Denver's Administration.Mr. Denver took the oath of office as territorial secretary before Judge Sterling G. Cato on Dec. 21, 1857, and immediately became acting governor. In his inaugural address of the same date he quoted from the letter of Gen. Cass, of Dec. 11, notifying him of his appointment, wherein Cass said: "It is vitally important that the people of Kansas, and no other than the people of Kansas, should have the full determination of the question now before them for decision."
The question at that time before the people for decision was the adoption of the Lecompton constitution. The convention which framed the constitution had submitted it to the people in such a way that the only question they were called upon to decide was whether it should be adopted "with" or "without" slavery. They had no option of voting upon the instrument as a whoIeno power to reject it in its entirety. During the last days of Gov. Shannon's administration (q. v.) a special session of the legislature had provided for an election on Jan. 4, 1858, at which the people would be given the privilege of exercising the right denied them by the convention, i. e. to reject the constitution if a majority of them so decreed. In discussing this phase of the subject. Gen. Cass, in his letter to Denver, said "It is proper to add that no action of the territorial legislature can interfere with the elections of the 31st of December and the first Monday in January in the mode and manner prescribed by the constitutional convention."
It was generally understood that the free-state men of the territory would not vote on the constitution as submitted by the convention, and Gov. Denver, in his address, referred to this attitude on their part as follows: "American citizens can never preserve their rights by abandoning the elective franchise, and punishment too severe cannot be inflicted on the man who by violence, trickery or fraud would deprive them of it. . . . A very stringent law was passed at the late session of the legislature providing for the infliction of severe penalties on persons engaged in election frauds. This act meets with my most hearty approval and if it is not yet sufficiently stringent, I will gladly assist in making it more so. It is not possible to throw too many guards around this great bulwark, which is the very foundation of our free institutions."
In the light of subsequent events, the declaration of Gen. Cass that "no other than the people of Kansas" should have a voice in settling the question before them, and the utterances of Gov. Denver with regard to stringent election laws, became as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." At the election of Dev. 21, the very day the governor delivered his inaugural address, Missourians in large numbers came into the territory and voted for the adoption of the constitution "with slavery."
On the 22d the governor wrote to Howell Cobb, the secretary of the United States treasury, for $10,000 to defray the expense of the legislature, which would meet in January, and $1,000 for the contingent expenses of the territory. "There is not a dollar here," said he, "and prompt action is requested."
A free-state convention assembled at Lawrence on Dec. 23 to discuss the question of voting on Jan. 4 for state officers under the Lecompton constitution. Wilder says: "It was the most exciting convention ever held by the free-state party." After a spirited debate it was finally decided by a vote of 74 to 62 not to vote for state officers. A committee of fifteen was appointed "to prepare and transmit to Congress a protest against the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution."
Notwithstanding the decision of the Lawrence convention on the subject of voting for state officers, some free-state men, on the evening of Dec. 24, assembled in the basement of the Herald of Freedom office and nominated candidates for these offices as follows: For governor, George W. Smith; lieutenant-governor, W. Y. Roberts; secretary of state, P. C. Schuyler; auditor, Joel K. Goodin; treasurer, A. J. Mead; representative in Congress, Marcus J. Parrott.
In apprehension of trouble on the day of the election, Gov. Denver, on Dec. 26, issued a proclamation in which he gave Webster's definitions of the word inhabitant and said: "From these definitions it will be seen that it requires something more than a mere presence in the territory to entitle a person to vote at the coming elections. I have deemed it my duty to distribute the United States troops over the territory in such a way as to preserve order and to insure to every one entitled a fair opportunity of voting."
The executive minutes from Dec. 26, 1857, to Jan. 3, 1858, are made up largely of orders and instructions to military officers as to the disposition of troops on election day, in order to insure a fair vote. On Dec. 30 the governor gave to the judges of election the information that "Many complaints have been made that frauds have been committed at elections in Kickapoo, and in order to satisfy all persons that such charges are incorrect, I have given assurances that challengers would be allowed to stand by and question the voters as to their right to vote during the time the polls are kept open."
