John Speer is best known as one of those able and brave editors and free-state men who made Lawrence his headquarters, and, after the times were fairly settled, his home. He was prominent as an editor, public printer and a legislator. Mr. Speer was a Pennsylvanism, born in 1817, learned the printer’s trade in his native state, and in 1839 established a whig newspaper at New Castle that supported Harrison for president. He was also connected with various whig and free-soil newspapers in Ohio from 1840 to 1854.
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In September, 1854, accompanied by his brother Joseph, Mr. Speer located in Lawrence, Kansas. In October he returned to Ohio and printed the first number of the Kansas Pioneer dating it from Lawrence. Within a year it became the Tribune and was removed to Topcka. Mr. Speer was often in danger because of his fearless attacks upon slavery, but he remained undaunted and did much to make Kansas a free state. In 1855 he sold his interest in the Tribune, and established the Republican at Lawrence. He was a member of the first free-state Territorial Legislature and introduced the first bill to establish a civil code in Kansas. At the time of the Quantrill raid, in 1863, his office was sacked and his two sons were killed. In 1864 he was a delegate to the Grand Sovereign Union League of America, which nominated Lincoln for a second term as President. He served as state printer in 1861-64, in 1866 and 1868. In 1866 he was confirmed as United States revenue collector, and at varions times was a member of both houses of the Legislature. He was also one of the incorporators and treasurer of the Kansas Southern Railroad Company. Mr. Speer moved from Kansas to Denver, Colorado, where he died December 15, 1906.