Geary's Administration.At the time Gov. Geary received his appointment, affairs in Kansas were in a deplorable condition. Gov. Shannon's course had not been satisfactory, either to the people of the territory or the administration at Washington, and Acting Gov. Woodson was so much of a partisan that the executive power had been wielded in a way that amounted to virtual persecution of a large portion of the population. Gov. Geary arrived at Leavenworth on Sept. 9, 1856, and found the town under military control. Free-state people, who had asked in vain for the protection of the military, were fleeing from the border ruffians pouring into the territory in response to Woodson's proclamation of Aug. 25. (See Woodson's Administration.
On the 10th the new governor went to Lecompton, then the seat of government, where he found a number of armed pro-slavery men, who tried to convince him that all the crimes that had been committed in Kansas were the work of the "Abolitionists." That they did not succeed in doing so is obvious from some of the utterances in his address to the people, which he issued on the following day, and from which the following quotations are made to show his policy:
"When I received my commission I was solemnly sworn to support the constitution of the United States, and to discharge my duties as governor of Kansas with fidelity. By reference to the act for the organization of this territory, passed by Congress on the 30th day of March, 1854. I find my duties more particularly defined; among other things, I am 'to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.' The constitution of the United States and the organic law of this territory will be the lights by which I will be guided in my executive career.
"Let its banish all outside influence from our deliberations, and assemble around our council board with the constitution of our country and the organic law of this territory as the great charts for our guidance and direction. The bona fide inhabitants alone are charged with the solemn duty of enacting her laws, upholding her government, maintaining peace, and laying the foundation for a future commonwealth. . . . This great right of regulating our own affairs and attending to our own business, without any interference from others, has been guaranteed to us by the law which Congress has made for the organization of this territory. This right of self-governmentthis privilege guaranteed to its by the organic law of our territoryI will uphold with all my might, and with the entire power committed to me. . . . The territory of the United States is the common property of the several states, or of the people thereof. This being so, no obstacle should be interposed to the free settlement of this common property, while in a territorial condition.
"I desire to know no party, no section, no North, no South, no East, no West; nothing but Kansas and my country."
Naturally, such an address as this did not meet with favor among the pro-slavery men, with whom the idea of placing the constitution of the United States and the laws of Congress above the acts of the territorial (bogus) legislature was repugnant, to say the least. So, too, was the declaration of Gov. Geary that he would uphold the right of self-government as guaranteed by the organic law. To show that he meant what he said when he made this declaration, on the same day he issued his "address" he also issued two proclamationsone to disband the volunteer militia which had "been called into service by the late acting governor," and the other ordering "all free male citizens, qualified to bear arms, between the ages of eighteeen[sic] and forty-five years, to enroll themselves, in accordance with the act to organize the militia of the territory."
On the 12th he issued the following order to Adjt.-Gen. Strickler "You will proceed, without a moment's delay, to disarm and disband the present organized militia of the territory, in accordance with the instructions of the president and the proclamations which I have issued, copies of which you will find enclosed. You will also take care to have the arms belonging to the territory deposited in a place of safety and under proper accountability."
At the same time he ordered Thomas J. B. Cramer, the inspector-general, to take charge of the arms and preserve the same. The militia thus ordered to he disbanded and disarmed had been collecting in response to Gov. Woodson's proclamation of Aug. 25. In a letter to W. L. Marcy, secretary of war, under date of Sept. 12, 1856, Gov. Geary gives the following reasons for his course "1 have determined to dismiss the present organized militia, after consultation with and by the advice of Gen. Smith, and for the reasons that they are not enrolled in accordance with the laws; that some of them were committing outrages under pretense of serving the public; and that they were unquestionably perpetrating, rather than diminishing, the troubles with which the territory is agitated."
Theodore Adams, a special agent of the governor, wrote from Lawrence late on the 12th that a large number of men from Missouri were within 6 miles of that town, and that the citizens there were organizing to resist any attack that might be made, but that they would disband it assurance were given that they would be protected. At 1:30 a. m. on the 13th Gov. Geary wrote to Col. P. St. George Cooke to "send immediately to Lawrence force sufficient to prevent bloodshed, as it is my orders from the president to use every possible means to prevent collisions between the beligerent forces," and closed his letter by saying: "If desirable, I will accompany the troops myself, and should be glad to have you go along."
An hour later 300 mounted men, with four pieces of artillery, accompanied by the governor and Col. Cooke, were on their way to Lawrence. Upon arriving there they found everything quiet. Gov. Geary addressed the people, who cheered him for his promptness in affording them protection, and in the afternoon he returned to Lecompton. The next day he wrote to Col. Cooke:
"The adjutant-general of the territory is about to proceed to disband the volunteer troops. At this late hour he has informed me that he must have an escort of two soldiers to accompany him. If you can let him have them, you will order them to report to me at once. The escort is also intended to accompany the secretary of the territory and my especial agent, Mr. Adams. They will first proceed to disband the forces that are marching toward Lawrence."
