Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Twenty-five years later, John Speer and Samuel Jones could have a nice chat about the time Jones got shot. Speer wanted to know if Jones thought he did it. Jones reassured him otherwise. They slap each other on the back, talk about the crazy old days, and part as friends. At the time, neither Jones nor the people at Lawrence had that sort of detachment. The town had paid before for Jones’ mere frustrations, coming near to destruction. The sheriff had few fans, but fewer still wanted the violent wrath of proslavery Kansas and Missouri to descend upon them. The Herald of Freedom flatly denied that any antislavery man fired the shot and insisted more plausibly that

the public sentiment of this city condemns, in unmeasured terms, the assassination. No sympathy exists for the men who thus violently undertook to deprive Jones of his life. Not that there is any particular love for him-for he is hated as cordially as it is possible for men to hate a scoundrel-but there is a love of Order, of Law, of Justice and Peace in our people-and murder and outrage, assassination and brutality, meet with a prompt and unqualified condemnation, by whoever perpetrated.

One can hate a person a great deal and not want them dead, fair enough. George Washington Brown went on in that theme for a while, inveighing against “the Border Ruffian party” for “this last stroke of villainy?” What evil would prove too much for them? The next evil firmly in mind, Brown declared that no one could hold Lawrence responsible. The townspeople had nothing to do with the shooting except the misfortune of living near to it. Furthermore, they disavowed the shooting “immediately and unanimously” and condemned it “in the strongest terms.”

For proof of all that, the paper printed the proceedings of a public meeting. Jones caught his bullet around ten on the night of April 23, 1856. The next morning notice went out for the citizenry to meet in the hall over Faxon’s store, twelve and a half hours after the attack. The Herald reports a packed room, which elected Andrew Reeder to the chair. Reeder then gave a speech. Kansas first governor and latest would-be free state senator condemned the shooting as

an outrage on the individuals of this town, upon the public sentiment and reputation of the town, and a still greater outrage upon our cause. That cause was one which sought no aid or countenance at the hands of assassins, for it was too holy, too strong, and too just to need such assistance.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Self-involved or not, Reeder opened up on reasonable enough grounds. No one in Lawrence could change what happened to Jones. They had to worry about what would happen to them. Reeder proclaimed that the free state party

wanted the help of the Lord, and not the devil; the help of honest, well meaning men, not of murderers and assassins; the help of orderly, law-abiding, though determined men, and not of outlaws and murders. They wanted the sympathies of their friends in the Free States, who have stood up and justified them, and that sympathy they must obtain by pursuing such a course as would not give any one cause to charge them with wrongdoing and injustice.

One can read this as a piece of political propaganda and not go wrong. What Reeder said, he said for public consumption. He calls out the audience abroad in the free states as well as those in Lawrence that April morning. But this also sends a message to whoever did shoot Jones: You have put us in danger, not helped. It further honestly states the free state strategy. They did not want, and honestly feared, armed conflict. They had militias for self-defense and may have burned proslavery houses, but in the main they adopted a peaceable and careful strategy of circumspection. Even after they established their own government, they voted not to enact any laws until they had approval from Congress. At almost every turn, men like Reeder, Charles Robinson, and James Lane tried to work within the American, if not the Kansan, system.

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