Saturday, January 12, 2008

Opening gambit in Kansas

Kansas’ first territorial governor, Andrew H. Reeder, of Pennsylvania, arrives in October 1854 and tours the state searching for a capital site. Many Missourians stake land claims in Kansas and return to their native state, intent on recrossing the border when needed to vote - the law is unclear as to voters residency requirements.

Reeder announced the election for congressional delegate. Missouri Senator Atchison leads a legion of Missourians across the border and to the polls. Ballot stuffing is an American tradition and the result is accepted when pro-slavery J.W. Whitfield is elected. One man is killed during the voting.

Elsewhere during the fall elections, many congressman that voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act are ousted and their places taken by ‘anti-Nebraska’ men. The temper of the Congress will be different than before.

Reeder chooses Shawnee mission as the temporary capital, calls for the election of the territorial legislature on March 30, 1855 and takes a census. The census counts 8501 free whites, 242 slaves and 151 freemen living in Kansas.

New England emigrants begin steaming up the Missouri River to settle in Kansas, principally Lawrence. Missourians delay and harass them at the river towns. As the day of the legislative election draws nigh, Missouri border counties organize contingents to vote in Kansas. Steamboats offer special rates to these groups.

Lawrence is the focal point of Kansas realpolitik. A thousand border ruffians, several cannon and Claiborne Fox Jackson gather east of town to ‘help’ with the vote. Jackson explains the vague Kansas residency requirements for voting and disperses the men to vote in the neighboring precincts. Lawrence counts 781 pro-slavery and 253 free-soil ballots. Later investigations reveal 232 legal votes.

In Leavenworth an attorney questioning the balloting is tarred and feathered. An abolitionist newspaper press is destroyed.

80 percent of the 6200 votes cast are later deemed frauds. One free-state man is elected to the legislature. Reeder decides to certify all the returns except the most fraudulent, appeasing neither side. Dr. Charles Robinson writes influential friends in the East asking for more aid, more emigrants and 200 Sharps rifles. Until the arms can arrive, the citizens of Lawrence build a fine hotel-fort. Made of concrete, with portholes and battlements, the Free-State Hotel is a rallying point for free-soil settlers.

The newly elected legislature meets at the new capital site of Pawnee, adjacent to Fort Riley in western Kansas, where the tall-grass prarie ends and the short-grass begins. Reeder heads east to brief the President, but Atchison has already told a story that Pierce takes to heart. Evidence of proslavery aggression and usurpation of the vote are everywhere, yet Pierce refuses to believe them. The trouble draws newspapermen, journalists and writers, mostly abolitionist, to Kansas and one other man, Jim Lane of Indiana.

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