Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury ordered the arrest of the free state leadership, which brought their plight to a new low. Mobs had come to destroy them back in December, but that time Governor Shannon brokered a peace. He ought to have done, considering he did his best to get the border ruffians to Lawrence to start with. Now the free state men faced down the territorial judiciary. They had long feared such a confrontation, probably all the way back to the passage of the laws against antislavery politics. According to Andrew Reeder’s diary, which may benefit from some hindsight, they had the sense that the chances of legal action had lately increased. Reeder reports that on May 6, after seeing witnesses with the Howard Committee, he had tea and then returned home alone through the woods. He considered that a “rather imprudent” choice. The arrest orders went out on the day previous, though he didn’t know at the time.
The next day, Reeder again attended the Howard Committee. They adjourned at four in the afternoon and Reeder
Learned from the best authority (a grand juror and others) that the plan we had so often heard of was about being carried out, to paralyze the Free-State party; that the grand jury now in session at Lecompton had been charged by the court [….] that not only all the officers of the State Government, but all the judges of election, were indictable.
Reeder says that similar things had happened previously, but no one had pressed the case and drunken jurors lost the indictments in the street. Lecompte, who Reeder calls “a man of frivolous mind, little ability, less integrity, great perversity and indolence, and limited knowledge of the law” had presided over that court as well. Fortunately, grand juror James F. Legate, went to warn Reeder.
Armed with the news, Reeder met with Governor Robinson and Lieutenant Governor Roberts to decide how to respond. Recognizing a decapitation strike when they saw one, they resolved to move against it. Reeder tells of plans to summon the free state legislature before the proslavery men could arrest the lot. The legislature could then establish a court to order the other territorial court to release any men taken. On the more plausible and practical front, this likely presaged a clash of arms. Thus
It is agreed also that some one shall go East to raise men and arms to prepare for this emergency, and for several reasons that Robinson would better go, after issuing his proclamation for the Legislature to assemble, leaving Roberts to act in his place. I suggested that I would like to have them try one of their indictments for treason on me, and that perhaps I should better be arrested.
As the former governor, Reeder likely had the name recognition to make political hay out of his captivity. He aligned with the free state party now, but had come to Kansas a regular National Democrat bearing a commission with Franklin Pierce’s signature. No one could mistake him for an antislavery radical or a tool of New England abolitionists, both descriptions that applied justly to Robinson. They could damn Kansas’ first governor as an aggrieved spoilsman bent on revenge, but that accurate charge only made Reeder an ordinary politician. The fact that proslavery men would come for him along with the radicals would do much to prove that they had, in fact, taken it on themselves to trample the rights of all white men.