A History of Lawrence, by Rev. Richard Cordley.



     In the spring of 1855 there occurred an event which largely gave shape to the history of the next two years. This was the election of the first territorial legislature. As the Organic Act allowed the people to determine their own domestic institutions, the first legislature might establish or exclude slavery by law, and so might settle the whole question. Governor Andrew H. Reeder ordered the election to be held on the thirtieth day of March. As a preliminary to this election he ordered a census taken in February of the people of the territory. According to this census, Kansas then had a population of 8,601, of whom 2,905 were voters. This number was probably increased before March 30th, as immigration began very early, and quite a number of actual settlers came into the country before the election. But there were not enough to make any material change. The district in which Lawrence was situated had 369 voters, according to the census.

     Both sides understood the importance of this election, and put forth their strongest efforts to carry it. Whoever secured the first legislature would make the first laws. A pro-slavery legislature could establish slavery and pass laws protecting slave property. Then the people of the south could come with their slaves, and slavery would actually exist in Kansas. If once a considerable number of slaves were settled in Kansas, it would be very difficult to dislodge them. On the other hand if the free-state men secured the legislature, they would establish freedom by law. Pro-slavery men could come to Kansas still, but they would not dare bring their slaves. This would practically settle the question for freedom. The canvas, therefore, was a lively one, and all felt that the contest was vital. The pro-slavery people, however, carried on their canvas in Missouri. They were not disposed to trust to the doctrines of popular sovereignty, of which they had boasted. They proposed to go over and help settle the question. For weeks before the election, the border counties of Missouri were all astir. Meetings were held and flaming speeches made, and the excitement knew no bounds. There were secret societies, called Blue Lodges, in which the main purpose was to control Kansas for slavery. The members were bound together by pledges, and armed for the battle. The plan advocated in all these meetings was to have the members of these lodges march into Kansas on the day of election, take possession of the polls, and vote, and so get control of the legislature. They proposed to go in sufficient numbers to secure their end beyond all doubt, and they proposed to go thoroughly armed so as to overcome all resistance. They would depend on numbers and bluster and threats to carry the scheme through. The "plan of the campaign" was perfectly laid. It was arranged that bands of Missourians should enter every election district in Kansas, and enter in sufficient number to out-vote the settlers. Some of the speeches by which they "fired the southern heart," sound strange in these quieter days. General Stringfellow, in a speech at St. Joseph, said:

     "I tell you to mark every scoundrel among you that is the least tainted with free-soilism or abolitionism, and exterminate him. I advise you, one and all, to enter every election district in Kansas, in defiance of Reeder and his vile myrmidons, and vote at the point of the bowie knife and revolver. Never give or take quarter from the rascals."

     Every man was urged to go who could, and those who could not go themselves must contribute money to pay the expenses of those who did go.

     When the day of the election arrived they marched into Kansas like an invading army. They came in large companies or in small squads, according to the size of the district they proposed to enter. It was not a movement of what would be called "the roughs," though they were rough enough. It had the sanction of the leading men of western Missouri. The leading spirit of the movement was David R. Atchison, who had served two terms in the United States Senate, and was one time acting vice-president of the United States. The company that came to Lawrence was led by Colonel Samuel Young, a leading lawyer of Boone county, and Claiborne F. Jackson. Colonel Young afterwards removed to Lawrence, and was very much respected -- an able Lawyer and a cultured gentleman. Claiborne F. Jackson was governor of Missouri at the opening of the civil war. It was not a burst of ignorant passion, but the deliberate purpose of the leading men of Missouri and of the South. Kansas must be secured for slavery by fair means or foul. When men’s deepest passions are stirred, it often happens that the cultivated and refined become as rough and brutal as the coarse and vulgar. They came to Lawrence one thousand strong, March 29th, the day before the election, and camped in the ravine near the town. The report of the congressional committee, which investigated the affair, gives a very vivid description of the scene at Lawrence:

     "The evening before, and the morning of the day of the election, about one thousand men arrived at Lawrence, and camped in a ravine a short distance from the town, and near the place of voting. They came, in wagons (of which there were over one hundred) or on horseback, under the command of Colonel Samuel Young, of Boone county, Missouri, and Claiborne F. Jackson, of Missouri. They were armed with guns, rifles, pistols and bowie knives; and had tents, music and flags with them. They brought with them two pieces of artillery, loaded with musket balls.

