“Worthy only of barbarians” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On April 29, 1856, J.N. Mace, a free soil Kansan, finished his testimony before the Howard Committee and went home. That night, his dog raised an alarm and Mace went outside. Two proslavery men shot him in the leg. Mace survived, but it took him a few hours to get back indoors. Mace lived near to Lawrence, so the town got together for another mass meeting. Charles Robinson, G.P. Lowery, James Legate, and others addressed the crowd. A Mr. Smith, probably George W. Smith, offered the customary resolutions. The crowd at Faxon’s Hall adopted them unanimously. The first condemned the attacks upon both Mace and Samuel Jones as

disgraceful to any community, and worthy only of barbarians destitute of the first principles of honor or common humanity

An honorable man would have challenged Mace or Jones to come out and have a fair duel, but in both cases would-be assassins struck under the cover of darkness and fled. Everyone, whatever their party, should condemn such behavior “as highly destructive of the peace and best interests” of Kansas. Maybe everyone but a few malcontents could manage those condemnations, but the meeting’s ecumenical spirit quickly fell away. Its members hailed from Lawrence and considered themselves free soilers, after all. They thus noted that under the present government of Kansas,

the people can have no laws, executive or judicial officers of their own, and since those that have been attempted to be imposed upon the people are partial, unjust and oppressive, not recognized or approved by the bona fide residents of the State, it is the duty of Congress at once to remove every vestige of the Territorial Government, and to admit the State into the Union under her present Constitution.

They wouldn’t let an opportunity to make that call go to waste, but one of their own had just taken a bullet from a proslavery assassin. They could expect no justice for him from a government made of border ruffians and their supporters. Thus, the resolutions speak to their genuine concerns for Kansas. Until they got their redress from Congress, the resolved concluded that attempts to enforce the laws could only come to naught. Why should they respect the lawful authority of men imposed upon them? Free state Kansans had not merely lost an election fair and square; they lost their elections to violence and intimidation by Missourians intent on prosecuting their gain to the fullest extent.

The meeting concluded:

until such laws [by Kansans for Kansans] can be made and executed, every man should be a “law unto himself,” and brand with infamy any man who would brutally assault his fellow-man, or in any way disturb the peace and good order of the community.

This sent a mixed message. On one hand, the people of Lawrence asked for a legitimate government to protect them and secure their peace and prosperity. The men who shot Mace and Jones demonstrated the need for just that government, as the present state brought bouts of anarchy and proslavery oppression. Frequently the two worked together, with oppression from the government and anarchy from proslavery bands allied to that government’s program. On the other hand, until they got satisfaction Lawrence endorsed individuals taking law into their own hands. A brand of infamy might constitute only public scorn, but in context it hints at more. Someone -anyone- should do something.

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