John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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[Sidenote: Reeder instructions, Howard Report, pp. 107, 935.]

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.

[Sidenote: 1855.]

[Sidenote: Howard Report, pp. 9 to 44.]

[Sidenote: Howard Report, p. 30.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., p. 34.]

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?"

[Sidenote: April 16, 1855.]

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.

[Sidenote: "Squatter Sovereign," June 5, 1855.]

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."

[Sidenote: "House Journal Kansas Territory," 1855, p. 12.]

[Sidenote: "Journal of Council, Kansas Territory," p. 12.]

[Sidenote: "House Journal Kansas Territory," 1855, p. 29.]

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.

[Sidenote: Ibid., p. 30.]

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."

[Illustration: ANDREW H. REEDER.]

[Sidenote: "Squatter Sovereign," July 17, 1855.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., June 19, 1855.]

[Sidenote: "House Journal Kansas Territory," 1856, p. 12.]

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
to-day a legislature would assemble, almost unanimously pro-slavery,
and with myself for Speaker, I would have been thought mad." The
programme 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.]

[Sidenote: "House Journal Kansas Territory," 1855. Appendix, p. 10.]

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.

[Sidenote: Report Judiciary Com., "House Journal Kansas Territory,"
1855. Appendix, p. 14.]

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."

[Sidenote: Report Judiciary Com., "House Journal Kansas Territory,"
1855. Appendix, p. 18.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., p. 18.]

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.

[Sidenote: Ibid., p. 14.]

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.

[Sidenote: "Statutes Territory of Kansas," 1855, p. 715.]

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?

[Sidenote: "Statutes Territory of Kansas," 1855, p. 516.]

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.

[Sidenote: "Journal of Council Kansas Territory," 1855 p. 248.]

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.

[Sidenote: "Statutes Territory of Kansas," 1855, p. 332.]

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.

[Sidenote: Colfax, Speech in H.R., June 21, 1856.]

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.

[Sidenote: "House Journal Kansas Territory," 1855. Appendix, p. 3.]

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,



Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 28 of 31)