Kansas Collection Books: The Abolitionist, by George W. Schiller

Chapter 8:
Bleeding Kansas

     Very early it became apparent that the political environment in the Kansas Territory had become a seething, boiling issue that threatened to violently erupt any time. For a short time after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, there was no official government in the Territory. The passage of the Act spawned two simultaneous debates. The first and most violent was waged in the territory of Kansas over whether slavery would be permitted. This debate soon turned bloody and involved radical factions, for or against slavery. The second debate was lodged in the halls of the US Congress over whether they had the authority to allow the existence and expansion of slavery in the would-be state of Kansas. The Supreme Court passed the Dred Scott Decision, which was loosely worded and ambiguous. The pro-slavery forces interpreted it to mean that Congress could not prohibit slavery in a Territory until after it became a state. The abolitionists argued that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction whatsoever concerning matters in a territory. Still a third and perhaps most important factor was the struggle of political parties to garner popular votes in the territory, as the Act specified that the matter of slavery would be decided by "popular sovereignty" of residents after the territory became a state. It was a very confusing picture.

     President Franklin Pierce appointed Andrew Reeder as the first Territorial Governor in June of 1854, shortly after the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. Reeder was a 47-year-old lawyer from Pennsylvania with a reputation as an honest outstanding citizen. He embraced the democratic processes but was completely unaware of the explosive situation in the Kansas Territory. His appointment was applauded by both the

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North and South, but for entirely different reasons. The South had confidence that President Pierce, with Southern sympathies, would appoint someone to defend their right to own slaves. The North hoped that Reeder's reputation for justice would insure a fair deal in the forthcoming months when popular sovereignty would hopefully be established as predicted.

     Reeder opened his office in Leavenworth in July 1854. He was warmly welcomed, and he declared that the "voice of the residents would prevail at the ballot boxes." He defined "resident" as one dwelling in, or inhabiting the Territory and intending to remain there. His words did not satisfy the slavery proponents, and several hundred Missourians led by U. S. Senator Atchison, crossed the Missouri River, and strongly urged him to hold an election for representatives to the Territorial Congress. By ignoring Reeder's interpretation of "residents," they were confident that they had a substantial number of voters who would cross the Missouri River on election day to vote to support slavery.

     In November, elections were held and the voting was heavily in favor of the pro-slavery candidate. Later, when votes were counted, 1,729 were considered illegal, while only 1,114 were declared legal. Reeder failed to challenge the illegal vote count, perhaps due to the number of pro-slavery, gun-toting ruffians filling his office after the election and threatening him with guns and knives if he did.

     Reeder called for the first Territorial legislature to meet in Pawnee, a small gathering on the Fort Riley Military Reservation. Pawnee was sparsely settled, with little of no facilities to hold a meeting except military buildings and no accommodations for delegates. The delegates, elected by fraudulent ballots were thirty-six pro-slavery

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versus three free-state delegates. The first act of the legislature was to oust the free-stators and elect pro-slavery representatives in their place. The second act was to vote to hold the next legislature session in Shawnee Mission. Reeder vetoed this action but his veto was overridden by then U. S. Secretary of War, Jeff Davis. To prevent another meeting at Pawnee, Davis used his Federal powers to enlarge the Reservation to include Pawnee and he decreed that no political meeting of any kind would be permitted in the future on the Reservation. After a series of petty laws favorable to the pro-slavery delegates, the legislature adjourned after only four days, and made plans to meet again soon at Shawnee Mission.

     At the second Legislative session in Shawnee Mission, Reeder appeared in the hotel dining room wearing two guns. He was aware he had limited support from the President, and after threats on his life unless he agreed to the pro-slavery demands, he hurried to Washington. He found that Senator Atchison had already talked with the President. Atchison had convince the President that the elections were all perfectly legal and in order. Reeder, bitter and disillusioned returned to Kansas and resigned as Territorial Governor. His attempts to establish a legal government in Kansas had failed. He was relieved as Territorial Governor August 16, 1855.

