Bedeviled by Demoniac Spirits: The Proslavery Version of Jones’ Shooting, Part Two

We left off the Weston Argus‘ version of Samuel Jones’ shooting, reprinted courtesy of the Squatter Sovereign, with a promise that if Governor Wilson Shannon called on the yeomen of “Kansas Territory,” said yeomen would level Lawrence, lynch the abolitionists there, and leave their bones to bleach in the sun. Over the Missouri line, the Argus took care to refer to the yeomen of Kansas in the third person. It wouldn’t do to admit too loudly that many, though by no means all, the proslavery militants troubling Kansas hailed from Missouri.

This all brings the Argus to the shooting itself:

Some U.S. troops made some arrests at Lawrence, yesterday [April 24] evening. While Sheriff Jones was guarding the prisoners, he was shot by some cowardly assassin, under cover of night. His physicians think him dangerously wounded. General Whitfield sent an Express to Westport, after his wife.

The Argus version matches here with the rest. The shooter did open fire on Jones at night, from behind. All the sources I’ve seen agree that the doctors initially thought Jones in grave danger. The paper continues:

By express late yesterday evening [April 28 now], we learn that five companies of U.S. troops left Fort Leavenworth, and are now on their way to Lawrence. The high-minded and chivalrous Jones, has died of his wounds. These are the legitimate results of the harangues of Reeder and Robinson. Are these demoniac spirits longer to be allowed to roam over the Territory, inciting miscreant wretches to such outrageous deeds?

Jones did not die, but otherwise the Argus follows the normal proslavery line. Nothing disturbed the peace until an antislavery man showed up, preaching his abolitionist fanaticism. This inspired people of a lower order, whether slaves or antislavery whites, to rise up and do bloody violence. Thus such miscreants required swift, sure suppression.

But the Argus also had a point. The free state movement had long traded in the language of revolution. It had military organizations and a rival government set up, complete with a governor (Charles Robinson) and two senators (Andrew Reeder and James Lane). Robinson himself had employed martial rhetoric in the recent past. All the talk about how they opposed the territorial government and not the national could not obscure that. At some point, that rhetoric has consequences.

Ordinary people don’t passively receive and believe all their leaders say, but the act of accepting someone as your leader requires one to consider that person worth heeding on some level. In fraught times, a person who you esteem and trust can easily make your apprehensions worse. You may already think things bad, but they likely know more and tell you things have gotten worse still. The language of revolt and resistance comes freighted with violence. If you get right down to it, proslavery men really did want to come and do violence to antislavery Kansans. They had done so before and might easily again. One, Jones, had just come in with the Army to arrest some of your own. The shooter might have thought Jones had bullets coming already and independent of free state rhetoric, but whenever one indulges in the language of violence one hazards someone going out and doing it. I suspect most of us would accept that without qualms when applied to proslavery rhetoric like the Argus‘, but it does apply to their opposition too.

The paper didn’t wait on some latter-day blogger to connect the dots:

We are informed that Reeder in particular urged them to this course, assuring them “that the entire North would stand by them.” We cannot, we dare not believe that the North is so lost to every sense of honor and respect as to longer give such miscreancy council of favor. We confess that these fanatics have gone to an unexpected excess. It would not surprise us if Jones’ death was terribly avenged.

In other words: You know what to do, proslavery men. Get your guns and get going.


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