Andrew H. Reeder, 1807-1864
The first territorial governor of Kansas, Andrew Horatio Reeder, was born on July 12, 1807, in Easton, Pennsylvania, to Christina Smith and Absolom Reeder. Educated at an academy in New Jersey, Reeder read law in a Pennsylvania law office, was admitted to the bar there in 1828, and married Amelia Hutter in 1831.
A loyal Democrat and champion of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas’s “popular sovereignty” formula for settling the issue of slavery in the territories, Reeder was appointed in June 1854 to the office of the governor of the territory of Kansas by President Franklin Pierce. Reeder arrived at Leavenworth, where he established his first executive office, on October 7, 1854. By November he had scheduled and conducted an election for a congressional delegate and soon conducted a census as a preliminary step for the election of a territorial legislature, which took on March 30, 1855.
Reeder supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was “soft” on the issue of slavery, but he initially tried to remain neutral in the contest between the proslavery and free-state factions. He was described as “a simple-minded Pennsylvania Democrat,” and was, in all likelihood, mainly interested in investment opportunities. Indeed, he purchased shares in numerous town companies or associations in 1854 and 1855--Leavenworth, Marysville, Montgomery, and Easton, to name just a few, in addition to Pawnee.
The middle ground was hard for anyone in Kansas Territory to inhabit, however. And soon after assuming his duties in the troubled territory, Reeder began exhibiting a streak of independence, antagonizing proslavery Kansans and their Missouri allies. The governor became identified with the free-state cause, describing himself as a “Douglas Democrat” and seeking to give popular sovereignty a fair trial in Kansas. When the proslavery men in Kansas and Missouri perpetrated blatant electoral fraud during the March balloting, Reeder refused to certify the results and called a new election to fill the vacancies. He designated the town site of Pawnee, a few miles east of Fort Riley, as the meeting place for the first territorial legislature—July 2, 1855. After only four days, and over the governor’s veto, legislators adjourned to reconvene at Shawnee Mission, where they adopted Missouri’s harsh slave code as their own and petitioned President Franklin Pierce for Reeder’s removal. Unbeknownst to the so-called “Bogus Legislature,” the president was already moving in this direction. When Reeder refused appointment to another position, Pierce formally dismissed him from the office of territorial governor in late July 1855, alleging he had engaged in illegal land speculation.
Soon, Reeder firmly aligned himself with the free-state movement. This extra-legal junta elected Reeder and Jim Lane to the U.S. Senate, positions they were to assume as soon as Kansas was admitted to the Union under the Topeka Constitution. This, of course, never happened, and facing an indictment for high treason issued by a proslavery grand jury, Reeder fled the territory disguised as a wood-chopper in May 1856. Soon, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he resumed the practice of law, campaigned on behalf of John C. Fremont, the Republican candidate for president in the 1856 election, and remained active in Republican Party politics. In 1861, President Lincoln offered to appoint Reeder as a brigadier general, but he declined, citing his lack of military experience. Reeder died in the town of his birth, Easton, Pennsylvania, on July 5, 1864.
Berwanger, Eugene H. Biographical sketch of “Reeder, Andrew Horatio.” In American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
McMullin, Thomas A., and David Walker, editors. Biographical Dictionary of American Territorial Governors. Westport, Conn.: Meckler Publishing Co., 1984.
Socolofsky, Homer E. Kansas Governors. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.