Indecision in Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

J.B. Donaldson, US Marshal for the territory of Kansas, had warrants to serve on various free state leaders who lived in and about Lawrence. Serving the process of a federal court, in this case Samuel Lecompte’s district court for the territory, formed an ordinary part of his duties. He couldn’t not do it but, if he had any interest in doing it peacefully and limiting the action to his official obligations, he might have done better to summon a small posse and go in with a dozen or so armed friends. He chose instead to make use of the proslavery forces already gathering for a move against Lawrence, calling on them by a proclamation. They would converge in Lecompton and then march on the antislavery town.

They got wind of that in Lawrence and pleaded with Wilson Shannon, governor of Kansas, to come to their rescue. Shannon would happily give them all the help they required, if only they would disarm themselves and disband their defenses in the face of a force bent on their destruction. This, William Phillips thought, constituted a declaration of war. Donaldson’s force, summoned on the eleventh of May, 1856, would take at least a short while to arrive. That gave the committee of safety time to try something else, but they had no consensus on that next step. Ever since they learned of the proclamation, via Phillips, they differed on whether to even mount a defense of the town. Cyrus Holiday though the effort a waste because the farmers who had come in the winter could not come at planting time. The businessmen who had given Lawrence help then had not yet received full payment and so would not send still more. Still others thought they ought to get together their own posse, a few hundred strong, and offer it to Donaldson in lieu of his own. While at Lecompton, they could even requisition some weaponry from the stores at the territorial capital.

But Lawrence could hardly pass up a chance for a public meeting, which John Wakefield presided over. It resolved

that the allegations and charges against us, contained in the aforesaid proclamation, are wholly untrue in fact, and the conclusion which is drawn from them. The aforesaid deputy marshal was resisted in no manner whatever, nor by any person whatever, in the execution of said writs, except by him whose arrest the said deputy marshal was seeking to make. And that we now, as we have done heretofore, declare our willingness and determination, without resistance, to acquiesce in the service upon us of any judicial writes against us by the United States Marshal for Kansas Territory, and will furnish him with a posse for that purpose, if so requested; but that we are ready to resist, if need be, unto death, the ravages and desolation of an invading mob.

John A Wakefield

John A. Wakefield

Lawrence did have the facts on its side. When Fain came to arrest Andrew Reeder, no one abused him. Reeder declined to go, but Fain then parted still untroubled. He came back to Lawrence the next day, a fresh warrant in hand, and once again left unharmed. Everyone in town knew that and probably few people in Kansas could have missed the difference between Fain’s work and Samuel Jones’, the latter of whom did see armed resistance until he brought in the Army and subsequently caught a bullet in the back.

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.

 

Two Roads to Lawrence

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

When Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, told the people of Lawrence that they could disarm themselves in the face of an armed foe bent on their destruction if they wanted him to lift a finger to save them, he claimed the only danger they might face came from a legally-constituted posse. Under ordinary circumstances, and if the governor had burdened himself with facts, one might not find much to quarrel with in that. For a governor to interfere with the work of the courts must raise suspicions of executive usurpation. But Lawrence faced rather more than a posse, and when confronted with a posse of United States dragoons, the town had offered no direct resistance.

Lawrence came to all of this by two roads simultaneously. Samuel Jones, the proslavery sheriff, came into the town to apprehend Samuel Wood. Wood, a free state militia officer, had rescued fellow officer Jacob Branson from Jones’ custody back in December. This even precipitated the first campaign against Lawrence. Wood declined to go with Jones and a scuffle ensued, which deprived Jones of a pistol. Wood and the men who helped him get free from Jones promptly made themselves scarce. Jones applied to the 1st Cavalry for help, securing about a dozen soldiers who went back into Lawrence with him, searched the town and surrounds, and found none of his original quarry. He arrested about ten others and camped in town. Someone shot him in the back. Jones survived, but the proslavery press reported his death.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Jones’ travail by itself may have caused the invasion, just as his previous had, but the federal government became more directly involved when Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury summoned the entire free state leadership for questioning, with execution to follow. Serving Lecompte’s warrants did not fall to Jones or his office, as he served only the territorial government. Lecompte had his appointment direct from Franklin Pierce. He presided over the First District Court of the United States for Kansas Territory and so could call on the US Marshals to handle his process. Lecompte did in the person of J.B. Donelson (also rendered as Donaldson in some sources), an Illinoisian whom William Phillips called

