Signed, Not Read

Sara Robinson

Sara Robinson

On December 9, 1855, Wilson Shannon made his third visit to Lawrence. With him came Sheriff Jones, General Stricker, of the Kansas militia, and a few other proslavery men. If Shannon came not with the hundreds that Robinson told his wife and the other ladies of Lawrence to prepare for, then it seems plenty of Lawrence’s own wanted their share of the fun. After spending most of the day in town, evening brought the promised revelry.

The “social gathering,” as the Governor puts it, took place at the Emigrant Aid Society Hotel, in the same rooms used for negotiations and laying out Thomas Barber:

There were but two rooms finished in the hotel; they were small, and in the third story, and were, therefore, very much crowded by the company assembled. The time was spent in the most friendly and social manner, and it seemed to be a matter of congratulation on every side that the difficulties so lately threatening had at length been brought to a happy termination.

Sara Robinson and William Phillips both have Shannon downright giddy at the party, declaring that day the happiest of his life and that he considered moving to Lawrence. The Governor had reason to celebrate, given how close things had come. I haven’t seen anything that sheds light on Jones’ impression of the party, but I doubt he felt near so happy at the resolution of things as Shannon lets on.

Nor, perhaps, did others take it as gracefully as hoped. Robinson writes that

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

A rumor came during the evening from the invading horde still lingering in the borders, and reached the watchful ear of the governor. “His militia” were so indignant with him for the truce, that they threatened him with lynching, and an immediate attack upon Lawrence. He is fearful, and lacks the boldness of a man who has done his duty. Lynching is an unpleasant mode of making one’s exit, and especially undignified to a person holding the honorable office of governor. Such a terminus to his career must be avoided.

Don’t let the prissy Victorian stereotypes fool you; nineteenth century women could have a wicked sense of humor. I imagine she wrote that with considerable relish.

But where did that rumor come from, exactly? Shannon received it from Robinson’s husband, Charles. About ten that night, Shannon told George Douglas Brewerton,

Dr. C. Robinson came to me, in a state of apparent excitement, and declared that their picket guard had just come in and reported that there was a large irregular force near the town of Lawrence who were threatening an attack; adding that the citizens of Lawrence claimed the protecting of the Executive, and to this end desired me to give himself and Genl. Lane written permission to repel the threatened assault. I replied to Dr. Robinson that they did not require any authority from me, as they would be entirely justified in repelling by force any attack upon their town; that the law of self-preservation was sufficient, and that any authority which I might give would add nothing to its strength.

The Governor had a point. Just why would they need his sign-off to defend themselves? And why written permission at that? Robinson’s account doesn’t say, though he does admit that it turned out on investigation that no such group threatened to attack Lawrence. He did give an explanation to Shannon when asked:

they had been represented as having arrayed themselves against the laws and public officers of the Territory, and that he [Robinson] therefore wished me to give him written authority to repel the threatened assault, so that it might appear hereafter, if a rencounter did take place, that they were not acting against, but with the approbation of the Territorial executive.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

That all sounds reasonable enough. Shannon knew as well as anybody that most of the proslavery men had not welcomed news of peace and they had at least talked about attacking Lawrence despite any settlement. The ink had hardly dried on the peace treaty, which Shannon had had spent “four days and nights” of “laboring most incessantly” to secure. He bemoaned the cost of “many valuable friends” in the effort. Now it would all fall apart anyway? Anybody would get a bit cross in that situation.

Shannon might also have understood himself as in danger, as Sara Robinson suggests, and he had pledged to protect Lawrence so long as they accepted the eventual ruling of a court on the territory’s laws:

I should have looked upon any assault upon the town of Lawrence on the night of December the 9th as an outrage, and wholly unjustifiable, and I should have felt myself bound, both in duty and honor, to have exerted myself to the utmost to have prevented so unwarrantable an act of violence.

What could the Governor do in such a circumstance? He’d given his word. He had every reason to believe the rumor. Charles Robinson presented him with a piece of paper, just then written, and Shannon signed it “without any critical examination.”


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