Martin F. Conway told the Howard Committee that two secret societies operated in and about Lawrence in 1855. The first, the Kansas Legion, tried to expand across Kansas and failed. It probably didn’t help that Patrick Laughlin exposed them. The second, the Kansas Regulators, endured longer. Both groups aimed to defend free soil Kansans and their political activities, which they fairly construed as self-defense given the belligerency of the proslavery forces. Conway told the committee that his group did not propose to subvert the territorial government and gave a plausible explanation of how they managed the feat: Other states had wildcat governments that the Congress accepted, so why not Kansas?
In his testimony, Conway also gives the committee a sense of the Regulators’ size and level of activity:
I attended meetings of the society during the month of September . There were a great many initiated every night, ten, fifteen, twenty, and thirty at a time, many of whom would be strangers to me. […] Our meetings were weekly.
Assuming four weeks to the month, which fits that September almost exactly, Conway saw a minimum of forty and as many as 120 men sworn in. The town of Lawrence had under 1,645 people in the 1860 census, so a fair portion of the male population signed up. Andrew Francis’ reference to every man on the street wearing a Regulators ribbon seems relatively credible in light of that.
Conway found a different point to disagree with Francis, though. While he could not recall every word of the oath administered to him, and believed that the exact form varied from time to time, he remembered the general thrust of it. Francis had it that Regulators swore commercial non-intercourse with proslavery men, that they should keep ready at all times to bear arms for the free State even to subverting the government, oppose the legislature in all its acts, and that if someone had forgotten to swear them to some part of the oath it still applied. Conway did not remember, or chose to forget
any obligation required of any member to transact all the business he had, so far as he was able with free State men. I am positive I never heard any obligation required that, under all circumstances and at all times, members should hold themselves in readiness to take up arms in defence of free State principles, even though it should subvert the government, I do not remember any obligation requiring members to oppose to the utmost of their powers the laws of the so-called Kansas legislature. I do not remember of any such obligation as: “If any part of any obligation is at this time omitted, I will consider the same as binding when legally informed of it.” I do not remember any portion of the obligation requiring members to commit it to memory.
The things Martin Conway did not remember constituted the majority of the oath Francis claimed to swear. I find Francis’ account more credible than Conway’s, but they could both be right. Conway could have lied to the committee; he certainly pushed close to it in declaring the Regulators not subversive. He might have chosen to own up to his obvious involvement while denying the Regulators’ more radical practices. He might also have sworn a different oath which left out those provisions. James Lane could have exceeded his authority in swearing Francis to extra duties, or chosen to do so because as an outsider to Lawrence he felt Francis not as trustworthy as Conway or others. Lane doesn’t appear to have testified on the issue, so he can’t tell us himself if he did any such thing.