a comparatively illiterate and informed man,. and, judging from his manner of acting in his official capacity, totally devoid of the legal knowledge necessary to dignify his office. […] He is a man past middle age, of coarse, unintellectual face, and, from his looks, ought never to have held a station above that of town constable; he would not have been too well qualified for that.

Ugly and unqualified or not, Donelson passed the matter of Lecompte’s warrants over to a Georgian named Fain. Fain tried to serve one against Andrew Reeder, then working with the Howard Committee. Reeder dismissed Fain’s summons on technical grounds, so he returned the next day with a warrant for contempt of court. Reeder declined to go with him because he had privilege from arrest, that the summons would impede his work with the committee -Lecompte probably agreed-, and that he would find his murder while in the custody of proslavery men inconvenient just then. Meanwhile, the rest of those with warrants against them began to depart Lawrence for safer pastures. Reeder soon followed.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

According to Phillips, Fain did not let matters sit there. Instead of going back to Lecompton to report his failure,

he went down to Franklin, where at that time a band of Southerners, under Capt. Moon, were stationed. There the alarm was given, and soon scouts were sent to Missouri to gather in the Southerners still stationed there.

Last time around, Jones had gone from losing Branson straight to Franklin to write Missouri for help. Now Fain had done the same. Where Jones could claim the mantle of the territorial government and militia for his first campaign, the second could proceed with the imprimatur of the federal courts.

Sworn “to drive us to Hell”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

We left Captain Walker, a free state man, in possession of Wilson Shannon’s answer to the town of Lawrence. They had a proslavery army bearing down on them, again, and he had both the authority to call out the United States Army to defend them and a responsibility for their safety as governor of Kansas. They also asked Colonel Edwin Sumner, 1st Cavalry, first and he told them he couldn’t act without Shannon’s go ahead. The committee of safety dispatched Walker their plea for help, the same document but with Shannon’s name in the place of Sumner’s. This put them in the awkward position of acknowledging Shannon as the governor of Kansas when they had elected Charles Robinson to that office, but with lives at stake one must make sacrifices. The New York Times’ correspondent reported that Walker could not get near Lecompton to deliver the message, but secured a proslavery go between. He no sooner had Shannon’s answer than six men commenced chasing after him, firing all the way. Walker lost them in a ravine.

Samuel Lecompte ran his court and grand jury out of Lecompton, which he lent his name. He helped start this latest trouble by summoning the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason. The Times remarked that he kept issuing summons to that town, which free state men feared to answer. Lecompte himself might happily let them stew through some months of custody before a trial that ended with antislavery Kansans dangling from a rope, but someone else could arrange a fatal accident far sooner. News of that had gotten Andrew Reeder to abandon the plan to serve as the party’s political martyr and test case. Now it must have seemed that anyone foolish enough to go would risk his life attempting just to get to the court.

Thus most of those summoned

consequently stay away; the result of which is they are being subject to a new process for contempt of Court […] the highest crime recognized by law in Kansas while Judge Lecompte is arbiter. We are becoming more suspicious that these demons meditate a night attack upon us, therefore we are keeping out strong guards, and lights are kept burning at night in our principal buildings.

The dangers attached to more than locally famous antislavery men and their agents. The Times told that the proslavery men seized a Mr. Wise, four miles south of Lawrence, and kept him until ten at night. They brandished knives at him and “pricked his vest,” but wise convinced them that he stood with them and they let him go. Before parting, he learned some of their plan. They would arrest Andrew Reeder (now fled), Charles Robinson (likewise), and James Lane (now rumored back in Kansas). Two senators-elect and a governor would make for quite the prize, which they aspired to display hanging from rope by the neck. Should they fail to secure those men,

they are sworn to commence a crusade against Lawrence and “drive us to hell.”

