Higher Law and Disunion: Andrew Butler on Kansas, Part Eight

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Andrew Butler, former messmate of David Rice Atchison, told the Senate that all his hopes lay with Franklin Pierce. It fell to the President to step in with the military, disperse the free state government, and so prevent civil war. A cynical person might argue that relying on Franklin Pierce to do the right thing amounted to admission of defeat. Butler might agree. He didn’t want shots fired in Kansas because he knew “one drop of blood” would likely end the Union, but in saying so he returned to an earlier theme:

I have such confidence in the good sense of the country that I believe republican institutions might survive the present Union. Really it is broken already; for the spirit which cherished it has been extinguished, and the very altars upon which we ought to worship have been profaned by false fires.

Here Butler anticipates Lincoln’s mystic chords of memory and recalls Calhoun’s cut ties of Union. He rightly sees the nation as a thing that can only last so long as belief in it. Like many Americans in both sections, he now looked at a series of broken promises, violated understandings and rounds of mutual recrimination that pushed him toward the conclusion that the Union did not deserve saving. Back in the day, men had

a hardy morality, which dealt with events as they were. They had a wisdom which knew how to accommodate itself to circumstances, and did not lift themselves so high that they saw more than others, and sought ethereal regions because the earth was too good for them.

In other words, those Higher Law people could shove it. The framers, pragmatists to a man, saw and accepted slavery. They made no great effort to change or challenge it, but rather conformed themselves to its particular demands for security. Generations of later scholars would disagree, but the tide of research has gone against them. Butler doubtless ascribed to the framers any number of novel constitutional doctrines they wouldn’t recognize or would find dubious, but the general thrust of his argument holds. Even the most sympathetic scholars admit that the famous framers antislavery credentials rest more on intention than action.

Franklin Pierce

Of course, Franklin Pierce had delivered for slavery before, doing much to start the entire Kansas mess. He could do it again. Should the President feel so inclined, Butler had advice for him. In his place, Butler

would serve a warrant on Sharpe’s rifles, and if Sharpe’s rifles did not answer the summons, and come into court on a day certain, or if they resisted the sheriff, I would summon the posse comitatus, and I would have Colonel Sumner’s regiment to be part of that posse comitatus.

Gentle Readers, I am not a lawyer. I can’t tell you if Butler here means to use one of the odd legal fictions where the common law treats property as persons or if he just chose a clever turn of phrase. Either way, he means to send the 1st Cavalry to disarm the free state movement. This would prompt “reflection” amongst the antislavery enthusiasts. Butler didn’t say just what they would reflect on, but one imagines he meant them to consider how easily an unarmed man can get himself shot dead. That in mind, they would “give over their delusions.” If Pierce couldn’t do that, then Butler recommended his state

Go out of the Union, and make arrangements with others to form such a government as you can live in with honor and dignity.

 

Unanswered Questions about the Sack of Lawrence

Wilson Shannon

We left Wilson Shannon explaining the sacking of Lawrence to Franklin Pierce. He said, essentially, that sometimes people get a little excited and a lot of pillaging happens. What could you do? After the fact, he kept a promise he had made to Lawrence before this all began. Now that they had disarmed, thanks to Sheriff Samuel Jones riding into town and collecting what arms he could at the head of a small army, he ordered Colonel Sumner of the 1st Cavalry to dispatch men from Fort Leavenworth to guard Lawrence. For good measure, he also ordered a company for Topeka.

This all looked bad, of course. Shannon, charged with maintenance of law and order in Kansas, had permitted armed invasion, the pillage of one of its towns, and the destruction of a considerable amount of property. What kind of governor did that? He knew his conduct would come under scrutiny, both by antislavery figures outside Kansas and by proslavery politicians looking for a fall guy. Much of Shannon’s letter suggests that he understood the president as one of the latter. He got the job in the first place because Pierce fired Andrew Reeder for mismanaging the ascent of slavery, after all. Toward the end, the governor made the subtext into text:

I have relied solely on the forces under the command of Colonel Sumner, in order to maintain peace and good order in the Territory and enforce the execution of the laws. I have furnished no posse to the Marshal, nor have I been called on by that officer to do so.

