“War then it is, by God.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

I must begin with a confession, Gentle Readers: I screwed up. I started out working through the petition that the people of Lawrence sent to Franklin Pierce and all its included correspondence, which I introduced as such at the time. Over the course of a long weekend and getting more than a little lost marveling at all the trees, it slipped my mind that I had not actually left the memorial’s text behind. I have worked before with executive minutes and other collections of correspondence presented similarly to the memorial, and in the same volumes, and started thinking of the documents on those lines. In so doing, I lost track of who produced the writing and so ended up musing about the nameless compiler and his unusually sharp voice. For the record, both of the previous posts hail from the memorial’s text and deserve reading as the words of interested parties from Lawrence: J.M Winchell, Lyman Allen, S.B. Prentiss, L.G. Hine, Joseph Cracklin, John A. Perry, O.E. Learnard, S.W. Eldridge, and C.W. Babcock. I don’t think it much changes my analysis of yesterday’s material, but one should always keep the partiality of one’s sources in mind and I nodded off. That’s on me.

Continuing with the memorial then, we left with J.B. Donaldson and Wilson Shannon giving the Eldridges a series of contradictory and useless answers to the problem of the proslavery army aimed at Lawrence. They told the furnishers of the Free State Hotel that the posse Donaldson had summoned against Lawrence intended to work some mayhem. They would like to guarantee the safety of the hotel, but would not lift a finger to save the newspaper presses. Nor would they, despite agreement from Lawrence to disarm and submit, accept men of the town into a posse to use as a safe substitute for Donaldson’s bloodthirsty Missourians.

The Eldridges, one of whom signed his name to the memorial, pleaded further. Donaldson had set himself on a course and would not turn from it, but Wilson Shannon had the authority to call the military into things. It would take only his word for Colonel Sumner, who wanted to help, to swoop in with the 1st Cavalry and ensure everyone’s safety. Shannon “peremptorily refused.” That they had word from Donaldson himself that his posse meant to color outside the lines and would insist upon some destruction before going home did not enter into his consideration. Instead

he said the people of Lawrence must take such consequences as should ensue; that he could protect them with the United States troops if he chose, but that he should not do so.

They tried again: Shannon wanted law, order, and the submission of the free state party. They offered all of that, but if he gave them no protection then they would have to take things into their own hands. This might well lead to civil war, something that Shannon had abjured and worked hard to prevent not six months ago. Of course that time, he bore a direct responsibility for the escalation by issuing a general call for the militia. Now he could watch with technically clean hands. Pressed to the last, the Governor

turned angrily away and left the room with the expression, “War then it is, by God.”

“The incongruities of these various statements it is not for us to reconcile.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The people of Lawrence gave up. They promised no interference with J.B. Donaldson’s posse. They would accept the legitimacy of Wilson Shannon’s territorial government and all its works. They would even give up their weapons, surrendering the lot to E.V Sumner if the 1st Cavalry as soon as he dispatched men sufficient to guarantee their safety. Everything that proslavery party wanted out of the town except its destruction and the murder of every man, woman, child, and livestock present, offered up for the Governor’s and Marshal’s approval. Those worthies need only take yes for an answer.

They did. Shannon wanted Lawrence disarmed all the way back to the Wakarusa War, but he didn’t want the town wiped off the map. Donaldson probably wanted more than just to get his way in serving process, but he agreed so long as he received no resistance when he did go into town. But according to papers later sent on to the White House and released to Congress, collected in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Siciety, Volume IV (PDF page 404), both men knew things might not go so easily. They had a large group of proslavery men with their blood up, many of whom doubtless recalled how they missed their chance to level Lawrence back in December:

it was said that a portion of the posse was clamorous for the destruction of the hotel and the printing offices; and the Messrs. Eldridge were invited to return again on the following day, after time had been afforded for consultation with the captains of the companies.

At this point, the compiler of the papers notes that both Eldridges remained under guard the entire way to and from Lecompton. In dismissing them, Shannon and Donaldson wrote them a safe conduct.

One would have to search Lawrence for some time to find anyone happy with the settlement offered, but it beat getting killed. Faced with miserable choices, they took the less awful. Shannon and his allies had talked down a proslavery militants before, so this might all come to pass. As planned, the Eldridges returned on the nineteenth of May, 1856, and

found a great change in the tone of the officials. It appeared that the companies composing the posse would be satisfied with nothing short of some destruction or private property, and this feeling was so strong as to defy the power of the Marshal.

