Wilson Shannon Successfully Calls Out the Army

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Arrest of Wood: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Samuel Jones wrote to Wilson Shannon as he had before: Lawrence defied him. The locals proclaimed they would ignore the law and deny his authority. They resisted his attempts to arrest Samuel Wood and then Samuel Tappan by force. Douglas County’s sheriff tried twice. He even summoned a posse within Lawrence and got no one for his trouble. Governor Shannon had to give him the power, by which Jones meant military force, to do his job.

Last time around, Shannon keenly sought the help of the United States Army in resolving the crisis. It did not come, as Colonel E.V. Sumner preferred to have proper orders rather than intervene on his own authority. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed his force at Shannon’s disposal. The Governor aimed to use it. He wrote to Sumner on April 20th:

Knowing the irritated feelings that exist between the two parties in this Territory, growing out of their former difficulties, and being exceedingly desirous to avoid the effusion of blood, or any cause or excuse for further conflict or disturbance, I have thought it most advisable to call on you for an officer and six men to accompany the sheriff and aid him in the execution of the legal process in his hands.

Seven men didn’t make for much of an army, but they did come from the Army. The free state leadership badly wanted to avoid any clash with the United States military, as that would damn them as traitors in the eyes of the nation. They knew they could get no help from the territorial government in their cause, nor from Franklin Pierce’s White House. The whole free state strategy rested on their ability to present themselves as loyal Americans who suffered the trampling of their rights in the name of slavery. An armed insurrection against the territorial government hadn’t hurt that image, but one against the United States surely would.

From Shannon’s perspective, that counted as the best reason to use the military. The locals would surely not help Jones, unless he found some proslavery locals who would likely get the idea that they gathered to ruin Lawrence and murder abolitionists rather than conduct a few arrests. It had happened before. Thus

To call on any of the citizens of the county to accompany the sheriff and aid in overpowering the resistance on the part of the defendants, that is anticipated, would most probably lead to a conflict which, when once commenced, it is difficult to foresee where it might end, but in the use of the U.S. troops, no personal or party feelings can exist on either side, and their presence will most likely command obedience to the laws.

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