     "The evening before the election the Missourians were called together at the tent of Captain Claiborne F. Jackson, and speeches were made to them by Colonel Young and others, calling on volunteers to go to other districts where there were not Missourians enough to control the election, as there were more at Lawrence than were needed. On the morning of the election the Missourians came over to the place of voting from their camp, in companies, or bodies, of one hundred at a time. Mr. Blanton, one of the judges, not appearing, Colonel Young claimed that as the people of the territory had two judges, it was nothing more than right that the Missourians should have the other one to look after their interests. Robert A. Cummins was elected in Blanton’s stead because he considered that every man had a right to vote if he had not been in the territory but an hour. The Missourians brought their tickets with them. Not having enough they had three hundred more printed in Lawrence the evening before and on the day of election. They had white ribbons in their buttonholes to distinguish them from the settlers.

     "When the voting commenced, the question of the legality of the vote of a Mr. Page was raised. Before it was decided, Colonel Samuel Young stepped to the window where the votes were received, and said he would settle the matter. The vote of Mr. Page was withdrawn, and Colonel Young offered to vote. He refused to take the oath prescribed by the governor, but said he was a resident of the territory. He told Mr. Abbott, one of the judges, when asked if he intended to make Kansas his future home, that it was none of his business; if he were a resident then he should ask no more. After his vote was received, Colonel Young got upon the window sill and announced to the crowd that he had been permitted to vote, and they could all come up and vote. He told the judges that there was no use swearing the others, as they would all swear as he had. After the other judges had concluded to receive Colonel Young’s vote, Mr. Abbott resigned as judge of election, and Mr. Benjamin was elected in his place.

     "The polls were so much crowded till late in the evening that for a time they were obliged to get out by being hoisted up on the roof of the building, where the election was being held, and passing out over the house. Afterwards a passageway was made through the crowd by two lines of men being formed, through which voters could get to the polls. Colonel Young asked that the old men be allowed to go up first and vote, as they were tired with the traveling, and wanted to get back to camp. During the day the Missourians drove off the ground some of the citizens, Mr. Stearns, Mr. Bond and Mr. Willis. They threatened to shoot Mr. Bond, and made a rush after him, threatening him. As he ran from them, shots were fired at him as he jumped off the bank of the river and escaped."

Views of Lawrence in early days

     The Missourians mostly started for home as soon as they had voted. A few remained till the next day. According to the census taken in February, the district contained 369 legal voters. The whole number of votes cast was 1,034. A careful examination of the poll lists showed that 232 of these were legal votes, while 802 votes were cast by non-residents. What was done in Lawrence was done everywhere, and while the census showed only 2,905 legal voters in the territory, there were 6,307 votes cast. It was a clean sweep, Missourians electing the entire legislature with one exception. There was no denial of the invasion, but the pro-slavery press boasted of it as a great victory. Abolition had been rebuked in its stronghold.

     An appeal was made to Governor Reeder to set the election aside. He at first promised to do so, but his courage did not hold out. The pro-slavery people threatened his life if he ventured to go behind the returns. He was already beginning to feel that the administration at Washington was being alienated from him. He could not depend on their support. He contented himself, therefore, with ordering new elections for the districts that had entered protests. This could not accomplish anything as it still left the legislature in the hands of the men elected by imported votes. It did not lessen the hate of the pro-slavery people, and it did not take the power out of their hands. As is common with half measures, it pleased nobody and accomplished nothing.

     The settlers hardly knew where to turn next when Governor Reeder failed them. It seemed for a time as if the case was closed. A pro-slavery legislature would enact proslavery laws, and they must live under them for at least two years. By that time slavery might be fastened on the territory beyond reversal. The southern papers boasted that now the abolitionists must either leave Kansas or consent to live in a slave state. The news of the outrage spread over the country on the wings of the lightning, and stirred the wildest excitement and indignation throughout the entire North. It was something that had no parallel in the history of the country. A body of invaders from another state had stolen a legislature, and there seemed to be no appeal.

