Governor Shannon’s New Army

SJ Jones

Samuel Jones

When the free state legislature chose to defer enactment of any legislation it passed until it secured Kansas’ admission as a state, with the free state men in charge, they did so of a mind that the President of the United States considered them traitors. They might soon face arrest, a fact that could have hardly slipped their minds with the notorious Samuel Jones taking their names down as they swore their oaths of office. They might actually have committed treason. Legal niceties had hardly stopped Missourians from coming to steal their elections and in hopes of razing their towns, but the border ruffians did not operate under the color of law the way that the United States army would if Franklin Pierce gave the proper orders.

Pierce had already done something to that effect. The March 15, 1856 Herald of Freedom reminded its readers how all had hoped that Colonel Sumner would come from Fort Leavenworth to Lawrence’s rescue back in December. Sumner had not come, despite Wilson Shannon’s entreaties. Sumner said at the time that he lacked instructions from Washington and did not feel confident to act on his own authority. Now he had those instructions, which the paper printed news of by way of a letter that Secretary of State William Marcy wrote to Governor Shannon. He attached a copy of Sumner’s orders and Pierce’s law and order proclamation.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

Pierce, Marcy averred, did not think Shannon’s situation so dire as to require the use of federal troops. He should call upon them only as a last resort, but

if it becomes indispensably necessary to do so in order to execute the laws and preserve the peace, you are hereby authorized by the President to make requisition upon the officers commanding the United States military forces at Forts Leavenworth and Riley

Shannon would only use the power in “extraordinary emergency”, Marcy insisted, but he had it. If the immediate establishment of the free state goverment didn’t justify calling out the troops, then some future clash might. Shannon tried desperately to secure Sumner’s aid to save Lawrence and so had established precedent that he would use the military if possible. Once the Cavalry rode, where would they stop?

George Brown put a positive spin on all of this. He insisted that Pierce’s proclamation

is not so villainous a document as the telegraph reports make it, and as for the instructions to Gov. Shannon, they are all we could expect, or even desire. While the Governor abides by the letter of those instructions, it will afford us pleasure to sustain him. Our State organization will be in no way of Gov. Shannon. Until an attempt is made to enforce the laws enacted by that body, they are harmless. If they adopt a code of laws which commend themselves to everybody’s sense of justice, and they are everywhere obeyed, how can Gov. Shannon, or anybody else, find fault?

Brown had a strong interest in painting the free state government as perfectly innocuous, but even in doing so he hedged carefully. If they adopt laws and if those laws comport to everyone’s morals, why would they give cause for objection? And if Shannon followed the letter of Franklin Pierce’s proclamation, rather than its avowedly proslavery spirit, all would work out.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

But would Shannon follow the letter of the president’s instructions? When he came to Lawrence’s rescue, Shannon had shown himself not quite the proslavery partisan everyone had feared. Maybe he had gotten right by popular sovereignty when he saw how far things had gone, but Shannon had helped save Lawrence from a private army of hooligans which he had unwittingly mustered himself. When they went to Lawrence, they went to serve warrants that Shannon had seen issued. A public army legally under his control presented a different scenario entirely. Likewise the governor can’t have loved the news of a rival government to his own, headed by men he probably thought had tricked him. His charge to, in Brown’s words,

put down insubordination on the one hand, and prevent invasion on the other

might mean no more Charles Dows, Thomas Barbers, Samuel Collinses, or Reese Browns, but it could also mean calling out the army to break up the government at Topeka. Insubordination, to Shannon, might very well mean wildcat state governments as much as proslavery violence. Even if he struck at both equally, that would leave the Kansas that stolen elections had already wrought. That Kansas had slavery baked deep into its laws.


The Governor’s Land Deals, Part Five

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Writing to William Marcy, Andrew Reeder disposed of the accusations against him with regard to his purchase of Kaw lands. Whatever else might have held about those dealings, the brute fact remained that money and land had yet to change hands and could not change hands without Washington’s approval. The very people accusing him of impropriety and demanding explanations knew very well that he could have committed no actual wrong until they signed off. Reeder concluded his remarks on the Kaw issue with a general condemnation of the Indian agent who he considered the author of his sorrows:

I find that, in endeavoring to exculpate himself from charges of official delinquency, he indulges in much general vituperation, which I cannot for a moment suppose you wish me to notice.

Corrupt Indian agents feature heavily in the lore of the American west. G.W. Clarke may have fit the stereotype, using his license to trade with the Indians to enrich himself at their expense. Even nineteenth century Americans, even when dealing with Indians, had some scruples. Clarke could very easily have seen in Reeder’s business a way to deflect attention from his misdeeds by an act of conspicuous diligence: Look at him, taking on the governor himself. Surely so bold and principled a man, knowing full well how miserable Andrew Reeder could make his life, would not have put forward less than his best effort on other matters.