On Jan. 1, 1858, and again on the 2d, Gen. Denver admonished E. S. Dennis, the United States marshal, to exercise all possible power "to secure to every person an opportunity to vote," yet despite all these precautions a number of illegal votes were cast on Jan. 4, when two distinct elections were heldone for state officers, delegate to Congress and members of the legislature, and one on the ratification or rejection of the Lecompton constitution. Both parties participated in the former, but the pro-slavery men ignored the one relating to the adoption of the constitution, claiming that the question of its ratification had been settled by the election of the preceding December. Although many free-state men refused to vote for state officers, Smith received 6,875 votes to 6,545 for F. J. Marshall, the pro-slavery candidate, and the other candidates on the free-state ticket were victorious by about the same majority. Owing to the failure of the pro-slavery men to vote on the constitution, it was rejected by a vote of 10,226 to 161. (See Constitutions.)
The third session of the territorial legislature convened on Jan. 4, 1858. Carmi W. Babcock was elected president of the council and George W. Deitzler speaker of the house. On the 5th Gov. Denver delivered his message. In his introduction he said: "Having but recently arrived among you, it can hardly he expected that I should have the exact information in relation to the internal affairs of the territory that a longer residence would have afforded: but I have seen enough to satisfy me that much of the animosity and bitter feeling, now existing, proceeds more from personal hostility than from political considerations."
The governor then goes on to show how neighborhood feuds could be traced back to personal quarrels, and mentions the case of a man having been forcibly removed from a quarter-section of land in the southern part of the territory. When the parties who removed this man were arrested under writs issued by the Federal judges the cry of "Persecution" was raised, and "this petty difficulty was soon elevated to the dignity of a war between the free-state and pro-slavery parties."
"To quell these disturbances," said he, "I have deemed it necessary to send a detachment of United States troops into the neighborhood, which has had the effect to restore peace to the community."
Concerning the Lecompton constitution and the influence it might have on the work of the legislature, he quoted the provisions under which it had been submitted on Dec. 21, and said: "It was again submitted to a vote of the people by an act of the legislature, approved Dec. 17, 1857, only one of the political parties voting at a time on these propositions, and the others absenting themselves from the polls. In this condition it will probably be sent to Congress, and it may be well for you to delay any important legislation until you can ascertain what action Congress will take in the premises; for, should Kansas be admitted as one of the states of the Union, under this constitution, it would have the effect to nullify all your acts, and revive such as you may have repealed. If, however, you shall conclude to disregard this possible state of affairs, it then becomes my duty to direct your attention to some matters on which legislative action may be necessary."
The subjects to which the governor then called special attention were the need of a revision of the criminal laws of the territory and the establishment of prisons; some amendment to the election laws to prevent intimidation; suitable legislation to promote the construction of highways, and a law to encourage the establishment of common schools.
At the evening session on Jan. 5 both houses adopted a resolution to adjourn to meet at Lawrence on the 7th, because of "a general lack of suitable accommodations" at Lecompton. The free-state legislature, which had met at Topeka on the 5th, also adjourned to Lawrence, and on the 7th the members of that body asked the territorial legislature to substitute the state for the territorial assembly. The proposition was declined and soon after the Topeka legislature adjourned.
Early in the session Henry J. Adams, Thomas Ewing, Jr., Dillon Pickering, E. L. Taylor, H. T. Green and J. B. Abbott were appointed as a committee to investigate the election frauds of Dec. 21 and Jan. 4 and report to the governor. On Feb. 12, the day before the legislature adjourned, the committee made its report, showing that at the election of Dec. 21, 1857, on the Lecompton constitution, illegal votes had been cast as follows: At Kickapoo, 700; at Delaware City, 145; at Oxford, 1,200; at Shawnee, 675, making a total of 2,720. At the election of Jan. 4, 1858, for state officers under the Lecompton constitution, the illegal votes reported by the committee included 600 at Kickapoo; 5 at Delaware City; 336 at the Delaware agency; 696 at Oxford, and 821 at Shawnee, a total of 2,458. Regarding the illegal votes at Shawnee agency, the committee stated that forged names had been added to the regular returns, and that this had been done with the knowledge of John Calhoun, who had been president of the Lecompton convention, and also John D. Henderson.
During the session 175 town companies were incorporated; several new counties were created; a code of civil and a code of criminal procedure were enacted; and a bill was passed over the governor's veto making Minneola the seat of government. (See Capital.)
On Feb. 6 Gov. Denver vetoed a bill repealing the "Black laws" enacted by the first territorial legislaturelaws providing the most severe penalties for injury to or interference with slave property. In his veto message the governor said: "The act referred to is a very stringent one, perhaps much more so than is necessary, but, so long as the territorial existence continues here, the owners of slaves have a right to claim protection for their property at the hands of the law-making power. . . . I cannot therefore give my consent to repeal of all laws on this subject, until there shall be some other enactment to take their place."