     But after the first shock was over the people began to inquire what they could do next. They had come to make Kansas free, and they were not the sort of people to be turned from their purpose by a single rebuff. What could they do to forestall the consummation of this great crime? They could not think of submitting to it, and allowing it to gain its end. Gradually the conviction grew that the legislature and its laws must be repudiated. The legislature had been elected by fraud, and could only be a fraudulent affair. It had been elected by citizens of Missouri in violation of all law, and by an outrage unparalleled. To submit to it would be to allow the crime to secure the fruit it sought. The whole country would justify them in taking such a position. Dr. Charles Robinson first suggested the policy of repudiation as soon as it was known that Governor Reeder would give them no effective relief. The suggestion seemed wild at first, but the more people thought about it the more it came into favor. Martin F. Conway had been elected to the legislature. In a letter to Governor Reeder he resigned his seat, and in doing. this gave public expression to this policy of repudiation.

     "Instead of recognizing this as the legislature of Kansas, and participating in its proceedings as such, I utterly repudiate it as derogatory to the respectability of popular government and insulting to the virtue and intelligence of the age. * * * * Simply as a citizen and a man, I shall, therefore, yield no submission to this alien legislature. On the contrary, I am ready to set its assumed authority at defiance, and shall be prompt to spurn and trample under my feet its insolent enactments, whenever they conflict with my rights or my inclinations."

     This all happened before the legislature had met, it being deemed important to repudiate the legislature itself as an imposition and a fraud, without regard to the laws it might enact. It was a fraud in itself. June 8th a convention was held in Lawrence to consider what they had begun to call the "bogus legislature." This convention provided for a larger convention to be held on the 25th of June. This second convention was large and represented nearly every settlement in the territory, Its sessions were protracted and its discussions very earnest. Its decisions shaped the policy of the free-state men for two years. The following are some of its resolutions:

     "Resolved, That we are in favor of making Kansas a free territory, and as a consequence a free state.

     "Resolved, That we urge the people of Kansas to throw aside all minor differences, and make the freedom of Kansas the only issue.

     "Resolved, That we claim no right to meddle with the affairs of the people of Missouri, or any other state, and we do claim the right to regulate our own domestic affairs, and, with the help of God, we will do it.

     "Resolved, That we look upon the conduct of a portion of the people of Missouri in the late Kansas election as an outrage on the elective franchise and our rights as freemen, and in as much as many of the members of the legislature owe their election to a combined system of force and fraud, we do not feel bound to obey any law of their enacting."

     Dr. L. W. Spring in his history of Kansas says that "between the 8th of June and the 15th of August, 1855, seven conventions were held in the city of Lawrence, all but one in the interest of the policy of repudiation." It was essential that the policy should be well understood, and that free-state people should be a unit in the matter. It was a daring position to assume and a very difficult one to maintain, hence these frequent conventions for consultation. Thus the whole people came to understand. the policy, and the whole people became united in upholding it.

     For popular impression, perhaps, the celebration of the Fourth of July was more effective than these conventions. It was determined to celebrate it in fitting style in Lawrence. Great preparations were made and a large crowd assembled. Some people walked sixteen miles to attend. Two military companies had been organized and had been armed with Sharpe’s rifles, and were out in uniform. The ladies presented them with a beautiful silk flag, amid great enthusiasm. Dr. Charles Robinson made the oration and used the occasion very adroitly to foster and defend the policy of repudiation, which he had been the first to suggest. He pictured the Missouri invasion and the capture of the legislature by nonresident voters in vivid terms, and denounced the outrage as something not to be endured. He declared that the people of Kansas would never submit to these invaders from a neighboring state.

     "I can say to Death, be thou my master, and to the Grave, be thou my prison house; but acknowledge such creatures as my masters, never! Thank God, we are yet free, and hurl defiance at those who would make us slaves.

"'Look who will in apathy, and stifle they who can,
The sympathy, the hopes, the words, that make man truly man.
Let those whose hearts are dungeoned up with interest or with
Consent to hear, with quiet pulse, of loathsome deeds like theses.

"'We first drew in New England’s air, and from her hardy breast
Sucked in the tyrant-hating milk that will not let us rest.
And if our words seem treason to the dullard or the tame,
‘Tis but our native dialect; our fathers spake the same.’

