Alarmed by the growing number of northern settlers, bands of Missourians, labeled "border ruffians" by the Republican press, rode into Kansas prepared to vote as many times as necessary to install a proslavery government. In the fall of 1854 they cast at least 1,700 illegal ballots and sent a proslavery territorial delegate to Congress. When the time came for the election of a territorial legislature the following spring, even greater efforts were needed, for numerous Free Soil settlers had taken up claims during the winter. But Atchison was equal to the task. He led a contingent of border ruffians to Kansas for the election. "There are eleven hundred coming over from Platte County to vote," he told his followers, "and if that aint enough, we can send five thousand - enough to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the Territory."
His count was accurate. Five thousand was about the number who came - 4,986 to be precise, as determined by a congressional investigation - and voted illegally to elect a proslavery territorial legislature. The territorial governor appointed by President Pierce pleaded with Pierce to nullify the election. But Pierce listened to Atchison and fired the governor. Meanwhile, the new territorial legislature legalized slavery and adopted a slave code that even authorized the death penalty for helping a slave to escape. The legislature also declared valid all the ballots that has been cast in the lection that had created it.
The "free state" party, outraged by these proceedings, had no intention of obeying laws enacted by this "bogus legislature." By the fall of 1855 they constituted a majority of bona fide settlers in Kansas. So they called a convention, adopted a free-state constitution, and elected their own legislature and governor. By January 1856, on the even of a presidential election, two territorial governments in Kansas stood with their hands at each other's throats.