A Quiet Day in Lawrence

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The Hunt for Jacob Branson: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

The Lawrence Revolt: parts 1, 2, 3

While Governor Shannon wrote his messages from Shawnee Mission, calling out the militia and informing Franklin Pierce of events, Lawrence did not dare stand idle. Charles Robinson saw clearly the danger that Jacob Branson’s rescue brought to Lawrence. They soon had word of Samuel Jones seeking his revenge with help from Missouri. It might have come as early as the morning after the rescue, or the free state men might have anticipated something based on their extensive past experience with Missourian meddling. Such foresight must have required roughly as much clairvoyance as predicting the location of the next sunset.

Either way, they selected a committee to see to the town’s safety. According to the Herald of Freedom, the committee had

full powers in the premises, but with the express understanding-as enunciated by the mover for the committee, who was subsequently appointed its chairman-that it was not for the purpose of aggression, or to shield any person from deserved punishment, or to resist the legally constituted authorities, but simply to resist the action of a mob from Missouri, or elsewhere, should one be directed against Lawrence.

The Lawrence men might not have intended aggression, but it stretches credulity to think that they didn’t understand themselves as shielding Branson’s rescuers as well as themselves. They might not resist the United States Army should it appear on their doorstep, but they hardly counted the territorial government or its militia as legal authorities over them. Their conciliatory position would do little to calm their enemies.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Herald doesn’t go into detail about the committee’s working, but Charles Robinson does:

About nine o’clock Robinson made his second visit to the town, when he found a meeting of the citizens in progress. He was informed that a Committee of Safety had been appointed, of which he was a member. The committee was at once convened, and it decided that Lawrence had nothing to do with the affair, and should assume no responsibility for it as a town, although no person censured the rescuers for their action.

Robinson sounds a bit less delighted than the usual conscript at his role, but it sounds as though he prevailed for the time being. Whether he persuaded his fellows or they already shared his misgivings, they didn’t fall over themselves to make Branson’s cause their own. Nor did they stick their necks out for Samuel Wood over the rescue, though they didn’t offer him up as a sacrifice either. This all has the ring of backing slowly away from a fight.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

The sky then declined to fall. Tuesday, November 27, rolled along without proslavery hordes descending upon them. The Herald of Freedom reports that:

the several military companies were dismissed, after first taking the precaution to select a guard for the night.

The initial concern aside, maybe they thought they’d escaped the hard hand of their enemies. Lawrence had to know by the end of the day, and might have known early in the morning, that Sheriff Jones sent word to Missouri and to the governor. But they don’t seem aware that Shannon called out the militia against them yet, nor that anybody had or would come from Missouri.

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