Failing that, Clarke may have simply had it in for Reeder. That might come down to personal pettiness, business rivalry, or seeing a brighter future for himself if Clarke could add deposing the hated governor to his resume.

All of this, however, left the second charge against Reeder unanswered. William Marcy wanted to know what Reeder had to say for himself on “other speculations by you in the lands of the territory”. On that matter, Reeder could only repeat what he said earlier in the letter:

In regard to the second charge, I would respectfully request some specification of what is alluded to, to enable me to reply satisfactorily to you, as well as myself. it is to be implied from the charge that some complaint has been made to the President, by some one, of some specific acts done by me, in violation of law or regulation, and I cannot suppose it would be received and acted on without being in writing. At least, it must have had form and shape; and even though I may not know my accuser, it is not too much to ask that I may be informed of the particular act which I am charged with having committed, and the particular law I am charged with having violated.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

Reeder did not then, and never did, face any kind of trial on these charges. Even if he played a bit dumb in not presuming that Marcy referred to his Pawnee business, he could still fairly ask what exactly he had done wrong. What laws did the Governor break? When, where, and how did they suppose he had broken them? How could he defend himself without some details?

The Governor seems to have made a good faith effort to prove himself innocent on the Kaw charges. He went so far as to secure the statement of a third party on the matter, though he had to apologize for it not coming sworn under oath. Reeder apologized for that lack, explaining that the only magistrates on hand to swear him also had interests in the lands. If he had the requested details, he might very well have done the same with regard to Pawnee. The situation there involved a military reservation, recently expanded no less, but one could just as easily excuse it as the Kaw lands as a matter of honest error due to poor and no surveying. Considering the two matters together, it looks very much like Reeder believed his get-rich-quick schemes legal for more reason other than how he stood to benefit from them.

His letter finished, the governor set off soon thereafter for Pawnee to convene the Legislative Assembly.

The Governor’s Land Deals, Part Four

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder arrived back in Kansas at the end of June, 1855, and put pen to paper to explain himself to William Marcy, Secretary of State. Given that the authorities in Washington had already read his letter to Manypenny and found it unpersuasive, he had some work to do. He began by stating the problem:

I am thus put upon my defense to two separate charges: First, the purchase of half-breed Kansas lands; and secondly, other speculations in lands of the territory, apparently in violation of acts of Congress and regulations of the departments.

The very general manner in which these charges are stated, the entire absence of any specification on which to make a point or raise an issue and the omission to state in what particular the President sees any wrong to have been committed, and what act of Congress or regulation of the department has been violated, are matters of regret and embarrassment to me; because they preclude confidence in the pertinence of my reply. I need not inform so eminent a jurist as yourself how impossible it is, in matters of crimination and defense, to attain justice and truth without a distinct and unequivocal specification of the charge on the one side, and a direct, full, and pointed answer to it, on the other.

I have Marcy’s letter to Reeder. He demanded explanations “with reference to purchase of Kansas half-breed reservations” and “also to other speculations by you of lands in the territory, apparently in violation of acts of Congress and regulations of the department.”

George Manypenny

George Manypenny

Reeder addressed the Kaw lands in his letter to Manypenny. Other speculations could mean anything, though Pawnee makes for a good guess. In either event, Marcy declined to specify just how Reeder had broken the law. Nor did he specify what law the Governor broke. While Reeder, a lawyer we must remember, probably played a bit dumb here one must grant the point that apparently no one had told him just what he had done wrong. Should he waste time or incriminate himself by defending against something not yet charged?

Still, Reeder had what he had. In the case of the Kaw lands, Reeder had an excellent defense entirely independent of whether he had dealt legally with the men who owned them:

I have to say that I have purchased no such lands at all. With others, I have only agreed to purchase them in case the contemplated purchase shall receive the sanction and approbation of the President; and this, in my opinion, is a material and substantial difference. Until the President, by his approbation, and the vendors by the execution of their deeds, consummate the contract, it precludes us from any interest in the land, and even the privilege of entering upon, or possessing it. Vendors and vendees, until then, preserve all their rights unchanged and unaffected; and if the President shall not assent to the contracts, it will be the same as though they had never been made. If there is any wrong in the matter, it is not a wrong committed, but at most only a wrong attempted, and in the face of all probability, a wrong which we expect to be sanctioned by the President.

