Walker's Administration.When Mr. Walker was first tendered the appointment as governor of the Territory of Kansas by President Buchanan, his first impulse was to decline. He was fully acquainted with the conditions in the territory, and had no desire to immolate himself upon the altar where Reeder and Geary had been so ruthlessly sacrificed. The president insisted upon his acceptance, however, and after several discussions as to the policy to be pursued, he consented, with the understanding that he was to be given a free hand, unhampered or uninfluenced by the acts of any of his predecessors. It was understood between him and the president that he was to enforce the laws enacted by the territorial legislature, using the military forces of the United States if necessary; that he would encourage the movement then on foot to form a constitution preparatory to admission as a state; and that he should guarantee the submission of such constitution to a full and fair vote of the people. Daniel Woodson was removed as secretary of the territory, and in his place the president appointed Frederick P. Stanton, who fully understood the course to be followed by Gov. Walker and himself.
On March 30, 1857, four days after the appointment of Gov. Walker had been officially announced, the president advised him that "when a constitution shall be submitted to the people of the territory they must be protected in the exercise of their right of voting for or against that instrument, and the fair expression of the popular will must not be interrupted by fraud or violence."
In his letter of acceptance Mr. Walker said: "I contemplate no appeal to military power, in the hope that my countrymen of Kansas from every section will submit to a decision of this matter by a full and fair vote of the people of that territory. If this decision cannot thus be made, I see nothing in the future for Kansas but civil war, extending its baleful influence throughout the country, and subjecting the Union itself to imminent hazard. I will go, then, and endeavor to adjust these difficulties, in the full confidence, so strongly expressed by you, that I will be sustained by all your own high authority, with the cordial coöperation of your cabinet."
Gov. Walker arrived at Leavenworth on May 25. With a firm reliance on the promises of the president, in a speech at Lawrence on the 27th he made the strongest promises to the free-state people of a fair election and a vote on the Lecompton constitution. The same day he delivered his inaugural address at Lecompton, in which, after referring to his instructions of March 30, he said: "I repeat, then, as my clear conviction, that unless the convention submit the constitution to the vote of all the actual residents of Kansas, and the election be fairly and justly conducted, the constitution will be, and ought to be, rejected by Congress."
At a great mass meeting at Topeka on June 6 he urged the people to vote for or against the constitution, explaining as his doctrine that "when the constitution shall be submitted to the vote of the citizens of Kansas, that it shall he submitted to the vote of the whole people." In the course of this speech he was frequently interrupted by questions, and when he promised the people a fair election, "impartially and fairly conducted by impartial judges," some one in the audience asked: "Have you got the power?" Gov. Walker promptly answered: "If I have not the power to bring it about; if the convention will not do it, I will join you in lawful opposition to their proceedings."
The governor remained in Topeka until the assembling of the free-state legislature on June 9. No quorum was present in the house, but on the 11th a quorum was obtained by declaring vacant the seats of thirteen members, thus reducing the number of representatives to twenty-five. In his message Gov. Robinson referred to former attempts of the legislature to convene, when they had been dispersed by the territorial authorities, and said: "There is not much of 'popular sovereignty' and 'self-government' here. This usurpation is repudiated by the people, but it is recognized by Congress and the president."
The legislature adjourned sine die on the 13th. While it was in session Gov. Walker visited Big Springs on the 10th and there made a speech in which he reiterated his promise of a fair election and a full vote on the Lecompton constitution. The main point that he tried to impress on the people was that "they would be as much bound by the act of the majority of those who did vote, as if all had participated in the election. On the 12th, the day before the Topeka legislature adjourned, another convention was held in that town, at which it was decided by the free-state men not to take part in the constitutional convention movement; the territorial laws were declared of no force; and Gen. Lane was authorized to organize the free-state men into military companies. Gov. Walker was present at the convention, but made no remarks there. However, at the hotel he spoke for an hour, again urging the people to vote and again promising the free-state people fair play in the election.
During the remainder of June, he traveled over the territory, and early in July attended the land sales at Paola. Later he wrote to Gen. Cass, Buchanan's secretary of state, as follows: "I have met many distinguished Democrats of the South on visits to Kansas, . . . all of whom have expressed to me, as well as on proper occasions to others, their cordial approbation of my course."
On June 15 occurred the election of delegates to the Lecompton convention. The free-state men refrained from going to the polls, and the result was that only 2,071 votes were polled. Had the free-state men voted they could have controlled the election, as the census in the counties where it was taken showed 9,251 voters. (See Constitutional Conventions.)
