Governor Shannon Introduces Himself, Part One

Before I get back into Kansas, I encourage everyone to go read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ response to the predictable reception that the president’s remarks in this vein at the National Prayer Breakfast:

Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Adherents to the hobbits’ view of history do not take such things well.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Back to Kansas, then. I previously had some trouble finding other than a very brief summary of Wilson Shannon’s first public address to the people of Kansas, which he naturally gave in Missouri. In the course of looking for other things today, I found a more complete report in the Herald of Freedom for September 28, 1855, courtesy of a reporter from the St. Louis Democrat. It also appears in volume 5 of Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, with a more legible text.

A person could read the Herald’s original summary of Shannon’s speech as ambiguous with regard to slavery, if not the proslavery bogus legislature, though it would take some effort to maintain the position. The governor could have spoken from ignorance or naivete. The fuller account removes that ambiguity:

Governor Shannon began his remarks by thanking the audience for their courteous reception. It gratified him, he said, not because it was personally flattering, but because it showed that they were not disposed to decide on his official career in advance. It showed him that he might rely on “your aid” in endeavoring to overcome obstacles which he was aware existed, but hoped were not insurmountable.

A voice: “Yes, you shall have our aid.”

Shannon gave this speech in Westport, Missouri. While he might reasonably expect some Kansans in the audience, asking the help of Missourians in Missouri for his job in Kansas scans like an open invitation to further border ruffian filibustering. Shannon might need some elections stolen later on. Could the Missourians help with that? Sure thing, Governor.

But Shannon might have other jobs for them as well. He knew about the free state movement:

This was a revolutionary movement, which was greatly to be deplored. He regretted, he said, that he had arrived too late to form the acquaintance of the members of the legislature. He knew nothing of the laws passed by them, but, from the ability and patriotism of the gentlemen who composed it, he doubted not they were wise and judicious. But, even if they were not wise and judicious, open resistance and nullification of them was not the proper way to defeat their provisions. If they were unconstitutional, there were courts to appeal to, which had been created for the purpose of deciding such questions.

Courts, one should add, that the proslavery men ensured only judges and lawyers who swore to uphold slavery could serve. But even if we take Shannon at his word here and grant him perfect ignorance of the bogus legislature’s many offenses against freedom, he stood behind even bad laws. That didn’t leave him any room to disavow the oaths proscribed. The act of declaring, sight unseen, for anything the legislature had done committed him entirely to the proslavery party. He would help the proslavery men and they could, perhaps, help him with that little revolution.

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