J.B. Donaldson’s Army

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

 

The latest invasion of Kansas by proslavery forces aimed at the free state headquarters of Lawrence could claim federal imprimatur. Governor Shannon declared he would not stand in its way, as Lawrence faced only a posse gathered under the authority of the federal district court to serve out its warrants. The hundreds of armed men converging on the town didn’t look much like a posse to anybody else, but this time Shannon hadn’t done anything to make himself responsible for its formation. Instead, that distinction went to J.B. Donaldson (or Donelson), the United States Marshal.

Donaldson could have reasonable apprehensions about serving process in Lawrence; the last person who came in unasked to do that job got shot. Nobody can fault a person for wanting some safety while carrying out a dangerous task. If Donaldson wanted extra protection, he could deputize people formally or informally to watch his back. The Marshal did just that, issuing a proclamation to the people of Kansas on May 11, 1856. He reminded them that he had warrants from the district court, which he had to execute. When he sent a deputy, Fain, to get that done, his deputy

was evidently resisted by a large number of the citizens of Lawrence, and there is every reason to believe that any attempt to execute these writs will be resisted by a large body of armed men

Donaldson didn’t mention Jones and his shooting, but no large group of men with guns had confronted Fain. At best, he entered a room with thirty people inside and tried to arrest Andrew Reeder. Reeder told him to get lost, which Fain then did. The Howard Committee might have provided a hostile audience to Fain, but they decided that they had no power to intervene in his business. I’ve found no reference to the deputy otherwise facing serious threats. A group of men did turn out to frustrate Jones until he got a detachment of the 1st Cavalry as bodyguards, but Donaldson specifies that the deputy Marshal, not the Sheriff, had trouble.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

To whomever and however the threats, real or imagined, came about, Donaldson answered them thus:

the law-abiding citizens of the territory are commanded to be and appear at Lecompton, as soon as practicable, and in numbers sufficient for the execution of the law.

One doesn’t issue a call like this when one only wants five or ten trusty men. Donaldson could have gone around town and scared up as many in a few hours, most likely. He wanted an army and had to know he had one waiting for such a call, in the person of the many bands that Marc Parrott and Andrew Reeder reported moving into Kansas before the eleventh. Donaldson declined to circulate his proclamation in Lawrence, but they got wind of it all the same and sent their appeal to Shannon with it in mind.

According to William Phillips, the governor consulted with the proslavery leadership and Jefferson Buford before telling Lawrence that he would do nothing to help them.

 

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