Missouri, and two Republicans, William A. Howard of Michigan and John Sherman of Ohio would go off to Kansas and inquire into just what had really gone on in the troubled territory. Their report, published at the start of July, provides an invaluable source for Kansas’ first two years.

While the majority speaks clearly to what conclusions it would reach, the Howard Report would give Congress something firmer than newspaper reports and letters from constituents to judge matters. Everyone understood that newspapers had a firm partisan slant, one way or another. Testimony given under oath might hold more water. Even hostile witnesses before the committee surely lied, omitted, and evaded, but most I’ve read seem to have held themselves to a more stringent standard than they might in letters or editorials.