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As the event proved, the invasion of border ruffians to decide the first election in Kansas had been entirely unnecessary. Even without counting the illegal votes, the pro-slavery candidate for delegate was chosen by a plurality.

He had held the office of Indian Agent, and his acquaintance, experience, and the principal fact that he was the favorite of the conspirators gave him an easy victory. Governor Reeder issued his certificate of election without delay, and Whitfield hurried away to Washington to enjoy his new honors, taking his seat in the House of Representatives within three weeks after his election. Atchison, however, did not follow his example. Congress met on the first Monday of December, and the services of the Acting Vice-President were needed in the Senate Chamber. But of such importance did he deem the success of the conspiracy in which he was the leader, that a few weeks before the session he wrote a short letter to the Senate, giving notice of his probable absence and advising the appointment of a new presiding officer.

As a necessary preliminary to organizing the government of the Territory, Governor Reeder, under the authority of the organic act, proceeded to take a census of its inhabitants. This work, carried on and completed in the months of January and February, 1855, disclosed a total population of 8601 souls, of whom 2905 were voters. With this enumeration as a definite guide, the Governor made an apportionment, established election districts, and, appointing the necessary officers to conduct it, fixed upon the 30th of March, 1855, as the day for electing the territorial legislature. Governor Reeder had come to Kansas an ardent Democrat, a firm friend of the Pierce Administration, and an enthusiastic disciple of the new Democratic dogma of "Popular Sovereignty." But his short experience with Atchison's Border Ruffians had already rudely shaken his partisanship. The events of the November election exposed the designs of the pro-slavery conspiracy, and no course was left him but to become either its ally or its enemy.

In behalf of justice, as well as to preserve what he still fondly cherished as a vital party principle, he determined by every means in his power to secure a fair election. In his appointment of election officers, census-takers, justices of the peace, and constables, he was careful to make his selections from both factions as fairly as possible, excepting that, as a greater and necessary safeguard against another invasion, he designated in the several election districts along the Missouri border two "free-State" men and one pro-slavery man to act as judges at each poll. He prescribed distinct and rigid rules for the conduct of the election; ordering among other things that the judges should be sworn, that constables should attend and preserve order, and that voters must be actual residents to the exclusion of any other home.

All his precautions came to nought. This election of a territorial legislature, which, as then popularly believed, might determine by the enactment of laws whether Kansas should become a free or a slave State, was precisely the coveted opportunity for which the Border Ruffian conspiracy had been organized. Its interference in the November election served as a practical experiment to demonstrate its efficiency and to perfect its plans. The alleged doings of the Emigrant Aid Societies furnished a convenient and plausible pretext; extravagant rumors were now circulated as to the plans and numbers of the Eastern emigrants; it was industriously reported that they were coming twenty thousand strong to control the election; and by these misrepresentations, the whole border was wrought up into the fervor of a pro-slavery crusade.

When the 30th of March, election day, finally arrived, the conspiracy had once more mustered its organized army of invasion, and five thousand Missouri Border Ruffians, in different camps, bands, and squads, held practical possession of nearly every election district in the Territory. Riot, violence, intimidation, destruction of ballot-boxes, expulsion and substitution of judges, neglect or refusal to administer the prescribed oaths, _viva voce_ voting, repeated voting on one side, and obstruction and dispersion of voters on the other, were common incidents; no one dared to resist the acts of the invaders, since they were armed and commanded in frontier if not in military fashion, in many cases by men whose names then or after-wards were prominent or notorious. Of the votes cast, 1410 were upon a subsequent examination found to have been legal, while 4908 were illegal. Of the total number, 5427 votes were given to the pro-slavery and only 791 to the free-State candidates. Upon a careful collation of evidence the investigating committee of Congress was of the opinion that the vote would have returned a free-State legislature if the election had been confined to the actual settlers; as conducted, however, it showed a nominal majority for every pro-slavery candidate but one.

