History/Legal Hist. III
Kansas Territory I
Kansas Territory II
Kansas Territory III
Kansas Territory IV
Kansas Territory V
Kansas Territory VI
Kansas Territory VII
Kansas Territory VIII
Cicero Lives! (I)
Cicero Lives! (II)
Cicero Lives! (III)
Cicero's Griefs (I)
Cicero's Griefs (II)
Cicero--On Old Age
Cicero's Letters (I)
Cicero's Letters (II)
Cicero's Letters (III)
Simon Greenleaf I
Greenleaf (new) II
Greenleaf (new) III
Greenleaf (new) IV
Greenleaf (new) V
Greenleaf (new) VI
How to Behave I
How to Behave II
Early Ct. Legal Hist I
Ct. Legal Hist. II
Ct. Legal Hist. III
Ct. Legal Hist. IV
Oregon Wagon Rd I
Oregon Wagon Rd II
Kansas Territory 1854-1861 (IV)
Bill Long 11/19/07
The Center Doesn't Hold--April 1855-April 1856
The reporting of voting irregularities to Governor Reeder and his decision to call a May 22, 1855 election in six districts where he believed irregularities had taken place enraged the pro-slavery forces. As a result of this a "Vigilance Committee" was set up in Leavenworth, the heart of proslavery territory, whose object it was to "observe and report" all such citizens who shall "by their Abolition sentiments produce disturbance to the quiet of the citizens or danger to their domestic relations." Such troublemakers would be given the chance peacefully to leave the territory. If they refused to do so or were slow in going, as was attorney William Phillips (who had sworn a protest against the validity of the election), they ran the risk of being tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Phillips received this punishment, which provoked outrage in the East, as well as among free-state people in Kansas. Here was a man whose only offense was to protest what he saw was clearly a bogus election procedure--and he was treated in a painful and humiliating fashion.
The "Re-election" of May 22 and The Legislature Meets
While this was going on the voters in six districts re-voted and in all cases except one, gave free-state candidates decisive victories. In fact, no pro-slavery votes were cast in districts 1, (Lawrence), 2, 3, 7, and 8. Leavenworth also had to re-vote, probably because of Phillips' protest, but they returned a 560-140 pro-slavery majority.
And so the Legislature convened in Pawnee (near Ft. Riley) on July 2, 1855--with all the delegates being pro-slavery except for those elected in the special election called by Gov. Reeder on May 22. Early on in the session, the legislature voted to throw the legislators elected in the May 22 election out of their seats and replace them with those fraudulently elected on March 30. The legal basis for this action was that the Governor, in his proclamation calling for the March 30 election, required an oath of residency that went beyond the language of sec. 22 of the "Organic Act"--i.e., the Nebraska-Kansas Act. In addition, the Credentials Committee of the Territorial Legislature argued that the Act gave the governor no power to annul an election or call a new election as a result of this annulment. Therefore, rather than just characterizing the actions of the Legislature as high-handed or precipatate, it might be better to recognize that there was a legal theory behind them--that the Governor may not exceed his power specifically granted in the Organic Act of 1854.
Protests raised by the dispossessed council members and representatives were unavailing. The Legislature adjourned to Shawnee Mission, where they proceed to pass more than 1,000 pages of pro-slavery legislation in July and August. One proponent of these laws bragged, "(We) have now laws more efficient to protect slave property than any State in the Union...," Annals of Kansas, 72.
An example of the type of legislation recommended would authorize the death penalty as punishment for persons who "decoy slaves from their masters." The meaning of decoy in this sentence, as the OED informs us, is "to entice or allure (persons) by the use of cunning and deceitful attractions, into a place or situation, away, out, from a situation...." Punishments, though not capital, would be dished out for people who spoke against slavery in the Territory. The Territorial Legislature didn't dream up these laws on their own; they mostly adopted existing Missouri law. The KS statutes, however, made sure that the people had no power in appointing state officials--all of this power would reside in the legislature.
