Sara Robinson receives good and bad news

Sara Robinson

Sara Robinson

On December 9, 1855, the people of Lawrence, Wilson Shannon, and at least a few of the leading men of the proslavery army besieging the town had more in common than biology and geography dictated. They all hoped that the army, which came hoping for war to the knife, would accept Shannon’s orders, the blandishments of their leaders, and a peace treaty that gave them nothing in particular as sufficient cause to go home. If they did as they had plotted and attacked Lawrence anyway, Lawrence would defend itself. A pitched battle between proslavery and antislavery forces would ensue. With the eyes of both sections on Kansas and its troubles, things might spiral out of control well east of the Missouri border.

A driving storm, and the exhaustion of the whiskey, might have helped some proslavery men see the better part of valor; they can’t have encouraged sticking around. Others determined to tough it out. According to Sara Robinson

many […] turbulent spirits, who had been dragged out of Missouri by their cupidity, by much persuasion, and by being told that now was the time, if ever, for the extermination of the Yankees, made loud complaints, and were determined upon a fight. Their anger towards the governor was also expressed loudly at this peaceful termination of the raid.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Robinson counted ex-Senator David Rice Atchison, the man who ensured the opening of Kansas to slavery, among the disgruntled. She reports a secondhand story of him promising that while the army could not fight just then, they would “fight some time, by G-d!” She might have uncritically reported a rumor, but Atchison could just as heavily have put on a show to get the proslavery men to depart. That would fit well with his role helping Shannon rein them in.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

By this time, Charles Robinson and his wife had not seen each other in more than a day. He summoned her to give good news and bad: They had negotiated a peace, but she and the women of Lawrence needed to get arrange refreshments for Shannon and any proslavery men who remained on the morrow. The guests might number seven or eight hundred. Mrs. Robinson declined to tell the reader of the rapture which the latter news may have brought, entirely omitting reference to spontaneous dancing, cartwheels, or any other species of jubilation one might expect. She satisfied herself with the report to posterity that

New England’s high-toned propriety would be shocked at the idea of “getting up” a party on so short notice […] What would occupy a month’s time there, and any amount of unnecessary words, is done here equally as well in an eighth part of the time, with the greater amount of pleasure coming to all.

A single night’s work seems rather shy of an eighth of a month, but the women of Lawrence got the job done. I can’t imagine many enjoyed a full night’s sleep or a peaceful Sunday. I dearly hope that they gave their husbands an earful for the trouble. Seven hundred men didn’t come in for the festivities, but they might have. Things might have gone better for Governor Shannon, though not for the poor women expected to feed the lot, if they had.


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