Daniel Woodson’s life did not get off to an easy start. He was born on May 24, 1824, in Albemarle County, Virginia, a county known for its longstanding heritage of slavery. His mother died just days later. As if this were not enough, Woodson’s father died when he was only seven years old.
Woodson may have lacked parental guidance, but he demonstrated from a young age that he had talent. He was apprenticed to a printer and quickly became co-editor of the Lynchburg Republican, actually a prominent Democratic paper (the Republican Party had not yet been founded). In 1851, Woodson moved to Richmond, Virginia, and became the editor of the Republican-Advocate, another Democratic newspaper.
In the course of his newspaper work, Woodson gained public recognition for his editorials. He was considered a good writer and a skillful voice for the proslavery view. Given the political leanings of President Franklin Pierce, perhaps it was little wonder that he chose Woodson to be the secretary of Kansas in June 1854, shortly after the territory was created.
Besides clerical duties, the secretary of Kansas Territory was assigned the task of acting as governor if the appointed territorial governor was absent. This was how Daniel Woodson became the unofficial governor of Kansas five times during the tumultuous period from 1855 to 1857.
Time in Office
Woodson’s first spell as acting governor was from April 17 to June 23, 1855, while Governor Andrew Reeder was in Washington, D.C. This period was largely uneventful, most business being filed away for Reeder’s return.
The second time Woodson became governor was from August 16 to September 7, 1855. Reeder had been ousted by the Pierce administration, leaving a vacancy until the arrival of the next appointed governor, Wilson Shannon. During this time, county organization began. Woodson County was named after the acting governor and remained the only Kansas county named for a territorial official until 1889.
Violence escalated on Governor Shannon’s watch. From June 24 to July 7, 1856, the governor was away in St. Louis, perhaps fearing an assassination attempt. A rival Free State legislature had been elected by abolitionists and set itself up as the territorial government in competition with the Bogus Legislature. Before leaving, Shannon had made arrangements with Colonel Edwin Sumner to disperse the Free State legislature with Federal troops. By this time, Woodson had become a member of the Law and Order Party, organized in late 1855 by proslavery men to uphold the laws of the Bogus Legislature by any means necessary. Accordingly, Woodson oversaw the dispersal of the Free State legislature on July 4, 1856.
However, Shannon’s tenure as governor was a short one. From August 18 to September 9, 1856, Woodson served his fourth period as acting governor while awaiting the new appointee, John W. Geary. On September 1, Woodson ordered Colonel Philip St. George Cooke of the 2nd Dragoons to march on Topeka, disarm all in rebellion against the Bogus Legislature, and station a detachment somewhere on the road to Topeka to intercept potential invaders. Colonel Cooke refused because he had orders to interfere in the territory “only when armed resistance is offered to the laws and against the peace and quiet of the territory.”
Woodson’s final spell as acting governor was from March 12 to April 16, 1857, after Governor Geary was removed from office. Woodson had been appointed as receiver of the Delaware land office on April 1, but continued to act as governor until the new territorial secretary, Frederick P. Stanton, arrived. Woodson concluded his time as governor by declaring Kansas Territory to be in a state of rebellion.
- Became the namesake of Woodson County.
- Oversaw the dispersal of the Free State legislature.
In His Own Words
- Dispersal of the Free State legislature: “…The President of the United States has by proclamation bearing date the eleventh February, 1856, declared that any such plan for the determination of the future institutions of the Territory, if carried into action, will constitute the fact of insurrection, and therein commanded all persons engaged in such unlawful combinations against the constituted authority of the Territory of Kansas or of the United States, to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes….”
- Need for federal troops to dispel rebellion: “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….”
- Proper use of federal troops to dispel rebellion: “In all your orders the most rigid instructions should be given to protect the persons and property of all peaceable unoffending citizens regardless of party distinctions or political differences of opinion. We are not warning against the political sentiments of men, but against lawless bands of ruthless invaders, outlaws and traitors.”
Woodson had a strong aversion to having his picture taken. This is one of the few portraits that exist.