     "Let every man stand in his place, and acquit himself like a man who knows his rights, and knowing, dares maintain. Let us repudiate all laws enacted by foreign legislative bodies, or dictated by Judge Lynch over the way. Tyrants are tyrants, and tyranny is tyranny, whether under the garb of law or in opposition to it. So thought and acted our ancestors, and so let us think and act. We are not alone in this contest. The whole nation is agitated upon the question of our rights. Every pulsation in Kansas pulsates to the remotest artery of the body politic, and I seem to hear the millions of freemen, and the millions of bondsmen in our own land, the patriots and philanthropists of all countries, the spirits of the revolutionary heroes, and the voice of God, all saying to the people of Kansas, ‘Do your duty.’"

     The speech and the occasion produced a profound impression not in Lawrence alone, but in all the territory. More than any one thing, perhaps, it helped to unify the people on the bold policy they had adopted, and which they maintained with unbroken front to the end of the conflict.

     While all this was being done to bring people into harmony of thought in regard to the policy of repudiating what they called the "bogus legislature," the free-state leaders were preparing for the emergency in another way. They knew the pro-slavery leaders were desperate men, and bound to carry their point by any means, fair or foul. To repudiate their legislature, and their laws, would involve collisions, and possibly bloodshed and civil war. These men would not be thwarted now without a severe struggle. The free-state-men must be prepared to meet force with force. As soon as the result of the March election was finally determined, the free-state leaders sent to their friends in the east for arms. George W. Deitzler was sent to Boston to lay the matter before the friends of free Kansas. Only two persons knew of the object of his mission. New arms were needed for self-defense. Amos A. Lawrence and others, before whom Mr. Deitzler presented the case, at once saw the seriousness of the situation. Within an hour after his arrival in Boston, he had an order for one hundred Sharpe’s rifles, and in forty-eight hours the rifles were on their way to Lawrence. They were shipped in boxes marked "books." As the border ruffians had no use for books, they came through without being disturbed. A military company known for many years afterwards as the "Stubbs" was organized, and was armed with these rifles. Other boxes of "books" rapidly followed these, and other companies in Lawrence and in the country were armed with them. The fame of these guns went far and wide, and produced a very salutatory effect. They who recognized only brute force came to have a great respect for the Sharpe’s rifles. A howitzer was procured in New York through the aid of Horace Greeley, and shipped to Lawrence. This howitzer played quite a part in the after struggle, and had a history of its own that some one familiar with it ought to write up.

     Meanwhile the "bogus legislature," about which all this stir was being made, assembled and begun their work. They met at Pawnee July 2nd, but adjourned to Shawnee Mission, where they re-assembled July 12th. They excluded all those elected at Reeder's special election, and admitted all those chosen March 30th. There was only one free-state member left in the whole lot, and he soon became disgusted and left. They had things entirely their own way, and as they had been elected by Missouri votes, they proposed to "make Kansas in all respects like Missouri," as one of their number phrased it. To save time and toil, they adopted the Missouri code of laws, simply directing the clerk to make the necessary verbal changes to adapt it to Kansas. In the matter of slavery, however, they favored Kansas with special legislation. As slavery in Kansas was in peculiar danger, it must be protected by laws peculiarly searching and strong. In this matter they acted like men whose reason had left them. They enacted a slave code so absurdly severe that it would have been broken down of its own weight.

    "Section I. If any person shall entice, or decoy, or carry out of this territory, any slave belonging to another, * * * he shall be adjudge guilty of grand larceny, and on conviction thereof shall suffer death.

   "Sec. 2. If any person shall aid or assist in enticing, carrying away, or sending out of the territory, any slave belonging to another, * * * he shall be adjudge guilty of grand larceny, and on conviction hereof suffer death.

   "Sec. 3. If any person shall entice, decoy, or carry away out of any state or other territory of the United States, any slave belonging to another, * * * and shall bring such slave into this territory with the intent to procure the freedom of such slave, the person thus offending shall suffer death.

   "Sec. 11. If any person shall print, write, publish, or circulate * * * within the territory any book, magazine, hand-bill or circular containing any statements, arguments, opinions, sentiments, doctrine, advice or inuendo calculated to promote a disorderly, dangerous or rebellious disaffection among the slaves in this territory, or to induce such slaves to escape from their masters, or to resist their authority, he shall be guilty of a felony, and be punished by imprisonment and hard labor for a term of not less than five years.

