A New Committee and More Pleas from Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

With J.B. Donaldson’s proslavery posse bearing down on them, the people of Lawrence held a public meeting and sent off a resolution promising they would cooperate with all federal authority, but would fight to the last to defend themselves from invasion. Wilson Shannon and Donaldson himself received copies, for what good it might do. Shannon had already told the town that he would do nothing. Beyond that, the leaders of the committee of safety couldn’t agree on any course of action. Some hoped for compromise solutions. Others pointed out that even if they wanted to defend the town, they lacked the men and supplies. As a result, several who did favor armed resistance quit the committee. The townspeople sacked their old committee and made a new one, including some of the old but also fresh blood that might more likely make a fight of things. A few days later, Samuel Pomeroy returned from Emigrant Aid Society business in the east and joined.

The brief for vigorous action produced little. The new committee, though chosen to lead a resistance, feared collision with federal authority. William Phillips called the fear of national power “a dead weight on them.” They had plenty of reason to fear that clash, which may well brand them traitors to the nation as a whole and would likely imperil their lives as much as capitulation. Americans hanged traitors just as surely as proslavery men would abolitionists. While they tarried

Marshal Donaldson’s posse grew with frightful rapidity. The whole country was soon in a state of warlike confusion; that is, as warlike as a country can be when the demonstrations are all on one side. As the molestation of travellers was frequent, another meeting was held

This time George Dietzler, a member of the committee, chaired the affair. They put forward more resolutions in line with the previous meeting’s and forwarded them to Donaldson at Lecompton. They asked Donaldson

respectfully, that we be reliably informed what are the demands against us. We desire to state, most truthfully and earnestly, that no opposition whatever will now, or at any future time, be offered to the execution of any legal process by yourself, or any person acting for you. We also pledge ourselves to assist you, if called upon, in the execution of any legal process.

The authors might have played dumb here. The meeting had to know, from Donaldson’s own proclamation, that he had warrants to serve. But Lawrence also had a record of not molesting federal officers in their duties, so just what more could Donaldson want from them? They could at least get him more clearly on the record.

The letter proceeded to what they feared he did want:

We are informed, also, that those men collecting about Lawrence openly declare that it is their intention to destroy the town and drive off the citizens. […] in view of the excited state of the public mind, we ask protection of the constituted authorities of the government

The authors assured Donaldson that they didn’t believe he wanted any such thing, as one does, but they had his overgrown posse to fear. They knew Donaldson could come to Lawrence untroubled, which meant he must either have chosen to join in its destruction or to serve as the vehicle by which a posse gone wild did the work.

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