James F. Legate served on Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury. After they voted to arrest the free state leadership and destroy the Free State Hotel and suppress Kansas’ antislavery papers, he went to warn Kansas’ former governor and present free state delegate to congress, Andrew Reeder. Reeder and the leadership put their heads together at Lawrence and decided that they might soon need to fight with guns as well as words. They made emergency plans to call together the state legislature to bulk up their institutions and endow them with a stronger legal basis. Governor Charles Robinson would go East “to raise men and arms”. Except for the travel plans, Robinson already did that job as the Emigrant Aid Company’s agent in Kansas. Reeder would stay behind and submit to arrest, his high profile making him the ideal choice for public relations.
They talked about organizing the militia and how armed resistance might soon come, but what came next seems less clear:
We did not determine what we would do as a last resort in case the General Government took the field against us, and gave us the alternative of backing our or levying war against them. This would not be the silly sham treason for which indictments are found now, but actual treason at least in the latter, although as holy and glorious in spirit as the dawn of the Revolution of ’76. Robinson declares that at least we will wipe out the d—-d Territorial Government absolutely and effectually, and to this we all assented.
In one respect, this demonstrates a shift in free state thought. They might actually go to war with the United States, a course they had refused to consider in public or private. To hear it from Robinson, the most peaceable of the group, speaks volumes. His own version, which includes Sherman and Howard in the discussion, differs slightly:
there was a possibility of a general conflict of arms; that should it be impossible to avoid such conflict without a surrender of the Free-State cause, it must be met, and if met the Free-State men should take issue rather in defense of the State organization than offensively against the territorial.
Robinson stresses the contingency of the choice for arms more than Reeder does, but he agrees in substance. The free state governor might prefer peace, out of conviction, disposition, or circumstance, but he had asked the legislature to vote up an army and stood high in the ranks of the Kansas Legion. Battle with the United States would put them on new and much more dangerous ground, but free state militias had already mustered to fight border ruffians. In contemplating the Union itself, at least in Kansas, as an instrument of the slave power deserving forcible resistance they put themselves in line with the rescuers of fugitive slaves and diehard abolitionists in just the way they had vigorously denied only months before.