William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 18] [part 16] [Cutler's History]


Neither McDonald nor the memorial had anything to do with the removal of the Governor. He was removed before McDonald arrived in Washington.

During the late visit of Gov. Reeder to Washington, he had, in frequent interviews with the President, informed him fully of the disorders prevailing in the Territory. The President professed entire satisfaction with his administration. He stated that Kansas matters had given him more harassing anxiety than anything that had happened since the loss of his son; that it haunted him day and night and was the great overshadowing trouble of his administration. He confidentially informed Gov. Reeder that most pertinacious complaints had been made of him, and that his removal was being urgently demanded upon every ground that could be got up; that Gen. Atchison had pressed it in the most excited manner, and would listen to no reasoning at all. He professed himself as entirely satisfied as to the charges of speculation in Indian lands and town lots, but was sorry that any such pretext existed on which his enemies could press his removal. In the interests of peace and harmony the President urged him to resign, offering him a foreign mission, and other inducements, which were considered, but finally declined. At the end of the series of interviews, Gov. Reeder left the President in no friendly mood, and returned to Kansas, having no reasonable expectation that his tenure of office would last longer than until some pretext for his removal might be found, outside his official acts, which the President did not deem it prudent to openly condemn. The President's parting words to Gov. Reeder gave him premonition of what was to come. He said: "Well, I shall not remove you on account of your political action; if I remove you at all, it will be on account of your speculation in the lands of the Territory." That Gov. Reeder, at the time of his visit to Washington, could have made most advantageous terms for himself, had he been recreant to principle, and regardless of the rights of the inhabitants of the Territory, there can be little doubt. It is to his credit that he did not resign, but returned to his post of danger and duty, where he remained until the responsibility of his removal was reluctantly assumed by the President.

The letter of dismissal was dated at Washington, July 28, 1858. It removed Gov. Reeder from office on the grounds that his explanation of his connection with the purchase of Kansas half-breed lands, and other grave matters of the same class, were not such as to remove the impressions which the President had previously entertained of the character of those transactions. His removal was officially announced July 31, and on August 16 Gov. Reeder notified the Legislature of his removal in the following message:


Gentlemen - Although in my message to your bodies, under date of the 21st instant, I stated that I was unable to convince myself of the legality of your session at this place, for reasons then given, and, although that opinion still remains unchanged, yet, inasmuch as my reasons were not satisfactory to you, and the bills passed by your houses have been, up to this time, sent to me for approval, it is proper that I should inform you that after your adjournment of yesterday, I received official notification that my functions as Governor of the Territory of Kansas were terminated. No successor having arrived, Secretary Woodson will of course perform the duties of the office as Acting Governor.


Thus closed the administration of Andrew H. Reeder, the first territorial Governor of Kansas.

Hon. Daniel Woodson, who thus unexpectedly to himself and those who appointed him, became the Acting Governor, and remained such until after the adjournment of the Legislature, was a Virginian by birth, strong in his Pro-slavery convictions, both by birth and education. He was bred a printer, at Lexington, Va., and, at the time of his appointment as Secretary, was a half-owner and the editor of the Lynchburg Republican, a Southern Democratic journal, showing undoubted merit as an advocate of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, from a Southern view. He had the full confidence of the Pro-slavery Legislature, and, having no moral scruples, as to the iniquities of its birth, signed all bills passed, without hesitation or consideration. The fact that out of all the venom engendered in the contest, no attack on his private character or his honesty and probity was ever made by his political enemies, justly establishes his character for personal honesty and purity as above reproach. Such characters, at that time, did not bring lasting distinction to their possessors. Mr. Woodson, Governor of Kansas during the most exciting period of her existence, afterward served faithfully as Receiver of Public Moneys for the Delaware Land District; then, for twelve years, was a farmer in Leavenworth County, and later became a resident of Montgomery County, where he worked at his trade as a printer, and as Deputy Clerk of the County Board and Court of that county.


The work of the Legislature, rid of all its Free-state members, untrammeled by any restrictive power from the Executive, and supported by the Judiciary, was easy. It had but to pass such laws as it saw fit. Its work will ever stand as a monument of the worst that unanimity and unrestricted license is capable of perpetrating.

