Woodson's Administration.At five different times during the territorial regime, Secretary Woodson was called upon to serve as acting governor. His administration, aggregating about six months, is therefore divided into five periods. The first of these was from April 17 to June 23, 1855, while Gov. Reeder was absent in the East; the second was from Aug. 16 to Sept. 7, after the removal of Gov. Reeder and until the arrival of Gov. Shannon; the third was from June 24 to July 7, 1856, while Gov. Shannon was in St. Louis; the fourth, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 11, 1856, marking the time intervening between the retirement of Gov. Shannon and the arrival of Gov. Geary; and the fifth and last was from March 12, 1857, when Gov. Geary gave up the office, to April 16, when Frederick P. Stanton succeeded Woodson as secretary of the territory.
Between April 17 and June 23, 1855, the executive minutes show but two official acts on the part of the acting governor. One of these, on May 29, was the filing of the returns of the special election of May 22, for Gov. Reeder's consideration upon his return, and the other was the issue of an executive warrant upon a requisition from the governor of the State of Indiana.
The second period of his administration was fraught with greater consequences. On June 8, 1855, more than six weeks before the removal of Gov. Reeder, a free-state meeting assembled at Lawrence, but adjourned to the 25th, when ringing resolutions were adopted in favor of making Kansas a free state; urging the people to make freedom the only issue; denouncing as a gross outrage the conduct on the part of the people of Missouri in the election of March 30, 1855, and declaring in favor of the appointment of a free-state executive committee. One of the resolutions declared that the people of Kansas had the right to invoke the aid of the general government against the lawless course of the slavery propaganda, and another that "In reply to the threats of war so frequently made in our neighboring state, our answer is 'We are ready'."
On July 11 there was another meeting at Lawrence, at which the expelled free-state members of the legislature were present, the object of this meeting being "To consider the present exigency in our political and governmental affairs, and to take the necessary preliminary steps for the calling of a mass convention of the free-state men of the territory to deliberate in reference to our present condition and future action."
The convention called by this meeting assembled at Lawrence on Aug. 14, two days before Gov. Reeder announced his removal from office. Dr. Charles Robinson offered a series of resolutions, the preamble of which reviewed the actions of the Missourians on March 30, and criticised the legislature for its removal to the Shawnee Mission. The resolutions proper declared the invasion of March 30 as one of the greatest outrages upon the laws of the land and the rights of the people ever attempted in this country; indignantly repelled the pretensions of the legislature then in session to make laws for the people; considered the attempt to establish territorial government thus far an utter failure, and declared that the people should "at some convenient period assemble at the several places of holding elections in the various districts of the territory and elect delegates to a convention to form a state constitution, with a view to an immediate state organization and application, at the next session of Congress, for admission into the American Union." (See Topeka Constitution.)
The resolutions also acknowledged a debt of gratitude to Gov. Reecler for the "firmness, ability and integrity shown in the discharge of his duty as executive officer of the territory."
Another convention met on the 15th, under a call signed "Many Citizens," though it was in reality an adjunct to the convention of the preceding day. Cutler says: "Out of these two conventions, entirely distinct, yet most mysteriously one, came the inception of the movements which resulted in the organization of a free-state party and the framing of a free-state constitution."
The former of these two conventions led to the Big Springs convention (q. v.) of Sept. 5, when the free-state party was organized, and the latter had for its object the calling of the Topeka constitutional convention.
Such was the state of affairs when Mr. Woodson assumed the duties of governor on Aug. 16, 1855. The lack of harmony that had existed between Gov. Reeder and the legislature then in session soon vanished after Woodson became acting governor. A pro-slavery man himself, the confidence between him and the assembly was mutual. He promptly signed all bills submitted to him, and it is said in many instances without giving them proper consideration, only one, an act illegally appropriating money, having been disapproved. Between Aug. 16, when Woodson came into office as acting governor, and Aug. 30, when the legislature adjourned, a great deal of legislation was enacted. A permanent seat of government was established at Lecompton; counties were created and governments therefor provided by the appointment of pro-slavery officers; the territorial militia was ordered to be organized; the qualifications of voters defined; provisions were made for the people to vote at the election in Oct., 1856, on the question of calling a constitutional convention, and a general code of laws for the territory was adopted. The code was taken from that of Missouri, which had in turn been taken from the code in New York and some of the other Eastern states. It was not strong enough on the subject of slavery to suit the legislature, hence it was supplemented by the so-called "Black Laws" (q. v.), imposing severe penalties for even the slightest infringement of the real or imaginary rights of the slaveholder.
