Removal of Governor Reeder.--Secretary Woodson.--Assumption of power by the Legislature.--Office-holders all pro-slavery men.--Free-state mass meetings and conventions.--Elections for delegate to Congress.--Free-state Constitution adopted.--Dr. Charles Robinson elected governor.--Meetings of the State Legislature.--Arrest of Robinson and others for high treason.--The Topeka Legislature dispersed by Col. Sumner.
GOVERNOR REEDER made a visit to Washington in the spring of 1855, leaving Kansas on the 19th of April, to consult with the administration on the affairs of the territory. When about to take his departure for the west, on the 11th of June following, he received a letter from Secretary Marcy, charging him with irregular proceedings, in the purchase of Indian lands. The governor replied to this letter, after he had again reached Kansas, explaining the circumstances in question, and showing that the charge had no foundation other than in the fact that he was one of a company who had proposed to purchase a portion of the Kaw lands, provided the sanction of the government could be obtained, otherwise the purchase was of no avail. Although this pretended speculation was the ostensible ground for his removal, of which he received official information on the 31st of July, it was evident that other reasons, not made public, had influenced the action of the administration. He did not please the southern wing of the Democratic party, and the leading pro-slavery men clamored for his dismissal. From these he had suffered every possible annoyance, even to having been assaulted and beaten in his own office by Gen. B. F. Stringfellow, for having, as was alleged, spoken unfavorably, when in the east, of border ruffianism. The Legislative Assembly also sent a memorial to Washington, preferring charges against him, which were not received until after his removal. The speculation in the half-breed lands, therefore, while it furnished a pretext, was not the real cause for the removal of Reeder.
The secretary of the territory, Daniel Woodson, was, agreeably to a provision in the organic law, acting governor, from the 31st of July, until Wilson Shannon, the successor to Reeder, arrived in the territory on the 1st of September. Woodson was all that the pro-slavery party desired. There was nothing in which he was not willing and ready to do their bidding. He was emphatically a man after their own heart. And so well pleased were they with his soundness and pliancy, that petitions were forwarded to Washington, to obtain for him the appointment of governor. There was no possible reason to fear that he would be guilty of the commission of any act that would favor the free-state people, or that would not have for its chief object the advancement of the pro-slavery cause.
Previous to the removal of Reeder, the Legislative Assembly had passed enactments stripping the governor of almost every vestige of power, attempting even to deprive him of the privileges granted by the organic act. They arrogated to themselves the appointment of all the territorial officers, and selected none but persons of their own class, and those who were known to be of the most ultra character. In this they had strictly followed the policy of the administration, all whose appointments were of the same description; so that, after the removal of Reeder, there was but one man and he the postmaster at Lawrence, who held an office, either under the federal government, or by appointment of the legislature, or through their agents, who was not in favor of introducing slavery into the territory, and through any means by which it could be effected.
The free-state settlers, believing themselves the subjects of a cruel persecution; feeling they could not obtain any sympathy from the general government; and knowing they might look in vain for justice at the hands of the territorial officers, held mass meetings and conventions, to discuss with each other the subject of their grievances. At one of these meetings, a resolution was passed, requesting "all bona fide citizens of Kansas Territory, of whatever political views or predilections, to consult together, in their respective election districts," and elect "delegates to assemble in convention, at the town of Topeka, on the 19th day of September, 1855, then and there to consider and determine upon all subjects of public interest, and particularly upon that having reference to the speedy formation of a state constitution, with an intention of immediate application to be admitted as a state into the Union of the United States of America."
A convention, numerously attended, was held at Big Springs, on the 5th of September, at which it was resolved, that the Legislative Assembly had been fraudulently elected; "that its laws had no validity or binding force; and that every freeman was at liberty, consistently with his obligations as a citizen and a man, to defy and resist them." A resolution was also passed denunciatory of the judiciary, for entering "into a partisan contest, and, by extra-judicial decision, giving opinions in violation of all propriety." It was further resolved to endure and submit to the laws of the spurious legislature "no longer than the best interests of the territory require, as the least of two evils;" and to "resist them to a bloody issue as soon as it could be ascertained that peaceable remedies should fail, and forcible resistance furnish any reasonable prospect of success;" and, in the mean time, the resolution read, "we recommend to our friends throughout the territory, the organization and discipline of volunteer companies, and the procurement and preparation of arms." They especially repudiated the election law, determined not to meet on the day appointed for election, but resolved themselves to "fix upon a day for the purpose of electing a delegate to Congress."
Agreeably to this last resolve, the 9th day of October was set apart for the election of a delegate to Congress, at which election Governor Reeder received two thousand eight hundred and sixteen free-state votes, the pro-slavery party taking no part in the election. This party had already held an election on the first of the month, when Whitfield received over three thousand votes, more than eight hundred of them, as before, polled by invaders from the neighboring state. The free-state people kept away from the polls on that occasion.