The work was finished and the Legislature adjourned August 30. Every act passed, except one illegally appropriating money, was promptly signed by Acting Gov. Woodson. It consisted in forming a complete code of laws for the government of the Territory; the defining of county boundaries, and the establishment of county governments; beside the passage of innumerable special bills for the establishment of roads and ferries, the chartering of railroads, and the establishment of town companies at nearly every point where two or three squatters had gathered together. A full staff of military and civil officers was appointed, even down to the local officers of the counties established, all of whom were known to hold unequivocal opinions in favor of establishing slavery in Kansas, at all hazards.

The general code of laws was after that of Missouri, which had been patterned after that of New York and other Eastern States, and was as unobjectionable and as free from imperfections as human experience could make it, except on points pertaining especially to the interests evolved from the peculiar institution of slavery. On those points the Legislature found the code of Missouri entirely inadequate to the requirements of the times or the situation in Kansas, and proceeded to frame a code of black laws which, in devilish and heartless barbarity, was never before equaled by a legislative body sufficiently civilized to make a written record of its transactions.

The peculiar laws passed by this Legislature, which, from their atrocity rendered the whole body infamous, are given in full, or carefully digested below:


"An act to punish offenses against slave property." was passed by the Legislature, prescribing the penalty of death to any who should decoy slaves or incite insurrection among them. The bill, prior to its passage by the Council, was considered by the Judiciary Committee and reported upon as follows:

The Committee on Judiciary to whom was referred a bill entitled "An act to punish decoying slaves from their masters," respectfully report that they have had the same for some time under advisement, and, recognizing the correctness of the provisions of the act, but one question has occupied the attention of the committee, and that is, the character of the punishment prescribed in the bill. At first presentation of the subject, there was an apparent severity which seemed not to be in consonance with the crime, and viewing the offense in the light of grand larceny alone, the genius of our institutions, and the prejudices of the day in which we live, at once discard so extreme a punishment. But when we view the offense in its peculiar bearing upon our institutions at this particular time, it assumes more the character of treason against the laws, than an ordinary crime, which but affects the parties immediately interested, or the immediate community in which the offense may have been committed once, may, in its incendiary tendency, lead to consequences of the most fearful character, as well upon our political as social institutions; it is an offense, the frequent recurrence of which we may well imagine might light the bonfires of civil war, and result in bloodshed more fearful than a thousand murders. We are, therefore, in view of this, prepared to sanction the penalty of death, and respectfully recommend the passage of this act.

R. R. REES, Chairman.

The act thus favorably reported was passed by both Houses, and signed by Acting Gov. Woodson. It reads thus:

Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Kansas, as follows::

SECTION 1. If any person shall entice, decoy or carry away out of this Territory any slave belonging to another, with intent to deprive the owner thereof of the services of such slave, or with intent to effect or procure the freedom of such slave, he shall be adjudged guilty of grand larceny, and on conviction thereof shall suffer death.

SEC. 2. If any person shall aid or assist in enticing, decoying or persuading or carrying out of any State or Territory, any slave belonging to another, with intent to effect or procure the freedom of such slave, he shall be adjudged guilty of grand larceny, and, on conviction there, suffer death.

SEC. 3. If any person shall entice, decoy, or carry away, out of any State or Territory of the United States, any slave belonging to another, with intent to procure or effect the freedom of such slave, or to deprive the owner thereof of the services of such slave, and shall bring such slave into this territory, he shall be adjudged guilty of grand larceny, in the same manner as if such slave had been enticed, decoyed, or carried away out of this territory; and in such case the larceny may be charged to have been committed in any county of this Territory, into or through which such slave shall have been brought by such person and, on conviction thereof, the person offending shall suffer death.

This act was never enforced. Its features were so at variance with the spirit of Republican institutions, and so abhorrent to every principle of right or justice as to disarm it of all force. Its enforcement was never attempted. It did not have the effect intended - to overawe the Free-state settlers or check emigration; on the contrary, its publication only gave a fresh impetus to the tide of emigration to Kansas. In the Territory it was well understood to be the blatant threat of the Pro-slavery element, let loose on paper, and served the salutary end of rousing the people to the importance of organizing in opposition to the continuance of this burlesque on law and order and decency.

The prescribing of the death penalty was by no means confined to the heinous crime of grand larceny of negroes. It was spread over the pages of the black code so profusely as to rob it of its terrors. For inciting a rebellion among slaves, or participating in the same - death; for any free person to speak, write, print, advise, persuade or induce any slave to rebel, conspire against or murder any citizen of the Territory - death; or to bring into print, write, publish, or circulate any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet or circular for the purpose of exciting insurrection, rebellion, revolt or conspiracy on the part of the slaves, free negroes or mulattoes, against the citizens of the Territory, or any part of them, or knowingly aiding or assisting the same to be done - death.

