Shannon and Robinson Exchange Words

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Lawrence Revolt: parts 1, 2, 3

Wilson Shannon named the offenses against law and order that prompted his calling out of the militia against Lawrence. This would please few people in Lawrence, who generally thought that they had done nothing wrong and didn’t recognize his authority to begin with. But not believing Wilson Shannon a lawful governor or Samuel Jones a lawful sheriff did not cause them to vanish in a puff of logic. They and the Kansas militia remained real, complete with their guns.

But maybe Shannon would stake out a conciliatory position? He could make assurances to Lawrence that he would ensure the militia respect their persons and property, rather than do something like sack the town. The governor knew very well that people in Lawrence would read his proclamation, so it would do to have something in there for them.

After declaring Lawrence’s sins

I, Wilson Shannon, Governor of Said Territory, have issued this, my proclamation, calling on all well-disposed citizens of this Territory to rally to the support of the laws of the country, and requiring and commanding all officers, civil and military, and all other citizens of this Territory, who shall be found within the vicinity of these outrages, to be aiding and assisting by all means in their power in quelling this armed organization, and assisting the said sheriff and his deputies in recapturing the above-named prisoner, and aiding and assisting him in the execution of all legal processes in his hands.

So much for conciliation, or even consideration. Everybody in Kansas needed to descend upon Lawrence and suppress the paramilitary arm of the free state movement. Considering the large overlap between it and the movement in general, this amounted to calling for the arrest of the lot of them. That may sound like a somewhat ungenerous read, but Shannon told the militia leadership that he expected to have warrants against the Kansas Legion’s ringleaders. Furthermore, he went on to remove all ambiguity:

And I do further command that the District Attorney for the district in which these outrages took place, and all other persons concerned in the administration and execution of the laws, cause the above offenders, and all such as aided or assisted them, to be immediately arrested and proceeded with according to law.

Antislavery Kansans broke the law, or near enough, just by existing and certainly by organizing. George Brown dared people to come for him. It would take no particular stretch to count the leadership in Lawrence as aiding and assisting in the resistance to Sheriff Jones. Once in custody, their offenses against the Kansas slave code would surely come into play. Even if Shannon didn’t aim to press charges on those grounds, Jones and other more radical proslavery men would surely push for it. They could decapitate their opposition at a stroke.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Word of the proclamation reached Lawrence that day, the twenty-ninth of November, and the Committee of Safety made an answer to it.

That the allegations contained in the proclamation aforesaid are false in whole and in part; that no such state of facts exists in this community; that if such representations were ever made to Governor Shannon, the person or persons who made them have grossly deceived him; and no association of lawless men armed with deadly weapons has ever been formed in this community for the purpose of ‘resisting the laws of the country, trampling upon the authority of its officers, destroying the property of peaceable citizens, or molesting any person in this Territory, or elsewhere, in the enjoyment of their rights.

Charles Robinson’s committee flat-out lied, so far as anyone but a free state partisan could see. But from their perspective, they told only the truth. Nobody proposed to reject the laws of the countryThe laws of the territory could jolly well go to Hell, but that quarrel involved Shawnee Mission rather than Washington. Their critics could answer, with the facts firmly on their side, that the laws of the country established Kansas’ government and its authority over them and gave force to the laws passed in pursuance thereof. Washington created the territory and its government and they remained its creatures.

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