Reeder maintained this from the very start. Even had he proposed to swindle the Kaw out of their lands, no transfer took place. None could take place without Manypenny’s and Pierce’s signatures, which had not come. He could not do that wrong without their cooperation, which they had withheld. Therefore he remained innocent even if they had the right of everything else about the deal. If they wanted to stop dastardly Andrew Reeder, they need only refrain from signing off on the contract, as they had already done.

One struggles to see what Reeder intended to slip past both men given he submitted the contracts to them in full accordance with usual practice. On receiving a denial with listed causes, he resubmitted

to supply the formal deficiencies, and, in the beginning of May last, again laid the papers before the President, with an argument and brief from myself, to prove from the opinions of attorneys-general and the decisions of the supreme court that the vendors had a right to sell; depositions proving their identity, their competency to manage their own affairs, and the value of the land; proof that the matter had been brought to the notice of the Indian agent, and that he had made no objection; to which I add now my own assertion that I distinctly stated to him that we had agreed to purchase one tract, and would endeavor to contract for others; and although Mr. Clarke denies in a general way that the matter was brought before him, he is contradicted by my allegation and the deposition of a disinterested witness.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

This all sounds very much like due diligence. We have only Reeder’s word versus Clarke’s on his initial approval of the contract, and Clarke did go on to recommend Manypenny reject it, but the contents of his submission to the relevant authorities do not seem like something even the most brazen fraud would try to slip past people who had the papers at their disposal.

But what about the contents of those documents? What if the territorial officials and courts made a mistake? Given the primitive state of land survey in Kansas, often to the point of none at all, mistakes and disputes about who owned what tract of land, where reservations ended, literally came with the territory. They could have happened to anyone and one should not attribute such errors to malice. Thus, Reeder maintained, such a mistake simply did not warrant his removal.

The Democracy’s Slavery Problem, Part One

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Andrew Reeder went off to Washington to get help from Franklin Pierce’s administration in quelling the unrest in Kansas. Surely he could do something. Reeder suggested firm instructions to Pierce’s appointees on the ground against the Missourian filibusters who authored the strife. Furthermore, he should make a proclamation that declared their sins to the country and castigated them. Then he should pledge the administration’s full support to the preservation of Kansas for the Kansans, by calling out the Army if necessary.

Pierce declined to help. We should understand this as coming in part from his personal disposition. Pierce seems to have wanted to please everybody, quite ready to tell them all they wanted to hear and then fail to follow through. Thus Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and David Rice Atchison and the others from the F Street Mess demanded his commitment to the Kansas-Nebraska Act in writing. But one can take historical psychoanalysis too far. Between fairly calamitous reaction to the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and the ongoing struggle and embarrassment over Cuba Pierce may not have had much influence left to spend. If his proclamation did nothing, it would put Pierce in the position of having to use the military to impose order and look like a tyrant. Failing that, he would expose his impotence. Furthermore Pierce only agreed reluctantly to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the first place. One could even argue that Douglas, Davis, and Atchison deceived him, as they promised only to go forward with the bill and Pierce’s declaration of support if they also had the blessing of Secretary of State William L. Marcy. He might not care to preserve popular sovereignty in its name.

On top of all this, with his party taking great setbacks in the North, Pierce would feel ever more beholden to the Democracy’s Southern wing. They would not look kindly on their Yankee president taking the side of a band of filthy slave-stealers and other scum of the earth, especially not at Reeder’s bidding. It seems surplus to requirement to go off on a hunt for additional reasons that Pierce might have refused, but for Foner’s class I’ve lately read John Ashworth’s The Republic in Crisis: 1848-1861 and he sheds more light on the ideological reasons that Northern Democrats would consistently lean, by and large, in a proslavery direction. As this has far broader significance for developments in the late antebellum era, I think it worth digging a bit further.

All the way back to Jefferson, whom the Democracy claimed as something like its patron saint, down through the modern party’s establishment under Andrew Jackson, the party had a distinct pro-Southern slant. While the Democracy and its ancestors remained viable in the North, they generally saw more and more consistent success in the South. They attached themselves to the fabled agrarian interest, that of Jefferson’s farmers who worked the Earth and so were God’s chosen. By this, Jefferson meant his own class rather than the people who actually worked the Earth, but the fiction allowed for a common interest between white males and a kind of united white male populism relatively alien to both the more elitist Federalists and Whigs.

Beyond that, Ashworth identifies the Democrats as especially interested in states’ rights on the national level and limited government at home. Neither of these ideas had to defend slavery. Neither drew their appeal solely from the circumstances of a slaveholding society. Ashworth points out antecedents in the era of the English Revolution who had no experience with slavery at all.