Both Whitfield and Reeder presented themselves in Washington, and claimed their seats as delegates. After a careful investigation of the circumstances, both were rejected, though each received his mileage.
At the same time the free-state election for delegate to Congress was held, delegates to form a constitutional convention were also elected. This convention assembled at Topeka, on the 23d of October, 1855, at which a state constitution was adopted, the important feature of which is, that "slavery shall not exist in the state."
This Constitution was submitted to the people for ratification, on the 15th December, 1855, when it received a respectable popular vote. At some of the election districts, disturbances were created, and at Leavenworth, the poll-books were seized and destroyed. But as a general thing, the election was permitted to go off even more quietly than could, under the agitated condition of the territory, have been reasonably expected.
Just one week after this December election, a caucus meeting was held in Lawrence to nominate a free-state ticket for state officers under the Topeka Constitution. At this meeting, Dr. Charles Robinson, received the nomination for governor, who with the other candidates then nominated, was subsequently elected.
The newly elected State Legislature, assembled at Topeka on the 1st of March, 1856, and proceeded to organize a state government. Dr. Robinson took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address. A committee was appointed to frame a code of laws for the future state, during the adjournment of the Legislature. Andrew H. Reeder and James H. Lane were elected United States Senators, to take their seats when the new state should be admitted into the Union. After the transaction of this, and other important business, the Legislature adjourned until the following 4th of July.
Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, whose name must necessarily figure somewhat in these pages, as a prominent agitator in all the Missouri-Kansas troubles, was present at the above meeting, busily employed in taking notes, and especially registering the names of the most prominent participants. Through his instrumentality, Robinson and others who were active in the movement, were subsequently arrested and held in confinement a period of four months, on the charge of high-treason. These men frequently demanded a trial; but the government was never ready. At length, Judge Lecompte, hearing that James H. Lane was marching with a large army to set them at liberty, consented to discharge them upon bail. This will be the end of the matter; as it was never any part of the programme to give them a trial. Since the above was written, and after the prisoners had been held in bail a period of full eight months, the district attorney, as was predicted, entered nolle prosequies in their cases, and they were discharged.
Previous to the 4th of July, threats were freely uttered by the pro-slavery party, that the free-state legislature should not assemble, at that time, according to its adjournment. Their first intention was to disperse the members by an armed force of their own people; but they afterwards determined upon a wiser and safer course of action. In consequence of these threats, the free-state men began to assemble at Topeka in considerable numbers as early as the 2d of July. Some of the most prominent of the party being still in prison, and others having been driven from the territory, they were undecided in regard to the policy best to be pursued. Both branches of the State Legislature consequently met in convention on the evening of July 3d, and resolved to assemble in regular session, agreeably to adjournment, at noon on the following day.
In the mean time, a large United States force, under command of Col. E. V. Sumner, consisting of seven companies of dragoons from Fort Leavenworth, and four companies from Fort Riley, had encamped close to Topeka, both to the north and the south of the town. Secretary Woodson, who in the absence of Shannon, was again acting-governor, accompanied the troops, as did also the United States Marshal, Israel B. Donalson.
On the evening of the 2d, a committee of free-state men had been appointed to correspond with Col. Sumner, and ascertain, if possible, the object of this extraordinary warlike demonstration on the part of the United States. On the 3d, the committee received from Col. Sumner the following letter;
Early on the morning of the 4th the convention again assembled in one of the rooms appropriated to the Legislature, when they were visited by Marshal Donalson, accompanied by ex-judge Elmore, who by request of the marshal, explained the object of their errand. He read, among other things, a proclamation of President Pierce, issued on the preceding February, in which he declared that the laws of the Legislative Assembly as adopted at the Shawnee Mission, should be sustained and enforced by the entire force of the government, and concluded by delivering a proclamation to the same effect from the secretary of the territory, the acting-governor.
This ceremony concluded, the marshal and judge took their departure. The excitement in the town was intense, and the entire population, embracing two volunteer companies, who were out on parade, were assembled in and about the legislative hall. A short time before the hour appointed for the meeting, Colonel Sumner, at the head of about two hundred dragoons, was seen approaching at a rapid rate. Having posted two field pieces so as to command the principal avenues, he drew his forces up in front of the hall and entered the building; and addressing the people who were there assembled, he informed them that under the proclamation of the President, he had come to disperse the Legislature, which duty, though the most painful of his life, he was compelled to perform, even if it should demand the employment of all the forces in his command. The members present readily consented to obey his orders, and no attempt was made at an organization. The colonel was heartily cheered as he left the hall; and when he was about marching off at the head of the troops, three groans for Franklin Pierce were given with such an unanimity and hearty good will by the assembled multitude, as fairly to shake the building, startle the horses of the soldiers, and betoken anything but a friendly feeling toward the existing administration.