Pardee Butler had the courage to walk into Atchison, Kansas on August 16, 1855 and go around telling people that he favored a free Kansas and expected to vote to that effect. He further told the editor of the Squatter Sovereign, Robert S. Kelley, to his face that he cared not at all for the paper’s violent, often literally, tone. Kelley had just a few months before endorsed the whipping and driving from Kansas of another man who spoke against slavery. He came to Butler the next day at the head of a group of six armed men and challenged Butler to sign a collection of resolutions from the paper endorsing the whipping of that previous unfortunate and promising the same, or fitting with a noose, for any further “abolitionists” who dared come in their midst.
Butler, like any sane person, did not meet Kelley’s gang with a happy smile. However bravely he forged on until that point, now they had guns that they thought to use on him. He started reading the resolutions aloud to buy himself time and spotted a crowd outside the boarding house. Hoping for some impartial witnesses in the crowd, Butler decided on involving them. The version he gives in the Herald of Freedom has him simply get up and walk out. Butler’s Recollections more fully explains things:
Whatever should be done would be better done in the presence of witnesses. I said not a word, but going to the head of the stairs, where was my writing-stand and pen and ink, I laid the paper down and quickly walked down the stairs into the street.
Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like Butler let on that he might sign the resolutions as a way to get around the gang. Then he dropped them on his writing desk and headed for the door. If the crowd did not include some friends, then at least he made it clear of the boarding house and could make a run for it. Butler doesn’t say that he planned any such thing, but given circumstances I can’t imagine it didn’t cross his mind. At the very least, moving outside gave him the option. Signing might have spared him, at the cost of his reputation, but also might have formed the ironic prologue to his lynching.
But the gang caught up to him on the street. He told the Herald:
Here they stopped me, and demanded “will you sign?” I said “No!” They seized me and dragged me to the river, cursing me for a d—-d abolitionist, and saying to me they were going to drown me.
At the river, the mob apparently hit a snag. In Recollections, Butler relates
But when we had got to the river they seemed to have got to the end of their programme, and there we stood. Then some little boys, anxious to see the fun go on, told me to get on a large cotton-wood stump close by and defend myself. I told the little fellows I did not know what I was accused of yet.
By this point, the crowd had grown to thirty or forty. Butler knew very well why the mob had him. But opening a discussion might buy him more time and the act could convince some who hadn’t heard him going about Atchison the day previous that the mob had an innocent, or at least a foolish, man rather than a slave-stealing abolitionist they must execute. Not everyone who endorses violent resolutions has it in them to practice what they preach. The hesitation at the river suggests that Kelley and company might have settled for giving Butler a scare, at least with so many additional witnesses about. The more Butler talked, the more he put a face on their victim and so invoked their sympathy. Coaxing such an emotion out of proslavery radicals might seem a thin reed to grasp, but they had him entirely in their power. Butler did not have the luxury of many options to choose from.
When Robert S. Kelley and his well-armed friends accosted Pardee Butler at his boarding house in Atchison, Kansas, they demanded he sign off on some resolutions that Kelley’s paper had published. These involved the case of a man who, like Butler, had spoken against slavery in Kansas. For his trouble, the slight J.W.B. Kelly received a flogging at the hands of burly Grafton Thomasson. He then learned that he must leave Kansas at once and obliged. Butler knew the resolutions on sight, as he’d read them in the Squatter Sovereign, but we’ll have to look elsewhere. Butler’s Recollections don’t give a firm date for the whipping of Kelly that I could use to chase down the originals, but he quotes them in his testimony to the Howard Committee.