The legislature then passed another act, less radical than the one vetoed, which was accepted by the governor. This act, while repealing many of the obnoxious features of the slave laws, still provided adequate protection for the slaveowner.
On Feb. 10 the legislature sent to the governor a bill providing for another constitutional convention. The law gave the governor three days (Sundays excepted) to sign or veto bills, and before the expiration of the full three days after this bill was submitted the legislature adjourned. Gov. Denver therefore claimed that the bill was not legally a law, but under its provisions was held the Leavenworth constitutional convention. (See Constitutions.)
At the special session of the legislature, called by Gov. Stanton in Dec., 1857, a bill was passed authorizing the establishment of a military board to organize and control the movements of the militia. The bill had been vetoed by Mr. Stanton (See Stanton's Administration), but the assembly passed it over the veto. On Feb. 12, 1858, Gov. Denver vetoed a similar bill, and again it was passed over the governor's objections. On Feb. 26, 1858, Gov. Denver issued a proclamation denying the authority of James H. Lane, who held the rank of major-general by authority of the legislative assembly, to organize the militia of the territory. Lane, however, feeling secure in the power granted him by the legislature, paid no attention to the proclamation and went on with his work.
All through the years 1857-58 there was more or less trouble between the free-state and pro-slavery men, especially in southeastern Kansas. Free-state settlers who had left this section during the border war in 1856, returned the following year and undertook to regain possession of their claims, but their efforts were resisted. About this time Capt. James Montgomery organized his "Self Defensive Association" (q. v.) and "carried the war into the enemy's country." On Jan. 9, 1858, Gov. Denver notified United States Marshal E. S. Dennis that an armed mob at Leavenworth was parading the streets, "breaking open stores and searching private houses for arms." He directed the marshal to call on Gen. Harney for troops to restore order, and added: "Previous to the late election, you will recollect that I gave you directions to have the people disarmed, should they make any demonstration to disturb the public peace, and I am astonished that you have not acted promptly." The governor also criticised the mayor of Leavenworth for failing to do his duty. About this time two companies of dragoons were sent to southeastern Kansas to quell the disturbance in that section.
Up to this time Mr. Denver had been merely the acting governor, by virtue of his office as secretary. On March 13, 1858, he wrote to Gen. Cass, acknowledging the receipt of a letter dated Feb. 26 indorsing his commission as governor. In that letter Gov. Denver said:
"My oath of office is not inclosed, for the reason that I can find no authority for anyone to act as secretary should that office become vacant, except by presidential appointment. In the present condition of affairs here such an interregnum might prove a serious embarrasment, and my sense of duty to the public interests will not allow me to cause it.
"While I shall continue to discharge the duties of both offices, therefore, as heretofore, I will await the appointment of a secretary before qualifying as governor."
He then recommended his private secretary, Hugh S. Walsh, for the office of territorial secretary. Mr. Walsh was subsequently appointed, and on May 12, 1858, Mr. Denver took the oath of office as governor. In the meantime he had issued commissions to a number of county and township officers, notaries public, etc.
On May 19 occurred the Marais des Cygnes massacre of a number of free-state men by a party commanded by Capt. Charles A. Hamelton (see Marais des Cygnes), and Gov. Denver despatched Lieut. J. P. Jones and Benjamin J. Newsom to investigate the conditions in that district and report. On June 3 they rendered an account of a number of conflicts between Montgomery's men and the pro-slavery settlers, due in a great measure to the inefficiency of certain county officers. On the 15th the governor visited Fort Scott, where he addressed a mass meeting and introduced a set of resolutions, the object of which was to settle the disturbances in that vicinity. During the summer conditions did not improve, however, as much as the governor had anticipated at the time of his visit to Fort Scott, and on Sept. 5. 1858, he tendered his resignation, to take effect on Oct. 10.
Cutler says: "The resignation of Gov. Denver, as in the case of Gov. Walker, was forced upon him by the pro-slavery administration. He had made a treaty with Montgomery, the free-state chief, whereby it was sought to restore peace. As this involved concessions to the free-state men, it, as a matter of course, met the disapproval of the president and advisers, and would have resulted in the removal of Gov. Denver, had he not resigned."Pages 509-514 from volume I 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 May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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