From an early age, Samuel Medary, native of Pennsylvania, was a influential Democrat, his foremost weapon being his formidable pen. He was born in 1801; 16 years later he was already contributing prose and poetry to the Norristown Herald. After a series of moves and some time spent as a rural schoolteacher, Medary established his own paper in Batavia, Ohio, in 1828—the Ohio Sun, dedicated to the cause of Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign.
Medary further bolstered his reputation as a Jacksonian Democrat with one term each in the Ohio House and in the Senate of that same state. But Medary could not keep away from the newspaper business for very long. On completing his time in the Ohio Senate, he purchased the Columbus Western Hemisphere, changed its name to the Ohio Statesman, and continued using his pen to shape the thought of the Democratic Party.
In addition to editing his newspaper, Medary played an important part as a delegate from Ohio to the National Democratic Conventions at Baltimore in 1844. Westward Expansion, slavery, and economic issues were hot topics that divided the party that year. Andrew Jackson’s support was considered a valuable asset to any candidate, so the former president entrusted a letter declaring his personal choice to Medary for safekeeping, to be presented only in the case of absolute gridlock. Gridlock ensued, so Medary displayed the letter and rallied the Jacksonian Democrats behind James K. Polk. Polk went on to become president, although, contrary to popular myth, he did not campaign with shouts of “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!” This “campaign promise” of a United States that extended to 54° 40′ north was actually a demand made by the Democratic Party and its associated newspapers. In fact, the slogan may have been coined by Medary himself.
At the Cincinnati National Democratic Conventions in 1856, Medary again came to the forefront, this time as a supporter of Stephen A. Douglas. Although James Buchanan won the nomination and became president, the new president won Medary’s respect for his support of the Lecompton Constitution. Medary must have gained favor from Buchanan, as well, because when a territorial governor was needed for Minnesota in April 1857, Medary was the president’s choice. Granted, the position was a rather awkward one, because Minnesota Territory had already set up a state government while Congress delayed on admitting it to the Union. Minnesotans debated whether Governor Medary could legally sign anything the “state” government passed. Medary mostly stayed out of the territory and allowed the secretary, Charles L. Chase, to handle affairs until Minnesota was finally admitted to the Union in May 1858.
After a brief spell as postmaster of Columbus, Ohio, Medary was selected to become a territorial governor again—this time in Kansas.
Time in Office
Samuel Medary arrived in Kansas Territory on December 18, 1858. One of the most important events of his time in office came almost two months later. On February 9, 1859, Medary signed a law requiring the citizens vote on whether or not to organize yet another constitutional convention. This vote was held on March 28 and demonstrated the eagerness of Kansas residents to put the matter to rest once and for all. Delegates were duly elected, the convention was held, and the result was the Wyandotte Constitution. This document was approved by a vote of the people on October 4, 1859, with 10,421 voting for it and 5,530 against it.
The next step on the path to statehood was to elect state officials so that a government could be set up quickly and smoothly once Kansas was admitted to the Union. The elections were held on December 6, 1859, the result being a landslide for the antislavery Republican Party across the future state. In the gubernatorial race, Medary ran against Republican Charles Robinson, who had illegally served as governor of the Free State government during the Bleeding Kansas era. Robinson won 7,908 to 5,395, earning the right to become the first governor of the state of Kansas, as soon as Kansas became a state.
Shortly after the elections, Medary found himself caught up in scandal. Provisions had previously been made by the territorial government to examine claims made by people who suffered damage during the period of guerilla warfare. Territorial officials expected that Congress would pay the claims, as the territory did not have the legal authority to issue bonds to pay them. However, in January 1860, it came to light that the territorial treasurer had issued bonds for the claims with the governor’s approval, and that these bonds were being used to establish a bank in Lawrence. The illegal bonds had been sold fraudulently in New York.
Medary’s relationship with the Republican territorial legislature, already strained by the bond scandal, did not improve when on February 20, 1860, he vetoed an act prohibiting slavery in Kansas Territory. This bill had caused great turmoil in the legislature and was only passed with a struggle. Medary observed that the move appeared to be “more political than practical,” but vetoed it primarily because he felt that the territorial legislature did not possess the sovereignty to ban the institution of slavery. By contrast, Medary observed, the Wyandotte Constitution was an act of the people (the true source of sovereignty) and therefore could legitimately ban slavery in the future state of Kansas.
But clearly the Republican Party was on the ascendancy in Kansas. By the time Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Medary was convinced that the best thing for him to do was to resign. He left office on December 17, 1860, and returned to Ohio, where he established a newspaper called The Crisis. His highly critical views of President Lincoln, the Republican Party, and the fighting of the Civil War led to the destruction of his newspaper office by an angry mob in 1863. The following year, Medary was arrested for conspiracy against the government. He died before he could stand trial.
- Served as the last appointed territorial governor of Kansas.
- Called the convention that drafted the Wyandotte Constitution, still in effect today.
- Defeated in the first gubernatorial election in Kansas.
- Perpetrator of the only bond scandal in territorial Kansas history.
In His Own Words
- Bleeding Kansas: “Every thing seems to near a more hopeful and quiet appearance, all over the Territory, and with a year of prosperous emigration and full crops of the present settlers, Kansas by the opening of next Spring will scarcely be known from its appearance to its old acquaintance.”
- 1859 election results: “…I have not a solitary doubt left about our having a democratic majority in Kansas. Yet we have to submit to the eternal disgrace of having it go forth as a Black Old John Brown state. It is our own faults in part—and we deserve it, but I do not feel comfortable under the additional disgrace of running behind the balance of the ticket, by being cut by pure unadulterated Democrats, as must have been the case.”
- Veto of territorial abolition act: “Sovereignty does not reside in Legislatures; it resides in the people; and their sovereign acts must precede legislative bodies. And here, I presume, is the rock on which you have split. If sovereignty resided in Legislatures, then, indeed, no one would dare to dispute your sovereign acts. But in this great essential you are deficient, and hence the embarrassment under which you labor in completing your round of ‘all legislation.’ You can pass laws regulating the condition of master and slave, or you can repeal such laws, or refuse to pass them, but you lack the sovereignty necessary to create a slave, or wrest him from his owner. That is an exercise of power which clear, undisputed sovereignty alone can exercise; and it must be done by the sovereign himself, in convention assembled.”