They would not let Shannon play Lucy with the football another time.

The Eldridges offered to create a posse from the people of Lawrence, which Donaldson could use as a substitute. They just needed some guns that the Marshal could provide and would swear any oaths he required. Donaldson demurred, claiming he had no weapons to give. The compiler of the documents sounds skeptical on that point, insisting that Donaldson “alleged” lacking arms rather than did lack them. Given his close coordination with Shannon in all of this, it stands to reason that he could have appealed to the Governor to release some militia arms for the job. Instead

It was evident that a course of violence was resolved upon. One of the captains -a Colonel Titus, of Florida, a member of the late expedition against Cuba-declared boldly, that the printing presses must be destroyed to satisfy the boys from South Carolina.

All the same, Donaldson promised that he would protect the Eldridges’ Free State Hotel and insisted again that if no one fought him when he came into Lawrence, with a small posse of unarmed men” he would keep the rest out and ensure they did not disband near enough to come back and take a second crack at the town. This seems to have convinced no one. The compiler relates Donaldson’s promises and refusals, then declares

The incongruities of these various statements it is not for us to reconcile.

Lawrence Capitulates

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

On May 17, 1856, the people of Lawrence tried Wilson Shannon again. With Donaldson stonewalling and the proslavery army pressing near, they had no options left. In to a memorial (PDF page 398) they wrote to Franklin Pierce a few days later, they laid out their whole ordeal to date. This time, rather than asking protection in general against J.B. Donaldson’s posse of Missourians, the plea came from the proprietors of the Free State Hotel. They called it “the Eldridge House” for the president’s eyes, but made clear just who owned the building and how it came by that name:

The building itself was the property of the Emigrant Aid Company, but it had been furnished by the Messrs. Eldridge, at heavy expense, and was not yet opened as a public house.

Messrs. Eldridge, who also involved themselves in hiding Andrew Reeder, went to Lecompton themselves and got an interview with Shannon on the 18th. They asked that he protect their property, rather than Lawrence at large. Donaldson couldn’t arrest a hotel and the sanctity of private property ought to count for something. The Governor told them, albeit not in writing, that they ought not to have taken possession, but also “giving some encouragement for its protection.” Donaldson attended the meeting and Lawrence reports that he also “seemed disposed to accord the protection needful.”

Since the Eldridges had both men handy, they also presented the latest letter out from Lawrence, which makes clear the utter desperation that had gripped the free state town. They still denied that they meant their guns for anything more than “our own individual defense against violence”. Now, however, they went several steps further. Lawrence understood that Shannon and Donaldson defended their posse on the grounds that the town’s free state militias stood opposed to the enforcement of the laws, territorial and national. The “Many Citizens” of Lawrence now promised that they would not bear those arms

against the laws or officers in the execution of the same; therefore, having no further use for them when our protection is otherwise secured, we propose to deliver our arms to Colonel Sumner so soon as he shall quarter in our town a body of troops sufficient for our protection, to be retained by him as long as such force shall remain among us.

That comes close to total capitulation. The free state men said they would give up their weapons, the very thing Shannon had asked of them in order to receive protection. He could have a disarmed opposition, pledged now to submit to all the laws of Kansas. That would mean the effective end of the territory’s antislavery movement as a political force, though Colonel Sumner’s men would ensure the physical safety of its members in Lawrence. Shannon could have everything he wanted since the day he set foot in Kansas, free and clear. He and Donaldson only had to take yes for an answer.

 

The view from two sides of Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

From William Phillips, we know that people moving around Lawrence suffered harassment and risked their lives at the hands of proslavery forces converging on the town. The newspapers reported that even a messenger sent from the town to Governor Shannon dodged bullets on his way back. J.B. Donaldson’s posse had begun its unofficial work, at least. With the town’s pleas for help refused or left unanswered, things looked grim. People of less prominence than reporters for the Eastern papers and intimates of the free state government agreed.

Axalla Hoole, had lived in Lawrence until recently. He wrote to his sister on May 18, the day after Lawrence dispatched its latest desperate plea to Donaldson. He was glad to hear that the slaves back home remembered him in their prayers:

Thank them a thousand times for me, and beg them always to remember me when they render up their petitions to Him who rules and governs all things. I feel that I need the prayers of everyone.

