Territorial Kansas, 1854-1855 (II)
Bill Long 11/17/07
Proslavery Forces "Take Charge"
This and the next essay probe leading events in the Kansas Territory from the time Governor Andrew Reeder arrived on Oct. 7, 1854 until the assembling of the first legislature on July 2, 1855 in Pawnee (near Ft. Riley). The Annals of Kansas form the basis for much of my account.
Gov. Reeder set up his temporary headquarters, in accordance with Sec. 31 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act ("Act"), in Leavenworth. His first executive act of was to divide the Kansas Territory into 16 electoral districts (Nov. 8; a 17th was added before the election of a Congressional delegate) and then, according to Sec. 32 of the Act, to call for an election of a Territorial Delegate to the US Congress. But he didn't make this call in a vacuum. Missiouri's Junior Senator, David R. Atchison, a vigorous proponent of slavery in Kansas, made a speech printed in the Nov. 6, 1854 edition of the Platte (Mo). paper, in which he said:
"The people of Kansas, in their first elections, would decide the question of whether or not the slaveholder was to be excluded [Note--this was under Sec. 19 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, signed into law on May 30, 1854], and it depended upon a majority of the votes cast at the polls. Now if a set of fanatics and demagogues a thousand miles off could afford to advance their money and exert every nerve to abolitionize the Territory and exclude the slaveholder, when they have not the least personal interest, what is your duty? When you reside in one day's journey of the Territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property depend upon your action, you can, without an exertion, send 500 of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions. Should each county in the State of Missouri only do its duty, the question will be decided quietly and peacebly at the ballot box," (quoted in Annals, 52).
Note how the issue is already being "spun" by one side in the debate. People from far-off (Atchison is referring to the New England Emigrant Aid Society and others) are the "fanatics"; they are sending people 1,000 miles to vote on Kansas' future. They have no "interest" in the question. Shouldn't people from MO be all the more interested to vote in the upcoming election, since they are nearby and they have an interest? In fact, as various news sources said the next week, Atchison was already gathering up to 5,000 people who would 'move into' KS for the election of the Territorial Legislature in 1855.
In his speech, Achison put his finger on one of the weaknesses of the Act. Normally in order to be eligible to vote a person must live in a district or territory for a specified period of time, but the Act only provided the following:
"That every free white male inhabitant above the age of 21 years, who shall be an actual resident of said Territory and shall possess the qualifications hereinafter prescribed, shall be entitled to vote at the first election....," Sec. 23 of the Act.
What is interesting is that the word "actual" is the only "test" of residency for the first election. Who is to interpret what "actual" means? Some would say that it meant both current and future intent to reside in a place, but the statute doesn't spell that out. I read the rest of the law (37 sections) in vain to try to find other "qualifications hereinafter prescribed." Thus, Atchison was definitely thinking of exploiting the "loophole" language of the Act in his speech. He also put a construction on things that simply is not credible--that people would "peacably" vote when the slave or free character of the territory was at stake. As we will see below, there was anything other than peace in the elections on March 30, 1855.
Election of the Congressional Delegate
But before we get to the election of the Territorial Legislature, we have the other issue on the front burner--election of the Territorial Delegate to Congress. It came off on Nov. 29, 1854 apparently without a hitch. John Whitfield, the proslavery candidate, won over two "Free-State men," Wakefield and Flenneken, who split the abolition/free state vote. Of the 2,905 eligible voters, 2,833 cast votes. Whitefield got 2,258 votes, leaving his opponents to divide fewer than 600. It was a resounding victory for the proslavery interests, even though the influence of Whitfield in Congress would probably be very small. The real election would come in the Spring.*
[*A Congressional investigation of election irregularities discovered that more than 1,700 of the 2,833 votes actually cast were done improperly--by people from Missouri. Though this report wasn't issued until long after the election, people in general knew what had taken place. Those from MO would simply "move in" to vote and then hustle back to Westport or Kansas City, MO after they had voted.]
Before we leave the election of Congressional Delegate, however, we should note that the free-state candidates triumphed only at Lawrence (239-46) and one small precinct (35-2). In general, one can conclude that the proslavery forces had the Territory in their grip as 1855 dawned.
The Plot Thickens in 1855
Even though the election of Nov. 29, 1854 looked "legit," on January 10, 1855 a letter written by a proslavery Kansan, Benjamin Stringfellow, to Southern representatives in Congress, was published which admitted that Missourians were responsible for the election of Whitfield. But the justification for it was simple: "Missiouri is near to Kansas than Boston."
I don't know on what basis the 2,905 "legitimate" voters were counted. I find no record of a territorial census before Nov. 29, 1854. Indeed, on January 22, 1855, Gov. Reeder issued a proclamation for a census to be taken. This census, also in accordance with the Act, would form the basis for determining voter legitimacy for the Territorial legislature elections. On February 28, the census was complete. It had the following:
Voters: 2,905 (the same as three months previously)
Persons of Foreign Birth: 408
Free Negroes: 151
The Governor ordered the Territory to be divided into 18 election districts and set March 30, 1855 for the date of the legislative election. This would be a huge day, in most people's minds, for the future of Kansas. According to Sec.
22 of the Act, the Legislature would consist of 39 members: a 26-member House, with term of a year; and a 13-member Council, with term of two years. These would be the men to lay out the present, and future, of the Kansas territory.
As the election day approached, tensions began to rise. A third party from New England, this time consisting of about 200 people, left for Kansas in early March. On the other side of the political spectrum, on March 13 the MO proslavery supporters were encouraged to "bring their guns and ammunition with them." Then, also, "We would also advise that they bring plenty of well-twisted Hemp rope." Such rope was not intended to keep one's possessions from falling off the horse.
The next essay addresses the March 30, 1855 election and its aftermath.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long