Lights out or not, nobody could have slept soundly on that news.

More Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

As before, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

We left Marcus Parrott telling his brother, Edwin, that the second proslavery company headed for Lawrence passed by his window just as he wrote. The timing might come more from Marc’s flair for the dramatic than actual events, but Parrott lived at Leavenworth and proslavery forces had come through there often enough before. The Missouri interfered with the most direct route for many and it had only so many ferries available.

Marc feared what would come. He himself spent time as a prisoner of a proslavery army back in December. Back then, the free state party feared that Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, would summon the 1st Cavalry from Fort Leavenworth against them at Lawrence. Shannon tried at least half that, but without orders from Washington Colonel E.V. Sumner turned him down. Since then, Shannon had gotten the authority from President Franklin Pierce to summon Sumner’s men at will to preserve law and order in the territory. Concerned about all this, Marc reported that he went to the fort that morning, May 9, 1856, and informed Sumner about the proslavery movements. The Colonel told him “he would go over tomorrow”. Marc doesn’t elaborate, but it seems from further context that Sumner promised to look into things on behalf of the antislavery party:

The pro-slavery n[illegible] are now clamorous to have Sumner Removed from the Army – they charge him with being a free soiler. It is doubtless true. It is good for us that if he is. I dare not say that they may regret having him removed.

This would square with John Speer’s account that the garrison generally leaned antislavery. Marc wouldn’t put sacking Sumner past Pierce, who had dismissed Andrew Reeder at the request of Kansas’ proslavery men.

Rumors also flew about that someone had shot Wilson Shannon, which Marc didn’t believe. He did think

Reeder & Robinson are probably at this time under arrest. […] Their arrest is equivalent to their death.

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

At the time of Parrott’s letter, Robinson had probably left Lawrence. Reeder waited until well into the night. Both men had good cause to fear for their lives in proslavery custody, though ultimately only Robinson got captured and he survived. Bringing things closer to home, Marc informed Edd that, “One or two attempts have been made to waylay me at night, but failed.”

Proibably Marc couldn’t count them because he had seen men he suspected of tailing him or setting an ambush, but managed to get away. He may have succumbed to ordinary paranoia, but proslavery Kansans and Missourians really did want to get antislavery militia leaders like Marcus Parrott. Consequently, he armed himself and holed up in his office.

Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

It wold take an especially obtuse reader of the May 10, 1856 Herald of Freedom to miss the point: the cause of freedom in Kansas stood on a precipice. Its leaders, facing arrest, had fled. Its semi-official organ, the paper itself, had a grand jury judgment for its suppression. Ordinary Kansans, like Pardee Butler, and low-level free state operatives, like J.N. Mace faced mortal peril. Proslavery men roamed the countryside, harassing travelers and trying to settle old scoresJefferson Buford’s army, a few hundred strong, had come to destroy the free state party. In response to the shooting of Samuel Jones, a new invasion from Missouri seemed in the offing.

That new invasion appears to have turned from fear to reality in the few days prior to the Herald’s edition. The night Andrew Reeder fled Lawrence, he remarked on

Picket guards posted a mile on the road to Lecompton. Reports that they have 300 men assembled.

That number would about match the size of Buford’s expedition. During his flight and long sojourn hiding in a Kansas City hotel, Reeder noted several groups passing through on their way to Kansas. Marcus Parrott, living in Leavenworth, saw more. A lawyer and free state militia leader, Parrott appeared previously as the man that Patrick Laughlin accused of telling him to engage in election trickery. He had also stood for governor against Charles Robinson, on the more conservative Young America ticket.

Gentle Readers, you may also remember Parrott as the author of a letter that I lacked the ability to read a few weeks ago. I got some help from a fellow flair over at Reddit’s AskHistorians, Caffarelli. She kindly donated some of her lunch time to the task and between the two of us (mostly her) I have a fair transcription. Some best guesses remain; I’ll mark them in the quotes with brackets.

