Brown on Shannon, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

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.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

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.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

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.

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