Pierce had asked if Shannon drew on the force under Colonel Cooke out at Fort Riley, which the governor had not done. The stress on exclusivity suggests both that Shannon wanted the president to know he hadn’t gone mad with his new power to summon the army and that he hadn’t repeated his blunder of the winter and given proslavery forces a pretense to invade under his authority. Nor had I.B. Donaldson come to Shannon and asked for a posse, which could have come from the ranks of the 1st Cavalry. He hadn’t approved any posses since the small force sent into Lawrence with Jones on the occasion of his shooting, weeks before. Pierce would have to understand that Shannon did everything he could and simply did not deserve the blame for what happened after. The buck did not stop there.

All through this, I have wondered just how much of the story Shannon told honestly and how much he worked to excuse himself. The governor doesn’t appear to have outright lied, though he may have mistaken some things. He wrote for an audience that had every reason, including a past bungling, to hold him accountable and so we must expect him to paint himself in the most favorable light. But the matter of Donaldson’s posse remains ambiguous. Did Shannon firmly suggest he take the military instead of summoning any proslavery man with a grudge to move on Lawrence? He might have seen Lawrence as a problem that the posse would take care of for him, as suggested by his indifference to the town’s plight while it remained under arms. That would encourage him not to press the matter. Donaldson clearly turned him either way, but Shannon could still have ordered Sumner’s men out to serve as a kind of peacekeeping force; he tried to do just that during the Wakarusa War.

And why did Donaldson refuse the aid Shannon might have offered him? Concern for his safety makes perfect sense in light of how Lawrence treated Samuel Jones. Shannon told Pierce that the Marshal feared the soldiers might tip off the men he aimed to arrest, but if Donaldson feared that then why wait weeks to move? Why issue a proclamation calling for the largest posse he could possibly assemble? Donaldson deserves the lion’s share of the blame for bringing in his posse, but what did Shannon really do to deter him? During at least days closeted together in Lecompton, they must have discussed Lawrence. What did they say? Did all of this go according to plan and get disavowed later? Or did Shannon try his best and get outpaced or outmaneuvered?

I don’t know.

Governor Shannon’s Peace

Wilson Shannon

We left Wilson Shannon, second governor of Kansas Territory, explaining what had happened to Lawrence to an impatient President Franklin Pierce. The posse of proslavery men, hundreds strong, ran amok for hours. The governor explained that the antislavery party headquartered in Lawrence had driven them to distraction. They could not rest easily until reducing the Free State Hotel and the town’s two printing presses to ruins. No one died -Shannon either ignored or didn’t know of the proslavery man who died when a piece of the hotel fell on him as it burned- and the governor dismissed the property damage as the result of incidental exuberance and brief failure of the officers on the ground, not design. Trust him and note the fine raiment he chose for his posterior.

I.B. Donaldson gathered a suspiciously large posse to begin with and then made no protest over its transfer to the control of a known proslavery hooligan with a grudge against Lawrence, Douglas County sheriff Samuel Jones, but the federal marshal himself got in and out of town without any destruction. He left with prisoners in tow, taking them straight to Lecompton. There Governor Shannon waited. On having news of Donaldson’s success, the governor finally stirred himself to concern about Lawrence’s fate:

As soon as I was advised that he [Donaldson] had dismissed his posse, and without waiting for further information from Lawrence, 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.

Shannon wrote to Sumner on May 21, 1856; he probably put pen to paper as the rampage took place. Aside from knowing that Donaldson had arrested the men he came for, his letter to the colonel reveals

The Sheriff has also got through making arrests on warrants in his hands, and I presume by this time has dismissed his posse.

Franklin Pierce

That dates the composition of Shannon’s letter into the evening, but he may have presumed on both counts and written Sumner what he expected to happen rather than what he knew. If Jones arrested anybody in Lawrence on that day, I haven’t seen reference to it in any sources with local knowledge. If he wrote in anticipation, Shannon could easily have written earlier and sent his missive during the afternoon.

Either way, Shannon wanted Sumner to get the lead out. He should dispatch his three companies -a hundred men each, on paper, but probably only thirty or so effective at any moment- “with as little delay as possible.” Shannon anticipated that more warrants would come and someone would have to go back into Lawrence to serve them. The military force would secure the peace, which he expected tested again when those warrants appeared in the hands of sheriffs and marshals.

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.

Governor Shannon wanted to preserve the peace, or at least a peace. Ever since he came to Kansas he had written and acted on those lines with clear sincerity. He feared the result of a pitched battle between proslavery and antislavery militias, both for Kansas and the nation at large. If nothing else, a chaotic Kansas reflected poorly on him personally. Wild carnage did not suit him in the slightest, but he only exerted himself energetically to prevent bloodshed during the Wakarusa War, where he bore personal responsibility, and to dispatch Sumner’s men against antislavery organizations. In doing so, he followed closely the president’s own policy.