Whereas, by recent occurrences it is now known that there are among us agents of the underground railroad, for the express purpose of abducting our slaves; and, whereas, one J.W.B. Kelly, hailing from some infernal abolition den, has, both by words and acts, proved himself a worthy representative of such an association; and, whereas others in the vicinity, whose idle habits and apparent plenty of money, induce us to believe that they are hirelings of some infamous society; believing it due not only to ourselves, but to the adjoining portion of Missouri, to rid ourselves of so great an evil
They had slave-stealing abolitionists among them. This imperiled not just the security of Kansas, but also that of Missouri. Thus these good proslavery Kansans must take action. The committee indicted J.W.B. Kelly, making sure to note that he came from the infernal abolition den of Cincinnati. The miscreant had
upon sundry occasions, denounced our institutions and declared all pro-slavery men ruffians
But as reasonable, gently disposed men
we deem it an act of kindness to rid him of such company, and hereby command him to leave the town of Atchison in one hour after being informed of the passage of this resolution, never more to show himself in this vicinity.
Nice guys, right? But if Kelly abused their generosity and did not oblige, then the second resolution declared
we inflict upon him such punishment as the nature of the case and circumstances may require.
While Kelly and Butler shared the sin of speaking out for a free Kansas, the resolutions necessarily concerned only Kelly. They didn’t know at the time that they would need to harass another person. Still, the committee had foresight about such things.
Resolved, 3d, That other emissaries of this Aid Society who are now in our midst tampering with our slaves are warned to leave, else they too will meet the reward which their nefarious designs justly merit-hemp.
The invocation of hemp speaks volumes. Plantations in Missouri grew mainly hemp. At the March elections, men proved their proslavery bona fides and secured their right to vote by declaring themselves “all right on the hemp.” Now the committee at Atchison declared that if one did not come around “all right on the hemp”, they would get you right around the neck with it.
But Thomasson whipped Kelly rather than hanged him. Did the committee object? Not at all:
we approve and applaud our fellow-townsman, Grafton Thomasson, for the castigation administered to the said J.W.B. Kelly, whose presence among us is a libel on our good standing and a disgrace to the community.
An unrepentant antislavery man thus had at least four options: He could recant and repent, abandon Kansas, receive a whipping, or be strung up from the nearest tree. Looking forward again, the committee declared
That we have commenced the good work of purging our town of all resident abolitionists, and after cleansing our town of such nuisances, shall do the same with settlers on Walnut and Independence creeks, whose propensities for cattle stealing are well known to many.
The more one reads of this the more impressive Pardee Butler becomes. He knew full well that the men of Atchison could do such things. He read it in the papers and when they came to him on that August day, they brought clippings with them to remind him. Yet he went to Atchison and spoke his mind the day before, then faced down the armed mob and still refused to yield.
Before I go forward with Pardee Butler’s story, I should clarify where I’ve taken it from. I began intending to use primarily the September 8, 1855 issue of the Herald of Freedom. Butler wrote in describing events shortly after they transpired. His Recollections came out thirty years later and benefited from the editorial hand of his daughter. Between the normal frailty of human memory, the desire of children to have their parents remembered well, and the very different political environment of the time, I would normally weigh the earlier account more heavily. I ended up doing otherwise as it became clear that, even if the later account includes some embroidery, it also includes details that Butler alluded to but did not fully recount in 1855. For example, Butler has Robert Kelley as the chief protagonist accosting him in the boarding house. The version in the paper emphasizes Kelley’s role so heavily that one can miss that he refers to the initial party with plural pronouns. “They” came up to him and demanded he sign a list of resolutions. It seems reasonable in light of that to augment the account with the fuller details of six men with guns. I hope my switching back and forth between sources, which I shall try to mark clearly, doesn’t cause any confusion. If it does, feel free to get in touch with me via the comments.
We left Pardee Butler spying a group of witnesses waiting for him outside the boarding house. He reasoned that whatever happened to him, best it happen in public view. Someone in the crowd could speak up in his defense. Kelley and company might have gone too far for the other residents of Atchison. At the very least, he could make it clear that the proslavery men accosted him rather than the other way around. But Kelley’s gang demanded that Butler sign on to a series of resolutions from Kelley’s paper, the Squatter Sovereign. If he complied, they might have just let him go. This might sound obscure to us, but if Butler proved a problem thereafter, Kelley and company could wave his signature around and so prove him a liar or coward. Putting your name to something could mean much more in those days than it does now. They would also enjoy the satisfaction of enforcing their political dominance by coercing conversion, however limited, out of an enemy.
