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Bogus Legislature

President Franklin Pierce appointed Andrew Reeder to be the first governor of Kansas Territory.  Most people believed he would support slavery in the new territory. However, Reeder supported the concept of popular sovereignty--letting the residents of Kansas Territory decide whether or not slavery would be allowed in Kansas.

Governor Reeder called for the first election shortly after he arrived in the territory. The November 29, 1854, election was to select a delegate for U.S. Congress.  John W. Whitfield, a proslavery supporter, was elected.  Missouri residents had crossed into Kansas Territory to participate in the election.  It is believed that more than half the votes were illegal.  Although the election results were challenged, Whitfield was allowed to serve in Congress.

The following spring Missourians again crossed the border to vote illegally in the first legislative election held on March 30, 1855.  This resulted in the Bogus Legislature.  It was called that because the free staters believed this proslavery legislature was illegitimate due to election fraud.

Andrew Reeder, the territorial governor, declared the results void only in the six districts that filed protests; but in the process, he alienated proslavery inhabitants as well as the many free staters. Elections were held in these districts; but when the legislature finally convened, it ousted those elected in May and reinstated those elected in March. Free staters referred to this group as the "Bogus Legislature" because, in their view, it had come to power by fraudulent means. Paradoxically, they recognized some of the laws it passed such as those establishing county boundaries and local governing units.

The Bogus Legislature met in Pawnee, near Fort Riley.  Governor Reeder picked the town of Pawnee for several reasons.  He wanted the legislature to meet far away from the influences of Missouri.  Another reason was that Reeder was an investor in the city of Pawnee.  When the proslavery legislature arrived, the building they were to meet in had no roof, floor, windows, or doors yet.  Although some lodging was available, most legislators stayed in tents.

When Governor Reeder spoke to the first territorial legislature, he identified several goals.  The legislature was charged with establishing counties, setting up a judicial system, levying taxes, and organizing a militia.  The legislators also had to determine a permanent seat of government, create a constitution, and decide if Kansas was to be a free or slave state.

The legislature met in Pawnee for only four days.  One of its major actions was to unseat all of the antislavery members.  This, of course, angered the free staters.  It was later reported that one antislavery legislator responded, "Gentlemen, this is a memorable day, and may become more so.  Your acts will be the means of lighting the watch-fires of war in our land."

The Bogus Legislature passed a bill moving the government to Shawnee Mission near the Missouri border. When the legislature met at Shawnee Mission, Governor Reeder announced that President Pierce had removed him from office.  The proslavery legislature passed a slave code making it a punishable offense to speak against slavery in the territory.  This so angered the antislavery residents they decided to set up their own government.

Territorial era primary sources from the Kansas Historical Society are available online in the Bleeding Kansas portion of Kansas Memory and on a cooperative web site (Territorial Kansas Online) with the Kansas Collection, University of Kansas.

Portions from The Kansas Journey.

Entry: Bogus Legislature

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.