Samuel Jones: Political Schemer?

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We left Sheriff Samuel Jones in Lawrence on April 23, 1856. He arrested ten men, none of whom he had come to Lawrence to seize. Whether they did anything to resist Jones and so warrant arrest or not, he took them along. With his Army escort, Jones must have felt confident indeed as he did not immediately leave infamous den of abolitionists that had defied him to the point of risking armed battle only months before. At least this time he got some men, if still not Samuel Wood.

Lawrence acquiesced with vulgar imprecations, rather than resort to arms. The antislavery men remained keenly aware that opposing the power of the United States would put them beyond the political pale. An injured soldier could destroy their movement by bringing the Army down on their heads, particularly as Wilson Shannon now had the authority to call on it at will. Jones knew the lay of the land as well as anybody and decided to camp in town.

The Herald of Freedom’s version of events stresses Lawrence’s submission. They would fight Missouri and the territorial government to the end, but not the nation:

To legal authority we submit, no matter how oppressive; to an authority which was created by fraud, and violence and usurpation, if peaceable and lawful means of resistance fail, we will die in our tracks before yielding an inch.

George Brown’s paper also reported that Lawrence’s resolve on the point “disappointed and exasperated” the proslavery men. He thought Jones’ arrival and subsequent events all done for show as

The Congressional Investigating Committee was in Kansas-had already commenced its labors. They feared to trust the investigation of their course to an unbiased and honorable committee. They knew too well what the result of those investigations would be, hence the necessity of a stroke of policy, to change the course of things. -A muss must be kicked up to hinder the committee from proceeding with its work. If possible, by any means, the Committee must be prevented from reporting until after the adjournment of Congress, and of course until after the Presidential election; or if that could not be done, they must forestall its action, by placing us in an unfavorable attitude; forcing us, if possible, to abandon our strong and honorable position, for one of dishonor and aggression.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Brown understood the national political landscape, but all of this looks like a reach. Jones might well have seen those goals as desirable. He knew the politics and of the committee’s arrival as well as anybody, so he could certainly make the calculation. However, he also came for Samuel Wood at the first instant he knew that Wood had returned to Kansas. The Herald reported Wood’s return on April 19. Jones arrived to claim him the very next day, just as one would expect for a lawman bent on making a swift arrest. It seems much more likely that Jones saw his quarry had returned and aimed to seize him, with the opportunity to show the impotence of the free state movement or to bring them into collision with national power coming as a bonus. That it would all take place in front of a Congressional committee can’t have hurt, of course.

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