The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee had a problem. They had come all the way out to Lawrence to gather testimony on how Kansas had gone so badly wrong as to end up with two governments, both of which elected a delegate to Congress. They put the dueling delegates, John Whitfield and Andrew Reeder, in charge of making the case for their respective parties. The night after their first meeting in the unofficial free state capital, someone shot Samuel Jones in the back. The attempted assassination of one of the proslavery party’s most militant field leaders in Lawrence did not make a visit appealing to many proslavery witnesses. John Whitfield gave notice that his people, understandably, no longer felt safe in coming to town.

In response Mordechai Oliver, the member from Missouri, moved

On account of the excitement now prevailing in the city of Lawrence and the surrounding country, growing out of the assassination of sheriff Jones when engaged in the lawful discharge of his duty, which assassination and consequent excitement he believes will deter parties and witnesses from coming and appearing before the committee, he objects to proceeding with the investigation further at this time at this point, and suggests that the committee adjourn to Fort Leavenworth

The Committee met in the Free State Hotel, literally discussing the assassination attempt on Jones under the same roof where he had convalesced. A note in the minutes relates that they met in the morning, but adjourned at once out of respect for his plight. They came back together to answer Whitfield’s letter and weigh Oliver’s motion. The majority went against Oliver’s motion for removal and they answered Whitfield in writing. They understood the plight of his proslavery witnesses and would accommodate them

at their earliest convenience, at any suitable place, giving you ample notice and the benefit of our subpoena to collect as many witnesses as you may desire, at such place as you may designate.

Name the place and the committee would come to hear Whitfield’s evidence. They could hardly deny the safety concerns for his people after what happened the night before and meant to go around Kansas for the convenience of witnesses anyway. However, they would not just abandon Lawrence and informed Whitfield that he ought to stay around. They had antislavery witnesses who also deserved a hearing, who had no safety concerns about the town, and Whitfield needed to come along so he could cross-examine them and help the committee learn the truth of things. If Whitfield didn’t feel personally safe enough, he could send his lawyer instead.

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