In the law prescribing the qualifications of voters was the provision that no person should be permitted or entitled to vote who had been convicted of any violation of the fugitive slave law, and any person whose vote might be challenged was required to make oath that he would support the fugitive slave law and the territorial organic act. This was a well laid scheme to disfranchise the free-state citizens whose self-respect would not permit them to subscribe to such an oath, and thus, by the mere act of challenging all voters, the pro-slaveryites could control future elections.
Although the organic act provided that no legislator should be eligible for any office created by the assembly of which he was a member, the legislature had barely adjourned when Gov. Woodson appointed several of the members as officers of the territorial militia. The legislature adjourned on Aug. 30, and the next day he appointed A. M. Coffey major-general of the southern division; William P. Richardson, major-general of the northern division; William A. Heiskell, William Barbee, F. J. Marshall and Lncian J. Eastin, brigadier-generals; H. J. Strickler, adjutant-general; S. A. Williams and Archibald Payne, colonels. He also appointed and commissioned a number of officers of the newly created counties, the greater part of his time being thus occupied until the arrival of Gov. Shannon.
When Gov. Shannon left for St. Louis on June 24, 1856, Mr. Woodson became for a third time the acting governor, and though this period of his administration lasted only two weeks, it gave him ample opportunity to manifest his dislike of his political opponents. On the 29th he made a requisition to Col. P. St. George Cooke, commanding at Fort Riley, for troops to prevent the Topeka legislature from assembling on July 4, notwithstanding Gov. Shannon, prior to his departure, had charged Col. Sumner with this duty. In his communication to Col. Cooke, Mr. Woodson claimed to have information that large numbers of armed men are now on their way to Topeka, for the purpose of sustaining the bogus legislature," and asked Cooke "to take the field at once with all your available forces, and scour the country between Fort Riley and Topeka, for the purpose of repelling said armed invasion of the country."
On July 4, the day fixed for the assembling of the legislature, the acting governor issued a proclamation forbidding all persons claiming legislative power under the Topeka constitution "from organizing, or attempting to organize or act in any legislative capacity whatever, under the penalties attached to all willful violations of the laws of the land and disturbers of the peace and tranquility of the country."
But requisitions for troops and proclamations did not deter the members of the legislature from assembling at the designated time. The clerk of the house had barely finished calling the roll, when Col. Sumner, who had come in and taken a seat near the speaker's desk, arose and said "Gentlemen I am called upon this day to perform the most painful duty of my whole life. Under authority of the president's proclamation, I am here to disperse this legislature, and therefore inform you that you cannot meet. I therefore order you to disperse. God knows that I have no party feeling in this matter, and will hold none so long as I occupy my present position in Kansas. I have just returned from the borders, where I have been sending home companies of Missourians, and now I am ordered here to disperse you. Such are my orders and you must disperse. I repeat that it is the most painful duty of my whole life."
After some little discussion, the house dispersed, and Col. Sumner went to the senate, which had not yet been called to order, and informed the members that they must disperse, which they promptly did. The whole incident savored of the proverbial birth of the mouse from the travail of the mountain.
Aside from the dispersion of the Topeka legislature, Mr. Woodson had but little to engross his attention or call for the exercise of the executive function until July 7, when Gov. Shannon returned from St. Louis and resumed the duties of the office until Aug. 18, when he retired permanently. On the 20th Gen. Richardson, commanding the northern division of the territorial militia, sent a despatch to the governor, stating that Gen. Lane had recruited a large military force in the free states and "marched them into the Territory of Kansas with the avowed object of setting at defiance the laws of the territory."
