When someone shot Sheriff Samuel Jones in Lawrence, unofficial headquarters of Kansas’ free state movement, the people of Lawrence knew they had a real problem on their hands. Back in December, Jones had tried to destroy the town over a far less personal affront. He came to Lawrence on April 23 as a result of those prior proceedings, to arrest men who had prevented his arrest of the leading figure in his last indignity, Samuel Wood. Whoever pulled the trigger, the wrath would fall on the whole town. Maybe they couldn’t prevent that, but they tried. At a mass meeting the morning after the shooting, Andrew Reeder told the town that the attack on Jones constituted an attack on them as well. They had tried to work within the system. This broke that precedent, which alone stood between them and violence.
Proceeding on that theme, Reeder held that
The sincere and heart-felt sympathy that they [Lawrence] have always had, has been given because they were always in the right -that blood upon our soil, that cried for vengeance, has been that of our friends- that those whose hands have been stained by murder and assassinations have been our enemies and oppressors- It was a matter of pride and congratulation, that in our ranks were men who denounced crime, murder, and assassination, though they were ready and willing, on all occasions, to shed their blood for their political rights
Virtuous Lawrence could have nothing to do with the shooting. It did not represent them, but some other people of lower character. Communities tell themselves this sort of thing whenever some violence erupts, outsourcing their dearest sins to some foreign foe. In exchange for that charity, we ask only that everyone believe it. Our wrongs belong not to us, but someone else. You can hear it whenever we have a mass shooting or act of white terrorism.
Reeder then reminded Lawrence that he had stood to vindicate free Kansas before. Back in December, when the telegraph carried the proslavery line, Reeder defended them in Washington. He didn’t know better at the time, but did it because he knew the character of the free state men. “Subsequent events” proved him right, not prior knowledge. What held true once would hold true again. Or would it?
An entirely new phrase has come over the state of things. The demon of murder, blood-shed and crime seems to be struggling to get out of the ranks of the enemy and enter ours-to enter this paradise to poison the foundations that underlay the reputation of the Free State party, of staining the flag of freedom, blackening our character, and undermining our cause. In God’s name, let it be driven out, and keep our banner unstained.
Officially, either no one knew who shot Jones or some proslavery person did it. Maybe some in Lawrence believed that, but they can’t have numbered many. Reeder’s phrasing reveals what most everyone knew. He might say that the demon of murder struggled to get into their ranks, but he goes on to say they need to drive it out. One can’t drive out something not yet in. His appeals to the good name of the free state party speak further to the point. They wouldn’t sway a proslavery man in the audience, but might induce a murderous free state partisan to keep further bullets to himself. Nor would a proslavery listener have cared much for how
The blood of your brothers have cried from the soil for vengeance.
Nothing in this makes sense in light of an external foe. Reeder, and everyone else, knew someone on their side had shot Jones. They had that demon of murder not struggling to get in, but already within them.