The pro-slavery people, under the name of the National Democratic party, held a convention at Lecompton on July 2 to nominate a candidate for delegate to Congress. Epaphroditus Ransom, an ex-governor of Michigan, was nominated. A resolution was introduced pledging Ransom to support the constitution in Congress, whether it had been submitted to a vote of the people or not. Gov. Walker made a speech before the convention and the resolution was laid on the table by a vote of 42 to 1. This was followed by the adoption of a resolution pledging support to Gov. Walker in maintaining the laws and promoting peace in the territory.
So far the policy of the new administration had worked well, and it began to look as though the "free hand" of Gov. Walker would bring peace, justice and prosperity to the people of Kansas. But Gov. Walker was soon to learn the fallibility of promises made by those high in power. He was permitted by the administration at Washington to speak in general terms of fair elections, but when he came to carry out his pledges he found himself immediately opposed by that administration. Promises are one thing, performance is another; and Gov. Walker was not allowed to perform. Connelley, in his Territorial Governors, says: "In the light of later developments, the president was insincere in his approval of Mr. Walker's policy, or he was gained over by the rabid members of his cabinet, who were never in favor of it. In either event the conduct of the president was most reprehensible."
Early in July the people of Lawrence refused to organize their city government under the charter granted by the bogus legislature, and on the 13th they held an independent city election under a charter adopted by themselves. The next day Gov. Walker asked Gen. Harney, commanding the United States troops in Kansas, to send a regiment of dragoons to the vicinity of Lawrence "to act as a posse comitatus and aid in the execution of the laws." On the 15th he issued a proclamation relating to the subject.
"I have learned," said he in the proclamation, "that a considerable number of the citizens of Lawrence have adopted, as they claim, a charter for their local government. A copy of that charter has been placed in my hands; upon comparing which with that granted by the territorial legislature last winter, I find they differ intentionally in many essential particulars. The new charter, then, is set up, not only without any authority of law, but in direct and open defiance of an act of the territorial legislature on the same subject."
The committee which framed the charter said in its report: "Under ordinary circumstances, the more regular method of proceeding would be to obtain a charter from the territorial authorities. As the territorial government, however, in no sense represents the people of Kansas, was not elected by them, and can have no right to legislate for them, we cannot accept of a charter at its hands."
After referring to this portion of the committee's report, the proclamation goes on: "Under these circumstances, you have proceeded to establish a government for the city of Lawrence in direct defiance of the territorial government, and denying its existence or authority. . . . Your evident purpose is thus to involve the whole territory in insurrection, and to renew the scenes of bloodshed and civil war. Upon you, then, must rest all the guilt and responsibility of this contemplated revolution. . . . If you are permitted to proceed, and especially if your example should be followed, as urged by you, in other places, for all practical purposes, in many important particulars, the territorial government will be overthrown. . . . A government founded on insurrection and usurpation will be substituted for that established by the authority of Congress, and civil war will be renewed throughout our limits. . . . You were distinctly informed in my inaugural address of May last that the validity of the territorial laws was acknowledged by the government of the United States, and that they must and would be carried into execution under my oath of office and the instructions of the president of the United States. The same information was repeated in various addresses made by me throughout the territory. . . . At the same time, every assurance was given you that the right of the people of this territory, under the forms prescribed by the government of your country, to establish their own state government and frame their own social institutions would be acknowledged and protected. . . . As all arguments heretofore so often addressed by me to you have failed as yet to produce any effect upon you, I have deemed it necessary, for your own safety and that of this territory, and to save you from the perilous consequences of your own acts, under the authority vested in me by the president of the United States, to order an adequate force of troops of the United States into your immediate vicinage to perform the painful duty of arresting your revolutionary proceedings. . . . If you can be influenced by no other motives, the evident fact that the power of the government is adequate to prevent the accomplishment of your purpose should induce you to desist from these proceedings."
In adopting this attitude toward the Lawrence city charter and issuing this proclamation, the governor showed that he was as ready to obey one part of his instructions as another, and while he had promised the people fair and impartial elections, it was now demonstrated that it was his intention to enforce the territorial laws. On July 20 he wrote to Gen. Cass that the revolutionary party in Lawrence was in the majority, and that 2,000 troops were needed there to prevent the territorial government from being "overthrown or reduced to a condition of absolute imbecility."
