Peace on the Wakarusa, Part Three

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Peace Conference, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Wakarusa peace treaty commenced with some face-saving and proceeded into apparent concessions from the people of Lawrence, but concessions drafted in a decidedly ambiguous way. Proslavery and antislavery partisans could easily read promises not to impede legal process or as a victory for their side, depending on what they considered legal process. Lawrence’s leading men promised to use their influence to aid Wilson Shannon if called upon for legitimate purposes, but they sat in judgment of those purposes. If these concessions removed the stated reason for the proslavery army to come and invest the town, then they did not necessarily remove the substance of the complaint. Charles Robinson and James Lane left open the door for them to continue essentially as they had, whilst giving Shannon just enough of a fig leaf to try disbanding the besiegers, and extracted from him the promise that anybody the army had captured would see release into their hands.

Shannon might not have loved these dubious concessions, but he wanted the army gone and bloodshed averted above all else. If he had dreams of settling Kansas politics along proslavery lines once and for all, as others had, then they died with news that Missouri had once again come to Kansas. Prosecuting that case now would only prolong the crisis. Shannon also had to grant some concessions of his own.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Armies of all forms in all eras make poor guests. In investing Lawrence, the proslavery men had put themselves in close proximity to anybody who lived just a short ways outside of the town. My sources don’t go into this at length, but it seems that they did as most armies do in the presence of a hated foe and engaged in some destruction of property and souvenir hunting. Consequently, peace depended on Shannon’s pledge

to use his influence to secure to the citizens of Kansas Territory remuneration for any damages suffered, or unlawful depredations, if any have been committed by the Sheriff’s posse in Douglas County.

I doubt that anybody received a dime of that remuneration, but it made for a reasonable enough demand. It might also have saved some face for the free state leadership, who could say that they came away from the table with something aside bare peace itself. Thus they might look less like they had pleaded for the governor’s mercy and accepted his rescue, as Shannon would later paint them, and more like an honest belligerent party. The agreement that the free state men could keep their arms would go further to that end, however probably the typical free state militant understood his gun as his personal property. As such, it wouldn’t have constituted an acceptable concession at all but rather an egregious affront. What had they done, in bearing arms for their defense and harming none, to warrant confiscation?

Furthermore, Wilson Shannon had to give his word

that he has not called upon persons resident in any State to aid in the execution of the laws, and that such as are here in the Territory are here of their own choice, and that he does not consider that he has any authority or legal power to do so, nor will he exercise any such power.

Daniel Woodson

Daniel Woodson

Though they probably didn’t believe him, Wilson Shannon appears to have told the truth far better than the free state men had. They swore up and down that they had no paramilitary about with the design of resisting Kansas’ laws, whilst the men who signed the treaty both held high offices in the Kansas Legion that proposed to do just that. Neither the free state writers then or after, nor subsequent historians, have uncovered any evidence that Shannon himself sent a summons to Missouri. The territorial Secretary, Daniel Woodson, had done that but Shannon himself seems innocent. Thus Shannon took what everyone recognized as a lie in trade for his true word, though the free state men undoubtedly saw it otherwise at the time.

The treaty concluded with lines that highlighted, and significantly undermined, the ambiguity with which it had opened:

we wish it understood that we do not express any opinion as to the enactments of the Territorial Legislature.

Missourians needed to go home. In exchange for that, Lawrence promised that the dispute which brought them across the border and so fired their passions, would continue unabated.




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