“A force competent to put it down”

Wilson Shannon

Governor Shannon had to do something. His choice of nothing previously worked the ruin he now faced. By ignoring Lawrence’s reasonable fears that a proslavery “posse” would turn out a band of hooligans bent on their destruction, he made their rampage through the town possible. In response to that devastation, John Brown went off into the night and committed five murders with his sons and a few others. Hauling proslavery men out of their beds and hacking them to death spread tremendous fear. Now that both sides knew for a fact that armed bands would hunt down and kill them for their politics, the volcano on which Shannon long sat would bear no more inaction.

When things got to this point in the past, Shannon stepped in. He tried to get the 1st Cavalry to interpose and went himself to Lawrence to negotiate a fragile peace that mostly endured from December until the end of April, when his inaction destroyed it. Even before news of the murders reached Shannon, he lurched into action in response to the sack of Lawrence. As he told the President:

I addressed a letter to Colonel Sumner, at Fort Leavenworth, calling on him for three companies of United States troops – one company to be stationed at Lawrence, one at this place [Lecompton], and one at Topeka.

Sumner, who this time around had orders ahead of time from the president to comply with Shannon’s requests, obliged. He also attached his letter to Sumner, which explains his motivation at the time:

In view of the excitement and present state of feeling in the country, and for the purpose of securing the safety of the citizens, both in person and property, as well as to aid in the execution of the laws and preservation of the peace of the Territory

That fits with Shannon’s consistent belief that events in Kansas could easily spiral out of control. He always casts the antislavery party as the real villains, but Shannon had eyes enough to see the obvious. He urged Sumner to “as little delay as possible” and added

The armed organization to resist the laws would seem to be broken up for the present, so far as the town of Lawrence is concerned, but there is danger that this formidable organization may show itself at some other point, unless held in check by the presence of a force competent to put it down.

Shannon the civil servant and Shannon the proslavery man share the same mind. The threat, even after a gratuitous attack on them, remains the free state men. The Governor needs force to put them down, not proslavery hooligans who have a fig leaf posse to justify themselves and promptly colored outside the lines. Though he didn’t know every detail of what happened at Lawrence then, he admitted to Pierce that he believed orders to respect private property and otherwise behave themselves got spotty adherence. Resistance to the laws counted as a vile crime for antislavery men. A proslavery mob could apparently do as they liked and the Governor would castigate them with the most eloquent of shrugs.

 

Advertisements

Your input is welcome

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s