“All our throats would be cut together” The Free State Embassy, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2

We left G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock, envoys from Lawrence to Wilson Shannon, arguing with the territorial governor about their town’s plight and the free state movement’s culpability in it. Shannon, like the free state men, knew full well that more had gone on than the murder of Charles Dow or the rescue of Jacob Branson. The wider tensions over stolen elections, burned houses, and dead partisans all drove events. The town of Lawrence might have had little to do with the rescue that brought a hostile army to their doorstep, as Lowery and Babcock argued, but it had long served as a center for free state radicalism of other sorts. Shannon could quote their party’s own resolutions back to them to show that.

None of that pleading would move the army, which clearly meant to make an end of antislavery politics in Kansas. Some in the territorial government saw the same opportunity and worked toward that end, notably Samuel Jones, militia general William P. Richardson, and Secretary Daniel Woodson. Though antislavery Kansans disagreed on this count, it seems Wilson Shannon didn’t have the same goal in mind. He could arraign the free state movement well enough, but likely agreed with Lowery

that if we [Lawrence] were to submit to the force which he had called in, all our throats would be cut together-the innocent and guilty, if there were any guilty

Shannon’s orders to Jones and to the militia, as well as his attempt to secure the aid of federal troops, speak to his sensitivity on the point. He might want the warrants Jones had served, and those warrants would in their own way decapitate the free state movement, but he hadn’t signed on for any sacking of towns. Still, Lowery’s testimony describes a man very much on the defensive. Shannon

then denied that these Missourians were here by his authority; that he had anything to do with them, or was responsible for them. He said that he had communication with Colonel Sumner, of Fort Leavenworth, and had sent an express for him to meet him that night at Delaware ferry, and go with him to the camp on the Wakarusa.

This passage dates the meeting between Shannon and the Lawrence envoys to December 5. I previously missed it in juggling the various sources.

Shannon could point to his innocence on the Missourians’ involvement and his plan to intervene with federal troops as evidence of his good faith in the affair, but that good faith had its limits. In the very next sentence, Lowery has Shannon declare that he means to

go to Lawrence and insist upon the people agreeing to obey the laws, and delivering up their Sharpe’s rifles.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The governor apparently wanted to rescue Lawrence from free state militancy as much as he wanted to rescue it from the wrath of Missouri. Lowery and Babcock argued, reasonably enough, that Shannon had no right to ask any such thing of people who had done no wrong. Their resistance of the laws, for the great majority, included no more than rhetoric and voting in free state elections. Nor did Shannon have a right to confiscate their arms for crimes he expected they might hitherto commit.

[Shannon] gave up that point after some argument. I asked him, then, why he insisted upon the giving up of Sharpe’s rifles, and if he meant to demand, too, western rifles, shot-guns, and other arms. He said he did not intend to demand other than Sharpe’s rifles, but should demand them because they were unlawful weapons. After some time, he then said they were dangerous weapons; to which I agreed. I then told him, if he had any such idea in his head as that, he had better stay away and let the fight go on, as I thought the thing was not feasible, as he would do no good by coming here, if those were his terms.

Lowery pleaded, quite reasonably given that proslavery men even then took potshots at people working on Lawrence’s defensive works, that the people of the town needed their guns for safety. Such men might not live up to the hype and murder every man, woman, child, and selected livestock in Lawrence but they would likewise probably not find kind words or reasoned argument entirely dissuasive. Wilson Shannon preferred to avoid mass carnage, but he remained the man who declared for the proslavery party before even setting foot in Kansas.

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