Governor Reeder had feared a repetition of the November frauds, but it is evident that he had no conception of so extensive an invasion. It is probable, too, that information of its full enormity did not immediately reach him. Meanwhile, the five days prescribed in his proclamation for receiving notices of contest elapsed. The Governor had removed his executive office to Shawnee Mission. At this place, and at the neighboring town of Westport, Missouri, only four miles distant, a majority of the persons claiming to have been elected now assembled and became clamorous for their certificates. [Footnote: Testimony of Ex-Governor Reeder, Howard Report, pp. 935-9; also Stringfellow's testimony, p. 855.] A committee of their number presented a formal written demand for the same; they strenuously denied his right to question the legality of the election, and threats against the Governor's life in case of his refusal to issue them became alarmingly frequent. Their regular consultations, their open denunciations, and their hints at violence, while they did not entirely overawe the Governor, so far produced their intended effect upon him that he assembled a band of his personal friends for his own protection. On the 6th of April, one week after election, the Governor announced his decision upon the returns. On one side of the room were himself and his armed adherents; on the other side the would-be members in superior numbers, with their pistols and bowie-knives. Under this virtual duress the Governor issued certificates of election to all but about one-third of the claimants; and the returns in these cases he rejected, not because of alleged force or fraud, but on account of palpable defects in the papers. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter end.]

The issue of certificates was a fatal error in Governor Reeder's action. It endowed the notoriously illegal Legislature with a technical authority, and a few weeks later, when he went to Washington city to invoke the help of the Pierce Administration against the usurpation, it enabled Attorney-General Cushing (if current report was true) to taunt him with the reply: "You state that this Legislature is the creature of force and fraud; which shall we believe--your official certificate under seal, or your subsequent declarations to us in private conversation?"

The question of the certificates disposed of, the next point of interest was to determine at what place the Legislature should assemble. Under the organic act the Governor had authority to appoint the first meeting, and it soon became known that his mind was fixed upon the embryo town of Pawnee, adjoining the military post of Fort Riley, situated on the Kansas River, 110 miles from the Missouri line. Against this exile, however, Stringfellow and his Border Ruffian lawmakers protested in an energetic memorial, asking to be called together at the Shawnee Mission, supplemented by the private threat that even if they convened at Pawnee, they would adjourn and come back the day after. If the Governor harbored any remaining doubt that this bogus Legislature intended to assume and maintain the mastery, it speedily vanished. Their hostility grew open and defiant; they classed him as a free-State man, an "abolitionist," and it became only too evident that he would gradually be shorn of power and degraded from the position of Territorial Executive to that of a mere puppet. Having nothing to gain by further concession, he adhered to his original plan, issued his proclamation convening the Legislature at Pawnee on the first Monday in July, and immediately started for Washington to make a direct appeal to President Pierce.

How Governor Reeder failed in this last hope of redress and support, how he found the Kansas conspiracy as strong at Washington as on the Missouri border, will appear further along. On the 2d of July the Governor and the Legislature met at the town of Pawnee, where he had convoked them--a magnificent prairie site, but containing as yet only three buildings, one to hold sessions in, and two to furnish food and lodging. The Governor's friends declared the accommodations ample; the Missourians on the contrary made affidavit that they were compelled to camp out and cook their own rations. The actual facts had little to do with the predetermination of the members. Stringfellow had written in his paper, the "Squatter Sovereign," three weeks before: "We hope no one will be silly enough to suppose the Governor has power to compel us to stay at Pawnee during the entire session. We will, of course, have to 'trot' out at the bidding of his Excellency,--but we will trot him back next day at our bidding."

The prediction was literally fulfilled. Both branches organized without delay, the House choosing John H. Stringfellow for Speaker. Before the Governor's message was delivered on the following day, the House had already passed, under suspended rules, "An act to remove the seat of government temporarily to the Shawnee Manual Labor School," which act the Council as promptly concurred in. The Governor vetoed the bill, but it was at once passed over his veto. By the end of the week the Legislature had departed from the budding capital to return no more.

The Governor was perforce obliged to follow his migratory Solons, who adhered to their purpose despite his public or private protests, and who reassembled at Shawnee Mission, or more correctly the Shawnee Manual Labor School, on the 16th of July. Shawnee Mission was one of our many national experiments in civilizing Indian tribes. This philanthropic institution, nourished by the Federal treasury, was presided over by the Rev. Thomas Johnson. The town of Westport, which could boast of a post office, lay only four miles to the eastward, on the Missouri side of the State line, and was a noted pro-slavery stronghold. There were several large brick buildings at the Mission capable of accommodating the Legislature with halls and lodging-rooms; its nearness to an established post office, and its contiguity to Missouri pro-slavery sentiment were elements probably not lost sight of. Mr. Johnson, who had formerly been a Missouri slaveholder, was at the March election chosen a member of the Territorial Council, which in due time made him its presiding officer; and the bogus Legislature at Shawnee Mission was therefore in a certain sense under its own "vine and fig-tree."

