“Of unusual malignity and literary excellence” Donaldson Answers Lawrence, Part 2

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Part 1

We left J.B. Donaldson’s response to Lawrence with the Marshal unimpressed by his correspondents’ attempt to play dumb, sincere or otherwise. So far as he cared, they knew just what he wanted. He also deemed them inclined by disposition to obstruct his work and perhaps feed him some piping hot bullets for his trouble. To support that, he cited their treatment of Sheriff Samuel Jones. That Jones represented the territorial government rather than the federal didn’t matter much to him, even if the distinction held great weight with Lawrence’s antislavery luminaries. And anyway, whatever they might say to Donaldson to ease his fears they had a whole town fortified and armed to the teeth for him to hazard on no more than their good word.

Combine all of that and Donaldson suspected that Lawrence’s leaders dealt with less than complete candor. He needed his army-sized posse. For them to tell him that they would do nothing to harm him beggared belief:

If no outrages had been committed by the outlaws in Lawrence against the laws of the land, they need not fear any posse of mine. But I must take the liberty of executing all processes in my hands, as the United States Marshal, in my own time and manner, and shall only use such power as is authorized by law.

Donaldson had to do what he had to do. If the people of Lawrence respected the law, then they had no reason to fear him. Only the guilty need worry about a legal posse, no matter how many men bent on their murder it might contain. This struck to the paradox at the heart of Lawrence’s appeal. They wanted the protection of the law against an officer of the law and his lawfully-deputized lieutenants. The Marshal drove the point home:

This, indeed, sounds strange from a large body of men armed with Sharpe’s rifles, and other implements of war, bound together by oaths and pledges, to resist the laws of the government they call on for protection. All persons in Kansas Territory, without regard to location, who honestly submit to the constituted authorities, will ever find me ready to aid in protecting them; and all who seek to resist the laws of the land, and turn traitors to their country, will find me aiding and enforcing the laws, if not as an officer as a citizen.

In other words: Lawrence could go to hell. By unsubtle implication, Donaldson said that he considered the existence of the free state movement cause for action against it. Only if they disbanded completely and submitted themselves to all the territorial laws that force and fraud had bought for slavery, would he lift a finger to protect them. Otherwise, he understood command of the forces arrayed against them his rightful place.

After relating all of this, William Phillips informed his readers that Donaldson wrote none of it. Phillips believed him too stupid to manage such a feat and pinned it on a filibuster “of unusual malignity and literary excellence.” Donaldson’s penchant for the run-on sentence argues for a less than outstanding education, but it sounds like the work of a proslavery man bent on the destruction of his foes regardless of who wrote it.

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