The startling news

John Brown

Henry H. Williams, who lived near the Pottawatomie, got the word on Wednesday, May 21, 1856. The Border Ruffians, under the leadership of IB Donaldson and Samuel Jones, had come for Lawrence again as long expected. He mounted up and rode the ten miles “to arouse” the Pottawatomie Rifles under the command of John Brown’s son. At about four in the afternoon, everyone gathered where the Osawattomie and the California road met. They waited on two other companies, the Marion Rifles and Pomeroy Guards, but only two men showed from those groups.

The roused Rifles soon had a second messenger from Lawrence, who contradicted the previous and seems to have said they should stay put and wait on further word. They would have none of that and resolved to go and find out the situation for themselves. That brought them to a third messenger, who reported the town’s surrender and subsequent destruction.

This startling news was received in silence by the company. Then the word “Onward” was passed along the line, and although scarcely a word was spoken, the thoughts of every man could be read in his countenance. We pushed on, and a messenger was dispatched the arouse the settlers at Osawattamie.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

More bad news came in: No free state militia operated in or near Lawrence. The Border Ruffians held Blanton’s Bridge and still had a force in Lecompton. That looked like more than thirty-odd men could handle, so they camped at Prairie City and hoped that more men would appear. Company C of the Kansas Volunteers and the Pomeroy Guards joined them on May 23. That evening, the news came that proslavery men had taken Charles Robinson off his steamer and hauled him back to Kansas.

That got the Rifles and company moving, aimed at intercepting Robinson at Palmyra and rescuing him. There the Marion Rifles finally appeared. While they waited for the free state governor to come by, John Junior and a small group went to check on Lawrence, finding Robinson’s house burned and both presses ruined:

the town was sacked according to “Law and Order” by a posse of 400 South Carolinians, Georgians, and Border Ruffians

The militias considered their next course. Lawrence would not fight for itself and they couldn’t carry that battle on their own, so everyone agreed to go home and look to their own defense.

On our return from Palmyra we received intelligence of a disturbance on Potawatamie Creek, in which five men were killed.

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“The prosperity or ruin of the whole South” A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Three

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2

Proslavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans had a parallel series of conventions in their respective jurisdictions. We left David Rice Atchison, late senator from Missouri, firmly turning down the effort to turn one into the start of his reelection campaign. Bourbon Dave had given up on Washington, at least in the near term, in favor of saving Kansas for slavery. Through it, he would also save slavery in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, and spread it to the other territories.

In the summer of 1855, almost everything turned out to Atchison’s liking. His border ruffians had secured the Kansas legislature for their own men. They ousted Andrew Reeder, who had defied them. Between governors, Daniel Woodson filled in and he had already proven his proslavery bona fides. That Franklin Pierce passed him over to appoint Wilson Shannon did not thrill the Missouri border, but Shannon soon earned the endorsement of Atchison’s Kansas-based organ, the Squatter Sovereign. The fall brought invitations for Atchison to go east and speak for the cause, as he had probably done during the winter. He declined them, citing obligations at home, but answered with a letter that made his case.

We (“the border ruffians”) have the whole power of the Northern states to content with, single-handed and alone, without assistance and almost without sympathy from any quarter; yet we are undismayed. Thus far we have bewen victorious and with the help of God, we will still continue to conquer. … The contest with us is one of life and death, and it will be so with you and your institutions if we fail. Atchison, Stringfellow and the “border ruffians” of Missouri fill a column of each abolition paper published in the North; abuse most foul, and falsehood unblushing is poured out upon us; and yet we have no advocate in the Southern press-and yet we have no assistance from the Southern States. But the time wilol shortly come when that assistance must and will be rendered. The stake the “border ruffians” are playing for is a mighty one. … In a word, the prosperity or ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle.

Atchison’s biographer added the emphasis, which neatly encapsulate’s the ex-senator’s view of the question. He certainly wrote it to exhort and guilt his fellow southerners into action, but he believed it too. Those who invited him might never have expected Atchison to turn up -such invitations often served more as a way to request a public letter- but even if they did he had work to do and probably didn’t think Kansas could spare him. The rise of the free state movement in the fall proved Atchison right.

Daniel Woodson

To answer that threat, establishment figures in Kansas tired to take a moderate tone with their Law and Order party. They positioned themselves as moderate alternative to Atchison’s hooliganism in November. At the end of the month, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow. The ensuing strife put those hopes to rest. Daniel Woodson wrote straightaway to Kelley and Stringfellow at the Squatter Sovereign, who he could depend on to pass word into Missouri and Kansas had a new invasion. The territorial secretary especially asked that his friends bring “the Platte City cannon.” The letter crossed the border and came into Atchison’s hands. He read it to a mass meeting at Platte City, then took two hundred men into Kansas to join the campaign against abolitionism.

Yet Atchison’s rhetorical, and occasionally physical, militancy fell short again. When Wilson Shannon negotiated a settlement with the free state leadership at Lawrence, he and Albert Boone took the governor’s side in talking down the army that Atchison had himself helped gather. His argument then had less to do with principal than public relations. The antislavery side had maneuvered things so that if the proslavery men struck, they would appear as the aggressors. Without Governor Shannon’s blessing, withdrawn thanks to the settlement, turned an irregular militia into a lawless mob that would destroy the Democracy come election time and put “an abolition President” in power.

