The Lawrence Revolt: part 1
Charles Robinson thought the hammer would soon come down on Lawrence and the free state movement. Samuel Wood had taken a lawful prisoner, Jacob Branson, at gunpoint from an officer of the law and his duly-deputized posse. Some Kansas firebrands might have welcomed the confrontation that must now ensue when Sheriff Jones got to Governor Shannon and the territorial militia came down on their heads. Robinson appreciated the real danger they now faced, to the cause as well as their persons. What would happen if Shannon appeared at the head of a column of men, Jones at his right hand?
Here, then, was the first skirmish, and what should be done? Undoubtedly the force would be called out by authority of the Governor, and to resist it would be to resist Federal authority, which could not be thought of for a moment. While the Free-State men might, under favorable circumstances, resist the bogus local authority, the moment a Federal officer appeared all were loyal citizens of the Republic.
The free state Kansans had always stressed that they only rejected the authority of the bogus legislature and its agents. That extended to Samuel Jones, one of their sheriffs, but Wilson Shannon held his commission from Franklin Pierce. He served as an officer of the federal government to which antislavery Kansans had often proclaimed their loyalty and which they hoped may yet send them relief. Taking up arms against him could ruin their fragile bid for respectability and turn many sympathetic Americans against them, just as later many northerners who opposed the Republicans and antislavery decided that the defiance of federal authority warranted forcible suppression.
But it seems that not everyone in Lawrence felt the gravity of the situation warranted circumspection. Shannon reported to Brewerton that Lawrence got together a meeting on the morning of the 27th, with Branson presiding “in a military uniform.” Wood made speeches “of an incendiary character, glorying in the triumph of the Free State men over the laws of the Territory.”
The Herald of Freedom reported on the meeting. As a prologue, it recapped the Coleman-Dow affair and repeated the story that Hugh Cameron got his commission as a justice of the peace on the spot so he could issue Jones a warrant for Branson’s arrest. Then:
A meeting was convened of our citizens to learn the cause of the excitement. -A chairman was elected, the object stated, and the particulars of the arrest and rescue were given by Mr. Branson, and listened to with profound interest by the people. Mr. B. spoke calmly, yet feelingly, and closed with the remark that he was in the hands of his friends, -alluding to his rescuers,-and would abide their judgment.
Branson asserted that Coleman killed Dow “in cold blood, without any provocation.” Branson’s only crime involved knowing the fact. He then offered himself up as a martyr: if the people of Lawrence didn’t believe his cause just, he proposed to “go home and die in his own defense, and find a grave by the side of his friend.”