Parrott put pen to paper on May 9, writing his brother Edwin. In the customary manner of nineteenth century correspondents, he opened by saying he had just received the latest from “Edd”, complete with $200, but

We are again unfathomably deep in the matter of territorial trouble.

During the last [two] days, arrived men, have been [horsing] toward Lawrence. The town is again investe[d]. Before this reaches you, the telegraph will relieve your suspense. To me, the moment looks big with fate. A Company reached from here at day light this morning, unarmed, or it is said by Shannon who having found the regulars unmanageable, has turned again to his favorite militia.

Wilson Shannon had tried and failed to get the 1st Cavalry to move from Fort Leavenworth to suppress a proslavery invasion in the past, but he could have just as easily used them to suppress the free state movement. That fear didn’t pass when he brokered a tense peace back in December. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed the Army officially at Shannon’s disposal for the preservation of law and order.

Moreover, at the very moment Parrott wrote, “a company -the second- marched past my window for the scene of strife.”

“I’ll burn gun powder in your face.” More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part One

 

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom trumpeted proslavery violence in expectation of new horrors in the near future. With Lecompte’s grand jury ordering the apprehension of the free state leadership and a new invasion from Missouri in the offing, they had plenty of reason to fear. Thus the May 10, 1856 issue reported a series of attacks, from a highway robbery attempt that might have happened, to the easily confirmed shooting of J.N. Mace. For the most part, this all happened in the recent past. Another item took the paper further back, to December before coming up to the present.

At Leavenworth, a place

infested with a gang of outlaws, who, if they had their deserts, would swing on every suple sapling in the woods. Their chief business is to harrass and persecute Free State settlers. They butchered Brown-tarred and feathered Phillips-incarcerated McCrea, in a close and unhealthy prison, for doing that which he would have been a coward not to have done. They have destroyed a printing press, driven families from claims, and insulted and abused women.

I don’t know about abusing women, but Leavenworth had killed Reese Brown. A separate item relates that people back in Illinois had taken up a collection to fund the purchase of a claim for his wife and children. They tarred and feathered William Phillips, though not the William Phillips who reported for Horace Greeley. A proslavery mob destroyed the Territorial Register there. The shoe fit.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The proslavery men also came for the Leavenworth ballot box. That occasioned the story that the Herald proceeded to tell, courtesy of and starring a free state comrade of Reese Brown’s, “whose name we withhold for good reasons.” Anonymous stories like this deserve heightened scrutiny, but this one has the sound of more to it than the highway robbery account. Brown and our protagonist aided in the defense of the polls and judges of election at Leavenworth. Soon thereafter, a large band of proslavery men gathered across the river in Missouri. They must have meant to cross and join the fight.

Fortunately, the ferry-boat was on the Kansas side; and by accident it was cut loose from its moorings and sunk.

Accidents do happen. The proslavery men went home cruelly disappointed. On the Kansas side, things settled down about Leavenworth with the murder of Brown until a week prior, when our nameless protagonist again went to Leavenworth. One of Brown’s murderers chatted him up. The paper reports a dialog we should treat with some skepticism, but its content doesn’t seem too out of order. The proslavery man remarked that Andrew Reeder had come back to Kansas and he “would like to see the d—-d scoundrel.” Brown’s compatriot called Reeder “a perfect gentleman.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery man took the free stater’s horse by the bridle to hold him and continued:

No doubt all such d—-d abolitionists as you think he is a gentleman. You are a d—-d robber, and will catch h-ll; you stole the ferry-boat last winter, and I now arrest you for it.

Our hero asked under what authority his opposite number proposed to make the arrest, at which point the border ruffian produced “a large bowie-knife.” Alas, he brought a knife to a gun fight. Brown’s fellow drew a pistol and offered his regrets. If he could not go free at once, he would “burn gun powder in your face.”

