Geary and Kansas by John H. Gihon, M.D.



Meeting of the Territorial Legislative Assembly at Lecompton.

    THE Legislative Assembly met at Lecompton on the 12th of January, and organized by appointing Rev. Thomas Johnson, of Shawnee Mission, president of the Council, and W. G. Matthias, of Leavenworth City, speaker of the House of Representatives. A committee was appointed to wait upon the governor and apprise him of the organization, which was done on the following morning, when his message was sent in and read before both houses. Orders were given to the proprietors of the Lecompton Union, who were elected printers for the territory, to print six thousand five hundred copies of this document; but as they had neither paper nor presses to supply the order, the copies were never printed. The government, however, which is sometimes exceedingly obliging, will pay the bill, notwithstanding the omission on the part of the public printers to supply the work. It was better, perhaps, that the circulation of the message should have been restricted to the narrowest possible limits. The members of the legislature, or rather the great majority of them, looked upon it as an insult and outrage upon all pro-slavery men, inasmuch as the governor had not endorsed the actions of the "territorial militia," or the "law and order" army, and denounced the free-state men who had taken up arms to protect the persons of their women, their property and themselves from the violence of a legalized horde of ruffians. The animadversions against his excellency on this score, were sufficiently eloquent and fierce to satisfy the most exacting of his opponents.

    One of the first proceedings of this legislative body, was to hold a secret meeting, in which it was resolved, that should any act pass both houses by a majority of votes, and then be vetoed by the governor, there should be a mutual agreement to disregard the veto, and pass the act by a two-third vote, which was strictly adhered to in all their subsequent proceedings. At the previous session they had stripped the governor of every vestige of power or authority save that specially named in the organic act, and this act they caused to be so printed as to take from him the pardoning power. They now concluded to deprive him of the only privilege remaining, which was that of vetoing offensive, obnoxious and unjust enactments. The governor was apprised of this fact, but scarcely believing so infamous a measure possible, attempted to arrest several bills, by offering the most tangible objections, which only served to excite the merriment of members and call down upon his own head the most violent anathemas. Indeed, the greater portion of the time of the session was taken up, with long speeches denunciatory of his excellency for his supposed impartiality, or rather his unwillingness to "go in" heart and soul, with all his ability, influence and power, to advance the interests of the pro-slavery cause. So entirely were they devoted to this peculiar object, that it was a common expression among the idlers of the town, when no better employment was on hand, to say to each other, "Come, let us go over to the House to hear Jenkins," or Brown, or Anderson, or O'Driscoll, or Johnson, or some other prominent orator, "abuse the governor." For hours at the time, would admiring audiences stand listening to these gentlemen's vituperations. It is a great loss to the world that their speeches were not phonographed and preserved for future generations. Never again will a similar amount of that peculiar style of eloquence emanate from any legislative body. So determined were some of these gentlemen to denounce the governor, agreeably to outside instructions, that they entered upon the work with a most commendable spirit and energy whenever they could obtain the floor, or stand upon their feet, which was not always the case. On one occasion, Jenkins, who was the most violent of the violent, had advocated a certain measure with great vehemence, and supposing it would meet the governor's disapprobation, caused a vote to be passed, asking information of his excellency on the subject. It so happened that the governor agreed precisely with Mr. Jenkins, and sent in a brief message to that effect. Jenkins, however, despised listening to anything from the governor's pen, and therefore crammed his fingers into his ears until the message was read, when he suddenly sprang to his feet, and for the hundredth time repeated his tirades of abuse. He was proceeding in one of his most eloquent strains. He stamped violently upon the floor--struck the table with his fist, knocking over the inkstand, and pronounced his anathemas with a voice that fairly shook the roof overhead--when he was arrested by a loud and universal burst of laughter. He stopped and looked around as though enquiring the cause of such an unusual interruption, when the speaker informed him that he had mistaken the tenor of the governor's message, his excellency having agreed with his views in every particular. "Then," said the orator, striking the table another violent blow, "had I known that I would have taken the other side of the question!" Nothing could have been more amusing than to witness the efforts of some of these orators to preserve their equilibrium whilst delivering themselves of their wisdom. The desperate struggle to stand erect--the hiccups which interspersed the most eloquent sentences--the rocking to and fro, and grasping at the backs of chairs or tops of tables, and most of all, the palpable desire to appear sober, all conspired to furnish a most admirable study for a dramatic artist.

