Shannon to Lawrence: Drop Dead

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Captain Walker left Lecompton with a letter from Governor Shannon for the good people of Lawrence. He dodged some bullets and escaped proslavery pursuit whilst carrying it back to the town, which stared down the barrels and blades of a gathering proslavery army. The governor could come to their rescue far more effectively than he had during the Wakarusa War, considering he now had authority to draw on the 1st Cavalry to preserve order. Lawrence knew that and appealed to E.V. Sumner, in command, directly. He only had to give the town a nod and all the stress of the past few days would quickly pass.

Shannon, we should remember, hailed from the northern wing of the proslavery party. He lost his seat in the House of Representatives for voting for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He came to Kansas determined to let slavery’s friends consolidate their ill-gotten gains in the nation’s newest territory. But he had drawn the line at armies on the march before, doing all he could to restrain the proslavery men who moved on Lawrence in December. He preferred antislavery Kansans disarmed and wouldn’t shed any tears if their wildcat government collapsed, but he didn’t want them dead. Hate him as they may, even the free state party could appreciate that. He had to do something.

Informed by the committee of safety that a force marshaled against Lawrence, the governor wrote back

there is no force around or approaching Lawrence except the legally constituted posse of the United States Marshal and Sheriff of Douglas County, each of whom, I am informed, have a number of writs in their hands for execution against persons now in Lawrence. I shall in no way interfere with either of these officers in the discharge of their official duties.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

You could believe Wilson Shannon or you could believe your lying eyes. Shannon admitted that a force existed, but called it only a posse. The posse trick hadn’t fooled him back in the winter, but now something had changed. The federal warrants might have done it; with a US Marshal involved, the convalescing Jones and his band of hooligans might exercise greater restraint. Or the governor may have decided that since he didn’t bear personal responsibility here, as he had when he summoned the Kansas militia against Lawrence previously, they could all go hang.

Responsibility certainly factored into Shannon’s thinking. Mulling the issue over thoughtfully, he undertook the great moral and intellectual labor of placing it elsewhere:

If the citizens of Lawrence submit themselves to the Territorial laws, and aid and assist the Marshal and Sheriff in the execution of processes in their hands, as all good citizens are bound to do when called on, they, or all such, will entitle themselves to the protection of the law. But so long as they keep up a military or armed organization to resist the Territorial laws and the officers charged with their execution, I shall not interfere to save them from the legitimate consequences of their illegal acts.

Someone in Lawrence had shot Samuel Jones when he tried to execute a warrant, fair enough. But no one answered the warrants from Lecompte’s grand jury with hot lead. Even in Jones’ case, when he appeared with a posse drawn from the 1st Cavalry the people of Lawrence acquiesced. They may have played dumb or hid the people sought, but it seems violent resistance of any kind ceased with the appearance of the military. If they wanted help, they must disarm themselves in the presence of an army enemy bent on their destruction. Shannon asked more than political suicide here; he wished antislavery Kansans to commit actual suicide.

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