Other laws were passed, which were, if acknowledged and enforced, fraught with more vital evil to the settlers.

The counties had been organized, their boundaries established, the county seats located, provisions made for the levying of county taxes, and county officials appointed. Excepting the Justices of the Peace and Constables, the officers thus appointed were to hold office for the term of two years, or until after the general election of 1857. Under the laws enacted, every officer in the Territory, executive and judicial, was to be appointed by the Legislature or some officer appointed by it.

Every officer, whether elected or appointed, was compelled to take an oath to support the Organic Act and the Fugitive Slave Law. Thus all, except Pro-slavery men, were disqualified from holding office.

By the following - Section 13, Chapter 92, page 445 - all Anti-slavery citizens were disqualified as jurors:

No person who is conscientiously opposed to the holding of slaves, or who does not admit the right to hold slaves in this Territory, shall be a juror in any cause in which the right to hold any person in slavery is involved, nor in any cause in which any injury done to or committed by any slave is in issue, nor in any criminal proceeding for the violation of any law enacted for the protection of slave property, and for the punishment of crimes committed against the right to such property.

There was to be no session of the Legislature during 1856, but the members of the next House were to be elected in October of that year. A candidate to be eligible, and a voter, if challenged, was required to swear to support the Fugitive Slave Law.

The permanent seat of government was located at Lecompton, a place lying some six miles west of Lawrence, where every rood of land within three miles of the town site had been pre-empted or otherwise secured by undoubted Pro-slavery men.

The qualifications of voters were defined in the following:


SECTION 1. Every free white male citizen of the United States, and every free male Indian who is made a citizen by treaty or otherwise, and over the age of twenty-one years, who shall be an inhabitant of this Territory, and of the county or district in which he offers to vote, and shall have paid a Territorial tax, shall be a qualified elector for all elective offices; and all Indians who are inhabitants of this Territory, and who may have adopted the customs of the white man, and who are liable to pay taxes, shall be deemed citizens; Provided, That no soldier, seaman, or mariner in the regular army of the United States shall be entitled to vote by reasons of being on service therein; and Provided further, that no person who shall have been convicted of any violation of any of the provisions of an act of Congress entitled, "An Act respecting Fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters," approved February 12, 1793, or of an act to amend and supplementary to said act, approved September 18, 1850; whether such conviction were by criminal proceeding or by civil action for the recovery of any penalty prescribed by either of said acts in any courts of the United States, or of any State or Territory, of any offense deemed infamous, shall be entitled to vote at any election, or to hold any office in this Territory; and Provided further, That is any person offering to vote shall be challenged, and be required to take an oath or affirmation, to be administered by one of the Judges of the election, that he will sustain the provisions of the above cited acts of Congress, and of the act entitled, "An Act to organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas," approved May 30, 1854, and shall refuse to take such oath or affirmation, the vote of such person shall be rejected.

An act supplemental to an act to provide for the collection of the Revenue:

SECTION 1. That, in addition to the provisions of an act entitled, "An act for the collection of the Revenue," the Sheriff of each and every county shall, on or before the first Monday of October, A. D. 1855, collect the sum of $1 as a poll tax from each person in the said Territory of Kansas, who is or may be entitled to vote in said Territory, as provided in said act, to which this is supplementary.

The Territorial militia was organized, and a staff of officers appointed as follows:

Major Generals - A. M. Coffey, William P. Richardson.

Brigadier Generals - William A. Heiskell, William Barbee, F. J. Marshall, Lucien J. Eastin.

Colonels - William C. Yager, George W. Johnson, S. A. Williams, Skilsman Fleming, Robert Clark, James E. Thompson, David M. Johnson, Archibald Payne.

Adjutant General - Hiram J. Strickler.

Inspector General - Thomas J. B. Cramer.

The above were all intense Pro-slavery partisans, good and true for any emergency which might arise.

Want of space precludes further digest of the work of this Legislature. It was done for the object for which it was convened most thoroughly - too thoroughly to be effective.

The inhabitants were disfranchised, or their rights limited to the test of their individual opinions. They were taxed without representation and officers and Judges appointed without their consent. Every right of a free citizen of the United States was ruthlessly trampled upon except that of holding slaves. It is unnecessary to indulge in comments on the barbarity of the code adopted. The rebellion against it was inevitable.