But where did those resolutions come from? Why them and not others? Butler’s Recollections includes an explanation of the situation that prompted them. An enslaved woman owned by one Grafton Thomasson drowned herself. This could not, of course, come down to anything to do with her status. Some abolitionist had to get it in her head that she should do such a thing. Butler thought otherwise and discloses that Thomasson liked his alcohol and became “desperate and dangerous” when in his cups. The minister declines to speculate as to what happened between Thomasson and his slave, save to remark that it never became public. One can read between the lines.
Out of this matter arose some dispute between Thomasson and a J.W.B. Kelly, a lawyer late of Cincinnati. It appears from context that Kelly suggested that slavery itself prompted the woman to drown herself, or perhaps specific misconduct of her owner. Thomasson would not stand idly by and let such words pass unchallenged. Thus
Thomasson, a great big bully, flogged Kelly, who was a small man, of slender build, and weak in body. A public meeting was called, in which resolutions were adopted praising this big bully for flogging this weak and helpless man; and then this Kelly was ordered to leave, and was not seen in Kansas afterwards.
Pardee Butler knew the resolutions from reading the paper. Kelley’s use of them made it clear what they intended for the minister to see himself in J.W.B. Kelly’s shoes: sign on and submit, or sign on for a flogging and running out of Kansas. If the community would back a large man, a known violent drunkard, against tiny little Kelly, then they would have little trouble giving a minister his licks.
On September 8, 1855, subscribers could open their copies of George W. Brown’s Herald of Freedom and read about an affair sufficiently infamous by that time that Brown simply introduced it as “Rev. Mr. Butler’s Statement”. Butler, a minister and farmer, had tried his luck in Iowa and Illinois previously and came to Kansas just that spring. Butler settled all of twelve miles from Atchison, home of John Stringfellow’s Squatter Sovereign. His letter to the Herald came, however, from the steamer Polar Star on the Missouri River.
People do move about. Some had gone to Kansas, found that its luxuries came in the prestige brands of oversold and entirely fictional, and gone back home. Butler did not count himself among their number and his letter contained the circumstances of his departure. Satisfied with the cabin he had built, on August 16, Butler went into Atchison planning to get on a boat and leave Kansas only to fetch his family. There he did business with Robert S. Kelley, who served as Atchison’s postmaster in addition to editing the Squatter Sovereign under Stringfellow. As people do, they got to talking. Butler wanted to buy some extra copies of the Sovereign to take with him back to Illinois as “some evidence of what was going on.”
I said to Kelly, in the presence of Arch Elliot, Esq., “Sir, I should, sometime since, have become a regular subscriber to your paper, only, I do not like the spirit of violence that characterizes it.” He said, “I look upon all Free Soilers as rogues, and that they are to be treated as such.” I replied, “Well, sir, I am a Free Soiler, and expect to vote for Kansas to be a Free State.” He said, “I don’t expect you will be allowed to vote.”
You knew where you stood with Robert Kelley. The conversation ended there and Butler, his steamer delayed, spent the day in Atchison speaking freely about how free soilers had every bit as much right to come to Kansas and say their piece as anybody else.
In his Recollections, published the year of his death, Butler reported that he had spoken his opinions freely in Atchison later that day. Over the night, Kelley got together a meeting to discuss what they should do about, or rather to, this free soiler in their midst. They came to a decision and enacted it the next morning and went to the boarding house.
I had been sitting writing letters at the head of the stairs, in the chamber of the boarding-house where I had slept, and heard someone call my name, and rose up to go down stairs; but was met by six men, bristling with revolvers and bowie-knives, who came up stairs and into my room.
Kelley led the band. He, as Butler recounted to the Herald of Freedom:
presented me a series of resolutions, cut out of the Squatter Sovereign, and pasted on a sheet of white paper, and demanded that I should sign them.
