President Pierce had appointed Andrew H. Reeder of Pennsylvania governor of Kansas. Reeder was a positive Democrat, in full sympathy with the Kansas-Nebraska Law, and a strong friend of the South. The interests of slavery were thought to be safe in his hands. But Reeder was honest, and when he reached Kansas and witnessed the violence of the Missouri people and their determination to make Kansas a slave state by fair means or foul, his soul revolted against such proceedings, and he resolved to see fair play. The election of a territorial legislature brought matters to a crisis. On election day five thousand Missourians, led by United States Senator Atchison, came across the border armed with muskets, pistols, and bowie-knives.¹ This invading force drove out or intimidated the election judges who were not favorable to them, and carried the election in the most high-handed manner. A recent census had shown that there were but 2905 voters in the territory, but over six thousand votes were cast.
When this legislature met it proceeded to enact a code of laws that may be classed among the curiosities of modern literature. A few specimens are as follows: "Any person…convicted of raising a rebellion…of slaves, free negroes, or mulattoes in the territory shall suffer death." "If any free person shall, by speaking, writing, or printing, advise, persuade, or induce, any slaves to rebel, etc.,…such person shall suffer death." It also provided the death penalty, or ten years' imprisonment, for any one who should aid in the escape of a slave, and that no person opposed to slavery should sit on a jury in the prosecution for the violations of the above-mentioned laws. An imprisonment of two years was imposed for any one who denied the legal existence of slavery in the territory! All these acts were vetoed by Governor Reeder and passed over his veto. The laws, it will be noticed, took no account of the popular sovereignty, advocated by Douglas, but assumed that slavery already existed in the territory;² and this without putting the subject to a vote of the people. At this moment there were less than fifty actual settlers in the territory who owned slaves; more than nine tenths of the people were devoted to freedom. The bias of Governor Reeder was wholly with the proslavery party when he went to Kansas; but he had an honest desire to be fair to the other side. This was wholly displeasing to the proslavery party, and they besought the President to recall him. Mr. Pierce, who was now notoriously subservient to the slave power, heeded their wishes, dismissed Reeder and appointed Wilson Shannon, a former member of Congress from Ohio, to fill the place. But Reeder did not return to the East; he became a resident of Kansas and joined the free-state party. His instincts of a lifetime on the slave question had been revolutionized by a few months among the border ruffians in Kansas.
The ostensible reason for dismissing Reeder was for speculating in land; the real reason was that he did not please the proslavery party.
The free-state settlers were not disposed to sit idle in the face of the usurpation of the Missourians. Led by Robinson, they called a convention to meet at Big Springs; they repudiated the spurious legislature and its infamous laws, nominated Reeder for Congress, and fixed October 9, 1855, as election day. The proslavery party set October 1, as election day, and nominated Whitfield, one of their number, for Congress. Thus the two parties voted on different days; each elected its man, to be sure; both men went to Washington, and both were refused admission to the House. But the free-state settlers did not stop at this. At the election of October 9 they chose delegates to a constitutional convention. This convention met at Topeka the same month, framed a constitution making Kansas a free state, and after its ratification by the people at an election in December, at which the proslavery party refused to vote, applied for admission into the union.³ Under this constitution Robinson was chosen governor. But in January President Pierce, in a special message, denounced the whole Topeka movement as rebellion, and declared his intention to put down all such proceedings with national troops. The Topeka legislature again met, and was dispersed by United States troops, and Robinson, Reeder, and others were indicted for high treason.
'Atchison had been chosen president of the Senate on the death of Vice President King, and for several years there was but one life between him and the presidency of the United States.
²Von Holst, Vol. V, p. 159
³The impression that the free-state people were abolitionists were erroneous. This free-state constitution forbade free negroes, as well as slaves, from entering the state. The abolitionists of the Garrison type would have nothing to do with the Kansas movement from the beginning.
This nonprofit research network is affiliated with the American Local History Network, Inc. (ALHN), and hosted by USGenNet, a nonprofit historical and genealogical Safe-Site Server. No claim is made to the copyrights of individual submitters, and this site complies fully with USGenNet's Nonprofit Conditions of Use.