Resolutions of the Law and Order Party, Part Two

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Shannon goes to Leavenworth: parts 1, 2

Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon, Speaker of the House John Stringfellow, Territorial Secretary Daniel Woodson, and other Kansas proslavery luminaries got together in Leavenworth to have a Law and Order convention. By law, they meant the law of the bogus legislature’s slave code. By order, they meant complete adherence to it. However, they had at least thin grounds to make a general appeal to moderate-minded Kansans. The proslavery party could have gone a bit too far, but the free state movement threatened revolution and anarchy:

The course pursued in this Territory, by certain persons professing to be the peculiar friends of human freedom, is at variance with all law, entirely subversive of good order, and is practical nullification, rebellion, and treason, and should be frowned upon and denounced by every lover of civil liberties and the perpetuity of the Union.

Nullification, in the middle 1850s, had yet to transform itself into the white South’s most popular dogma. If may have taken the Civil Rights Movement to manage that feat. At the time, Shannon and his fellows sat comfortably within a majoritarian tradition of proslavery rhetoric.

Free state men could argue their fidelity to the nation and its traditions of protest, but they proudly declared that they held no loyalty to the government of Kansas and pledged to disregard its laws. To proslavery men, that made for treason. Even without their commitments, the charge of rebellion looks reasonable. Kansas had a lawful government recognized by the United States and it did not meet in Lawrence.

The free soil party could further argue that the proslavery men stripped themselves of any legitimacy they might have by their cooperation with Missourians in purloining Kansas’ elections. The law and order men had heard that often enough to draw up an answer:

the repudiation of the laws and properly constituted authorities of this Territory, by the agents and servants of the Massachusetts Aid Society, and the armed preparation of such agents and servants to resist the execution of the laws of Kansas, are treasonable and revolutionary in their character, and should be crushed at once by the strong, united arm of all lovers of law and order.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

So the central argument of the free state party, that external forces had seized and corrupted the government of the territory, turns back on it. That the blue lodges organized first and rushed across the border to threaten and eventually attack antislavery Kansans did not enter into it. People arriving on Emigrant Aid money did, especially if some found Kansas less idyllic than promised and turned back for home at once. Consistency matters in these things.

At this point, I don’t know who the Law and Order convention’s organizers expected to win over. Moderate antislavery opinion aligned with the free state movement. They offered nothing except orders to do as told and condemnation of antislavery strategy in the strongest terms short of violence. Who did they have left in Kansas to persuade? Perhaps no one, but the resolutions could reach other audiences. We can read them, with their official imprimatur and invocations of conservative order, as both a defense of the proslavery party to those abroad and an effort to ease tempers among those within Kansas. On the first count, they tell the nation just how wild antislavery Kansans had run. On the second, they imply to angry proslavery Kansans that the adults have things under control and they should wait for direction rather than take things into their own hands.

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