We can’t expect Kelly to set the type, fire up his press, and run a single sheet for the benefit of Butler, even if he had a day to do it; setting type takes quite a bit longer than sending a job to your inkjet. Butler didn’t seem to mind the improvised copy, but did think that he ought to read something before he signed it. After a quick glance, he knew he had come into trouble. To buy time to think of a way out, the minister began to read the resolutions aloud. Recollections gives a fuller account on this point than the letter to the editor:
But these men were impatient, and said: “We just want to know will you sign these resolutions?” I had taken my seat by a window, and looking out and down into the street, had seen a great crowd assembled, and determined to get among them. Whatever should be done would be better done in the presence of witnesses.
In discussing Wilson Shannon’s arrival in Kansas, I passed over another matter that I want to address before moving on. To hear Wilson Shannon tell it, Kansas had few problems and they all boiled down to the insistence of antislavery men upon remaining in Kansas, remaining antislavery, and having a fair contest for the territory’s future. If they all just got up and left, things would sort themselves out. One can argue about what Shannon might have done to help them, or just in for the preservation of the white man’s democracy in general, but Shannon asked no such questions of himself. His curious denial amounted to pleading guilty to the indictments of George W. Brown’s Herald of Freedom, and free soil men everywhere. This had to rankle not just in light of the proslavery party’s election fraud, its outlawing antislavery sentiment and excluding people who held such beliefs from holding office or serving on juries, but also in the face of continued violence against free soil Kansans.
Back in May, the special election at Leavenworth saw a fresh round of fraud. Andrew Reeder’s judges of election knew their duty well enough, but also their fates if they objected. They “should be mobbed” and “there would have been a fuss” had they insisted that only legal voters vote. They needed only consult the edifying example of William Phillips to know that. Other examples also presented themselves. The Howard Report includes testimony from an Edward Oakley that
I came out here and landed in Kansas city the first day of April, 1855, with my father, Joseph Oakley, and settled near Lecompton. The town site was laid out, but there were no buildings there. We settled about a mile from the town line. My father’s house was burned by S.J. Jones and his party, on the 28th of May, 1855, while my father was about on his way to Michigan. He and his party had, some two or three weeks before, burned down Mr. Samuel Smith’s house. I was in my father’s home, with Mr. Smith and others, when Jones and his party came up. After the house was set on fire one of Mr. Smith’s sons and a neighbor, by the name of Grout, went to the house and took the goods out of it. I saw the man get up on the roof and set the shingles on fire, but was not near enough to recognize who it was.
S.J. Jones had, at the elections in March, stormed the polling place and demanded the judges of the election allow all who came to vote, no questions asked, or he would shoot them dead. One supposes that he had a reputation to maintain. For such exploits, the legislature made him a sheriff. Others behaved similarly. Alice Nichols describes the Kansas that greeted Wilson Shannon:
in Lawrence, Hickory Point, and Kickapoo; in Tecumseh, Black Jack, and Easton; in Osawatomie and Trading Post, as in Atchison and Leavenworth, mouths that owners insisted on opening were daily closed with fists. The bright Kansas sun was forever glinting on brandished arms and the blue air was made bluer still with oaths and threats.
Not every fistfight makes the history books, but clearly Kansas lived up to the rough reputation of the American frontier far more than one would like. But what in another territory might come down to a series of personal grudges became in Kansas, thanks to Phillip Phillips, Archibald Dixon, David Rice Atchison, Stephen Douglas, and Franklin Pierce, not to mention the votes of James Lane and Wilson Shannon, an existential battle for the future of the land. Proslavery and antislavery Americans took up the cause. If their battles did not involve cavalry companies and artillery barrages, they could still terrorize.
The proslavery men had an advantage here. Long accustomed to the use of violence to police white opinion, inspired by a mortal dread of the race war that must come if black Americans lived free from fear and bondage, and surely taking reassurance from their command of the territorial government, they struck with confidence. On August 16, they descended upon Pardee Butler, a farmer and preacher who had only arrived the past spring.