   "Sec. 12. If any free person, by speaking or by writing, assert or maintain that persons have not the right to hold slaves in this territory, or shall introduce into this territory, print, publish, write or circulate, or shall cause to be introduced in this territory, any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet or circular containing any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this territory, such person shall be deemed guilty of felony, and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than two years."

     If anything were needed to confirm the free-state men in their attitude towards the "bogus legislature," the conduct of the legislature itself furnished it. The outrageous invasion of March might have been forgotten if the legislature itself had been moderate and fair. But first of all they broke with Governor Reeder because he would not acceed to all of their demands. Then they purged themselves of free-state members wherever any pretext could be found for doing so. Then they enacted a slave code more severe than was found in the slave states themselves. By the twelfth section of that bill it was made a penitentiary offense to express an opinion adverse to slavery. Self-respecting free-state men must either leave the territory or repudiate such laws. As the legislature itself was elected by non-resident votes, they pronounced the whole concern a fraud, and repudiated the legislature and its laws. As the work of the legislature went on, the idea of repudiation was being matured. The numerous conventions in Lawrence grew more and more distinct in their tone as the spirit and work of the legislature became more and more manifest.

     It has sometimes been asked what good was accomplished by this policy of repudiation? In reply it may be said, it practically nullified the laws passed by the usurping legislature. While these laws were not repealed, and were technically the laws of the territory, they were without effect. They were not respected by the people, and were only executed by force. This was particularly true of the laws regarding slavery. Whatever the courts might have decided as to the right to hold slaves in Kansas, no slave holders dared bring their slaves into the territory, while the laws protecting slavery were repudiated by two-thirds of the people. The result was that no slaves were brought into Kansas during the two years of excitement that followed. Riches take themselves wings and fly away, but this form of riches would be very apt to take themselves feet and run away. If the free-state men had acquiesced in this fraudulent legislature, and had submitted to its laws, those laws would have gone into full operation, and two years would have brought in a sufficient slave population to settle the question at issue. The policy of repudiation no doubt saved Kansas to freedom.

Lawrence: The first building, the city library,  park, river and bridge

     Along with the policy of repudiation another movement was set on foot as a sort of "companion piece." That was the movement for a state government. Whenever the policy of repudiation was mentioned, the first question was "what are you going to do next?" The answer was: "Form a state government and apply to congress for admission to the union." Other states had been received without an enabling act, and they proposed to plead these precedents. The matter was broached very early, and was probably in mind when the policy of repudiation was first suggested. It was at first distantly hinted at in the various conventions, and then boldly advocated. At the convention held at Lawrence, August 15, the subject was discussed, and was evidently the thought of most of the free-state men. A delegate convention was called to meet at Topeka, September 19th, to take steps toward forming a state government. This convention provided that members of a constitutional convention should be elected October 9th. There were over twenty-seven hundred votes cast at this election, and the convention thus chosen assembled at Topeka, October 23rd, and framed what was known as the Topeka Constitution. This constitution was the rallying point of the free-state men for two years.

     No serious attempt was ever made to put this constitution in operation. It was sent to congress and adopted in the House but smothered in the Senate. The people of Kansas did not, however, abandon it. Though never in operation it was a vital part of their policy. It was the positive side of the policy which repudiated the bogus laws. Though the officers never took their seats, the whole movement served as a bond of union to the free-state men. As Hon. T. Dwight Thacher said at the quarter-centennial celebration at Topeka in 1866: "The Topeka Constitutional movement held the people together through a stormy period." "Without it the free-state forces must have drifted, been demoralized, and probably beaten."

     The Shawnee legislature and the Topeka Constitution may not seem to belong to a sketch of the town of Lawrence, but they were so closely interwoven with all the after history that a great deal that happened in Lawrence during the next two years would not be intelligible without some knowledge of these more general events. Lawrence was the headquarters of the free-state party, and the center of the free movement. A good proportion of its early history could not be understood apart from that movement. The most exciting events in the history of the town were directly connected with the bogus laws, and the free-state policy respecting them.

