Governor Robinson’s Army

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I erred in scheduling it.

Charles Robinson, Kansas’ new Republican governor illegally and legitimately elected, had harsh words for the legally appointedillegally elected, illegitimate territorial government. Beyond words, he did not encourage Kansas’ newly-seated free state legislature to take radical steps. Rather they should endure what slings and arrows may come, waiting for Congress to come to the territory’s rescue by admitting them as a state. But forbearance only reached so far. The Governor preached both the standard points of a man in his position and something far more radical.

Kansas, Robinson told the legislature (PDF), had an Indian problem. At the very least, they needed to ensure no one plied the Indians with alcohol. Really, they ought to do more:

Exposed as our citizens are to the scalping-knife of the savage on the west, and to the revolver and hatchet of the assassin on the east, a thorough and early organization of the militia is urgently called for. By the Constitution, this duty devolves upon the General Assembly. Measures should at once be taken to encourage the organization of volunteer companies, and to procure the arms to which the State is entitled.

Robinson said something that most Americans would have found nigh-unthinkable. Kansas’ problem with proslavery Missourian invaders warranted more than ad hoc, informal, or private armed bands to repel. It deserved answering precisely the same way as the depredations of presumed savages. He specified that to the east, in Missouri, Kansas faced “assassins” rather than “savages” but he proscribed the same cure for both.

If the Assembly acted, then no longer would free state militias have to shelter under the paper he pushed on Wilson Shannon a few months back. This would both clean up the difficulty of militias drawing their legitimacy from a government they rejected and align the free state government officially with them. Few people could have taken past denials of militia involvement by the movement’s political arm seriously before now, but Robinson suggested that his new government needed a proper army. In an era when the United States had a tiny army, augmented greatly in time of war by state militias and other volunteers, this pushed very close to claiming the prerogatives of a nation as well as a state. Furthermore, by officially linking themselves to these militias Robinson and his administration made themselves clearly responsible.

Under ordinary circumstances, none of that would amount to much. Few more extraordinary circumstances have existed for an American government than Robinson’s. If his militia clashed with Missourians come over to help secure slavery in Kansas, then his government would exceed Missouri’s own. Given that the President of the United States had declared thoroughly for Kansas’ legal, proslavery government, this raised the serious specter that the Kansas free state militia might clash with militias in the national service. That, by any reasonable definition then or now, would make him a traitor.

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