Wilson Shannon dismissed every grievance that the free soil men had against the proslavery party and their consistent disregard for the sanctity of the ballot box, the legitimacy of elected office, and every other right and process of American democracy save the advance of slavery. They proposed, in the eyes of the free state movement, to enslave white men in order to protect their rights to black lives. But Shannon did quite tell them to drop dead. If they had a real argument, they could avail themselves of the courts.
Brown did not find that persuasive. Rather the opposite, the Herald of Freedom’s editor took it as an affront:
The Governor bids the people of Kansas to seek redress in the Courts of Justice, or at the ballot-box. Is it his intention to add insult to injury? The Courts of Kansas are the tools of the Legislative Assembly elected by the mercenaries of the slave power, and of course will do their bidding. The Supreme Court of the Territory has a majority of pro-slavery men upon the bench, one of whom was the constant adviser of that body during its session, and it is believed passed his opinion on all laws before they went through the forms of Legislation, and both gave an extra judicial decision to the constitutionality and legality of the laws enacted by that body in advance. What hope, then, from the Courts?
Brown had the facts on his side. Franklin Pierce gave the Kansas Supreme Court a proslavery majority. Unlike his first attempt to give it a proslavery governor, he found the right men for the job. The Assembly’s laws granted to itself the power to appoint all judges and insisted that any seeking the job swear oaths to uphold the Fugitive Slave Act and otherwise protect slavery in Kansas. The free soil party could sue but would hardly get a fair hearing from a tribunal so constituted.
Shannon also suggested that great American remedy: taking it to the polls. Of course the Legislature arrived at the polls ahead of them with provisions permitting Missourians to legally vote and so removing future cause to contest stolen outcomes. Furthermore, voting in Kansas put a free state man at considerable risk and required him to accept the power of the bogus legislature over his life. Thus Brown held
The ballot-box: We hope to get redress there, but not through that corrupt and oppressive engine, as made by a bogus Legislature. No man can approach that ballot-box without doing violence to his birth-right. He becomes a vile slave-a tool for base-hearted and villainous men, who degrades himself to such a condition.
The free soil party had their own solution to the problem, of course. They would call their own elections, vote their own tickets at their own polling places under the supervision of their own judges of election. So they would completely absent themselves from the forms of legitimacy embraced to sanctify the frauds and force at past elections and make their own substance of legitimacy in the consent of the white, male governed.
George Brown did not buy Wilson Shannon’s claim to impartiality. The new governor of Kansas had, after all, given a proslavery speech to introduce himself to Kansas. He even did so in enslaved Missouri. Furthermore, Shannon found no time to object to Brown’s reporting until, as Brown had it, word of his tactlessness reached Washington and generated opprobrium in the Pierce administration. Nor did Shannon’s lengthy denial do any more than reiterate the positions which Brown reported of him in the very articles under contention.
But people do look at the same actions and interpret them differently. Maybe Shannon came in a proslavery man, something one might also say of Andrew Reeder, but then quickly learned that the proslavery party amounted to a bunch of drunken hooligans with as much respect for the white man’s democracy as the worst despots of Old Europe. Much can happen in a month, especially in territorial Kansas.
Shannon did not list any acts of his during that month which would speak to his impartiality and disinterest. He had good reason not to, given what he had actually done with his time. Brown reports that Shannon, the impartial and disinterested, endorsed and himself voted for John Whitfield as Kansas’ delegate to Congress. As in the year previous, Whitfield ran on an openly proslavery platform. Indeed, he ran as proslavery “and nothing else“. He even campaigned on the fact that he had given the first public speech in favor of slavery in Kansas. Shannon further promised to preside over a proslavery gathering at Fort Scott. All the while, Shannon
studiously avoided anti-slavery towns, and association with anti-slavery persons, and public reception from the actual settlers in the Territory.
Everyone from Shannon to Brown to Franklin Pierce knew what side Shannon declared for. Brown boasted that he could have sworn affidavits from free soil and proslavery men alike on the matter. But Brown would accept all of this and take Shannon at his word, if only he would
show by his public acts that he is in favor of the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and will favor the action of a majority of the actual residents of the Territory in settling this vexed question.
