• Janet Faust

1855: Elections, Policies & Politics

While we are bombarded with political ads and campaigns, I thought it might be interesting to look back to 1855 when Kansas was a territory moving toward statehood. Check out how Bloomington, a rural community in the Wakarusa Valley was establishing itself and its values.

THE SCENARIO

In 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas introduced a bill in Congress recommending the Kansas-Nebraska Act be divided into two territories by using the 40th parallel. Each territory could decide how to enter the Union, by voting to become a free or slave state. Although there was strong opposition, the bill passed in May that year and President Franklin Pierce signed it into law.

TERRITORIAL CONTROL

The Kansas Territory set an election for March 30, 1855 to vote on candidates for the House of Representatives in the Territorial Legislature. Knowing that this election would either send Free-State or Proslavery politicians to the state legislature, Missouri, a neighboring proslavery state, schemed to infiltrate the election with voters.


DIRTY POLITICS

In the Bloomington area, the 2nd District voting precinct was assigned to Harrison Burson’s cabin. Likely, the voting place was an easy decision as it might have been one of only two cabins in the vicinity. The Governor of the Territory appointed Burson, Paris Ellison and Nathanial Ramsey as ballot judges.

According to voting instructions, the three judges were to assemble by 8am on March 30th and prepare a ballot box with a slit for voters to cast their tickets. If by 9am, none of the appointed judges were available to oversee the ballot, voters on the grounds could choose replacement judges.

Hell bent on skewing the elections, armed men rode in from Missouri and bullied their way into Burson’s cabin. They violently ousted the officials at the Bloomington polling place and they chose their own judges. They confiscated ballots and voted proslavery and Missourian representatives to the Assembly. Missourians upheld their actions citing the voting qualifications did not clearly define what constituted a Kansas resident in order to have a right to vote.

According to an excerpt from Soil of our Souls, there were 330 votes cast at Burson’s cabin. There should have only been sixteen qualified voters.

Burson and Ramsey, along with some other district judges filed protest reports with Territory Governor Reeder. For districts who protested, a new election date was set for May 22nd.

When the second election was held, William Simmons, a southerner, was appointed as the third judge along with Burson and Ramsey. It is unclear why there was no interference from proslavery forces this time, but the balloting was uneventful and lawful. J.A. Wakefield was elected as council member and William Jessee and Augustus Wattles as representatives to the house.

When the newly-elected officials arrived at the first Legislative Assembly on July 1st, they were ejected by the predominantly proslavery membership. Thus, a second protest was filed.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Apparently by this time Governor Reeder had his fill of the Territorial Legislature. He used harsh words to describe it. He called the legislature a failure, deplorable, oppressive, tyrannical and insulting in his Constitutional Convention Proclamation. Without their consent, the Governor sanctioned a vote on October 9, 1855, to have precincts elect representatives for the first Kansas Constitutional Convention. Two weeks after the election, Wakefield, Burson, A. Curtiss and J.M.Tuton were representing the Bloomington precinct in Topeka to help form a constitution, adopt a Bill of Rights and take steps to organize a State Government in preparation for admission of Kansas to the Union as a State.

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