Kansas Territory’s earliest elections carried massive voter fraud, much of it due to non-resident Missouri neighbors hoping to spread slavery into Kansas.
By 1858 elections were more carefully run and the opponents of slavery, Kansas freestaters, were winning. This isn’t to say that some of the pre-statehood paper election returns held at the Kansas State Historical Society don’t hold some thrilling stories. (Read some Jefferson County ones here. ) Or some odd ones. And almost universally, those aged voting records reveal what must have been a brutal job collecting and tallying votes in 1850s Kansas Territory.
My favorite among Jefferson County election results is a single vote cast for “All the Mammas” for the job of county school superintendent. On March 22, 1858, the vote for “All the Mammas” came from the Slough Creek precinct (soon to become Oskaloosa) in a batch of local office elections.
Mind, whoever wrote in All the Mammas instead of voting for candidate Mr. McFarland (he won) to preside over the county schools knew women did not yet have the right to vote. But maybe he thought women would be better at running the schools. The 1859 Wyandotte Constitution that brought Kansas into statehood in 1861 did, however, provide for women to vote in school-related elections. Our voter was futuristic.
That single Slough Creek voter must really have enjoyed his patriotic duty that day because a string of other names appeared in the returns besides All the Mammas. Fanny (or Harry?) Cutthroat got a write-in vote for coroner, Billy Frenchman for probate judge, Mary Spendall for treasurer, Lucy Stone[i] for probate judge. You get the idea.
If you’ve looked into any early Jefferson County history, you’ll recognize some of our free-state settlers’ names on these returns, including “Lawrence Avenger” Jerome Hazen, Jesse Newell, Benjamin Hoskinson, Matthew R. Dutton, J.F. Conwell, Jacob Boucher. Joseph L. Speer, Douglas County newspaper editor John Speer’s brother, was early in his long-time Jefferson County office-holding career on this ballot. (Further reading on Jerome Hazen may be found here and here , and about Jesse Newell here.)
Paper election returns that were much simpler to make out (Kentucky precinct returns below) come from Jan. 4, 1858[ii], portraying the polling at Kentucky township, Jefferson County. This southern part of the county was largely proslavery. The photo shows only the first page of the voting results, but “Constitution with Slavery” won 58-13 in this precinct.[iii] A newspaper editor of those days wrote of some “humbuggery” in election returns for a south Jefferson County precinct around this time. I don’ know which returns he meant, but this one could be a candidate.
Polling in another south Jefferson County election — Oct. 4, 1858 – gives detailed results, a blizzard of barely readable returns (Kaw precinct, below), and it tells us how each voter voted. Some of the early elections included this now-private information. As for a quick, efficient read on how this election turned out, all I can say is the voters’ names are in the first column on the left. The candidates’ names are in the rows/cells across the top. Lots of numbers follow.
The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansas Memory pages include some Kansas Territory election returns, including these from the Fort Scott precinct in Bourbon County, here.
[i] Lucy Stone, Massachusetts, worked for abolition of slavery and for women’s voting rights.
[ii] January 4, 1858 is written on the front of this document by the Kansas State Historical Society, but the election judges wrote Dec. 21 inside, probably meaning 1857.
[iii] In this election, a constitution “with no slavery” didn’t mean what you might think. It meant people who already enslaved people in Kansas could retain slaves. But no additional slaves could be brought in, if this constitution was enacted, which it wasn’t.