Such impartiality would amount to siding with the free soil movement, but given the ways that the proslavery men had trampled the principle of popular sovereignty into the ground a friend of democracy could hardly do less. When the facts all align on one side, those who try to stand in the middle do not take a principled stand for moderation but rather ally themselves with the wrongdoers. Politics lacks the certitude of math, what with having to manage messy humans, but one recalls the old adage about one party insisting the two plus two makes four, another insisting it makes six, and the moderate who suggests five. A genuine gulf existed between those who construed popular sovereignty as a fig leaf to bring slavery in and dare others to vote it out and those who saw it, even if they might prefer no slavery, as an invitation to a fair contest best settled at the ballot box. Someone had to lose.
Shannon did not have any such thing on his agenda. Brown would not let him off for endorsing the legislature
not one of whom would have occupied a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Kansas Territory, could the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska bill have prevailed.
Nor could Shannon pass the buck to Andrew Reeder. His predecessor might have issued certificates of election to a majority of them, but
They obtained their seats by fraud, and have enacted a code of laws which every free State voter of Kansas would choose to die before he would obey. Gov. S may array the forces of the Federal Government against us, and may crush us with superior numbers; but we say to him, -and we but speak the united voice of eight-tenths of the residents of the Territory, -You cannot enslave us! We know our rights, and no extra-judicial decision of the Supreme Courts, no arbitrary determination of Executives, nor no power of the General Government is sufficient to wrest them violently from us.
Brown went on to invoke the memory of the Revolution to remind Shannon what Americans did “where Executive authority came in conflict with popular will.” Shannon should look up Thomas Hutchinson in his history books. A revolutionary mob drove that long-ago governor of Massachusetts from his house and ransacked it, making off with many of his belongings. He and his family narrowly escaped.
Should Shannon keep up as he had, the free state men might prove that they could raise a mob as well as their proslavery opposites. Brown went on, of course, to say at once that he never expected things to go that far. But something had to give.
Wilson Shannon, new governor of the territory of Kansas, gave his maiden speech as governor to a crowd in Westport, Missouri, on September 1, 1855. George W. Brown’s Herald of Freedom reported on his arrival commencing with the issue of September 8. The next edition, on September 15, included a bullet point summary of Shannon’s speech:
- The institutions of Missouri and Kansas, for the betterment of both, must “harmonize”.
- The legislature of Kansas, elected by force and fraud, stood as the legitimate authority in Kansas.
- He must thus vigorously enforce its laws.
- And the free state movement amounted to no more than a band of fanatical nullifiers who he would, at most generous, simply ignore.
A report with the full text of Shannon’s remarks appeared in the Herald of Freedom on September 28. Furious that Brown used his remarks to paint him as a proslavery man, Shannon wrote out a lengthy correction letter and sent it to Brown in time for the Herald of October 27. One must wonder what inspired this curious haste. Even with poor infrastructure and nineteenth century communications, it probably didn’t take a full month for Shannon to read the paper, write his answer, and send it along. Given further that Shannon’s denials amount to restating the positions which the Herald of Freedom credited him with and a more thorough still repudiation of the free state movement, one wonders why he wrote at all. Shannon certainly hadn’t spent his time correcting proslavery papers who called him one of their own.
Brown advanced a theory to explain both Shannon’s action and its pacing. I don’t know if he had the facts on his side here, and he supplies no sources that I can see to check. Further it sounds like the kind of thing a free state man would badly want to believe, facts or otherwise. But Shannon’s delay does require some kind of explanation. The Herald of Freedom had one of the larger circulations in the territory. He couldn’t have just missed its reports for a solid month.
As Brown has it
The news [of Shannon’s remarks] was sent East, and was the subject of remark in every part of the country. The President’s Cabinet, while in session on a grave diplomatic question, learned the facts, and were indignant at the procedure of their official. Secretary [of State] Marcy was reported to have shown his ill-humor at the occurrence publicly. It was not until after these facts were returned from the East that Gov. Shannon even hinted at a denial that his speech was not truthfully reported.