On the last day of the session, the following concurrent resolution was offered by the Speaker, J. H. Stringfellow - Mr. Anderson in the chair - and adopted:

WHEREAS, The sigus (sic) of the times indicate that a measure is now on foot fraught with more danger to the interests of the Pro-slavery party and to the Union than any which has yet been agitated, to wit: To organize a national Democratic party; and

WHEREAS, Some of our friends have already been misled by it; and

WHEREAS, The result will be to divide Pro-slavery Whigs from Democrats, thus weakening our party one-half; and

WHEREAS, We believe that on the success of our party depends the perpetuity of the Union; therefore,

Be it Resolved by the House of Representatives, the Council concurring therein, That it is the duty of the Pro-slavery party, the Union men of Kansas Territory, to know but one issue, Slavery; and that any party making or attempting to make any other is, and should be held, as an ally of abolitionism and disunion.

Thus the Legislature, not content with the intensely partisan laws it had passed, closed its execrable work by defining the political status of the citizens, and drawing, ex cathedra, the party lines. The people accepted the alternative thus unfairly forced upon them, and hence forth fought the battled strictly in accordance with the arrogant test prescribed. The Anti-slavery and Free-state party received unexpected and most valuable re-inforcements as soon as this manifesto was published.


Excepting the various nominating conventions held prior to the March election, the first Free-state convention was held in Lawrence on the evening of June 8, 1855, in response to a call signed "Sundry Citizens," "for the purpose of considering matters of general interest to the Territory." The meeting held until a late hour, and, after an animated and earnest discussion, participated in by nearly all present, a committee was appointed to invite the several Representative districts in the Territory to send five delegates from each to an adjourned convention to be held at Lawrence on the 25th of June, "to take into consideration the relation the people of this territory bear to the Legislature about to convene at Pawnee, etc."

In pursuance to the call, the adjourned meeting convened June 25 at the schoolhouse in Lawrence, and organized at 11 A. M. The temporary officers chosen were:

President - John A. Wakefield.
Secretary - William Partridge.
Delegates were in attendance from the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Districts.
The permanent officers were:
President - J. A. Wakefield.
Vice Presidents - John Brown, Jr., J. E. Curtis and John Speer.
Secretaries - R. G. Elliot, Charles Foster.
Committee on Resolutions - S. N. Wood, John Brown, Jr., James P. Box, A. Wattles and A. F. Powell.

The full list of delegates is not to be found, but in addition to those above names, S. F. Shore and William Jessee are known to have been members.

The following preamble and resolutions were adopted:

WHEREAS, Certain persons from the neighboring State of Missouri have, from time to time, made irruptions into this Territory, and have fraud and force driven from and overpowered our people at the ballot-box, and have forced upon us a Legislature which does not represent the opinions of the legal voters of this Territory, many of its members not being even residents of this Territory, buy having their homes in the State of Missouri; and

WHEREAS, Said persons have used violence toward the persons and property of the inhabitants of the Territory; therefore,

Resolved, That we are in favor of making Kansas a free Territory, and as a consequence, a free State.

Resolved, That we urge upon the people of Kansas to throw away all minor differences and issues, 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, but that we 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 a gross outrage on the elective franchise and our rights as freemen, and a violation, of the principles of popular sovereignty; and, inasmuch as many of the members of the present Legislature are men who owe their election to a combined system of force and fraud, we do not feel bound to obey any law of their enacting.

Resolved, That the legally elected members of the present Legislature be requested, as good and patriotic citizens of Kansas, to resign and repudiate the fraud.

Resolved, That in reply to the threats of war so frequently made in our neighboring State, our answer is, WE ARE READY.

Resolved, That the people of Kansas are opposed to the establishment of slavery here, and if established it will be contrary to the wishes of three-fourths of our people.

Resolved, That Kansas has a right to, and does hereby, invoke the aid of the General Government against the lawless course of the slavery propaganda with reference to this Territory.

Resolved, That a FREE STATE CENTRAL COMMITTEE be appointed, and that each election district shall be entitled to one member, and each district having two Councilmen shall be entitled to two members.

The first Free-state Committee, appointed by resolution to this convention, was not announced at the meeting.

The Free-state members elect did not see fit to resign without a contest, thanks to the most vigorous efforts of Dr. Wood. They chose rather to stand fact to the foe, in answer to another resolution which had put forth the more essential and practical statement, "We are ready."

[TOC] [part 18] [part 16] [Cutler's History]