Resolution of the legislature asking the governor's reasons for not commissioning Wm. T. Sherrard.--Governor Geary's reply.--Conduct of the legislators.--Violence of Sherrard.
THE next important legislative act was the adoption of a resolution, demanding of the governor his reasons for not having issued a commission to Wm. T. Sherrard, who had some time previous been appointed by the county tribunal, as sheriff of Douglas county, in place of Samuel J. Jones, who had resigned. The obvious design of this resolution was to inveigle the governor into a quarrel and embarrass him in the prosecution of his duties, and so it was avowed and generally understood.
It had so happened, that immediately after Sherrard had received his appointment, he called upon the governor, and somewhat insolently asked for his commission. The blanks being then in possession of the secretary of the territory, whose signature and seal were also necessary to complete the paper, and Mr. Woodson being absent from the city, the governor requested Sherrard to wait until his return, which would at the furthest be in two or three days. Soon after, Sherrard called again at the executive office, and on this occasion his conduct was so exceedingly offensive and insulting as to elicit from the governor the inquiry why he (Sherrard) should be so inimical to him. Such were his defiances and threats that even had the secretary been present, the commission would not then have been issued. Next Sherrard wrote and sent a note to the governor, informing him that if the commission was not received within a certain time, a mandamus would be obtained to compel him to render it.
In the meantime, the members of the county board, who had made the appointment, had severally visited the governor, requesting him to withhold the commission until they could have a regular meeting for the purpose of revoking the appointment, which had hastily been made at the instance of Sheriff Jones, and without a proper knowledge of the character of the applicant, who they were now convinced was utterly unfit for the office, in consequence of the violence of his disposition, his being almost daily engaged in street and tavern broils, and his threats to disturb the general peace as soon as the commission was obtained. Numerous petitions to the same effect were also received from respectable citizens of the county.
Whilst the subject was thus pending, Sherrard was proving his unfitness for the position he sought, by getting into serious difficulties with sundry persons. He boarded at the Virginia House, with a man named Locklane, at whom, while at the dining table, he threw a plate, and afterwards fired his pistol, the ball grazing Locklane's eyebrow, carrying a portion of it away. He then told Locklane to run, promising that he would not fire until he had gone ten paces. Not disposed to run, under such circumstances, Locklane stood still, with Sherrard's pistol pointed at him, for the space of nearly two hours, when he was relieved from his perilous situation by the interposition of other parties. Soon after Sherrard got into a fist fight with a man named Brooke, in which he was severely beaten, both his eyes having been blackened and shockingly swollen, and his face very much disfigured. In this condition he applied to each of the supreme judges for a mandamus to compel the governor to commission him as sheriff, but without success, the judges understanding the case too well to grant his wish, notwithstanding it was urged by Mr. David Johnson, of Leavenworth, a lawyer, and member of the legislature, whom Sherrard had employed in his behalf. He next sent General Maclean with a challenge to Dr. Brooke, the proprietor of the Lecompton Hotel, who, declining to meet Sherrard, the latter posted him in huge handbills as a liar, a scoundrel, and a coward.
Such was the state of affairs when the legislature met, to whom Sherrard preferred a complaint against the governor, and who passed and sent the following resolution to his excellency:--
Although this was a question with which the legislature clearly had no right whatever to interfere, rather than treat them with even seeming disrespect, the governor somewhat reluctantly furnished the following reply to their officious and insolent inquiry:--
Gentlemen: In reply to your resolution of the 19th inst., which was received late on the 20th, requesting me to furnish your body with a statement of my reasons for not commissioning William T. Sherrard, Esq., as Sheriff of Douglas county, I have the honor to state, that while I am disposed to accede to any reasonable request from the legislature, I regard that matter as a subject of inquiry only from the territorial courts.
"Prior to its announcement to me, the appointment of Mr. Sherrard was protested against by many good citizens of Lecompton and Douglas county as his habits and passions rendered him entirely unfit for the proper performance of the duties of that office.
"There was no intention, however, on my part, to withhold his commission; but in consequence of the absence of the secretary of the territory, it was delayed for several days, during which time I was informed by many respectable gentlemen, among whom were those of the county tribunal from which he received his appointment, that Mr. Sherrard had been engaged in several drunken broils, fighting and shooting at persons with pistols, and threatening others. I have since been informed that these facts are notorious to the citizens of the place, and can easily be substantiated by proof. Should the contrary be made clearly to appear, no one will rejoice more heartily than myself.