Hoole had not set aside his politics when he moved to Kansas. He reported Jefferson Buford’s arrival in the territory and his intention to call on the filibuster, who just then resided at the house of his neighbor.

While I am writing, guns are firing in the camps of the different companies of soldiers who are gathering to attack Lawrence. Sunday as it is, they are shooting in every direction. I expect before you get this Lawrence will be burnt to the ground. I may not know when it will be attacked, but if I do, I expect to go-although I don’t think that they will show any fight, though they are preparing. But I hear they are very much frightened and have sent to the Governor for protection, but he sent word to them that they did not consider him their Governor and would not submit to the laws, so he would leave them to their fate.

Hoole wrote from Douglas, not far at all from Lawrence. If he knew of the shooting, then the town can’t have long remained ignorant. Of course Hoole doesn’t know if they shot at anything in particular just from the reports. Most likely, a group of well-lubricated men with guns found ways to amuse themselves that didn’t necessarily put bullets in the bodies of their enemies. Shooting for fun didn’t preclude shooting for purpose soon enough, though little daylight may have separated the two for many.

On the other side of Kansas politics, Edward Fitch wrote his parents on the same day from Lawrence itself. He complained that the surveyors had come through and ran a line straight through his house, which may mean that when he went to claim his land he would get half a building. But his neighbor didn’t live on the claim, so Fitch thought he had a good chance to prevail.

but having a claim is not going to do me any good if I don’t live and we don’t know how soon now we may be cut off. We are surrounded by an armed mob and they may attack us at any time and in our present condition we stand a chance to be wiped out which is what they say they are going to do. We never have been quite so near war as we are now.

Fitch arrived in Kansas, courtesy of the Emigrant Aid Company, in October of 1854. He lived in Lawrence from that point on, so he knew the Wakarusa War firsthand. For him to consider this the nearest they had yet come to destruction speaks volumes. He apologizes to them for infrequent writing and saying so little, on account of the “fevered excitement” and begs more letters from home.

Another Letter for Marshal Donaldson

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The people of Lawrence had few options. At this time of year, many of the men who might have come to their defense would have work on the farm that they would find hard to delay. Even if they came, the town appeared short on guns and still owed the merchants who had forwarded them provisions for the Wakarusa War. Furthermore, J.B. Donaldson’s proslavery army styled itself a militia clothed in the authority of his post as US Marshal. Wilson Shannon would not intercede on their behalf. E.V. Sumner, of the 1st Cavalry, could not act without the governor’s permission. Direct appeals to Donaldson had failed. Proslavery men detained people coming and going about the unofficial free state headquarters. The committee on safety could not settle on a course of action.

On May 17, 1856, per William Phillips, the committee chose to try Donaldson again and dispatched a fresh letter:

a large force of armed men have collected in the vicinity of Lawrence, and are engaged in committing depredations upon our citizens; stopping wagons, arresting, threatening, and robbing unoffending travellers upon the highway, breaking open boxes of merchandise, and appropriating their contents; have slaughtered cattle, and terrified many of the women and children.

Probably they had no shortage of terrified men on hand too, but nineteenth century masculinity demanded they forebear in silence and make their pleas on behalf of others.

We have also learned from Governor Shannon ‘that there are no armed forces in the vicinity of this place but the regularly constituted militia of the territory; -this is to ask if you recognize them as your posse, and feel responsible for their acts. If you do not, we hope and trust you will prevent a repetition of such acts, and give peace to the settlers.

Here Lawrence might turn Shannon’s inaction to their advantage. He insisted no one but the posse operated near Lawrence. Donaldson admitting that he had a posse meant for the town. If he took claimed those proslavery men harassing travelers and stealing whatever they liked as that posse, then he owned their various misdeeds. If he did not, then he might have a duty that he had recognized himself in previous correspondence to preserve law and order. Thus the Marshal may have to disown the army, and so oblige himself to work against it, or claim the posse and work to control it.

All of that sounds good on paper, but it does require Donaldson to have scruples not otherwise in evidence; he failed to even write them another hostile answer in the vein of the one he had given before. The committee of safety had to expect little to nothing when they wrote the letter. One can’t read it and not feel the desperation of the authors. If the Marshal himself didn’t, or couldn’t, save them then it may all soon come to ruin. Their argument had logical and moral force, but those might prove of aid only to their eulogists.