 

The Cat-Like Tread of I.B. Donaldson

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce wanted to know what had happened or would soon happen in Kansas. His second governor of the territory, Wilson Shannon, had failed to write him with updates. Instead he got word through army dispatches and rumors, which the president found less than helpful. All the same, he endorsed Colonel Sumner’s plan to use the 1st Cavalry to serve process on people in Lawrence in lieu of a civilian posse. Governor Shannon heartily agreed when he finally wrote back on May 31, 1856. By then the moment had come and gone. He informed the President of the warrants issued against free state leaders, which I.B. Donaldson dispatched his deputy to serve. Said Deputy Marshal tried to secure Andrew Reeder and came away empty-handed. He also came away with a fear for his life if he gave it another try. In light of that and the surprise gift of a bullet to Sheriff Jones shortly before, convinced Donaldson he needed the security only a large posse could bring.

You can’t argue with that, but it all pointed to just the solution Pierce, Shannon, and Sumner all preferred. Donaldson got no such posse from Shannon, which raises troubling questions. The Shannon who appears in the free state correspondence has a tin ear for Lawrence’s concerns. Unless they completely disarm and submit to him, they can take their chances. I don’t know what went on between Shannon and Donaldson at Lecompton, where both men remained for some time and heard pleas from Lawrence together, but the governor gave Pierce a curious account:

Had the Marshal called on me for a posse, I should have felt myself bound to furnish him with one composed entirely of United States troops. Knowing this to be the case, and feeling satisfied that wish a posse composed of such troops, the parties to be arrested would evade the service of process, he determined […] to summon his own posse

Wilson Shannon

Shannon doesn’t quite say that he told Donaldson he could have the 1st Cavalry. He might have; Donaldson somehow knew that he could have the Army at his back, but Shannon only implies that he said so in as many words. I may have read this too closely, but it sounds like the Governor might be hard at work polishing his record. He omits any reference to his trying to extract confessions from Lawrence in exchange for ordering Sumner’s men into action.

The objection that Shannon gives from Donaldson doesn’t make much sense. John Speer and Marc Parrott both tell us that the military sided with the free state party in general. Donaldson reasonably might feared someone tipping his quarry off. But if he feared that then why did he announce to the world that he wanted a massive posse to deploy against Lawrence? Such cat-like tread makes for poor surprises. Even if he counted on shock, Donaldson waited ten days between his proclamation on the 11th of May and marching Lawrence on the 21st. If he really cared about people getting away, he had a funny way of showing it.

A generous reader might think Donaldson honestly wanted his quarry to escape and so gave them every chance, but he could have done so as easily and with far less danger of things getting out of his control had he taken Shannon’s possible offer for military help. If Shannon never made that offer, then he could have just sent his deputy in again or gone himself with a token force. As it stands, none of this adds up.

Franklin Pierce, Out of the Loop

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The sack of Lawrence took place on a hot Wednesday, May 21, 1856. The destruction, pillage, and worse continued into the night but had abated by dawn. In the most restrictive sense, it played out over as little as four or five hours from the time Samuel Jones led his posse into town until they left again. But it took time and good cause, or at least a solid pretense, to get so many men to come over and consummate their long-held desire to do something about the infamous abolition town. The story could begin all the way back when Stephen Douglas cutting deals with the F Street Mess and Archibald Dixon. One could make a case for either, but to keep things manageable let’s focus on the immediate campaign against Lawrence that culminated on that Wednesday afternoon and evening. That also takes us back to Samuel Jones, sans posse, coming into Lawrence to arrest Samuel Wood on April 19. Failing then, he came back with a detachment of United States Cavalry and found Wood gone. He collected a few men as consolation prizes, then received a bullet in the back from someone in Lawrence gratis. On May 5, Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury made a federal case of things by ordering the arrest of various free state leaders and the suppression of the free state newspapers. The two causes came together in I.B. Donaldson’s overgrown “posse” of Missourians and Jefferson Buford’s adventurers.