To those, the Democracy added a strong resistance to the state dictating one’s choices in what they considered the moral realm. The state could and should make laws regarding property, but it should not seek to impose temperance. It should not appoint itself the religious tutor of the populace. It should not care what country one’s ancestors came from. (Though, of course, it should have very definite opinions about what continent they came from.) It should not impose, from outside and above, its own vision of society. This makes for enlightened-sounding rhetoric, the kind of thing we still hear today.

Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase

At times it worked out to something we would recognize as enlightened. I doubt many of us are all that sympathetic to the temperance movement, given how swimmingly Prohibition worked out. We have yet to cure ourselves of nativism, which seems to return every few decades when the grandchildren of people from the wrong part of the world entirely decide that the newest arrivals hail from the wrong part of the world entirely, but I don’t think many of us view it as a very enlightened sentiment.

A resistance to the state imposing a moral vision on society involves such generalities that a coherent account must always come with a particular context. Laws against murder and theft impose such a vision, but most of us don’t see them as such because we take those things for granted. In fields of active controversy, one could argue for either side but more often inaction seems to manifest as at least passive support for the status quo, for better or worse, and resistance to its change.

That last point has obvious relevance when it comes to antislavery politics, but we could turn it around. Salmon P. Chase and his Independent Democrats pronounced themselves outraged at and betrayed by the attack on the status quo embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, after all. In doing so they went against the choice of their party leadership, and at variance with its traditional localism, but completely in line with its resistance to a moral reform movement on the part of the proslavery men who viewed the Missouri Compromise’s slavery ban as an affront and indignity which they ought not bear.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection, Part Five

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 123, 4

The events at Greytown scandalized the North. As Horace Greeley had it,

We cannot recall any other public question with regard to which there has been such unity of opinion. Journals habitually opposed on every other subject representing every shade of party feeling, every divergence of interest, and every antagonism of nationality concur to declare the destruction of San Juan a needless, unjustifiable, inhuman exercise of warlike force. Conservatives and radicals, Whigs and Democrats, Americans and Foreigners all agree in this one thing-all express the same horror and disgust. Indeed, among all the papers which have yet spoken, we know of but one, and that an obscure and scurrilous sheet in this City, which has attempted to find an excuse for the measure.

Even the Washington Union, which dutifully followed the Pierce administration’s official line, could come up only with a plea to suspend judgment until all the facts came out. Those facts included the official correspondence, which had both George N. Hollins’ account of himself and the orders that brought him to Greytown. His orders contained this provision:

It is, however, very much to be hoped that you can effect the purpose of your visit without resort to violence and destruction of property and loss of life.

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Way to follow orders, George.

While one might expect that sending in the military could lead to violence, and it carries the implicit threat of force, the Cabinet had as much of a shock as anybody else. Careful, conservative William L. Marcy might have felt it the worst. He wrote to James Buchanan in London that

The occurrence at Greytown is an embarrassing affair. The place merited chastisement, but the severity of the one inflicted exceeded our expectations. The Government will, however, I think, stand by Capt. Hollins.

Will Great Britain interfere in the matter? If she does, her course will tend to bring Central American affairs to a crisis. I am glad your reply to Lord Clarendon was in before the news of the bombardment of Greytown was received at London.

Lord Clarendon served as the Foreign Minister at the time.

Buchanan wrote back at the end of August, getting right to the heart of the matter:

I am sorry, however, to be informed that the Government will, you think, stand by Captain Hollins. I have read every thing with care in regard to that affair, and with the strongest disposition to excuse or justify him for burning Greytown; -and I still hope that after more mature reflection the Government will not adopt the act.

The Old Public Functionary (They really called him that!) further told Marcy that he’d met an Indian prince the British had just given a handsome pension in exchange for his kingdom. The British let him know that they might have to do the same for the King of the Mosquito Coast. London did not, however, care for the fact that the United States and United Kingdom exchanged ratifications of a treaty over Canada in the wake of news of Greytown’s destruction. It gave the impression that

James Buchanan

James Buchanan

we have discovered the mode of dealing with the British-we went down to Greytown and smashed it, whereupon they became alarmed and gave us all we wanted.

Buchanan answered that he needed to talk with the Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, about the complicated Central American situation. Buchanan let on that he saw Aberdeen as more friendly to the United States. Lord Clarendon did not take the suggestion of going over his head, especially in this situation, well at all:

Lord Clarendon then seized me by the lapels of my coat and shook me, and said, “I am as good a friend of the United States as Lord Aberdeen, or any man in three Kingdoms.”

Even in a rougher age, one diplomat did not simply seize and shake another over light and trivial matters. Buchanan had not previously expected the British to take their protectorate over the Mosquito Coast seriously, but now he had reason to think otherwise.