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Kansas Territory ~ Conflict for Freedom

If you recall from my previous post, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the settlers in Kansas and Nebraska to decided through ‘Popular Sovereignty’ whether they would be free or
slave states. But before they could become a state they first had to adopt a state constitution. A task not easy in the best of circumstances, but with the added issue of slavery to the table the whole thing became a whirlwind of chaos, a downright nasty cyclone like nobody had really seen. It also set the stage for what would become known as the War between the States.

Imagine with me if you will for a moment, a great wall, much like the one in China with thousands of people standing with bated breath, waiting for it to crumble. Of course, and remember I’m a born and bred Kansan, the Missourians weren’t waiting, they were snickering as they climbed over the wall and once there they set up their little camp fires, relaxed against their bedrolls. They’d be ready to elect ‘pro-slavery’ officials who would create a favorable state constitution.

The ‘pro-slavery’ faction relaxed even more when Andrew H. Reeder was appointed territorial governor of Kansas in June 1854. An avid supporter of Democratic Senator Stephan Douglas from
Illinois and his popular sovereignty policies, pro-slavery advocates
cheered the appointment. What the pro-slavery party hadn’t counted on
was Reeder’s determination to hold up  the idea of popular sovereignty
and maintain a middle ground.

The concept of Popular Sovereignty was a good idea, but. . . pro-slavery advocates weren’t taking
chances, especially with the influx of Northerners into the territories. You see, it
didn’t take long for ‘anti-slavery’ factions to set up emigrant societies. Soon these societies began to pop up all over New England. Some of these societies helped fund the emigrants move by selling shares at twenty dollars a pop in exchange for their name in the paper. Here
is a link to a letter written by Lyman Beecher to fellow ministers asking for their help. You may recognize him as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Thomas Webb and Edward Hale  produced
literature on various things such as when to travel, the costs, what to
expect as far as farming and Indians.

Back to our elections: When an election was scheduled for the Kansas Territory
Legislature in March 1855, the good ol’ Bushwhackers and many boys hired from one of the southern states, crossed the territorial line and pretended to be Kansas settlers in hopes to elect
representatives with pro-slavery sympathies.

Reeder wasn’t blind to the voter fraud and refused to certify the votes and called for a new election. It’s believed that nearly 4500 out 7000 votes were from non-Kansas settlers, and that was just in one town. One specific incident included a ‘pro-slavery’ advocate some called ‘bogus’ Sheriff, Samuel J. Jones. Supposedly he entered an election and gave the election officials five minutes to leave or be killed.

A Free State reporter had this to say about Jones, “the immortal bogus Sheriff Jones, a tall, muscular, athletic loafer, with a cruel Mephistophelean expression, clad in the Border Ruffian
costume-blue military overcoat, large boots, skull cap and cigar in mouth.”

He’s not somebody I’ want to mess with.

In the summer of 1855, nearly a year after his appointment, Reeder moved his executive
office in Leavenworth, KS, situated near the Missouri border, to Pawnee, KS, a small town nearly one hundred-twenty miles away. Now, I’m not sure why he chose this town other than one, it was far from Missourian interference, and two, it was close to Fort Riley, which was necessary to keep a capitol safe from the so-called savages settlers feared.

On July 2, 1855, Reeder called to order the First Territorial Legislature (also known as the Bogus Legislature) in Pawnee, KS, the appointed territorial capitol. On July 4, against their governor’s wishes, the legislature voted to reconvene at a new territorial capitol and, on July 16, the capitol was moved back near the Missouri border in a place called Shawnee Mission, KS, where the legislature adopted the slave laws of Missouri.

By the end of July President Pierce dismissed Reeder as territorial governor. Of course it had nothing to do with Reeder’s political policy at fair voting and everything to do with some sort of illegal activities concerning land speculation.

Between the years of 1855 and 1859 Kansas had written and voted on four different constitutions and had five different capitals.

I’d love to tell you that the conflict between the Free-Staters and the pro-slavery factions was contained only within the governing bodies, but as we’ll see next month that was not the case.


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