Image: Andrew H. Reeder Source: The Kansas State Historical Society.

The two branches of the Legislature, the Council with the Rev. Thomas Johnson as President, and the House with Stringfellow of the "Squatter Sovereign" as Speaker, now turned their attention seriously to the pro-slavery work before them. The conspirators were shrewd enough to realize their victory. "To have intimated one year ago," said the Speaker in his address of thanks, "that such a result would be wrought out, one would have been thought a visionary; to have predicted that today a legislature would assemble, almost unanimously pro-slavery, and with myself for Speaker, I would have been thought mad." The program had already been announced in the "Squatter Sovereign" some weeks before. "The South must and will prevail. If the Southern people but half do their duty, in less than nine months from this day Kansas will have formed a constitution and be knocking at the door for admission.... In the session of the United States Senate in 1856, two Senators from the slave-holding State of Kansas will take their seats, and abolitionism will be forever driven from our halls of legislation." Against this triumphant attitude, Governor Reeder was despondent and powerless. The language of his message plainly betrayed the political dilemma in which he found himself. He strove as best he might to couple together the prevailing cant of office-holders against "the destructive spirit of abolitionism" and a comparatively mild rebuke of the Missouri usurpation. [Footnote: Its phraseology was adroit enough to call forth a sneering compliment from Speaker Stringfellow, who wrote to the "Squatter Sovereign": "On Tuesday the Governor sent in his message, which you will find is very well calculated to have its effect with the Pennsylvania Democracy. If he was trustworthy I would" be disposed to compliment the most of it, "but knowing how corrupt the author is, and that it is only designed for political effect in Pennsylvania, he not expecting to remain long with us, I will pass it by."--"Squatter Sovereign," July 17, 1855.]

Nevertheless, the Governor stood reasonably firm. He persisted in declaring that the Legislature could pass no valid laws at any other place than Pawnee, and returned the first bill sent him with a veto message to that effect. To this the Legislature replied by passing the bill over his veto, and in addition formally raising a joint committee "to draw up a memorial to the President of the United States respectfully demanding the removal of A. H. Reeder from the office of governor"; and, as if this indignity were not enough, holding a joint session for publicly signing it. The memorial was promptly dispatched to Washington by special messenger, but on the way, this envoy read the news of the Governor's dismissal by the President.

This event appeared definitely to sweep away the last obstacle in the path of the conspirators. The office of acting governor now devolved upon the secretary of the Territory, Daniel Woodson, a man who shared their views and was allied to their schemes. With him to approve their enactments, the parliamentary machinery of the "bogus" Legislature was complete and effective. They had at the very beginning summarily ousted the free-State members chosen at the supplementary election on May 22, and seated the pro-slavery claimants of March 30; and the only two remaining free-State members resigned in utter disgust to avoid giving countenance to the flagrant usurpation by their presence. No one was left even to enter a protest.

This, then, was the perfect flower of Douglas's vaunted experiment of "popular sovereignty"--a result they professed fully to appreciate. "Hitherto," said the Judiciary Committee of the House in a long and grandiloquent report, "Congress have retained to themselves the power to mold and shape all the territorial governments according to their own peculiar notions, and to restrict within very limited and contracted bounds both the natural as well as the political rights of the bold and daring pioneer and the noble, hard-fisted squatter." But by this course, the argument of the committee continued, "the pillars which uphold this glorious union of States were shaken until the whole world was threatened with a political earthquake," and, "the principle that the people are capable of self-government would have been forever swallowed up by anarchy and confusion," had not the Kansas-Nebraska bill "delegated to the people of these territories the right to frame and establish their own form of government."