“There is more abolition wolf-bait.” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left off with a retrospective on how the proslavery border ruffians had pushed indifferent and even sympathetic Kansans into the free state camp by their heavy-handed, sometimes deadly, actions to force slavery upon the territory. George Brown, or rather his associate editor J.H. Greene as Brown had left Kansas on business, published it in the Herald of Freedom as part of a general appeal for help from the East. He and his fellow free state men expected a new invasion in short order and feared that this time, Wilson Shannon would send the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth after them as well. They came to those dire straits courtesy of proslavery sheriff Samuel Jones, who came to Lawrence to arrest Samuel Wood. Wood had rescued his fellow free state militia leader, Jacob Branson, from Jones’ custody back in December. As soon as Wood got back to Kansas, Jones went to take him in. Wood refused to oblige, leading to Jones coming back with some of the cavalry as bodyguards. Wood and his accomplices fled Lawrence in advance of that, but someone shot Jones in the back while he camped in town.

Almost simultaneously, proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte got a grand jury to summon the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason, usurpation of office, and other charges. The jury also declared Brown’s paper a public menace which deserved suppression. Free state governor Charles Robinson left on the 9th. The free state’s senator-elect/delegate to Congress, Andrew Reeder took off shortly thereafter on learning that the previous plan for him to serve as a test case would likely end in his death.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

Before he left, Brown made sure everyone got the point. After his item recapping Kansas shift into the antislavery camp, he detailed the first attempted arrest of Reeder. Then came an item on Pardee Butler’s late travails. Butler had nothing to do with the free state government except preferring it as a private individual. Brown identifies J.N. Mace as a free state man like Butler, but calls him a captain. That implies militia leadership, which might have made him a larger target. Mace came into Lawrence on April 29, 1856, to testify before the Howard Committee. That night he sat at home until his dog raised a ruckus. Mace went to see what had happened, and

walked but a short distance from the door, when several shots were fired at him, one taking effect in his leg, near the top of his boot. The shot paralyzed his leg, and so stunned him that he fell to the ground. Two persons, who were concealed in a gully close at hand, hereupon made good their escape, one of them remarking, “there is more abolition wolf-bait.”

Unlike Brown’s story of highway robbery, this has a sound ring of truth to it. Mace did testify before the Committee and by naming him Brown invites people to check his facts. Mace suffered for “several hours” before he could get back indoors. Brown called the wound “severe” but not life-threatening, so in theory anybody nearby could go see for themselves.

The Transformation of Kansans, Part Two

 

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

We left George Brown’s Herald of Freedom worried about the state of things in Kansas. He painted a nightmarish picture of women in arms and traumatized children who would want revenge against the Slave Power for what it had done or might soon do to their fathers. Brown’s piece drips with nineteenth century domestic sentimentality, but that doesn’t make the feelings behind it less real. He may have exaggerated the number of women and children learning to shoot and keeping guns on hand, but men of the time really did believe that to drive their dependent loved ones to war represented an invasion of the home and a breach of the natural order. We might not express it in such gendered terms, but how many of us want our loved ones to live in a war zone?

Yet Kansas had come to that. A cynical reader might argue that Brown could have made that argument at any point in Kansas’ history. He came to the territory to make it free and so has a vested interest in making things sound dire as possible to shake loose donations for his cause. Maybe so, but Brown told his readers that he did not come to a Kansas so far gone as this:

One year ago the majority of the people of Kansas were decidedly friendly to slaveholders, or indifferent to their claims. Not one in twenty could be found here, who was reputed an abolitionist in the place from which he came. The people were nearly unanimous in condemning a man who was reputed as an abolitionist. The general aim seemed to be to make Kansas a free, white, American State, and no sentiment was expressed against slave holders, slave States, or slave holding where it was legal. Now behold the change!