A particulary dramatic law adopted provided:
"No session of the Legislature is to be held during 1856, but the members of the House are to be elected in October of that year. A candidate, to be eligible at this election, must swear to support the Fugitive Slave Law..."
When a mirror "free-state" convention met in Topeka later in the year and a mirror free-state legislature in 1856, they would adopt Ohio law as the basis of their "government."
A New Governor
Governor Reeder was replaced while the legislative session was underway, and on August 16, a replacement, Wilson Shannon of Ohio, a supporter of the KS-NE Act, was named Governor. His term would last until August 1856, when the heat over his failure to act decisively in protecting the citizens of Lawrence from the raid and burning of the Free State Hotel in April 1856 finally forced his replacement. In the meantime, the Legislature voted on August 8 to establish the permanent seat of government at Lecompton. Thus, when the Legislature convened the next time, in January 1857, it would meet in Lecompton. The Lecompton Constitution, drafted in Oct-Nov. 1857, was the most famous (or infamous) document to come out of Lecompton.
An interesting note found in the Annals of Kansas indicates, however, that not everything was going perfectly for the new legislature. In 1854 the new Republican Party had met for the first time in Ripon, WI. Around the same time the Know-Nothing Party appeared and had a short existence. The Whig party was in decline, though some of its members were pro-slavery. But the big "danger" on the horizon was the formation of a "National Democratic Party" which would emphasize more the need to keep the union intact than to protect, in the first instance, the institution of slavery. So, on August 30, the Legislature adopted a concurrent resolution which emphasized that the one issue favored by the men of the Kansas Territory was "slavery," and "that any party making or attempting to make any other, is, and should be held, as an ally of Abolitionism and Disunionism."
A "Shadow" Process Begins Elsewhere
On September 5-6, the free-staters met for a conference in Big Springs and issued the "Big Springs Platform," which recognized that the "overshadowing question" in KS was whether it should become a free or slave state. Their resolution went on to declare, however, that they would not only "resist all non-resident voters at our polls," but that
"our true interests, socially, morally, and pecuniarily, require that Kansas should be a free State; that free labor will best promote the happiness, the rapid population, the prosperity and the wealth of our people; that slave labor is a curse to the master and the community, if not to the slave; that our country is unsuited to it, and that we will devote our energies as a party to exclude the institution, and to secure for Kansas the constitution of a free State.."
Though this action certainly indicated that the free-staters would not take the pro-slavery men's actions lying down, it was the Convention at Topeka, called in the third week of September 1855, which would draft the first proposed constitution for the Territory. After finishing the constitution in November, they submitted it to the voters in December. Of course, the election was boycotted by the pro-slavery folk (in Leavenworth, however, pro-slavery men made off with the ballot box, which was never found). The final tally was 1731 for the Topeka Constitution with 46 against. The full text of the Topeka Constitution is printed in the Annals of Kansas, pp 91-106.
But, even though this vote on the constitution was taken, care should be taken to observe that in 1855 this body had no legal warrant to meet and that the results of their deliberations and votes had no legal weight. President Pierce would even go so far as to say in his Special Message to Congress on January 24, 1856 that his government recognized the actions of the Pawnee/Shawnee Legislature and that the formation of the Topeka Government was an act of rebellion. In response to this he asked the people of the Kansas Territory to frame a Constitution--which would happen in Lecompton in 1857.
While this was going on, however, political murders had begun to take place: free-state men were murdered by pro-slavery men, and the pro-slavery newspapers justified the deed as something necessary to rid Kansas Territory of the "higher law"-types of people. On November 28, 1855 Governor Shannon wrote to President Pierce:
"It is vain to conceal the fact; we are standing on a volcano."
The year 1856 would see the volcano "blow," leading to the name of "Bleeding Kansas" for this beleaguered territory. The year 1857 would see the emergence of the constitution that Pierce wanted, even though Pierce would no longer be President. Let's now turn to those stories.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long