In the meantime Henry Wilson, United States senator from Massachusetts, visited Kansas for the purpose of trying to convince the free-state men that it was their duty to participate in the elections. He arrived at Lawrence on May 27, 1857, having come to the territory on the same steamboat that brought Gov. Walker. It was then too late to organize for the election of delegates to the Lecompton constitutional convention, but Mr. Wilson called a conference of the free-state leaders and urged upon them the importance of electing a majority of the members of the next territorial legislature. He insisted that "if Kansas was made a free state they must do it, and to accomplish that end they must take the power from the slave-state men by voting at the October election for a new legislature, even if they voted under protest." Mr. Wilson promised that, if they would consent to this plan, he would immediately return east and raise money to aid in organizing the free-state forces for the campaign. The plan was finally indorsed, Mr. Wilson went to New York and Massachusetts, where he soon raised over $3,OOO, and early in July Thomas J. Marsh arrived in Kansas with the money.
Many of the free-state men still clung to the idea of securing the admission of Kansas under the Topeka constitution. (See Constitutions.) It was among these that the greatest difficulty was experienced in trying to induce them to vote at the October election. A free-state convention at Topeka on July 15-16 adopted resolutions declaring unwavering adherence to the Topeka constitution as embodying the basis of the state government desired by the people; asked Congress to admit Kansas as a state under it; and again denied the validity of the territorial legislature and its laws." A state central committee was elected; Marcus J. Parrott was nominated for representative in Congress, and candidates were named for all of the state offices provided for by the Topeka constitution. On the question of voting for members of the legislature in October the convention took no further action than "to recommend to the people of Kansas that they assemble in mass convention at Grasshopper Falls on the last Wednesday in August, to take such action as may be deemed necessary in regard to that election."
Two days after that convention adjourned Gov. Walker received the apportionment for members of the legislature, signed by Thomas Johnson, president of the council, and William J. Mathias, speaker of the house. Cutler says: "The preparations thus far made could not have been better adjusted for fraudulent voting if they had been designed especially for that purpose. Ten of the thirteen councilmen and twenty-nine of the thirty-nine representatives were apportioned to the Missouri border counties, and Shawnee and Douglas counties attached to pro-slavery counties that might counteract their heavy free-state vote. The Lawrence district was also handicapped by the addition of a vast district lying west of Wise, Butler and Hunter counties, sparsely settled by Indian traders and isolated families, of which so little was known that the returns from there, however much they might be questioned, could not he successfully contested."
Under these circumstances it was but natural that many of the free-state men should entertain serious misgivings as to the advisability of taking part in the election. But at the Grasshopper Falls convention (q. v.), which met on Aug. 26, it was decided that it was the duty of all citizens to vote, and the campaign began in earnest. At the election on Oct. 5 Marcus J. Parrott, who was nominated by the Grasshopper Falls convention for delegate to Congress, defeated Ransom, the pro-slavery candidate, by a vote of 7,888 to 3,799, and the total vote for members of the legislature was about 1,500 greater for the free-state candidates than for their opponents.
Charges of illegal voting soon became rife. Oxford precinct, Johnson county, in a district which elected three members of the council and eight representatives, returned 1,628 votes, and three precincts in McGee county returned over 1,200. These glaring irregularities gave Gov. Walker an opportunity to make good his oft repeated promises of a fair election. Fortunately for the real citizens of Kansas he was equal to the emergency. On Oct. 19 he issued a proclamation "To the people of Kansas," in which he said:
"By the 32d section of the organic act establishing this territorial government, it is provided, in reference to the election of a delegate to Congress, that the person having the greatest number of votes shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected, and a certificate thereof shall be given accordingly. By the 16th section of the act of the territorial legislature of Kansas, entitled 'An act to regulate elections,' it is made the duty of the secretary to examine the returns in the presence of the governor, and to 'give to the persons having the highest number of votes in their respective districts certificates of their election to the legislative assembly.'
"Under these two provisions of the laws prevailing in this territory, the recent general election has presented for the joint consideration of the governor and secretary a question of the gravest importance, not only to our own people, but also to those of the whole Union. This question arises upon the extraordinary returns made from the precinct of Oxford, in the county of Johnson. What purports to be the returns of the election held at that precinct on the 5th and 6th instants have been received by the secretary, containing 1,628 names of pretended voters, or nearly one-half the number given in the whole representative district. . . . In point of fact it is well known, that even the whole county of Johnson, comprising, as it does, part of an Indian reserve, which, upon examination of the law, we find is not yet subject to settlement or preëmption, can give no such vote as that which is represented to have been polled at this inconsiderable precinct of Oxford."