What might not be expected of lawmakers who begin with so ambitious an exordium, and who lay the cornerstone of their edifice upon the solid rock of political principle? The anti-climax of performance which followed would be laughably absurd, were it not marked by the cunning of a well-matured political plot. Their first step was to recommend the repeal of "all laws whatsoever, which may have been considered to have been in force" in the Territory on the 1st day of July 1855, thus forever quieting any doubt "as to what is and what is not law in this Territory"; secondly, to substitute a code about which there should be no question, by the equally ingenious expedient of copying and adopting the Revised Statutes of Missouri.

These enactments were made in due form, but the bogus Legislature did not seem content to let its fame rest on this single monument of self-government. Casting their eyes once more upon the broad expanse of American politics, the Judiciary Committee reported: "The question of slavery is one that convulses the whole country, from the boisterous Atlantic to the shores of the mild Pacific. This state of things has been brought about by the fanaticism of the North and East, while up to this time the people of the South, and those of the North who desire the perpetuation of this Union and are devoted to the laws, have been entirely conservative. But the time is coming--yea, it has already arrived--for the latter to take a bold and decided stand that the Union and law may not be trampled in the dust," etc., etc.

The "Revised Statutes of Missouri," recommended in bulk, and adopted with hasty clerical modifications, [Footnote: To guard more effectually against clerical errors, the Legislature enacted: "Sec. 1. Wherever the word 'State' occurs in any act of the present legislative assembly, or any law of this Territory, in such construction as to indicate the locality of the operation of such act or laws, the same shall in every instance be taken and understood to mean 'Territory,' and shall apply to the Territory of Kansas."--"Statutes of Kansas," 1855, p. 718.] already contained the usual slave-code peculiar to Southern States. But in the plans and hopes of the conspirators, this of itself was insufficient. In order to "take a bold stand that the Union and law might not be trampled in the dust," they with great painstaking devised and passed "an act to punish offenses against slave property."

It prescribed the penalty of death, not merely for the grave crime of inciting or aiding an insurrection of slaves, free negroes, or mulattoes, or circulating printed matter for such an object, but also the same extreme punishment for the comparatively mild offense of enticing or decoying away a slave or assisting him to escape; for harboring or concealing a fugitive slave, ten years' imprisonment; for resisting an officer arresting a fugitive slave, two years' imprisonment.

If such inflictions as the foregoing might perhaps be tolerated upon the plea that a barbarous institution required barbarous safeguards, what ought to be said of the last three sections of the act which, in contempt of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, annulled the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, and invaded even the right of individual conscience?

To write, print, or circulate "any statements, arguments, opinions, sentiment, doctrine, advice, or innuendo, calculated to produce a disorderly, dangerous, or rebellious disaffection among the slaves of the Territory, or to induce such slaves to escape from the service of their masters, or to resist their authority," was pronounced a felony punishable by five years' imprisonment. To deny the right of holding slaves in the Territory, by speaking, writing, printing, or circulating books, or papers, was likewise made a felony, punishable by two years' imprisonment. Finally it was enacted that "no person who is conscientiously opposed to holding slaves, or who does not admit the right to hold slaves in this Territory, shall sit as a juror on the trial of any prosecution for any violation of any of the sections of this act." Also, all officers were, in addition to their usual oath, required to swear to support and sustain the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive-Slave Law.

The spirit which produced these despotic laws also governed the methods devised to enforce them. The Legislature proceeded to elect the principal officers of each county, who in turn were empowered by the laws to appoint the subordinate officials. All administration, therefore, emanated from that body, reflected its will, and followed its behest. Finally, the usual skeleton organization of a territorial militia was devised, whose general officers were in due time appointed by the acting Governor from prominent and serviceable pro-slavery members of the Legislature.

Having secured their present domination, they sought to perpetuate their political ascendency in the Territory. They ingeniously prolonged the tenure of their various appointees, and to render their success at future elections easy and certain they provided that candidates to be eligible, and judges of election, and voters when challenged, must swear to support the Fugitive-Slave Law. This they knew would virtually disfranchise many conscientious antislavery men; while, on the other hand, they enacted that each inhabitant who had paid his territorial tax should be a qualified voter for all elective officers. Under so lax a provision Missouri invaders could in the future, as they had in the past, easily give an apparent majority at the ballot box for all their necessary agents and ulterior schemes.

