The Friends of Law and Order, Part Three

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Parts 1 and 2

The self-proclaimed friends of law and order revealed to Kansans their enemy and its goals. The free state movement would bring only anarchy and ruin to the territory. By making themselves the judge of every law, they overthrew government of all kinds. Every political and social relation would follow. They saw dire times ahead unless the patriotic people of Kansas united behind the territorial government and defended it against fanatical Yankee traitors. While they called on all Kansans to join them, they could read the papers. They knew many would name the proslavery party and its captive government as the problem that tended toward anarchy. Thus

The undersigned earnestly hope that the fanatical and insane spirit is not so broadspread, as the present aspect of things would lead us to suppose-a persistence in such a course would involve us in a collision which all good men would deprecate and strive to avoid. Nevertheless, we think the indications are such as cannot be disregarded. This rebellious and revolutionary spirit must be met and resisted, even with the strong arm of power, and better met and encountered in its inception than hereafter, when it may have acquired more strength and vitality.

The authors wrote this before the elections for free state delegate to congress and the Topeka Convention, but after the call for them. This denied them firm numbers, but they hadn’t missed the general tenor of public opinion. They alluded to it in suggesting that the legislature might have overstepped its bounds.

Even a qualified suggestion of errors, however, went only so far. The authors pulled back from it almost at once and took an ironic turn. Having admitted that most Kansans probably opposed them, they chose to wrap themselves in the flag of majority rule:

we have amongst us a class of men who are unwilling to abide by that fundamental democratic principle, that “the majority shall govern”-men who would madly plunge us into anarchy, confusion, and civil broils, (for such must be the result, if persisted in,) why, it behooves us all as good citizens, as lovers of law and order, at once to assemble and adopt some measures to arrest and turn away from us the train of evils which such a course must inevitably bring about

They meant the free state movement. The probable minority of Kansans, abetted by no shortage of “Kansans” who lived in Missouri, declared that the majority should rule. By majority they meant not numbers and not Kansans, but rather that the majorities they had arranged by crooked elections and preserved through undemocratic laws must prevail, even if more than half of white Kansas stood against them.

What should good law and order men do to arrest the tide? How could they hold back the dark? The authors proposed a mass meeting of “all law-abiding men, without distinction of party” to discuss the threat and formulate means of opposition. They even had Governor Wilson Shannon committed to attend the meeting. With his cooperation, they expected that the machinery of territorial government would work in concert with them. But only “sustained by the law-abiding portion of the community” could they maintain the rule of law.

In coming to a close, the friends of law and order once more reached out to all Kansans. After two columns in the Squatter Sovereign painting the lot as traitorous, insane fanatics, they boldly declared

We believe that many who are now co-operating with this higher-law party are good men, and not to be classed with those who would resist the legally constituted authorities of the country. To such misguided men, we would appeal, and ask them to  unite with us in opposing a course, which a little reflection must convince them is so fraught with danger to the prosperity and happiness of the whole country.

If a free state man had doubts about the movement’s strategy, and some had, then they could salve their consciences and get right with the law by coming to Leavenworth on November 14. There they would have their say and the convention in general would decide appropriate measures.


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