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Brown wants to have it both ways. He tells us here by implication, and explicitly in context, that the enslavers drove Kansans into the antislavery ranks. Few historians would disagree, but one can quarrel with his version of early Kansas. Most Kansans hailed from Missouri. While some moved probably moved west to be quit of slavery, they had experience living with it and more likely harbored indifferent to positive attitudes toward the peculiar institution. H. Miles Moore, who became the free state Attorney General, stood firm on that point. Joseph Potter told of a similar transformation. In both cases, proslavery men who had some sympathy with the border ruffians changed their colors on seeing just how little respect they had for even the self-determination of their friends.

That Brown dates the shift in Kansan opinion to less than a year ago also tells an interesting story. As of May, 1855, he tacitly admits that most white Kansans did not consider themselves part of his movement. It seems that the fraud and violence at the territorial elections in March didn’t change the minds of as many as one might think. Taking that as given, the much smaller scale trouble in the May special elections to remedy some of that likely didn’t prompt realignments either. But we know by the time of the delegate elections in October that a majority of voting Kansans chose to attend the free state polls and ignore the territorial government’s canvass. The change must have happened over the summer and early fall. If Brown has the right of it, then the purge of antislavery men from the legislature, the ouster of Andrew Reeder, and the passage of the Kansas slave code drove most Kansans into the antislavery camp.

“Kill them! kill them!”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, Gentle Readers. Rather than write history, I spent mine putting together Lego and playing Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I intended to write after the Lego, but the game consumed the remainder of the productive portion of the day. I have no regrets.

That said, the nineteenth century hasn’t gone away. We left George Washington Brown telling the world the state of affairs in Kansas. Proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte had gotten a grand jury to summon the free state government leadership on grounds of treason. Charles Robinson, the governor, and Andrew Reeder, delegate to Congress and senator-elect, made a run for it. Robinson traveled openly and got caught at Lexington, Missouri. Reeder disguised himself and skulked about at night. He got clear of Missouri, though not without a few close calls and much delay. Brown informed his readers that, whatever happened with the antislavery leadership, ordinary Kansans remained in peril. The territorial government still stood against them, to the point of outlawing their platform. Beyond that, antislavery Kansans faced the threat of individual or mob violence for expressing their opposition to slavery in their territory.

From the general, Brown proceeded to the specific:

The hue and cry is now raised against Gov. Robinson and Senator Reeder. “Kill them! kill them!” is in the throats of every brawler who goes unhung in Kansas. Their movements are watched-their goings out and comings in carefully noted-and they are forced to seek a place of safety in the Free States.

Most of us probably read “hue and cry” as a stock phrase, but it originates in a literal call to apprehend wrongdoers. Brown has Robinson and Reeder’s situation dead to rights: orders existed for their arrest and posses had assembled to take them. If they should die while resisting, or “resisting” arrest, the proslavery party might well experience such remorse as to leave them hung over for a week. Both men feared their death if taken. Reeder fled Kansas, rather than stay behind as a test case, specifically because he had information that he would never live long enough to face trial.

Brown, like the free state leadership, saw the situation as dire. They had taken pains to avoid initiating major violence and, some hotheads aside, feared the results of an armed class of any scale. Proslavery and antislavery Kansans did kill one another over politics, but heretofore the murders happened on a personal scale or between small bands of men. Even a frontier government might contain that sort of thing without undue strain. But now, the free state men feared,

no earthly power can prevent a bloody collision. If it must come, the sooner we have whipped our enemies, the sooner will quiet be restored to the country. Human patience cannot long endure this system of terrorism and persecution. If we can secure quietude in no other way than by fighting for it, surely ’twere infinitely better that we pass through a sanguinary struggle than be made slaves!

Brown could have written all of that on almost any occasion; he had feared for his own life before. But until the grand jury acted, the official reaction to the free state movement had come to little more than rhetorical condemnation and largely unenforced laws. The violence they faced had come irregularly, in response to specific circumstances. While that had come under the color of law when a proslavery army invested Lawrence back in December, the town narrowly avoided destruction. No campaign had grown from that proslavery defeat; the Missourians went home on the instructions of their own leaders. Now a force within Kansas and with the power of the territorial government and its federal imprimatur had moved against them, a force which might call on the United States Army to destroy their movement.