That yields a bit more than a month between inciting event and the attack. During all that time, plenty of news could have passed back and forth between Kansas and Washington. One has to wonder just what the Pierce administration thought of events as they developed. The Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume IV (PDF), have an account of that. The documents begin with the news that Franklin Pierce felt left out of the loop. On May 23, he telegraphed

Has the United States Marshal Proceeded to Lawrence to execute civil process? Has military force been found necessary to maintain civil government in Kansas? If so, have you relied solely upon the troops under the command of Colonels Sumner and Cooke? If otherwise, state the reasons. The laws must be executed; but military force should be employed until after the Marshal has met with actual resistance in the fulfillment of his duty.

Shannon, absent airline travel, couldn’t have called upon the president; he might at least have written.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Later that day, the President telegraphed again. In the interim, he received word from Edwin Sumner via Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War. Pierce had a copy of Sumner’s letter to Shannon “of the 12th instant.” I think that Pierce means the letter Sumner sent on the 13th, based on his endorsement of Sumner’s policy there. The Colonel wanted a purely military posse to keep the peace and offered to furnish Shannon with however many men he required. Pierce wrote

My knowledge of facts is imperfect; but with the force of Colonel Sumner at hand, I perceive no occasion for the posse, armed or unarmed, which the Marshal is said to have assembled at Lecompton.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

Nobody looks on Franklin Pierce as a sterling example of presidential leadership or far-sighted judgment, but even he could see things had gone sour indeed and required containment. He knew that Donaldson had a posse at Lecompton but had yet to move on Lawrence, thanks to his information as of the 13th. But while he sat in Washington and wondered why Shannon hadn’t written back to him, Donaldson had gone and Lawrence unresisting people of Lawrence paid the price.

“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.

 

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.

Shannon to Lawrence: Drop Dead

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Captain Walker left Lecompton with a letter from Governor Shannon for the good people of Lawrence. He dodged some bullets and escaped proslavery pursuit whilst carrying it back to the town, which stared down the barrels and blades of a gathering proslavery army. The governor could come to their rescue far more effectively than he had during the Wakarusa War, considering he now had authority to draw on the 1st Cavalry to preserve order. Lawrence knew that and appealed to E.V. Sumner, in command, directly. He only had to give the town a nod and all the stress of the past few days would quickly pass.

Shannon, we should remember, hailed from the northern wing of the proslavery party. He lost his seat in the House of Representatives for voting for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He came to Kansas determined to let slavery’s friends consolidate their ill-gotten gains in the nation’s newest territory. But he had drawn the line at armies on the march before, doing all he could to restrain the proslavery men who moved on Lawrence in December. He preferred antislavery Kansans disarmed and wouldn’t shed any tears if their wildcat government collapsed, but he didn’t want them dead. Hate him as they may, even the free state party could appreciate that. He had to do something.

Informed by the committee of safety that a force marshaled against Lawrence, the governor wrote back

there is no force around or approaching Lawrence except the legally constituted posse of the United States Marshal and Sheriff of Douglas County, each of whom, I am informed, have a number of writs in their hands for execution against persons now in Lawrence. I shall in no way interfere with either of these officers in the discharge of their official duties.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

You could believe Wilson Shannon or you could believe your lying eyes. Shannon admitted that a force existed, but called it only a posse. The posse trick hadn’t fooled him back in the winter, but now something had changed. The federal warrants might have done it; with a US Marshal involved, the convalescing Jones and his band of hooligans might exercise greater restraint. Or the governor may have decided that since he didn’t bear personal responsibility here, as he had when he summoned the Kansas militia against Lawrence previously, they could all go hang.

Responsibility certainly factored into Shannon’s thinking. Mulling the issue over thoughtfully, he undertook the great moral and intellectual labor of placing it elsewhere:

If the citizens of Lawrence submit themselves to the Territorial laws, and aid and assist the Marshal and Sheriff in the execution of processes in their hands, as all good citizens are bound to do when called on, they, or all such, will entitle themselves to the protection of the law. But so long as they keep up a military or armed organization to resist the Territorial laws and the officers charged with their execution, I shall not interfere to save them from the legitimate consequences of their illegal acts.

Someone in Lawrence had shot Samuel Jones when he tried to execute a warrant, fair enough. But no one answered the warrants from Lecompte’s grand jury with hot lead. Even in Jones’ case, when he appeared with a posse drawn from the 1st Cavalry the people of Lawrence acquiesced. They may have played dumb or hid the people sought, but it seems violent resistance of any kind ceased with the appearance of the military. If they wanted help, they must disarm themselves in the presence of an army enemy bent on their destruction. Shannon asked more than political suicide here; he wished antislavery Kansans to commit actual suicide.