Rise Above the Noise and Confusion . . .The Civil War Starts in the Heartland

Our Story So Far: In 1820, the United States Congress decided to link what had been several separate measures to admit Missouri (a slave state) and Maine (a free state) to the Union and to prohibit slavery in the territories north and west of Missouri. This legislative package was known as the Missouri Compromise. The idea was to maintain a balance between the slave states and the free states while stopping any further spread of slavery in the country. However, in 1854, Congress enacted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, organizing Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory. The legislation effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise by providing that the issue of slavery in the territories would be decided by the people of those places. The result in Kansas was voter fraud and violence. Unintentionally, the Congress had lit the fuse to the Civil War. The following description of the not-so-slow burn comes from the July 1856 report of a select committee appointed by the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate “the troubles” in Kansas:

In October, A. D. 1854, Gov. A. I. Reeder, and the other officers appointed by the President, arrived in the Territory. Settlers from all parts of the country were moving in in great numbers, making their claims and building their cabins. About the same time, and before any election was or could be held in the Territory, a secret political society was formed in the State of Missouri. It was known by different names, such as ” Social Band,” ” Friends’ Society,” ” Blue Lodge,” ” The Sons of the South.” Its members were bound together by secret oaths, and they had pass-words, signs, and grips, by which they were known to each other; penalties were imposed for violating the rules and secrets of the order; written minutes were kept of the proceedings of the lodges; and the different lodges were connected together by an effective organization. It embraced great numbers of the citizens of Missouri, and was extended into other slave States and into the Territory. Its avowed purpose was not only to extend slavery into Kansas, but also into other territories of the United States, and to form a union of all the friends of that institution. Its plan of operating was to organize and send men to vote at trite elections in the Territory, to collect money to pay their expenses, and, if necessary, to protect them in voting. It also proposed to induce pro-slavery men to emigrate into the Territory, to aid and sustain them while there, and to elect none to office but those friendly to their views. This dangerous society was controlled by men who avowed their purpose to extend slavery into the Territory at all hazards, and was altogether the most effective instrument in organizing the subsequent armed invasions and forays. In its lodges in Missouri the affairs of Kansas were discussed. The force necessary to control the election was divided into bands and leaders selected; means were collected, and signs and badges were agreed upon. While the great body of the actual settlers of the Territory were relying upon the rights secured to them by the organic law, and had formed no organization or combination whatever, even of a party character, this conspiracy against their rights was gathering strength in a neighboring State, and would have been sufficient at their first election to have overpowered them, even if they had been united to a man.

Your committee had great difficulty in eliciting the proof of the details in regard to this secret society. One witness, a member of the legislative council, refused to answer questions in reference to it. Another declined to answer fully, because to do so would result to his injury. Others could or would only answer as to the general purposes of the society; but sufficient is disclosed in the testimony to show the influence it had in controlling the elections in the Territory.

The first election was for a delegate to Congress. It was appointed for the 29th of November, 1854. The governor divided the Territory into seventeen election districts, appointed judges, and prescribed proper rules for the election. In the first, third, eighth, ninth, tenth, twelfth, thirteenth, and seventeenth districts, there appears to have been but little if any fraudulent voting.

The election in the 2d district was held at the village of Douglas, near fifty miles from the Missouri line. On the day before the election large companies of men came into the district in wagons and on horseback, and declared that they were from the State of Missouri, and were going to Douglas to vote. On the morning of the election ,hey gathered around the house where the election was to be held. Two of the judges appointed by the governor did not appear, and other judges were selected by the crowd; all then voted. In order to make a pretense of right to vote, some persons of the company kept a pretended register of squatter claims, on which any one could enter his name, and then assert he had a claim in the Territory. A citizen of the district, who was himself a candidate for delegate to Congress, was told by one of the strangers that he would be abused, and probably killed, if he challenged a vote. He was seized by the collar, called a damned abolitionist, and was compelled to seek protection in the room with the judges. About the time the polls were closed these strangers mounted their horses and got into their wagons and cried out, “All aboard for Westport and Kansas City.” A number were recognized as residents of Missouri, and among them was Samuel H. Woodson, a leading lawyer of Independence. Of those whose names are on the poll-books, 35 were resident settlers and 226 were nonresidents.

The election in the fourth district was held at Dr. Chapman’s, over forty miles from the Missouri State line. It was a thinly settled region, containing but forty-seven voters in February, 1855, when the census was taken. On the day before the election, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty citizens of Cass and Jackson counties, Missouri, came into this district, declaring their purpose to vote, and that they were bound to make Kansas a slave State, if they did it at the point of the sword. Persons of the party on the way drove each a stake in the ground, and called it a claim; and in one case several names were put on one stake. The party of strangers camped all night near where the election was to be held, and in the morning were at the election polls and voted. One of their party got drunk, and to get rid of Dr. Chapman, a judge of the election, they sent for him to come and see a sick man, and, in his absence, filled his place with another judge, who was not sworn. They did not deny or conceal that they were residents of Missouri, and many of them were recognized as such by others. They declared that they were bound to make Kansas a slave State. They insisted upon their right to vote in the Territory if they were in it one hour. After the election they again returned to their homes in Missouri, camping over night on the way. We find upon the poll-books 161 names; of these not over 30 resided in the Territory, and 131 were non-residents.

But few settlers attended the election in the fifth district, the district being large and the settlements scattered. Eighty-two votes were cast; of these between 20 and 30 were settlers, and the residue were citizens of Missouri. They passed into the Territory by way of the Santa Fe road, and by the residence of Dr. Westfall, who then lived on the western line of Missouri. Some little excitement arose at the polls as to the legality of their voting,; but they did vote for Gen. Whitfield, and said they intended to make Kansas a slave State, and that they had claims in the Territory. Judge Teagle, judge of the court in Jackson county, Missouri, was present, but did not vote. He said he did not intend voting, but came to see that others voted. After the election, the Missourians returned the way they came.

The election in the sixth district was held at Fort Scott, in the southeast part of the Territory, and near the Missouri line. A party of about one hundred men from Cass county, and the counties in Missouri south of it, went into the Territory, traveling about 45 miles, most of them with their wagons and tents, and camping out. They appeared at the place of election. Some attempts were made to swear them, but two of the judges were prevailed upon not to do so, and none were sworn, and as many as chose voted. There were but few resident voters at the polls. The settlement was sparse; about 25 actual settlers voted out of 105 votes cast, leaving 80 illegal votes. After the voting was over, the Missourians went to their wagons and commenced leaving for home.

We’ll have more on “Bleeding Kansas” in the future.

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Craig


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