The Conference at Franklin

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The treaty that Wilson Shannon, Charles Robinson, and James Lane signed might bind them; Lane’s speech might even have temporarily satisfied John Brown. Keeping its terms secret probably helped. But the peace so far included only Lawrence and Wilson Shannon. There remained the small matter of the proslavery army investing Lawrence that had brought the crisis to a head. Shannon knew very well that his say-so alone would not make them go home. Even the word of the prominent men with him, like Albert Boone and David Rice Atchison, might not do the job.

The Governor had a plan. Arranging things had made him late for his meeting in Lawrence on December 8, but now the time had come. In the morning, on the suggestion of a “gentleman […] most distinguished,”Shannon secured the promise of thirteen “captains” to meet with Robinson and Lane at Franklin that day. Shannon doesn’t name them, but from the number alone, he had more men on tap than just the top militia leaders. Then

Generals Robinson and Lane repaired with me [Shannon], as a committee authorized to act for the Lawrence people, to Franklin, where we procured a room and organized the committees for business. I then addressed the committees stating to them the two great objects which I so earnestly desired to accomplish, informing them of what had been done, and urging upon them, in the strongest terms, the importance of acquiescing to the arrangement which I had made, by inducing their men to retire quietly.

After Shannon told the proslavery men to stand down, Lane rose and gave his own speech. Shannon doesn’t say anything about its content, but presumably it ran to the same lines: this all came down to a terrible misunderstanding and no one wanted to kill anybody. A “Colonel Woodson of Independence” spoke after, followed by Robinson. I thought Shannon might mean Daniel Woodson, but Shannon doesn’t identify himself as such and that Woodson doesn’t seem to have an Independence connection. Presumably, an amenable proslavery leader of the same surname spoke.

The introductory speeches gave way to

a conference of three hours, during which opinions were freely interchanged on both sides, the committees concluded to withdraw and report to the men of both parties that they were satisfied, and would settle matters as I wished.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Shannon makes it sound like smooth sailing, but the three hours’ negotiation puts the lie to that notion. Robinson had a somewhat more candid version:

the Governor made a lengthy speech, without apparently satisfying the Missouri captains that he had done his duty in coming to an understanding with the citizens of Lawrence, which should leave them in possession of their arms, or in a position for defence. After a prolonged and somewhat excited debate, the stipulations, as set forth in our paper of agreement, were recited, and a majority of the captains decided that they had, under the circumstances, no right to demand our weapons, and would, therefore, retire peaceably with the men.

The proslavery men didn’t need a John Brown to tell them that the terms agreed gave little, but with their leaders vouching for it and Robinson and Lawrence before them it seems they decided they had enough. If it sufficed for David Rice Atchison, hardly a weak proslavery man, then why not the rest of them? To further smooth things over, Lane and Robinson

invited the captains to visit Lawrence, see the town, and become acquainted with our people: to which we added the assurance that if they knew us better they would esteem us more.

If nothing else, the presence of proslavery leaders in Lawrence might keep the army at bay a little longer. The thirteen held sufficient prestige in the ranks to lead them. One doesn’t easily open fire in the general direction of a person one so esteems.

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