Another Governor for Kansas

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Gentle Readers, I must confess a small error. As you may remember, Franklin Pierce fired Andrew Reeder for allegedly his land speculations but really his commitment to actual popular sovereignty rather than the other doctrine operating under that name which insisted slavery prevailed no matter what. Reeder got news of his dismissal on August 15. The second Lawrence convention met on that day and the one previous, so I erred to call Reeder the just-removed governor of Kansas then. Rather that the participants understood him as still the governor, if under attack, and so their defense of him makes stronger strategic sense still. Likewise their possible acceptance of James Lane’s word that Pierce stood with them seems less implausible.

Either way, Reeder’s dismissal meant that Kansas needed a new governor. Seeing the difficulties that Reeder faced, Franklin Pierce naturally learned his lesson. He should not send an inexperienced man to his first federal office in the territory, but rather dispatch an old hand. Wilson Shannon, like Jim Lane, represented a northern district and voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the House. Before that he served as Ohio’s governor, resigning that post to take become ambassador to Mexico. Nichole Etcheson calls his tenure south of the border “disastrous.” In Race and Politics: Bleeding Kansas and the Coming of the Civil War, James Rawley calls him “a small-bore politician, noted for his tactlessness.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Everyone has to start somewhere, and Pierce probably could not have foreseen just how badly things would go in Kansas. We might on those grounds make allowances for Reeder, who ended up trying to do a good job but lacking the skills to make the best of it. Wilson Shannon, however, had that record in Mexico. Just what happened there? I dug around my library and couldn’t find any account of it. Etcheson cites Sam W. Haynes’ Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions, to which I lack access, and William Elsey Connelley’s Kansas Territorial Governors. I might acquire a copy of Haynes’ book in the future, but Google digitized Connelley’s so I have that right on hand. Regrettably, Connelley summarizes Shannon’s service in Mexico as follows:

He was appointed Minister to Mexico in this year, and entered upon the discharge of the duties of his office, but returned home on the breaking-out of the Mexican War.

I’ll muddle through. If anybody knows the story, I’d love to hear it. Connelley does provide some explanation for Shannon’s appointment, other than his membership in the right party and right vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It transpires that the Shannons did very well for themselves in Ohio. An elder brother went west with Lewis and Clark, where he lost a leg. Another succeeded as a merchant. Wilson studied law under two of his brothers and went to university in Ohio and Kentucky. He married the daughter of a circuit court clerk and

Much of his political advancement was the result of this marriage. His brothers-in-law were all influential men in Ohio politics. Among them were Hon. William Kennon; Hon. George W. Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs when Kansas was organized as a Territory, Hon. Hugh J. Jewett; and Hon. Isaac E. Easton. The influence of these men was exerted in his behalf.

Shannon had the right friends and relatives, including the family tie to Manypenny. But Pierce did not first consider him for the job. Connelley relates that a Pennsylvanian received the offer, but he passed by the chance to have his career ruined and life threatened in Kansas. Shannon wanted the job and campaigned for it. He arrived in Kansas on the first of September.


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