About three o'clock that afternoon the escort, with Adjt.-Gen. Strickler, Mr. Woodson and Mr. Adams, reached Lawrence, where they found a large body of pro-slavery forces under command of Atchison, Reid, Titus, Jones, Heiskell, Richardson, Stringfellow and others. Soon after the adjutant-general and his escort had left Lecompton, several messengers arrived there from Lawrence with appeals for protection, and Gov. Geary sent the following order to Col. Cooke: "Proceed at all speed with your command to Lawrence, and prevent a collision if possible; and leave a portion of your troops there for that purpose."
Despite the orders of the governor to lose no time in disbanding the militia, Strickler and Woodson were slow to act. At midnight of the 14th Mr. Adams wrote to the governor: "Sec. Woodson and Gen. Strickler had not up to the time I left delivered their orders, but were about doing so as soon as they could get the officers together."
This information reached Gov. Geary at 3 a. m. of the 15th, and he hurried to the camp on the Wakarusa where he found 2,700 of the territorial militia. He at once called a council of the officers, enjoined the duty of obedience, demanded compliance with his proclamation, which was read, severely reprimanded some of the commanding officers, and commanded the army to disband and disarm. His order was obeyed, but not without some mutterings of displeasure. Some of the disbanded troops, on the way to their homes, committed outrages upon the free-state settlers, such as burning a sawmill near Franklin, driving away horses and cattle, etc. A detachment of the Kickapoo Rangers shot and mortally wounded David C. Buffum. Before he died Gov. Geary and Judge Cato called on him and took his statement, and in November the governor placed a warrant in the hands of Marshal Donalson for the arrest of Charles Hays for the murder of Buffum. Donalson declined to serve the warrant, which was then placed in the hands of Col. Titus, who arrested Hays. The prisoner was admitted to bail, over the protest of Gov. Geary. On Nov. 17 the governor went to Leavenworth to attend the Delaware land sales. He had scarcely left Lecompton when Hays was brought before Judge Lecompte, who discharged him on a writ of habeas corpus.
On the other hand, over 100 free-state prisoners in the hands of Sheriff Jones were treated with great severity. These men had been arrested in September and had been refused bail by the court. The very day that Judge Lecompte released Hays, the sheriff notified the governor that it was "indispensably necessary that balls and chains should be furnished for the safety of the convicts under my charge," but Geary refused the request and Jones resigned his office. Of the free-state prisoners, 39 escaped, 16 were tried and acquittted, about 30 were sentenced to five years in the penitentiary, and a number were pardoned by Gov. Geary on Feb. 28, 1857.
When Lecompte discharged Hays from custody the governor complained to the president of this manner of dispensing justice, and C. O. Harrison of Kentucky was appointed to succeed Lecompte, but as the president failed to issue the necessary writ of supersedeas, the senate refused to confirm Harrison's appointment, and Lecompte continued in office.
On Oct. 6, 1856, was held an election for delegate to Congress, members of the legislature, and on the question of calling a convention to form a constitution, preparatory to applying to Congress for admission as a state. The free-state men refused to vote. John W. Whitfield received 4,276 votes for delegate, the members of the legislature elected were all pro-slavery men, and on the question of a constitutional convention there were 2,592 votes in the affimative[sic] and 454 in the negative.
Four days after the election a large party of free-state men under Shaler W. Eldridge was arrested near the Nebraska river by Col. Cooke and W. S. Preston, a deputy marshal, but on the 14th the men were all released by Gov. Geary. After this immigration was free.
Having disbanded the militia and restored a semblance of order in the territory, Gov. Geary left Lecompton on Oct. 17 for a "tour of observation." He visited the Wakarusa valley, Hickory Point, Prairie City, Osawatomie, Paola, Centropolis, "110," Riley City, Pawnee and Fort Riley, studying the conditions in all these places, and returned to Lecompton on Nov. 6. While at the Baptist mission on the Pottawatomie reserve near Topeka, a few hours before he reached Lecompton, he wrote a proclamation setting apart Nov. 20 as a day of thanksgiving. This was the first official proclamation of that character ever issued in Kansas. In Nov. 1855, J. H. Lane and J. K. Goodin, chairman and secretary of the free-state executive committee, asked Gov. Shannon to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, but the governor decided that, in view of the discord then prevailing in the territory, the people of Kansas had no cause for being thankful.
