Shannon, Lane, Robinson, and Lawrence’s doubts

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon stood at the door of the Free State Hotel and told Lawrence’s people that they would soon, he hoped, see the backside of their besiegers. His performance, to hear William Phillips tell it, did not greatly impress them. His pronouncements received only “faint cheers”. Phillips’ hostility to the governor might have led him to downplay the reception, but Shannon told Lawrence little that would endear himself to his audience. He suggested that their leaders had submitted to him and downplayed his own role in escalating the crisis. For all of that, Shannon could only promise his moral support if the proslavery men declined to follow his orders and go home. While he had little else that he could offer, such cold comfort hardly brings rousing applause.

To similar delight, the governor closed by confiding his hope and belief

that the people of Lawrence and vicinity were law-abiding people. Indeed, he learned that he had misunderstood them, and that they wer eestimable and orderly people, but houses, it was said, had been burned, and other outrages had been charged upon the free-state men. They must remember this when they judge things. They were, perhaps, innocent, but he hoped they would abide a judicial tribunal.

One can only imagine the crowd’s rapture at such a lecture. Even people who had burned houses, and some might have heard Shannon that day, didn’t necessarily want reminders of it or welcome the suggestion that they face trial.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

James Lane spoke next. Phillips writes that Lane “was called,” which suggests that the crowd demanded him to answer Shannon or provide a verbal sign-off on the treaty. The one-time moderate declared

If we fight now […] we fight a mob. Any man who would desert Lawrence, until the invaders below had left the territory, was a coward.

Hang on, Lawrence. We’ve almost won this thing and will see it through.

Such news got a much happier reception. The crowd “cheered heartily” and applauded with enthusiasm. They called for Charles Robinson next, but the General demurred on the grounds that he had “nothing to say.” Robinson constituted the peace party from the start of the affair and may very well have come out genuinely satisfied, rather than just relieved.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Even Lane’s endorsement didn’t please everyone. He might have joined the radicals, but he had a more dubious past. How did they come to this settlement so easily? Would the proslavery men really go home for so little, or had Lawrence’s leaders conceded something in secret? Shannon’s speech, Lane’s, and Robinson’s silence could reasonably read that way. Particularly in Phillips’ and Robinson’s accounts, the free state leadership seem to control their forces nearly as tenuously as Shannon and his militia officers held their army. A group of angry men, some of them not so young and all of them with the siege and Thomas Barber’s death weighing on their minds, already ill-disposed to their leaders, could easily imagine a cowardly deal struck in secret to disarm them and surrender their cause.

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