Answer Promptly to Avoid Being Shot

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Josiah Miller beat his rap for treason against the state of South Carolina, the place of his birth. The South Carolinians who found him alive while antislavery in Kansas didn’t care much about jurisdiction. That happened on the return leg of his trip with some other free state men to plead with Governor Shannon. A proslavery army bent on their destruction even then massed against Lawrence. William Phillips doesn’t give firm dates for all of this, but it must have happened on or shortly after May 15, 1865. Also around that time, he reports that proslavery men stopped another suspicious character on the road.

The next, roughly simultaneous act, stars a Mr. Weaver. Phillips identifies him as “a sergeant-at-arms of the Kansas Commission.” I didn’t find any Weavers in a quick skim of the minutes of the Howard committee, but Congress did vote them the power to take along a few trusty men just in case. He traveled that day with a member of the 1st Cavalry. They came upon some South Carolinians who considered themselves part of J.B. Donaldson’s posse, who arrested both and carried them across the Kansas river to the proslavery camp. They found Weaver’s company curious:

They questioned this blue-jacketed and yellow-trimmed hero, as to “What the devil he meant by riding through the country with a d—-d abolitionist?”

Phillips doesn’t report the soldier’s answer, but it and the uniform appear to have settled the mob on letting him go. Weaver would have to stay, which he did not care for. Instead, the sergeant-at-arms presented his identification. The proslavery men had apprehended two United States officers in the course of their duties and had best let both go at once.

His papers got a very critical examination before the captain first; then something that passed for a major, and finally every ruffian, gentle or simple, had to have a peep at them.

Peeping did not change minds. Instead, they took Weaver before their overall commander, a Colonel Wilkes. Wilkes turned to a General Craimes, who had a peep of his own.

After giving Weaver’s papers a thorough and critical investigation, the colonel, with his general, pronounced them “all very good,” and expressed as their opinion that he ought to be permitted to pass.

One can imagine a relieved Weaver rising and about to take his leave and stopping halfway through. What happened if some other group of hooligans stopped him? They might not share Craimes’ or Wilkes’ scruples. He asked for a pass. Wilkes wrote one out over his signature and

The colonel very considerately suggested to Mr. Weaver that, if he was hailed by any party, he had better answer promptly; otherwise he might be shot.

In Remembrance of the Holocaust

Gentle Readers, we have had quite a weekend. Various organizations have a habit of declaring this day and that a day to celebrate, remember, or mourn some historical event. Wealthy, powerful organizations usually have people on staff who will check and see what occasions warrant the usual statements or when they ought to refrain from certain things. The White House, the center of the wealthiest and most powerful organization on the planet, for now, has the staff to keep track better than most. Holocaust Remembrance Day came on Friday and the Trump White House put out two statements in honor of the occasion.

The first addressed the occasion directly, albeit in an unusual way. In three paragraphs, the man who appointed an antisemite his chief adviser somehow neglected to mention any particular victims of the Holocaust. Once, people we used to consider the epitome of evil worked to physically erase the Jewish people from the Earth. Now their admirers would do the same to their memory. In this, they follow the example of their international counterparts. If they must acknowledge the Holocaust, then it would not do to give the impression that they objected to the choice of victims.

The White House pleads that other people died in the Holocaust. In an effort to be inclusive, they chose language which could apply to LGBT people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Roma, Sinti, and Slavs. Related programs murdered the disabled. Had the White House given the full list, no one would have objected. Had they just listed the Jews, as the Nazi’s principal victims, they would have followed the precedent of past statements. Any public statement to come out of a modern White House goes through many hands, checked and rechecked. We cannot fairly call this an accident or oversight; the Trump Administration made a choice.

The second statement in memory of the Holocaust came in the form of an executive order. Therein Trump forbade the entry of refugees from Syria indefinitely. Driven from their homes by a civil war between a brutal dictator and brutal religious fanatics, the latter of whom earned a Made in the USA sticker by rising out of our war for pleasure against Iraq, they will find no safety here. The poor, huddled masses yearning to be free can instead find freedom from the mortal coil in the tender ministrations of ISIS. Previous to this, those masses largely consisted of homeless children, the elderly, and the seriously ill. None fits my profile for a terrorist, but I confess myself unlearned in such things.