The governor, in the course of his investigation, visited Oxford, which he found to be "a village of six houses, including stores, and without a tavern." From the citizens there he ascertained "that all together not more than one-tenth the number of persons represented to have voted were present on the two days of the election, much the smaller number, not more than 30 or 40, being present on the last day, when more than 1,500 votes are represented as having been given."
Excluding all unofficial information, "A close examination of the returns," says the governor, "has brought us to the conclusion that the returns from Oxford precinct, in Johnson county, must be wholly rejected."
Another proclamation on the 22d announced the rejection of the spurious returns from the three precincts in McGee county, on the grounds that "This county is constituted from the lands of the Cherokee Indians, which are not yet open to preëmption or settlement, and is consequently one of the most sparsely populated counties of the territory, containing less than 100 qualified voters, and giving last June but 14 votes or delegates to the constitutional convention."
The rejection of the returns in these several precincts gave the legislature to the free-state men, and the consternation among the pro-slaveryites, to use a somewhat hackneyed phrase, can be better imagined than described. Letters, petitions, and even messengers, were hurried to President Buchanan, all demanding the removal of Gov. Walker. But the president was unwilling to apply such a radical remedy, probably through the recognition of the fact that his removal would not undo the mischief he had done. Perhaps the remembrance of his own promises to the governor at the beginning of his administration restrained him from now ordering his removal.
Samuel J. Jones, the former sheriff of Douglas county, William Hall, Hiram Bledsoe, J. H. Danforth, John T. Ector, L. S. Boling, A. P. Walker, William S. Wells, J. C. Thompson, Thomas B. Sykes and W. B. Winson, all claiming to have been elected members of the legislature, applied to Judge Cato, of the second judicial district, for a writ of mandamus to compel the governor and secretary to issue their certificates of election. The writ was issued on Oct. 23, but Walker and Stanton denied the jurisdiction, giving eleven reasons for their denial. They closed by saying:
"If the said judge should command them to issue certificates of election, and should deem it his duty to subject them to imprisonment for disobeying his order, as they would be compelled to do by their conviction of its usurpation and utter nullity, and because the certificates before the date of said rule or order had already been issued to other persons, such is their desire to maintain the peace of this territory that they will submit individually to such imprisonment, and if any tumult should be apprehended by said judge in consequence of the monstrous frauds which have been perpetrated upon the elective franchise in the recent election, the governor will direct the regular troops of the United States, now here and subject to his order, to act as a 'posse comitatus' in aid of the sheriff or marshal who may be directed by said judge to execute said mandate of imprisonment."
Judge Cato, although usually a willing tool of the pro-slavery men, was not willing to adopt such extreme measures as ordering the governor and secretary to prison, and the proceedings were dropped. Sheriff Jones, one of the applicants for the writ of mandamus, armed himself and accompanied by a pro-slavery friend entered Secretary Stanton's office and loudly demanded his certificate of election. No attention was paid to his blustering. Connelley says "A committee of free-state men offered to hang Jones if it would be any accommodation, but the secretary declined to give them permission to perform an act which would give them such deep gratification."
The Lecompton constitutional convention finished its labors early in November. A few days before it adjourned Gov. Walker learned that a majority of the delegates had secretly entered into a compact not to submit that instrument to the people, except in a modified way. As soon as the governor received this information he made his arrangements to go to Washington and endeavor to persuade the president to carry out the original policy agreed upon the spring before. But a change had come over the spirit of the president's dream. In his message to Congress on Dec. 8, 1857, he admitted the instructions he had given to Gov. Walker on March 30, but took the position that the proposition to submit the constitution in the manner proposed by the convention was all that was necessary. He devoted a considerable portion of his message to finding fault with the free-state men of Kansas for not voting for the delegates to the convention. "If any portion of the inhabitants shall refuse to vote," said he, "a fair opportunity to do so having been presented, this will be their own voluntary act and they alone will be responsible for the consequences."
Finding that it was impossible to carry out his pledges to the people of Kansas, unless he was supported by the president, there was nothing left for the governor but to resign. This he did on Dec. 15, 1857. In his letter of resignation he reviewed the promises made to him at the time of his appointment, stating that he did not desire "to discuss, at this time, the peculiar and unexpected events which have modified the opinions of the president upon a point so vital as the submission of the constitution for ratification or rejection by a vote of the people, much less do I desire any controversy with the president on this subject."Pages 860-868 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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