It seems that Gen. Richardson had assembled the militia of his division, and now asked for orders. On the 21st Woodson wrote to him approving his course in thus ordering out the militia "to repel the present ruthless invasion of the territory by armed mobs from distant states." The acting governor also suggested that Gen. Marshall, of the First brigade, should be ordered to intercept the invaders coming in through Nebraska, and "should have a force of not less than 300 mounted men, or more, if you deem it desirable, and one piece of artillery, if you can spare it." Richardson was ordered to report with the remainder of his command to the governor at the earliest practicable day," and Gen. Coffey was ordered to rendezvous his division "at or near the town of Palmra, in the county of Douglas." Had the territorial authorities been in position to display the same activity in March, 1855, in repelling the invasion of Missourians, the history of Kansas might have been differently written.
On Aug. 25, 1856, Woodson issued his famous "extermination proclamation," declaring the territory in a state of insurrection, the principal feature of which was as follows: "1 do hereby call all law-abiding citizens of the territory to rally to the support of their country and its laws, and require and command all officers, civil and military, and all other citizens of the territory, to aid and assist by all means in their power in putting down the insurrectionists, and in bringing to condign punishment all persons engaged with them; to the end of assuring immunity from violence and full protection to the persons, property and all civil rights of all peaceable and law-abiding inhabitants of the territory."
Connelley, in his Territorial Governors, says the proclamation "was designed to crush the free-state cause in Kansas and to license the border ruffians to exterminate free-state men and their families and confiscate their property. The cry then arose along the border, 'Let the watchword be extermination, total and complete,' and Acting Gov. Woodson approved and acted upon it. Only the arrival and prompt and vigorous action of Gov. Geary prevented its consummation."
On Aug. 28 Woodson made a requisition to Col. Cooke for a posse of soldiers to aid the marshal in the execution of certain writs, and four days later, after issuing commissions to a number of new militia officers, he ordered Cooke to invest the town of Topeka and disarm all insurrectionists or aggressive invaders found there, level all breastworks or other fortifications, and hold as prisoners all persons found in arms against the government. Cooke was also directed to intercept invaders on the road known as "Lane's trail."
The next day Col. Cooke sent to the acting governor a rather caustic reply. After calling attention to the instructions of the secretary of war and Gen. Persifer F. Smith, who had succeeded Col. Sumner, he said: "In my best judgment, I cannot comply with your call. If the army be useless in the present unhappy crisis, it is because in our constitution and laws civil war was not foreseen; nor the contingency of a systematic resistance by the people to governments of their own creation, and which at short intervals they may regularly correct or change. Your letter will be forwarded by express to Maj.-Gen. Smith for his consideration and action."
Finding his efforts to use the Federal troops futile, Gov. Woodson turned his attention to a more thorough organization of the territorial militia. More officers were commissioned and other steps taken to stamp out the rising spirit of freedom in the territory, but before the plans of the pro-slavery people could be carried into effect Gov. Geary came into office and reversed the entire policy of the acting governor.
Between March 12 and April 16, the last period of Gov. Woodson's administration, but little happened out of the ordinary current of events. His first acts were to commission a number of county officersall pro-slavery menand on March 25 the acting governor received a letter from the clerk and probate judge of Anderson county, stating that owing to the insurrectionary spirit, it was impossible "to carry into effect the provisions of the law authorizing the taking of the census and assessment," and several of the newly appointed officers were afraid to accept their commissions and qualify. True to his policy on former occasions, Woodson immediately called upon Gen. Smith for a company of dragoons, to be accompanied by a United States commissioner "authorized to take evidence and bring to the bar of justice all such offenders." He also protested to Gen. Smith against the withdrawal of Capt. Newby's company of dragoons from Lecompton, because "The presence of the military has a very salutary influence in preserving order in the existing unsettled and inflammable state of the public mind in this part of the territory."
At the time this letter was written, the administration of President Buchanan was but three weeks old. Woodson's apparent desire to use the military on all occasions led Col. Sumner to write to him on March 27, as follows: "I would respectfully suggest whether it would not he safer to pause a little in military matters, until we know the policy of the new administration."
This suggestion evidently had its effect, as no more calls for troops were made by Mr. Woodson during the brief time he continued to act as the territory's chief executive. On April 15 Secretary Stanton reached Lecompton, and the next day Woodson turned over to him management of executive affairs.Pages 938-943 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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