On Jan. 6, 1857, the free-state legislature met at Topeka. Gov. Robinson and Lieut.-Gov. Roberts were both absentthe former in Washington trying to secure the admission of Kansas under the Topeka constitutionand there was no quorum present. No attempt was made to organize either house, but some of the members were arrested by the sheriff of Douglas county, without resistance, and taken before Judge Cato, who admitted them to bail in bonds of $500 each. They were never brought to trial.
The second territorial legislature met at Lecompton on Jan. 12, 1857. The council was organized by continuing Rev. Thomas Johnson as president, and the house elected W. C. Mathias speaker. The next day Gov. Geary submitted his message, in which he reviewed the conditions existing at the time he assumed the duties of governor and the events immediately following. Again he insisted that the territories were the common property of the people of the several states, and that no obstacle should be interposed to their "free, speedy and general settlement."
"On the delicate and exciting question of slavery," said he, "a subject which so peculiarly engaged the attention of Congress at the passage of our organic act, I cannot too earnestly invoke you to permit it to remain where the constitution of the United States and that act place it subject to the decision of the courts upon all points arising during our present infant condition. . . . Justice to the country, and the dictates of sound policy, require that the legislature should confine itself to such subjects as will preserve the basis of equality; and when a sufficient population is here, and they choose to adopt a state government, that they shall be 'perfectly free,' without let or hindrance, to form all their domestic institutions 'in their own way,' and to dictate that form of government which, in their deliberate judgment, may be deemed proper.
"Any attempt to incite servile insurrection, and to interfere with the domestic institutions of sovereign states, is extremely reprehensible, and shall receive no countenance from me. Such intervention can result in no good, but is pregnant with untold disasters. Murder, arson, rapine and death follow in its wake, while not one link in the fetters of the slave is weakened or broken, or any amelioration in his condition secured. Such interference is a direct invasion of state rights, only calculated to produce irritation and estrangement."
He next called attention to numerous errors in the copy of the organic act as printed in the statutes enacted by the first territorial legislature. One of these errors deserves more than passing mention. In the 29th section," says the message, "defining the executive authority, will be found the following striking omission: 'against the laws of said territory, and reprieves for offenses.' This omission impairs the executive authority, and deprives the governor of the pardoning power for offenses committed against the laws of the territory, which Congress, for the wisest and most humane reasons, has conferred upon him."
Whether this omission was made by accident or design, it had the effect of allowing the pro-slavery authorities to arrest and imprison free-state men, without hope of pardon.
The election laws passed by the first legislature provided for a viva voce instead of by ballot, and "if all votes offered cannot be taken before the hour appointed for closing the polls, the judges shall, by public proclamation, adjourn such election until the following day, when the polls shall again he opened and the election continued as before." This provision the governor declared offered great room for fraud. "Voting viva voce," said he, "the condition of the poll can be ascertained at any moment. If the parties having the election officers are likely to be defeated, they have the option of adjourning, for the purpose of drumming up votes; or, in the insane desire for victory, to resort to other means even more reprehensible."
The act providing for a general militia training on the first Monday in October was censured, because, that being the day of the general election, it was "well calculated to incite to terrorism." The governor insisted that "The silent ballots of the people, unawed by military display, should quietly and definitely determine all questions of public interest."
It can readily be imagined that such a message was not agreeable to the pro-slavery element. Here was a governor appointed by a friendly national administration, and yet he had the temerity to fly in the face of the power that appointed him by making recommendations and suggestions that must ultimately result in his removal. But Geary would rather be right than to be governor of Kansas.
The session of the legislature lasted until midnight of Feb. 21, when it closed at the expiration of forty days as required by the organic act. During the session occurred the events which finally led to Gov. Geary's resignation. When Sheriff Jones was refused the balls and chains for the prisoners under his charge, he resigned, and the supervisors of Douglas county appointed William T. Sherrard to the vacancy. Because of certain information the governor received regarding the character of Sherrard he refused to issue his commission as sheriff. On Jan. 19 the house, never friendly to Geary, passed a resolution requesting the governor "to furnish the house with a statement of his reasons for not commissioning Sharrard."
On the 21st Geary replied as follows "While I am disposed to accede to any reasonable request from the legislature, I regard that matter as a subject of inquiry only from the territorial courts." Nevertheless, he vouchsafed the information that "Prior to its announcement to me, the appointment of Mr. Sherrard was protested against by many good citizens of Lecompton and Douglas county, as his habits and passions rendered him entirely unfit for the proper performance of the duties of that office."