     President Pierce appointed Wilson Shannon as the second Territorial Governor on September 7, 1855. Shannon was an old-time Democrat and a seasoned politician who knew his way around Washington. Shannon was a lawyer from Ohio and became a controversial figure in the violent days of bleeding Kansas. He came to the Kansas Territory primarily to settle down and establish a home. He considered his appointment

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as a step towards establishing his law practice in the Territory. He was sworn in September 7, 1855, as Territorial Governor and served until June 1856 when he resigned. He was persuaded to serve again and began his second term July 7, 1856. Shannon was described as a Border Ruffian member who ignored the wishes of the Free-Staters and allowed illegal elections to take place. The second legislature passed a series of laws favorable to the pro-slavery faction, protecting those who could or would own slaves and penalizing those who aided slaves to run away. The overriding debates at hand were not about slavery but whether the Border Ruffians or the Imported Foreign Majority should rule in Kansas. Many of the old-time Democrats were more intent on maintaining their political strength and squelching the Republican party than establishing a stable government in Kansas. A third party, the Free-State Party, was born. Their only goal was to bring Kansas into the Union as a state free from slavery.

     The pro-slavery legislatures voted to establish the new Kansas capital at Lecompton, a spot midway between Topeka and Lawrence. Fifty thousand dollars were appropriated for new buildings and other facilities there. Violence erupted sooner than expected. The murder of a pro-slavery settler ten miles south of Lawrence caused a flare-up and both sides prepared for an all-out shooting war. Shannon was trying to enforce the legal law and order to prevent violence, he called for Federal troops from Leavenworth for support to enforce the laws. His request was denied but a troop of Missouri Militia answered his call and showed up in to strengthen the pro-slavery forces already on the site. These forces camped on the Wakarusa River a few miles from Lawrence. The New England forces in Lawrence hastened to build stronger fortifications. A wagon load of giant men named Brown, armed to the teeth, showed up

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and were ready for battle. John Brown and his five sons arrived with a shipment of repeating Sharps rifles in boxes marked Beecher Bibles.

     Dr. Charles Robinson headed the Emigrant Aid Society, supported by rich Eli Thayer of Boston. With headquarters in Lawrence, the Society attempted to establish a settlement dedicated to promoting businesses in the new settlements in Kansas. Their interest and support was primarily economic and slavery was a secondary issue. However, Robinson also pleaded with Eli Thayer to ship the Emigrant Aid Society some Sharps rifles to defend the city of Lawrence. Shannon pleaded with both sides to recognize the newly passed legislative laws and settle their differences peacefully in the courts and not on the battlegrounds. After a few skirmishes and the coldest winter in history, most of the Missourians returned home. Shannon's victory was hardly a victory, more like an armed truce. However, open bloodshed had been averted, at least for the present.

     After several attempts by the pro-slavery delegation meeting at Shawnee Mission, Lecompton, and Leavenworth to formulate a Constitution and By-Laws for the new state, the Free-State forces called for another convention to be held in Topeka in January 1856. According to the laws passed by the pro-slavery group this was an illegal meeting. However, voting showed that the Free-State forces were in charge. Charles Robinson was nominated for Governor and an outline for a new Constitution was developed. The new legislatures attempted to steer a middle course between the New Englanders and the pro-slavery Missourians.

     Albert Barrett was elected to and attended the Topeka Convention, taking an active part in writing the Constitution and the proposal for statehood to Congress. He

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and several others felt that delegates such as John Brown and Jim Lane were detrimental in developing a stable government for Kansas. Robinson urged that a peaceful attitude of compromise was essential to success in developing a stable government.

     Wilson Shannon failed to restrain the pro-slavery party who, under the leadership of Senator Atchison, raided Lawrence on May 21st and proceed to sack the town. He finally lost control of the governing process he was supposed to administer. He offered to resign but was fired in August 1856. He remained in Kansas as a practicing lawyer, settling in Lecompton.

     Albert and the people in the Barrett's Mill area were anxiously watching the political battles taking place in southeast Kansas and standing guard against the pro-slavery elements in Marysville. Most of them were reluctant to join the battle until there appeared to be some sort of stability. Albert felt that the approach of the Free-State party was a program he could and would support. However, he was apprehensive about the violent actions of both John Brown and Jim Lane and their affect on the party.

