Monday, April 10, 2006

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 10: The November 1854 election in Kansas

The Howard Committee Report gives us a valuable resource to get something of the tenor of the times in the Kansas crisis, because they took testimony in Kansas relatively close to the time of the events they report.  (The testimony is from the first half of 1956.)  Their descriptions of the November 1854 elections and how the Border Ruffians from Missouri stole them are an example:
The election in the 15th district was held at Penseneau's, on Stranger creek, a few miles from Weston, Missouri. On the day of the election a large number'of citizens of Platte county, but chiefly from Westoa and Platte City, Missouri, came in small parties, in wagons and on horseback, to the polls. Among them were several leading citizens of that town; and the names of many of them are given by the witnesses.  They generally insisted upon their right to vote, on the ground that every man having a claim in the Territory could vote, no matter where he lived.  All voted who chose. No man was challenged or sworn. Some of the residents did not vote. The purpose of me strangers in voting was declared to be to make Kansas a slave State.  Your committee find, by the poll-books, that 306 votes were cast; of these we find but 57 are on the census-rolls as legal voters in February following. Your committee are satisfied, from the testimony, that not over 100 of those who voted had any right so to do, leaving at least 208 illegal votes cast.  (my emphasis)
John Landis, who became a resident in Kansas just after this election, testified:
I moved into the Territory in December, 1854, and into the Doniphan precinct, fourteenth district, and have resided there ever since.  I cam from Buchanan county, Missouri.  At the time of the first election [Nov. 1854] I was solicited there by some of my friends to go over into Kansas and vote.  The inducements held out was to make Kansas a slave State.  I did not go.  I knew a number crossed the river.  They said they were going over to vote.  (my emphasis)
John Scott of Missouri was apparently fairly frank, or perhaps openly cynical, about his general approach to that election:
Prior to the election in Burr Oak precinct, in the fourteenth district on the 29th of November, 1854, I had been a resident of Missouri and I then determined, if I found it necessary, to become a resident of Kansas Territory.    On the day previous to that election I settled up my board at my boarding-house in St. Joseph's, Missouri, and went over to the Territory and took boarding with Mr. Bryant, near whose house the polls were held the next day, for one month, so that I might have it in my power, by merely determining to do so, to become a resident of the Territory on the day of election.    I was present at Mr. Harding's when the polls were held on the morning of election prior to and at the time the judges were appointed.    When my name was suggested as a judge of the election, no such suggestion had been made to or in regard to me that I was aware of, until the hour of opening the polls had arrived, when, by the absence of two judges appointed by the governor, it became necessary to select others ia their places.    When my name was proposed as a judge of election, objections were made by two persons only, so far I knew, Messrs. Harding and Larzelere, in regard to my want of residence in the Territory.   I then publicly informed those present that I had a claim in the Territory; that I had taken board in the Territory for a month, and that I could at any moment become an actual resident and legal voter in the Territory, and that I would do so if I concluded at any time during the day that my vote would be necessary to carry that precinct in favor of the pro-slavery candidate for delegate to Congress, and that I knew of no law requiring a judge of that election selected by the voters to be a resident of the Territory. ... I did not during the day consider it necessary to become a resident of the Territory for the purpose mentioned, and did not vote or offer to vote at that election. (my emphasis)
And this guy was one of the judges presiding  over the election in that district!  On cross-examination, he said:
General Whitfield was regarded as the pro-slavery candidate, and had been selected as the pro-slavery candidate by the pro-slavery party. I regarded the the question of slavery as the primarily prominent issue at that election, and, so far as I know, all parties agreed in making that question the issue of that election.  ... It is my intention, and the intention of a great many other Missourians, now resident in Missouri, whenever the slavery issue is to be determined upon by the people of this Territory in the adoption, of the State constitution, to remove to this Territory in time to acquire the right to become legal voters upon that question. The leading purpose of onr intended removal to the Territory is to determine the domestic institutions of this Territory when it comes to be a State, and we would not come but for that purpose, and would never think of coming here but for that purpose. I believe there are a great many in Missouri who are so situated. This is one of the means decided upon by Missourians to counteract the movements of the [Free State] Emigrant Aid Society to determine the character of the institutions of this Territory when it comes to be a State.  (my emphasis)
The Committe report describes the 1854 election in the 16th district as follows:
The election in the 16th district was held at Leavenworth. It was then a small village of three or four houses, located on the Delaware reservation.  There were but comparatively few settlers then in the district, but the number rapidly increased afterwards. On the day before, and on the day of the election, a great many citizens of Platte, Clay, and Bay counties, Missouri, crossed the river, most of them camping in tents and wagons about the town, "like a camp-meeting."  They were in companies or messes of 10 to 15 in each, and numbered in all several hundred. They brought their own provision, and cooked it themselves, and were generally armed. Many of them were known by the witnesses, and their names are given, which are found upon the poll-books. Among them were several persons of influence where they resided in Missouri, and held, or had held, high official position in that State. They claimed to be residents of the Territory from the fact that they were there present, and insisted upon, the right to vote, and did vote. Their avowed purpose in doing so was to make Kansas a slave State. These strangers crowded around the polls, and it was with great difficulty that the settlers could get to the polls.   One resident attempted to get to the polls in the afternoon, but was crowded and pulled back. He then went outside of the crowd, and hurrahed for Gen. Whitfield; and some of those who did not know him said, "There's a good pro-slavery man," and lifted him up over their heads, so that he crawled on their heads and put in his vote.  A person who saw, from the color of his ticket, that it was not for Gen, Whitfleld, cried out, "He is a damned abolitionist - let him down;" and they dropped him.  Others were passed to the polls In the same way, and others crowded up in the best way they conld. After this mockery of an election was over the non-residents returned to their homes in Missouri. Of the 312 votes cast, not 150 were by legal voters.
An important part of the pro-slavery "heritage" is crooked elections like these.  The techniques used in that election would be employed again in 1855.  And some of the election-stealing techniques employed by the Border Ruffians to keep legal voters from the polls would reappear during the mid-1870s during the overthrow of the democratic Reconstruction governments.
"This mockery of an election" is a good description for the 1854 Kansas vote as a whole, as well as for the one in March, 1855.
An Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month 2006 postings is available.

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