"But it is my desire to be distinctly understood that I will commission no one laboring under such charges as would impair, if not entirely destroy, his usefulness, or whose passions and habits would render him unfit for the proper discharge of his duties, or which might in manner endanger the peace of the territory.
"I am instructed from the source whence I derive my appointment to pursue this course of policy. The true interests of the people of the territory require it, and it is sanctioned and approved by my own judgment.
This communication was received in anything but a kindly spirit by the members of the House of Representatives. The very reasons assigned for not commissioning Sherrard, were to them sufficient reasons for his having been commissioned. They desired a man who could keep the community in a state of feverish excitement. Sherrard had declared that he would, in three weeks, renew the civil commotion. This was precisely what the legislature desired, and Sherrard was a man after their own heart. Hence the governor's reply to their resolution of inquiry was met with some of the most furious harangues that were ever heard. Jenkins foamed at the mouth. He was for hanging, quartering, burning, and utterly annihilating his excellency, body, soul, and all that belonged to him. Johnson spoke with difficulty. He had been enjoying himself with some friends; but still he had to say, that Sherrard was his client, and that Governor Geary was a d---d despot, assuming an arbitrary power from which the autocrat of Russia would have shrunk dismayed. Anderson thought the governor should be severely censured for sending such a discourteous message. And O. H. Brown--walked up and down the floor, his hands thrust down into his breeches pocket, occasionally giving the unconscious boards a violent kick, as though they had been guilty of some grievous offence deserving chastisement, and then delivered himself of his most eloquent effort. "Governor Geary was a usurper, a monster, and a tyrant. He (Brown) had searched the records of ancient Greece and Rome. He had studied heathen mythology until it was familiar to his very finger ends. He had wondered at the atrocities of Nero and Caligula, but he had never seen nor heard nor read of anything so abominable and worthy of hearty condemnation and execration as this conduct of Governor Geary in withholding his commission for such reasons as he assigned, from Mr. Sherrard." This powerful effort of Brown was afterwards revised, corrected and improved, and published in the Lecompton Union; but as the proprietors found it difficulty to procure more paper than would suffice to print copies enough to supply the members of the Cabinet and other prominent pro-slavery men at Washington, and in the southern states, for whose especial instruction and edification the Union is published, a copy could not be obtained for transmission to these pages.
After these and other distinguished gentlemen had exhausted the English vocabulary of abusive epithets, well interlarded with Latin, French and Spanish maledictions, and sprinkled with specimens of the various Indian dialects, a resolution was almost unanimously passed appointing Sherrard to the office of sheriff of Douglas county, and, as such, legalizing all his acts, despite the petitions of citizens, the protest of the county board, or the refusal of the governor to commission. The Council failed to concur with this resolution of the House of Representatives, and it was, therefore, of no avail.
This refusal on the part of the Council excited the evil passions of Sherrard to a most terrible extent. He was like an untamed hyena, and ready to quarrel with and assail any one who in the slightest measure opposed his will. His threats against the governor were made wherever he went. Meeting Mr. John A. W. Jones, a member of the governor's household, and a remarkably peaceable man, of slight physical frame, and without arms with which to defend himself, Sherrard assailed and struck him, without the slightest shadow of provocation.
The next day, whilst sitting in one corner of a public saloon, between David Johnson, his counsellor, and Captain Martin, of the Kickapoo Rangers, both members of the Legislature, he saw the governor's private secretary on the opposite side of the room, and called him over, when he attempted to create a quarrel by attacking the official character of the governor. The secretary declined entering into the controversy, had turned and was about to leave, and notwithstanding he was unarmed and extremely feeble from a recent accident, Sherrard sprang to his feet and struck him upon the cheek, and seizing, the handle of his pistol, dared him to resent the blow. This was southern chivalry--the courage of cowardice. The secretary told him that had he not known he was unarmed, the insult would not have been offered. There were a number of persons present, and Sherrard's friends, perceiving they were in the minority, forced him from the room. The news of this outrage soon spread through the town, and considerable excitement ensued. A Pennsylvanian, named McDonald, who had done good service in the Mexican war, hearing of the affair, went in search of and found Sherrard, and inquired of him what the disturbance meant. Sherrard immediately replied, somewhat boastingly, that he had struck the governor's private secretary.
"Then," said McDonald, fixing his keen eye upon him, and laying his hand upon his pistol, "you did a d---d cowardly act!"
The other quailed beneath the fiery glance, and coweringly sneaked into the door of the nearest groggery, followed to its threshold by a willing adversary who was in all respects his equal. Here he was among his associates, and was soon after heard to boast that he had struck two of the governor's household, and his next blow would be at the governor himself.