We have feared refugees before, particularly when they adhere to a less familiar religion. Trump’s other restrictions on entry from a list of Muslim-majority countries exempt religious minorities, so non-Muslims. All of the restrictions, over the objection of the Department of Homeland Security’s lawyers, apply even to legal residents of the United States. Steve Bannon, the antisemite aforementioned, overruled DHS. His victims must endure extreme vetting, as if they had not already gone through the torturous, expensive process of acquiring their green cards. We designed said process to generate refusal for all but the most determined and well-lawyered, incidentally. Even those who hazarded their lives to aid us in our misbegotten wars in the Middle East for the promise of admission to our occasionally fair land must submit. This vetting, it seems, includes yielding up their phones, social network accounts, and asking their opinion of Donald Trump.

I digress; you come here for history and I have written entirely of current events. In 1939, the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg for Cuba, with the idea that its nine hundred plus passengers would wait there while others arranged their entry to the United States. It didn’t work that way; the City on the Hill declared the Statue of Liberty closed and eventually the ship returned to Europe. We had strict quotas on immigration, you understand; we could not break our rules. (The quota system stood until 1965.) Some nations took on a few of the Jewish refugees aboard, but about half died in the Holocaust.

If you grew up in the United States at any time in the past sixty years, you probably know this story: A Jewish family hides from the Nazis in a secret room. One of them, a young girl, keeps a diary. Someone betrays them and the Nazis come. The father survives and one of the people who helped hide the family gives her the papers she found in their hiding place, the diary included. Its author died in Bergen-Belsen. We didn’t know the rest of the story when I sat in the eighth grade and read the book, but it came out a few years ago: Otto Frank sought entry to the US for his family. We refused them just as we refused the passengers on the St. Louis.

I don’t know what to say to that. Thousands of Americans have made their discontent known by flooding the airports. The ACLU got a court order suspending enforcement of the executive order for holders of green cards, but now I see reports that the customs officials don’t see court orders as something requiring their compliance. People ordered released remain in custody as of this writing at more than one airport. That looks less like obstinate bad apples and more like planned resistance. It may be that eight days into his administration, Donald Trump has already decided the courts have no power over him.

In the previous eight days, Trump ordered the silencing of all executive branch communications with the public. He has essentially removed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, military professionals, from the National Security Council and replaced them with Steve Bannon, publisher of this sort of thing. Now this. When movements like these happen in other countries, we call it a coup. Tomorrow we may wake up and find out that Trump caved and this crisis has passed. Or we might not. The last, and only, president who fell did so because a hostile Congress proceeded against him. Trump has no such adversary.

The Trial of Josiah Miller

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

J.B. Donaldson told Lawrence that the innocent had nothing to fear from him. His army, alias posse, would only pose any danger to those that his duties required him to apprehend and those resisted him in the course of those duties. That meant the free state leadership, all of whom had warrants for their arrest courtesy of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury, and anyone in Lawrence who helped them. Listing those people by name may not return a list of the entire population of Lawrence as of May, 1856, but it would probably come close. Just as Donaldson would not take philosophically the threat to his life if he tried to come into town on his own, he people of Lawrence could not adopt a disinterested position toward an army converging on them and bent on their destruction. They had appealed to the military, to Governor Shannon, and finally to Donaldson himself to no avail. Running out of options and unsure they could pull off an armed resistance, it seems that some tried Shannon again.

William Phillips reports that shortly after Captain Walker’s harrowing escape with Shannon’s reply to the town, a new embassy went up to Lecompton to plead Lawrence’s case. Carmie Babcock, William Y. Roberts, and Josiah Miller can’t have hoped for much. Phillips summarizes their success in four words: “They failed, of course.” Barely out of Lecompton on their way back, they fell prey to one of the armed bands harassing travelers. It seems that Roberts and Babcock secured swift release. Miller had a worse time of it.