In a technical sense, the establishment of slavery in Kansas was complete. There were by the census of the previous February already some two hundred slaves in the Territory. Under the sanction of these laws, and before they could by any possibility be repealed, some thousands might be expected, especially by such an organized and united effort as the South could make to maintain the vantage ground already gained. Once there, the aggressiveness of the institution might be relied on to protect itself, since all experience had shown that under similar conditions it was almost ineradicable.

After so much patriotic endeavor on the part of these Border Ruffian legislators "that the Union and law may not be trampled in the dust," it cannot perhaps be wondered at that they began to look around for their personal rewards. These they easily found in the rich harvest of local monopolies and franchises which lay scattered in profusion on this virgin field of legislation, ready to be seized and appropriated without dispute by the first occupants. There were charters for railroads, insurance companies, toll-bridges, ferries, coal mines, plank roads, and numberless privileges and honors of present or prospective value out of which, together with the county, district, and military offices, the ambitious members might give and take with generous liberality. One-sixth of the printed laws of the first session attest their modest attention to this incidental squatters' dowry. One of the many favorable opportunities in this category was the establishment of the permanent territorial capital, authorized by the organic act, where the liberal Federal appropriation for public buildings should be expended. For this purpose, competition from the older towns yielding gracefully after the first ballot, an entirely new site on the open prairie overlooking the Kansas River some twelve miles west of Lawrence was agreed upon. The proceedings do not show any unseemly scramble over the selection, and no tangible record remains of the whispered distribution of corner lots and contracts. It is only the name which rises into historical notice.

One of the actors in the political drama of Kansas was Samuel Dexter Lecompte, Chief Justice of the Territory. He had been appointed from the border State of Maryland, and is represented to have been a diligent student, a respectable lawyer, a prominent Democratic politician, and possessed of the personal instincts and demeanor of a gentleman. Moved by a pro-slavery sympathy that was sincere, Judge Lecompte lent his high authority to the interests of the conspiracy against Kansas. He had already rendered the bogus Legislature the important service of publishing an extra-judicial opinion, sustaining their adjournment from Pawnee to Shawnee Mission. Probably because they valued his official championship and recognized in him a powerful ally in politics, they made him a member of several of their private corporations and gave him the honor of naming their newly founded capital Lecompton. But the intended distinction was transitory. Before the lapse of a single decade, the town for which he stood sponsor was no longer the capital of Kansas.

[Relocated Footnote: Namely, because of a _viva voce_ vote certified instead of a ballot, and because the prescribed oath and the words "lawful resident voters" had been openly erased from the printed forms. In six districts the Governor ordered a supplementary election, which was duly held on the 22d of May following. When that day arrived, the Border Ruffians, proclaiming the election to be illegal, by their default allowed free-State men to be chosen in all the districts except that of Leavenworth, where the invasion and tactics of the March election were repeated now for the third time and the same candidates voted for.--Howard Report, pp. 35-36. Indeed, the Border Ruffian habit of voting in Kansas had become chronic, and did not cease for some years, and sometimes developed the grimmest humors. In the autumn of that same year, an election for county-seat took place in Leavenworth County by the accidental failure of the Legislature to designate one. Leavenworth city aspired to this honor and polled six hundred votes; but it had an enterprising rival in Kickapoo city, ten miles up the river, and another, Delaware city, eight miles downstream. Both were paper towns--"cottonwood towns," in border slang--of great expectations; and both having more unscrupulous enterprise than voters appealed to Platte County to "come over." This was an appeal Platte County could never resist, and accordingly, a chartered ferryboat brought voters all election day from the Missouri side, until the Kickapoo tally-lists scored 850. Delaware city, however, was not to be thus easily crushed. She, too, not only had her chartered ferryboat, but kept her polls open for three days in succession, and not until her boxes contained nine hundred ballots (of which probably only fifty were legal) did the steam whistle scream victory! When the "returning board" had sufficiently weighed this complicated electoral contest, it gravely decided that keeping the polls open for three days was "an unheard of irregularity." (J. N. Holloway, "History of Kansas," pp. 192-4.) This was exquisite irony; but a local court on appeal seriously giving a final verdict for Delaware, the transaction became a perennial burlesque on "Squatter Sovereignty."]