Considering that Pierce had just fired Andrew Reeder for impartiality that, given the proslavery party’s virtual monopoly on political wrongdoing in Kansas, tilted him in the direction of the free soil men, one struggles to imagine that he and his cabinet felt all that incensed at Shannon’s policies. They may, however, have cared very much about his tactless approach. The administration took considerable pains to dismiss Reeder officially for his land speculation. For Shannon to come out so openly proslavery may have made things difficult for the northern Democrats, who had already taken a pounding over Kansas and so prompted purely tactical disgust.
Offended, either by the accuracy or inaccuracy of George Brown’s reporting of his speech at Westport, Missouri, the new governor of Kansas wrote Brown defending himself. Wilson Shannon insisted that he had not thrown all in for slavery in Kansas. Quite the opposite, any such declaration or partisanship on his part contravened the principle of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Kansans should decide for Kansas to have slavery or not. He voted for just that principle in the House in 1854 and remained firm on it now. But Shannon, like many Democrats of the era, adopted at best a position of indifference and inaction. Even if he meant every word of his letter, and a reasonable reader should have some doubts, that inaction generally tilted in slavery’s direction. It surely did in Kansas, where Shannon happily repudiated the free state movement, called their positions absurd, and then had nothing of substance to say against obvious proslavery misdeeds.
Brown printed Shannon’s letter, along with another dealing with a story regarding him and a red petticoat from his Ohio days, on October 27, 1855. The petticoat story, regrettably, sounds not quite so entertaining as one might hope. As for the rest, Brown saw fit to print a lengthy editorial along with the letter. He began with the usual pleasantries: Kansas missed Andrew Reeder very much, but had high hopes for Shannon. Brown asked around and investigated the new governor, deciding that a man of principle would come to govern Kansas. The territory needed just such a man. The proslavery press apparently vented its displeasure at Franklin Pierce for the appointment, and anybody they hated couldn’t be all bad. Brown recounts how he eagerly received each piece of news by telegraph: Shannon left Ohio. He reached St. Louis. Deliverance seemed at hand.
On the first day of September last, Gov. Shannon arrived at Kansas City, and on the afternoon of that day accepted a public reception from the people of Missouri at Westport. On his way up the river, distinguished persons, it is said, were in the habit of introducing themselves to the Governor, closing with a flourish, “We are the ‘border ruffians’ spoken of by Gov. Reeder.”
What business did the incoming governor of Kansas have in breaking bread with Missourians? But that aside, Brown heard that Shannon did not seem thrilled to meet border ruffians. Such news inspired small town boosterism:
We dared to hope that Lawrence, the most populous and central place in the Territory, might be temporarily made his head-quarters, and we began to cast about to see what could be done towards furnishing him with a suit [sic] of rooms worthy of such an officer.
The cartoon hearts soon fell from the eyes of Lawrence’s free soil men. They learned from “a gentleman of undoubted veracity, of much ability, and competent to do justice to his subject” just what Shannon said at Westport. Missourians must naturally extend slavery into Kansas, for only that could cement the ties of commerce and neighborly amity that must exist between the two jurisdictions. Shannon himself, per the paper’s informant, “was eager and desirous to see those institutions so extended.”
Brown noted that the people of Westport understood Shannon’s speech as an endorsement of border ruffian filibustering. So too did every antislavery man present who he asked. Even Brown’s opposite numbers editing proslavery news papers
so understood him [Shannon]; and so published in their respective journals. The Frontier News-published at Westport, where the speech was made, -the Squatter Sovereign, whose editor, we believe, was on the ground, and, as we before remarked, the entire border press came out and corrected themselves in regard to Gov. Shannon’s position, and represented him as sound on the slavery question.
Clearly nobody thought Wilson Shannon anything but a proslavery man after his speech. Who did he think to fool? Why even try, when Brown’s readers would have no trouble learning Shannon’s actual positions by simply not nodding off for the length of his tenure in office?