A Jackass Brays in Kansas

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon, Albert Boone, David Rice Atchison, James Lane, and Charles Robinson had their peace treaty. It took them five hours of wrangling on Saturday, December 8, 1855, but they reached an agreement that suited them all at least for the moment. It conceded much, or nothing, depending on who read it, but the had a paper with their signatures on it. Now the army of Missourians and others might go home and leave Lawrence without shot leaders, destroyed printing presses, and burned buildings.

Neither Shannon’s nor Robinson’s account mention it, but William Addison Phillips relates that Shannon came out of the Free State Hotel, stood at its door, and addressed the anxious people of Lawrence. Phillips came late by a few minutes, but got the rest of it down “in substance as follows:”

There was a part of the people of this territory who denied the validity of the laws of the territorial Legislature. He was not there to urge that validity, but these laws should be submitted to until a legal tribunal had set them aside. He did not see how there was any other course but such submission to them, and it certainly was not his part, as an executive officer, to set them aside or disregard them.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

To which Shannon’s audience could have said that they had noticed, he’d best not do any urging, and they didn’t expect much from him anyway. Fairness demands that we note Shannon inherited the mess, but likewise that had done little to remedy it until it seemed the proslavery party would add white lives to its harvest. Of course, nobody came to hear Shannon and expected him to pull an Andrew Reeder and switch sides. They had more weighty matters than the alignment of an Ohio politician in mind: their lives and property. On that count, Shannon had good news:

He was happy to announce that all difficulties were settled. (Faint cheers.) There was a prefect understanding between the executive and the committee. The difficulties had arisen from misunderstanding. He would go down and disband the sheriff’s posse. he would dismiss the officers of the territorial militia, Generals Richardson and Stricklar, but would order that their forces not be disbanded until they were taken to Leavenworth, or the neighborhood of Westport. All the difficulties were adjusted, and he was willing and anxious to do all in his power to prevent a collision and the shedding of blood. He hoped that the men now in the territory and in camp below would be got out of the territory without hostilities intervening. He would do all in his power to influence them. He would urge upon the people of Lawrence to be moderate, to pursue a wise course to avoid a collision.

William Phillips

William Phillips

The good governor then enjoined the people against belligerence, at which point Phillips notes that “a jackass across the street brayed vociferously.” Politically astute livestock generally occupy the fiction section of the library. Phillips could well have invented the business, which would fit with his hostility toward the governor. He might also have used it as cover for some less tactful expressions on the part of the crowd. We can only speculate given the lack of other accounts.

Shannon then appealed on the people of Lawrence to rely on sweet reason rather than fiery passion, wise counsel difficult to heed and difficult for posterity to take from the governor considering his own misjudgments. But if they had to fight, then Wilson Shannon stood with them rhetorically, at least. He affirmed that they would soon contend not with a legitimate arm of the territorial government, but rather “a mob”. When they acted in such self-defense

They were right, and he would do all in his power to sustain them; but he hoped the men encamped would now be induced to leave, and that there would be no effusion of blood.

All of this betrays a lack of confidence in the governor’s ability to disperse the mob, which the people of Lawrence surely shared. Paper pledges reach only so far. Shannon might have a treaty, but he could only hope that the proslavery men would agree. Further obscuring his posterior, Shannon

wanted it understood that he had called on no one but the people of the territory in his proclamations. If there were Missourians here, they were here of their own accord.

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