Andrew Horatio Reeder was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 1807. Early on in his adult life, he became a successful lawyer and a loyal Democrat. However, Reeder never sought office, and he might have been entirely overlooked by history had it not been for a fateful bill signed into law on May 30, 1854.
This bill was the Kansas–Nebraska Act, establishing Nebraska Territory to the north and Kansas Territory to the south. Whether the latter was to enter the Union someday as a free state or as a slave state was to be decided by its citizens. Within a short time, Kansas Territory was flooded by two opposing bodies of settlers—those who were determined that Kansas should be free soil and those who were determined that it should be slave soil.
Andrew Reeder supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act due to its appeal to popular sovereignty, the concept that the people of a territory should decide what institutions, such as slavery, would be legal in their own territory. However, he may have ended up with a little more than he bargained for when he was appointed by President Franklin Pierce to be the first governor of Kansas Territory that June.
Time in Office
Reeder arrived in Kansas on October 7, 1854, and spent his first month in office on a tour of the territory. On November 29, he called for the first election of a territorial delegate to the United States Congress. Unfortunately, this election quickly devolved into a fraudulent debacle when nonresident Missourians entered Kansas in droves to vote.
The March 30, 1855, election for the first territorial legislature was arguably worse. The Missourians again arrived to vote illegally. While ballot boxes were stuffed, armed men greeted prospective voters at the doors and pointedly inquired into their political views. The result was a strongly proslavery legislature that has gone down in history as the Bogus Legislature. When Free Staters objected, Reeder declared the election results void and held special elections in six districts that had filed formal protests, notwithstanding threats of assassination from the Border Ruffians.
Reeder briefly left Kansas Territory for Washington, D.C., in April 1855, leaving Daniel Woodson as acting governor. Reeder also made a stop in Pennsylvania, where he openly criticized the election fraud perpetrated by the Border Ruffians and singled out Senator David Atchison of Missouri and the militant slavery advocate Benjamin Stringfellow as leaders. President Pierce cautioned Reeder that his rebuke was “unnecessarily strong” and warned him that it might lead to personal danger. The president was correct; on Reeder’s return to Kansas in the summer, Stringfellow knocked the governor down and attempted to shoot him.
As it turned out, Reeder garnered the most criticism over his choice of a territorial capital and its potential connection to his pocketbook (digitized archives contain more records of Reeder’s investments as governor than of his speeches and writings). He happened to own shares in the Pawnee Town Association, which at the time had a town site near Fort Riley but only a couple of houses. Reeder promised the association that if it would see to erecting buildings for the territorial government, he would ensure that the Bogus Legislature would convene in Pawnee. Of course, he did not mention the profits he expected to reap from his investment in 1,200 acres nearby that he had purchased from a few mixed-blood Kanza women for only 90 cents per acre. Nor did Reeder mention the offense he had given U.S. Indian Commissioner George Manypenny, who denounced the investment as a “systematic plan to purchase Indian reserves at artificially low prices.”
Pawnee quickly expanded to meet the future need, and on July 2, 1855, the territorial legislature convened in a partially completed stone building. Reeder addressed them, identifying the most pressing needs of the territory:
- A permanent territorial capital.
- County organization.
- A judicial system.
- A territorial militia.
- Taxes to support the government.
- Some provision for education.
- A way to end the sale of liquor to the Indians.
- A constitution.
- A vote on slavery.
The legislature, however, was far more concerned about convening about 150 miles from the Missouri border. It overrode Reeder’s veto to adjourn to Shawnee Mission in Johnson County, only a few miles from the border, on the grounds that shipping food to Pawnee was expensive, half the members were living in wagons and tents, there was a cholera epidemic in the area, and the legislative house had undergone construction on Sunday, thereby desecrating the building.
Pawnee remained the territorial capital of Kansas for only five days, the shortest lifespan of any capital in any United States territory or state. The remainder of Reeder’s term as governor was spent in deadlock as he vetoed every bill sent to his desk in protest of the move to the Shawnee Mission. The legislature petitioned President Pierce to remove Reeder from office. The members did not know that the president was already moving to oust the governor due to his “private speculative interests.” Reeder received his official notice on August 15, but he always maintained that it was a ruse. He claimed that he had fallen victim to the administration’s proslavery agenda and promptly allied himself with the Free State cause.
- Served as the first territorial governor of Kansas.
- Designed the territorial seal, featuring a pioneer, Ceres (the goddess of agriculture), and the motto Populi Vocenata, “Born by the voice of the people.”
- Called for the first election of a delegate to Congress from Kansas.
- Protested election fraud in the face of assassination threats and attempts.
- Selected Pawnee as the first territorial capital of Kansas.
- Convened the first Kansas territorial legislature.
In His Own Words
- Removal of the capital to Shawnee Mission: “…[T]he Legislature have the power to fix the permanent seat of government as contradistinguished from a temporary one….”
- Vetoes: “It seems to be plain that the Legislature is now in session so far as the place is concerned, in contravention of the act of Congress, and where they have no right to sit, and can make no valid legislature. Entertaining these views I can give no sanction to any bill that may be passed; and if my reasons are not satisfactory to the Legislative Assembly it follows that we must act independently of each other.”
Kansas Territorial Seal
A photo of the seal Reeder helped to design.