     The Topeka Convention gathered again in March to complete a memorandum to Congress seeking admission of Kansas to the Union. Charles Robinson and Jim Lane traveled to Washington to present the memorandum to Congress and make the request for statehood. Robinson was to approach the house and Lane the Senate. The House voted to approve the document and Robinson was pleased. However, the Senate was another story. Senator Paul Douglas, who had guided the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress, balked. He was seeking to maintain his support from the Southern politicians who could nominate him for President. To approve the request for statehood would anger the Southerners. So he claimed that the Free-Staters was not a legitimate party and had no legal standing. After heated

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discussion the Senate voted to reject the document and accused Lane of submitting a forged document. The frustrated House voted to send a delegation to Kansas to investigate the matter. The matter was thoroughly investigated and returned to the Senate for approval. It provoked a verbal free-for-all that included a cane whipping of one member. It also resulted in subpoenas for Robinson, Lane, and Anthony of Leavenworth by pro-slavery Judge S. E. Lecompton to appear before a grand Jury for treason. The three went into hiding and Atchison and his military forces sacked Lawrence in retaliation. All of these actions fortified the Free-State party's efforts and stature.

     The sacking of Lawrence and the legal action against members of the Free-State party was on the minds of serious politicians. The Free-State party gained the support of Abraham Lincoln, a well-known political figure in Illinois, who was attempting to develop a new Republican party. A talented orator he gave an impassioned speech about slavery that gained him the nomination for President.

     Albert was heartened by the news of support in Congress. He had worked long and hard on formulating the Topeka Constitution and was encouraged by the support the Free State party was receiving. He had hopes that the admission to the Union would end the strife and warfare in Kansas.

     John White Geary, the newest Territorial Governor from Pennsylvania, arrived in Leavenworth on September 9, 1856, and the next day went to Lecompton, then the seat of government. He made a determined effort to gain back control of the stated government. Geary soon clashed with the pro-slavery faction, and turned back another band of Missourians intent upon completely destroying Lawrence. His neutral stance over slavery soon disintegrated due to the border ruffian activity and, when his life

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was threatened on several occasions, he began wearing guns most of the time. He offered to resign, but was dismissed by incoming president James Buchanan in March 1857. He later became governor of Pennsylvania and died shortly after serving his second term there.

     President Buchanan, on April 7, 1857, appointed Frederick Perry Stanton interim acting governor for a period of forty-one days prior to the arrival of the newly appointed Robert John Walker. Stanton later served another short term after Walker was forced out. Stanton called for a referendum vote on the Lecompton constitution that had been drawn up by the pro-slavery forces. As a skilled politician who had already served four terms in the U. S. Congress, Stanton attempted to affect a compromise between the opposing factions that were waging the feudal wars in Kansas Territory. His efforts were frustrated by a lack of support from the President and Congress. He was fired in April 1857.

     Robert John Walker took his oath as Governor May 9, 1857. President Buchanan believed Walker, a man of some prestige, would be able to settle the differences in Kansas. Walker recognized that the governing of Kansas was a highly visible endeavor, and that three governors before him had failed. Walker, a former slave owner, released all of his slaves and became a supporter of the free-state movement. However, he also failed to find support in Washington and resigned in November 1857, having served five months and nineteen days. He later became active in Washington politics.

     James William Denver, the next appointee was an imposing man, six feet five inches tall and weighing over 200 pounds. An ex-military man who had spent time in California politics, he became an effective mediator between the warring factions in

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Kansas Territory. He had served in various political jobs in Washington and knew his way around there. Denver was first appointed as acting governor in December 1857, and was later appointed governor in May of 1858. The pro-slavery forces in Lecompton passed legislation over his veto, but they lacked enforcement support to carry it out. The free-state forces finally gathered enough votes to pass legislation to call for a new constitutional convention. It was the beginning of political change in Kansas. Denver, however, became disillusioned and disgusted by the lack of support from Washington. He resigned in October 1858. Gold was discovered near Cherry Creek, in the western boundaries of the Kansas territory. Denver joined a group of Kansans who settled there and they named their town Denver. This later became the capital of Colorado after that territory became a state.

     Hugh Sleight Walsh was appointed Secretary of Kansas in May 1858. From then until he was fired as Secretary in June of 1860, he served intermittently as acting governor on several occasions. Upon his dismissal, he retired to his farm in Jefferson County and later served as county commissioner.