     Several other things happened this same summer which it is necessary to know in order to determine what occurred at Lawrence later on. As soon as it was found that Governor Reeder would not go the full length with the "bogus legislature," the pro-slavery leaders began to plan for his removal. They sent on complaints to Washington detailing their side of the controversy, and sent on their smoothest talkers to use their personal influence. The result was that Reeder was removed in less than a month from the meeting of the legislature, and ceased to act as governor August 15th. The secretary of the territory, Daniel Woodson, became acting governor, and signed all the laws which the legislature had passed. He was in full sympathy with the pro-slavery party, and was as eager as any of them to carry out their policy. Hon. Wilson Shannon, of Ohio, was appointed governor, and arrived about September 1st. He was an able man, and had been governor of Ohio, minister to Mexico, and member of congress. He was a man of character and was fair-minded, but he was in full sympathy with the administration at Washington, and put himself in the hands of the men in Kansas he supposed to be the friends of the administration. This was unfortunate in two respects. In the first place his own views of the situation took a partisan coloring, and in the second place, the free-state men were led to class him with their enemies, and very naturally were suspicious of him and avoided him. He heard only one side of the story. He knew nothing of the men on the other side, or of the motives which governed them. He entirely misjudged their character, and under-rated their caliber. He allowed a reception in his honor at Westport before he entered Kansas at all, and then had a formal reception at Shawnee Mission, in which the pro-slavery men and pro-slavery policy was painted in glowing colors. Every effort was made to commit him fully to the pro-slavery cause, and to prejudice him against the free-state people. These last were denounced as traitors, who had repudiated the laws of the territory and who were ready to resist them whenever an opportunity offered. The pro-slavery men called themselves the "law and order" party. They had gained control of the legislature by illegal means, and then organized themselves into a "law and order" party to enforce the enactments of this fraudulent legislature. The convention at which the "law and order" party was formed chose Gov. Shannon for its president. Thus he became more and more committed to the one-sided policy which antagonized more than half the people of the territory.

     The people were divided into two very distinct parties with antagonistic policies. The pro-slavery party was determined to enforce the laws passed by the Shawnee legislature. The free-state men repudiated that legislature and were determined never to recognize its enactments. The pro-slavery men had the forms of law, the officers of the law and the courts of law on their side, with the governor and national administration back of them. Their policy was to force a conflict and compel the free-state men either to recognize the bogus laws or resist them and suffer the penalty. Andreas, in his history, page 115, says:

     "The law and order party were determined to bring the revolutionists to swift punishment as soon as overt acts should make them subject to the penalties prescribed for the violation of the laws. This was no easy matter, as they kept, as far as possible, aloof from the legal machinery devised for the government of the territory. They brought no suits into its courts; they attended no elections called by its authority; they paid no attention to its county organization; they offered no estates to its probate judges; they tried no causes and made no complaints before its justices of the peace; they paid no tax levies made by the authority of the late legislature. Yet they were careful to do no act which should lay them liable to the laws they contemned. They settled their disputes by arbitration, or by other means that might avoid litigation; they had town organizations and police regulations for the preservation of order; courts to settle squatters’ claims; and all other appliances necessary for the regulation of small communities peaceably inclined. They could build, manufacture, buy and sell, establish schools and churches; but they would not be guilty of the crime of making Kansas a slave state."

     This was emphatically the condition of things at Lawrence. The people were fully determined to repudiate the bogus laws, and were just as much determined not to violate them. They would not recognize them, and they would not violate them. They would simply let them alone, and mind their own business. They would not incorporate the town under these laws. A citizens committee maintained a free school by voluntary contributions instead of taxes. Another committee looked after the good order and cleanliness of the place. They settled their disputes among themselves, and submitted to any inconveniences rather than appeal to the laws they repudiated. At the same time they were all particularly careful not to come in conflict with the laws, and to do nothing which might be construed into a violation of law. Being all intelligent and well disposed, and being also all of one mind, they did not have much trouble in carrying out this policy. They would have carried out this policy to the end if the other side had not been determined to force a conflict. They were watching for the slightest pretext to bring on a collision. The free-state men knew this. They knew that in spite of all their care a collision was bound to come sooner or later. While, therefore, they sought to avoid a conflict, they were prepared for it. As has been already said, several hundred Sharpe’s rifles were procured early in the summer. Military companies were organized in Lawrence and in the country around about, and full preparations made for defense in case a conflict was forced upon them. Embankments were thrown up at exposed points and the town put in position to stand a siege.

rich brown textured divider line

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