John Donaldson while in the Legislature was 25 years old, born in Kentucky in 1830. He came to Kansas as a federal employee after being appointed Auditor of Public Accounts by Congress on August 30, 1854. [Wilder, Annals 8/30/54] Donaldson was listed as a "merchant" on the rolls of the Council, and was said by at least one witness to be a resident of Jackson County, Missouri when elected to the Legislature:
"...Donaldson, another member of the legislature; passed the next day, coming down towards Missouri. He said he thought he was elected; that he had lost a good many votes about Fort Riley, as the free-soil candidate got the most votes there, but thought the votes at Marysville would save him. He lived in Missouri; I think in Jackson County. I have not seen him in our region since. He had no claim that I know of in the district, and no business, except election, coming here. .John E. D'Avis LAWRENCE, K. T., May 9, 1856. [Howard Report 269]
The Howard Committee
Investigating the Troubles in Kansas 1856.
The Howard Committee also found Donaldson to have been a resident of Missouri when he voted at Leavenworth in the earlier Congressional Delegate election. [Howard Report A037]
Donaldson was a captain in the Kansas Militia and, while in the field, on more than one occasion took the law into his own hands. He received two free-state prisoners, Root and Mitchell, into his camp near Lawrence on May 15, 1856. The prisoners were put under guard but not given a reason for their detention. Mitchell was carrying the outgoing mail from Lawrence, with letters supposed to contain several hundred dollars in cash. The letters were taken from him by Donaldson's men. The prisoners were held a week until the "Sack of Lawrence" on May 22. They were fed intermittently, deprived of sleep and threatened with hanging. In the end, the prisoners were released and an order issued by higher headquarters:
"Capt. Donaldson and other captains will release all the within named prisoners immediately after the reception of this order, and all their property is to be restored to them without delay...Let Dr. J. P. Root pass unmolested. He is entitled to receive his mule, saddle, bridle, spurs, blanket, lariettes, and two Whitney's revolvers. [Sara Robinson, Interior and Exterior Life, Ch.19]
Later in 1856, Captain Donaldson took it upon himself to free one of his soldiers from a courtroom:
"NOVEMBER 7TH, 1856. On this day, R. R. Nelson, a justice of the peace at Lecompton, filed an affidavit with the governor, charging Captain John Donaldson, of the territorial militia, with having entered his court with six armed men, and rescued a soldier named Fisher, belonging to his company, who was then receiving a hearing on the charge of larceny, taking the prisoner away and dismissing the court in a manner that would have done credit to Oliver Cromwell. A requisition was immediately made upon Colonel Cook to put Donaldson under arrest, which was accordingly done. Upon making suitable apologies, and thus appeasing the squire's wounded pride, the captain was, in a few days restored to liberty and his command." [Gihon, Geary and Kansas Ch.32]
All the while, Donaldson served as Auditor of the Territory. His reports to the Governor on the state of Territorial Finances tell a sad tale of a government bankrupted by the very lawlessness in which Donaldson himself participated:
January 14, 1857 Report to Governor Geary "Sir: Agreeably to request, I transmit to you a brief statement of the condition of my office." Receipts: Leavenworth county taxes collected 1856 $1,109. Doniphan County $332. Douglas County $264. Atchison County $205.40. Mileage allowed collectors ($302) Amount paid treasurer $`1,608.40. Nothing paid from Bourbon, Shawnee, Jefferson and Riley except poll tax. Allen, Anderson, Breckinridge, Calhoun, Franklin, Lykins, Linn, Madison, Marshall and Nemaha Counties not paid anything.
"Hence your Excellency will see by the abstract herein contained, the Territory has been practically without revenue, owing to causes unnecessary to bring to your notice, as you are well acquainted with them....It would seem that if we could have, on the part of the people in this Territory generally, a cordial acquiescence in the execution of the law, that a respectable revenue would at once be secured, quite sufficient to meet the wants of the Territory. But I need not call your Excellency's attention to the fact, which is apparent, that hitherto the assessors have found it impossible to ascertain the amount of taxable property in many of the counties, and the sheriffs of the same dare not attempt the collection of revenue...." [Minutes of Geary Administration, KHC 4:693]
Donaldson's federal appointment as Auditor of Public Funds was for a term of four years, but he resigned after 17 months in February 1857, apparently giving up on Kansas. He was succeeded by Hiram Strickler who was staying.