    There were some good men in this assembly; but their number was so small, that their influence was of little avail, and they were always in the minority, when any measure was proposed to which they could not give their sanction. Some of these, in the early part of the session, retired to their homes in disgust at their associates, whilst others remained, hoping even against hope, that they might be enabled to circumvent some evil machination. But the majority of the members were of the most rabid of the pro-slavery fire-eaters, who had but one idea, and that the introduction of slavery as a permanent institution into Kansas. And it is quite probable, judging from their uniform behavior, they never for a moment supposed that any means to accomplish that end, however desperate or unlawful, was deserving of reprehension. They were mostly men of limited education, rude manners, violent character, intemperate habits, and desperate fortune. There were those, however, always at their elbows, guiding, directing and controlling their legislative conduct, sufficiently cunning, shrewd and intelligent to mould them to their will, and use them as tools to effect their purposes.

    Lecompton was at that time, and now is, a sort of moral plague spot in Kansas, and as such is shunned by all good people coming into the territory. When it was first laid out for a town, Sheriff Jones declared that no free-state man should own property in it, and so infamous has been its character ever since, that none will purchase there who can succeed anywhere else. Hence, when the legislature met, there were no suitable accommodations for the visitors. The weather was severely cold, the thermometer being some nights thirty degrees below zero. Beds and bedding, as well as shelter, were scarce, and wholesome provisions could not be obtained in sufficient quantities to supply the demand at any price. There was consequently much suffering, and several deaths occurred from exposure.

    A few of the most respectable members of the legislature obtained boarding at several private houses, some of them being compelled to sleep at night on the floors of the legislative halls. The great portion of the body boarded and lodged at what was called "Jack Thompson's Restaurant," the proprietor being himself a member of the House of Representatives. This was a one-story frame building, the ground floor, which was the only one, being divided into three rooms, in the principal of which the bar was kept, whilst in the others faro, draw-poker, and other gambling games were played every night and on every Sunday, for the entertainment, if not the profit, of the law-makers. There was an extensive cellar underneath this slight building, where the cooking and eating were done. The dining tables furnished lodging room for a number of boarders, who spread their blankets upon them when the dishes were removed. The bar-room also provided a number with lodging. This was generally crowded, and immense quantities were here drunk of a most infamous compound of vile drugs, the qualities and character of which were only known to the manufacturer, but which he could safely have warranted to destroy the constitution of the strongest man, in a very limited time, and which "Jack Thompson" and his bar-keepers sold for whiskey at a dime a glass. This stuff seemed to produce a very peculiar effect, and to its influence must be ascribed very many of the ferocious and insane deeds which have blackened the history of Kansas. Late at night this bar-room was covered with a few inches of saw-dust, upon which, as the outsiders withdrew, boarders, mostly legislators, would stretch themselves out and fall asleep. One night a stage driver happened to drink some of that whiskey, which, if it was not sure to kill, was certain to make drunk, and he rolled over on the floor among the members. In the morning, whilst engaged in shaking off the saw-dust, he was accosted by one of the thousand borers for bank charters, or railroad bills, or town company corporations, to obtain his influence to get an act through the legislature. This threw the stage-driver into a violent passion, and the borer came near getting a flogging. "It is bad enough," said the stage-driver, "to get drunk, and make a fool of myself, and get into bad company, but no man shall insult me by mistaking me for a member of the Kansas Legislature."

    The principal business of the assembly, after that of abusing the governor, was to incorporate an almost endless number of roads, railroad, ferry, bridge, and town associations. The latter were so numerous as to elicit the suggestion from a wag, that it was highly important to offer a bill withholding a few acres of the land in the territory for farming purposes. In passing these acts, the legislature exhibited a forethought for themselves that would have done credit to the "unjust steward" so highly commended for his prudence in one of the gospel parables. The charters were closely examined, and wherever it seemed probable that the scheme would prove profitable to the corporators, the names of those contained in the bills, especially if suspected of free-soilism, were erased, and an equal number or more of those of the members, were substituted, in which form the bill would become a law. A gentleman from Missouri, with the strongest pro-slavery proclivities, who had business transactions with the legislature, remarked:-- "This is the most corrupt body that ever assembled in the world. Had the Savior came down from heaven and offered a bill that would have saved the country from irretrievable ruin, unless it could have been made clear that it would be conducive to their own immediate personal interests it would have been defeated; whilst on the other hand, they would, if liberally paid, push through the most obnoxious and infamous act, even were it presented by the very devil himself!"


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