This widened the breach between the governor and the house, which espoused the cause of Sherrard, though the council refused to concur in all the lower branch did in the matter. On Feb. 9 Geary visited the legislature. Sherrard was in the house at the time, but went out and armed himself, and as the governor was leaving he barred the way and tried to pick a quarrel, even going so far as to spit upon the governor. Geary consulted with Judge Cato, who thought Sherrard's conduct unworthy of serious attention. The governor then wrote the following letter to Gen. Smith:
"There are certain persons present in Lecompton who are determined, if within the bounds of possibility, to bring about a branch of the peace. During the last few days a number of persons have been grossly insulted and today an insult was offered to myself. A fellow named Sherrard had some days ago been appointed sheriff of Douglas county, which appointment was strongly protested against by a respectable number of citizens of the county, and I had deferred commissioning him. This, is appears, gave mortal offense to Sherrard, and he has made up his mind to assassinate me. This may lead to trouble. It must be prevented, and that too by immediate action. I require, therefore, two additional companies of dragoons, to report to me with the least possible delay," etc.
On the 11th Smith replied in an insulting letter, refusing to honor the governor's request for two additional companies of troops. The same day this letter was written, the people of Big Springs held a meeting, denounced Sherrard and the legislature, approved the general course and policy of the governor, and issued a call for a public meeting to he held in Lecompton on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 14. Sherrard and his supporters threatened to break up the meeting, and when it was postponed to the 18th, on account of the death of Gen. Richardson, they felt encouraged, looking upon the postponement as a mark of cowardice. At 2 p. m. on the 18th the meeting assembled and Mayor Owen of Lecompton was chosen to preside. A committee of five was appointed to draw up a series of resolutions. The majority report of this committee, signed by James F. Legate, James G. Bailey and Wesley Garrett, approved the governor's message; demanded the repeal of all territorial laws inconsistent with the constitution of the United States and the organic act; tendered Gov. Geary, "the people's friend, our earnest sympathy in the discharge of his responsible duties, and we pledge him the support of all bona fide settlers of Kansas, without distinction of party, so long as he shall continue to administer the government upon the principles above declared."
Gihon says: "No sooner were these resolutions read, than Sherrard sprang upon a pile of boards, and in a loud voice exclaimed: 'Any man who will dare to endorse these resolutions is a liar, a scoundrel and a coward.'" A Mr. Sheppard took exceptions to Sherrard's sweeping charge and replied: "I endorse them, and I am neither a liar, a scoundrel nor a coward." Sherrard then drew his revolver and commenced shooting. Sheppard endeavored to reply, but for some reason the caps exploded without igniting the powder in his revolver. After he was wounded he fell upon Sherrard with the butt of his pistol, but the bystanders separated them. As soon as he was free, having emptied his first revolver, Sherrard drew a second and advanced upon John A. W. Jones, a member of the governor's household. Both fired at the same time, and continued to fire at each other, until one of Jones' shots struck Sherrard in the head, killing him almost instantly. The fall of Sherrard put a stop to the riot.
On the same day that this unfortunate event occurred, the legislature submitted to the governor the act providing for taking a census and the election of delegates to a constitutional convention. Gov Geary promptly vetoed the measure because it did not provide for the submission of the constitution to a vote of the people. On the 19th the bill was passed over the governor's veto. Realizing that the relations between him and the legislature had become strained to the point where the usefulness of both was impaired, Geary determined to resign. Accordingly, on March 4, 1857, he sent his resignation to President Buchanan, to take effect on the 20th. He did not wait until that time, however, to make his resignation effective, but on the 10th issued a "Farewell Address" to the people of Kansas, thanking the peaceable citizens for their aid and comfort. One portion of this farewell address reads almost like a prophecy. After denouncing the agitators, he said:
"Watch, then, with a special, jealous and suspicious eye those who are continually indulging in surmises of renewed hostilities. They are not the friends of Kansas, and there is reason to fear that some of them are not only enemies of this territory, but of the Union itself. Its dissolution is their ardent wish, and Kansas has been selected as a fit place to commence the accomplishment of a most nefarious design. The scheme has thus far been frustrated; but it has not been abandoned. You are instrusted,[sic] not only with the guardianship of this territory, but the peace of the Union, which depends upon you in a greater degree than you suppose."
The night of the 10th was spent in Lawrence, and the next evening Gov. Geary reached Kansas City, Mo., where he embarked on the steamboat A. B. Chambers for St. Louis. On the 12th he wrote from the steamer to Sec. Woodson as follows. "As I am now absent from the territory, the duties of the executive office, agreeably to provision of the organic act, will for the time being devolve upon you. You will of course exercise your own judgment and discretion in their discharge."
(Works consulted: Cutler's, Holloway's and Prentis' Histories of Kansas; Kansas Historical Collections; Connelley's Territorial Governors Legislative Journals; Wilder's Annals of Kansas; The Province and the States; Gihon's Geary and Kansas; Executive Minutes; Lowe's Five Years a Dragoon; Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power.)Pages 719-727 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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