Genteel Nineteenth Century Passive Aggression

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

In half an hour in Westport, Missouri, before he had crossed over into the territory to which Franklin Pierce had appointed him governor, Wilson Shannon communicated to Kansas free soilers that they would find no friend in him. According to a correspondent of the Herald of Freedom, Shannon declared for slavery in Kansas, upheld the validity of the bogus legislature and its draconian laws, and endorsed their vigorous enforcement. Shannon further endeared himself to the free soil men by refusing a request that he stay the night in Lawrence when traveling the territory on business later in September. He just had to make it to another town, some three miles distant.

The Herald of Freedom reported little amusement at the snub in its September 22 issue. He neglected to favor “the oldest and most important settlement in the Territory, as well as the most populous.” But they held out hope that he might stay on his return trip through. Lawrence set up a committee to show him a warm welcome. Perhaps the governor simply did not know about all the problems in Kansas. A little hospitality could open his eyes.

In the afternoon the masses from the country began to assemble, and by evening there was a very large collection in our streets, waiting with anxiety the Governor’s arrival. About four o’clock, P.M., it was reported he had arrived. -The crowd made their way to the Cincinnati House, where he stopped, to extend to him an enthusiastic greeting, each one determined to do his best towards making the Governor feel himself at home in Lawrence. His apparent slight in passing the place the day previous, without deigning to notice the town, was forgotten, as was the fact that he accepted of a public reception from the invaders of Kansas, while in Missouri, on his way to the Territory.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The Herald of Freedom did not have a copy of Shannon’s remarks at Westport on hand. Could their correspondent have exaggerated or misremembered the governor’s words?

The committee, led by James Lane, went up to have a talk with Shannon. The two men knew each other from their time in Congress, so surely the governor could find time for an old colleague.

After the ceremonials, the Colonel informed the Governor of the object of the visit, and the desire of the people to address him, and to listen to a response from his Excellency. The Governor replied that “circumstances had placed it out of his power to comply with the request.”

Lane pressed the matter all the same. It would only take a few minutes, and if the Governor’s party needed to go on without him, Lane promised to drive Shannon on to catch up in his own carriage, either right after or first thing in the morning.

Shannon refused again, promising only that he would be back through Lawrence again on his way to Lecompton at the end of October. He would pass through on intensely important official business: a land sale.

These facts became known to the masses, several hundred of whom were collected in front and around the Hotel, and produced a decided impression. Many felt indignant that the Governor should refuse this mark of honor at their hands. They recalled the pleasant time they had a year previous, when Gov. Reeder had first called upon them, and accepted a pioneer dinner at their hands, and contrasted the kindness and urbanity of the one with the coldness and incivility of the other.

As Gov. Shannon entered his carriage and cracked his whip to depart, we were pained to observe that several persons, joined by a few boys, commenced groaning rather loudly, which was restrained with great difficulty by the more cool and sedate. No circumstance can occur when such indignities will be justified toward a public officer. Our citizens felt that Gov. Shannon had grossly insulted them, as well as the people of the Territory at large, in accepting a public demonstration from an adjoining State, and refusing it at the hands of those he was sent to govern; but this was no excuse for the outrage, and can hardly be offered as paliation.

One can’t read this and imagine that the editors sincerely meant every word, but they did want Shannon to come again and looked forward to his visit in October

and will then be satisfied that if his former reception was not as cordial as he had reason to expect, that the fault was partially his in rejecting the hospitalities so generously tendered to him. We trust too, that our people will convince him that however much cause they may have had for unpleasantness, it was not the intention to insult the Governor of Kansas; that on the contrary, it was only designed for the Demagogue, who had mistaken public opinion in Missouri for settled convictions in Kansas

That cleared everything up. They had nothing against Shannon personally, and respected the Governor of Kansas well enough, but that demagogue who snubbed them and declared against their interests could jolly well go to Hell. If Shannon read into the denunciation of the Demagogue who signed his name ‘Wilson Shannon’ a like condemnation of Governor of Kansas Wilson Shannon, he had only himself to blame.


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