Miller edited the Kansas Free State, which occasionally feuded with the Herald of Freedom. Like the Herald, the grand jury declared his paper a public menace worthy of suppression. He hailed from South Carolina and in one of those small world moments, so did his captors. Recognizing him, his fellow South Carolinians

made up what they were pleased to to consider a court from amongst their own number, and, placing Mr. Miller before it, tried him for treason to South Carolina. After a hard effort some of the Carolinians, who knew him, and felt friendly, contrived to prevent his being hung, although he was found guilty. He got off after losing his horse and money.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Phillips identified Miller’s captors as part of Donaldson’s posse. They probably also hailed from Jefferson Buford’s expedition. He doesn’t give many details of the event, but it sounds like Miller suffered a trial much like Pardee Butler’s. One could read his friends arranging an acquittal two ways: either the mob wanted Miller dead and a few friends pulled a fast one to save him, or they wanted him to think that happened and really meant to give him a powerful scare. Mortal terror could do much, then and now, to silence political opponents.

The latter course may sound marginally more reasonable; terrorized people still live to see tomorrow. But its use does require the mob to share one mind on the subject. It only takes a few to translate threats into reality. To make such threats credible, they can’t lay far from what the mob might do anyway. Threading that needle, if they wanted to at all, required as much luck as conviction.

“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.

Donaldson Answers Lawrence, Part 1

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

J.B. Donaldson had an army, which he called a posse, massing at Lecompton to move against Lawrence. The people of Lawrence asked for help from Edwin Sumner, of the 1st Cavalry. Citing his orders to only act on the request of Governor Wilson Shannon, he said he couldn’t. They asked Shannon. He told them no. That left appealing to Donaldson himself, which a public meeting did on May 14. They promised that he could serve any process he had in Lawrence without trouble, so he did not need that posse. Furthermore, they didn’t know exactly what Donaldson wanted of them. However, since the town had armed men all about harassing travelers, might the Marshal do something about that?

The US Marshal wrote back on the fifteenth:

From your professed ignorance of the demands against you, I must conclude that you are strangers, not citizens, of Lawrence, or of recent date, or been absent for some time; more particularly when an attempt was made by my deputy to execute the process of the First District court of the United States for Kansas Territory against ex-Governor Reeder, when he made a speech in the room and presence of the Congressional Committee, and denied the authority and power of said court, and threatened the life of said deputy if he attempted to execute said process; which speech and defiant threats were loudly applauded by some one or two of the citizens of Lawrence, who had assembled at the room on learning the business of the marshal, and made such hostile demonstrations that the deputy thought he and his small posse would endanger their lives in executing said process.

That barely resembles Reeder’s version of events and the minutes of the Howard Committee reveal no such dire confrontation. The former Governor might have mocked Fain and said something to the effect of “go ahead and try” in the presence of friends, but Donaldson’s version sounds like much more. All that may have taken place, but I’ve only seen claims to it here.

Donaldson didn’t buy Lawrence’s promise of peaceful cooperation either, demanding to know just “what has produced this wonderful change in the minds of the people?” The scales had surely not fallen from their eyes with regard to the laws of Kansas. Donaldson suggested that they changed their spots because those who he had warrants for had fled. Failing that, the people of Lawrence promised to comply with “legal” actions:

may it possibly be that you, now, as heretofore, expect to screen yourselves behind the word ‘legal,’ so significantly used by you?

In other words, Donaldson might come and then find that Lawrence deemed his work illegal. That prospect failed to excite, especially when combined with his knowledge

that the whole population is armed and drilled, and the whole town fortified; when, too, I recollect the meetings and resolutions adopted in Lawrence, and elsewhere in the territory, openly defying the law and the officers thereof, and threatening to resist the same to a bloody issue, and recently verified in the attempted assassination of Sheriff Jones while in the discharge of his official duties?

Donaldson ignored the distinction between Lawrence’s commitment to respect federal authority and its repudiation of the territorial government. To him, it probably didn’t matter. He likely saw Jones as an officer of the law, just like him, and didn’t care to hazard his life on the careful parsing of some abolition fanatics. That doesn’t necessarily make him a partisan hack eager to destroy the town, but at some point one has to look at the size of the “posse” he expected to help him out and wonder. One can’t put a firm number on this, but Donaldson did not need hundreds of men to guarantee his safety in Lawrence. A few dozen likely would have done the trick, especially if the men he wanted had fled as he suspected. Lawrence need not put up a fight to save people already clear of capture. It looks like still like Donaldson either had grander plans from the start or didn’t much care if his army engaged in some extracurricular depredations while he did his work.