     President Buchanan appointed Samuel Medary as governor in December, 1858. He arrived on the scene in December 1 to begin his term. One of his first acts was to support the new Wyandotte constitution that replaced the Lecompton constitution. The Passage of the Wyandotte constitution in November 1859, removed many obstacles and paved the way for Kansas's admission to statehood on January 29, 1861. Expecting an elected Governor soon, Medary resigned in December 1860 and returned to Columbus, Ohio, to engage in newspaper work.

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     George Monroe Beebe was appointed as acting governor in December 1860 to fill the interim until the first election for governor was completed. The election was completed and Charles Robinson became the first elected governor of the new state of Kansas in February 1861.

     The time between the formation of the Kansas Territory and its admission to the Union as a bona-fide state, was four years and seven months. During that period, nine men served as acting or territorial governors.

     The struggle in the Kansas Territory resulted in four different constitutions. The first was the Lecompton constitution of 1855. Congress rejected this document because the Free-State group failed to vote on it. The Leavenworth and the Topeka constitutions were also rejected.

     In 1859, work was begun on the Wyandotte constitution. By then, the Republican Party had absorbed the Free-State party and acquired the role of an abolitionist party. The southern Democratic Party, recognizing the folly of trying to make Kansas a slave state, recruited their northern Democratic brethren to strengthen the Democratic Party to prevent total rule by the Republicans.

     An election was held and Governor Medray declared on November 1, 1859 that the voting was in favor of the Wyandotte Constitution by 10,421 to 5,530. Of 39 existing counties, only 27 participated in the voting. Marshall County was one of those whose results were declared to be fraudulent and not included. Newspaper reports indicated that Palmento, a village adjacent to Marysville, voted 81 to 1 to reject the Wyandotte constitution. This constitution was finally approved by the U. S. Congress and Kansas became a state free from slavery on January 29, 1861.

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     Charles Robinson was elected as the first governor of Kansas. He had been a doctor and a schoolteacher, and on the scene in Kansas Territory for some time as a representative of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society. Robinson was a strong guiding influence in early Kansas's politics. He helped establish the Free-State party in Kansas, which became the guiding hand opposing the pro-slavery border ruffian guerillas. His cool, levelheaded leadership provided a stabilizing influence to the party. He had been elected as governor previously to the then-illegal territorial government that supported the Topeka Constitution. In November 1861, the governor's office and the Kansas Senate were established in rental space at Sixth and Kansas Avenue in the old Convention Hall in downtown Topeka. The Kansas House of Representatives met in the old Congregational Church.

     Robinson's greatest obstacle was his on-going feud with Jim Lane, a fiery orator who headed the Kansas Militia and wielded considerable influence. Lane opposed Robinson and claimed that Robinson's election two years earlier by the Free-State party voided Robinson's right to be governor of the new state. Lane had been elected and was serving as a U. S. Senator. Robinson, seeking to displace him, appointed a replacement for Lane to the US Senate. The appointment did not materialize and Lane retaliated by filing charges for bond embezzlement against Robinson. The charges were never substantiated, but Robinson's stature was diminished. The feud between Robinson and Lane grew to monumental proportions. The two were opposites in many ways. Lane with his unruly hair, unpredictable actions, and flamboyant nature, won over many new residents in Kansas. His wild ideas, supported by his vivid oratory and military actions, gave the impression that he alone should determine the destiny of

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Kansas. With considerable military experience, Lane had a strong following who embraced the concept of settling differences by force. Lane also had a close relationship with President Lincoln and used the contact at every occasion to protect his seat in the U. S. Congress. His hatred for Robinson bordered on insanity. His relationship with Lincoln gave him an advantage over Robinson in Kansas politics. Lane's influence in Washington waned after Lincoln was assassinated, and Lane finally committed suicide. Although Robinson and Lane were on the same team as abolitionists in the struggle to make Kansas a state free from slavery, they fought as fiercely as if they were on opposite sides.

     Robinson, on the other extreme, was a cool calculating individual. He was not nominated for a second term as governor, but later served eight years as a state senator. It is doubtful that there ever was a more dramatic episode in American history than the period of Kansas's development from a disputed territory to statehood. It was indeed a stressful period. The tumult was not only between North and South, free state vs. slave state; it was also between several groups attempting to establish bona-fide political parties to be aligned with politicians in Washington. Struggles within the ranks of the abolitionists often diluted their efforts to establish a stable atmosphere in the developing territory.

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