Horace Greeley

Not that this mattered to Atchison’s Missouri foes. Still a potential senator, they castigated him for plotting the destruction of the Industrial Luminary and voting in Kansas, the latter of which forfeited his Missouri citizenship and disqualified him. Failing reelection, the Missouri Democrat thought Atchison might forge some kind of breakaway proslavery nation. Atchison’s biographer, William Parrish, found no evidence for any of this. In the Democrat’s pages, even the convention where Atchison refused to make the affair into an election event proved his perfidy; the paper recast it as a failed attempt at the same. Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead endorsed Atchison for president on the Know-Nothing ticket. The paper did endorse Atchison for the presidency, until he told them to stop, but always and only as a Democrat.

With all that going on, Missouri’s General Assembly again convened to elect a senator and again failed to manage the feat. Both houses of the legislature agreed that they should hold an election, but could not agree on a time for it. Moments of legislative grace like this did much to explain why these same bodies would eventually vote to strip themselves of the power to choose their senators in ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment. Atchison’s seat in Washington remained empty until 1857.

“The so called treaty amounts to nothing”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The January 29, 1856 Squatter Sovereign apologized for lacking the space to print Franklin Pierce’s third annual message, though it did run items praising the president for condemning antislavery Kansans. In the course of finding those pieces, I also came across other interesting specimens of proslavery thought in the territory at the start of 1856. At the same time as proslavery Kansans received Pierce’s message, they could read this in their newspaper:

The Herald of Freedom had lately praised Wilson Shannon. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley wanted their readers to know that Shannon hadn’t turned abolitionist on them:

it sometimes happens that when these low, mean, despicable scoundrels find that a man is incorruptible, they will endeavor to blast his character by attaching -or trying to attach- themselves to him, that he may be contaminated by their filth […] The miserable caitiffs are trying to blast the reputation of Gov. Shannon by making it appear that he is hand in glove with such wretched traitors as Lane, Brown, Robinson, and others. We can say, in good faith, to pro-slavery men every where, that Gov. Shannon made no bargain with them by which they were allowed to disregard the enactments of the Legislature

The Sovereign wouldn’t even admit that Shannon reached an accord with the free state movement, instead doubting

that the treaty as it is called, was what was actually agreed upon. The only evidence is that the freesoilers say so.

But even if an agreement did exist, Shannon had not endorsed the free state program of ignoring territorial law. And anyway, Shannon called together the proslavery army for a specific end, which they achieved:

We were ordered out by the Governor to assist the sheriff in executing legal process. The Sheriff and the Governor told us they had no further use for us, that the laws wold now be executed, and as good men we obeyed.

We, the proslavery men, had the law on our side. As law and order men, they did not stand for political hooliganism. Though they may live near a border, you would not find a ruffian among them. Pay no attention to the destroyed press, the mobbed polls, or the lynched men. You wold find the real ruffians with the antislavery sorts.

But, one might say, hadn’t Lawrence’s besiegers taken men prisoner who they later released? They had, but that could not fairly count as a concession. With the war over, the army “no longer needed or desired” them.

Nor, the Squatter Sovereign promised, would Kansas leave them on the hook for the week or more of expenses they incurred doing their duty:

as to being paid for the hay and corn used of forage, the next Legislature will make an appropriation for that, particularly as many of our own friends had to suffer in the same way -though as a general thing we desired to buy of the abolitionists, knowing that thereby we would “toll” them to the Territorial Legislature for relief. We must have an extra session for the special purpose of attending to the cries of the corn and hay robbed citizens of Douglas.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow

When Stringfellow and Kelley talk about friends here, they mean more than political allies. They themselves went off to Lawrence. That they apparently engaged in a bit of plunder whilst away from home should not, of course, disqualify them from their due compensation. They stole what they liked from Douglas county as a matter of civic responsibility. By forcing antislavery Kansans to seek relief from the territorial government, they would compel their enemies to accept its authority. For that good work, they deserved the thanks of patriotic Americans everywhere. So get right on it and call the legislature into session, Governor Shannon. As Speaker of the House, John Stringfellow stood ready to do his duty yet again.

The inconclusive end of the Wakarusa War encouraged such arguments. The Missourians went home. Kelley confessed his cruel disappointment that Lawrence remained standing. The free state leadership walked free. The crisis passed, but in doing so it resolved nothing. This left the situation open to more than the usual amount of interpretation. The antislavery side declared victory, and got Shannon to endorse their militias, but he had not condemned the proslavery party or done anything against them save dispersing the force he summoned against Lawrence. Winning one battle need not win the war, particularly with the proslavery party frustrated but essentially undamaged.

Resolutions of the Law and Order Party, Part Four

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Shannon goes to Leavenworth: parts 1, 2

Parts 1, 2, 3

Resolution text.

My apologies for forgetting to link to the Squatter Sovereign in the last few posts, Gentle Readers.

Fresh off delivering an officially sanctioned resolution of scorn for the antislavery press and endorsements of the Law and Order party remembered its original promise to serve as a moderating influence  and welcome Kansans of any political stripe, so long as they eschewed the brewing insurrection of the free state movement. With due consideration, they resolved:

we, the members of this convention, the Law and Order Party, the States Right party of Kansas, the opponents of abolitionism, free soilism, and all other ISMS of the day, feel ourselves fully able to sustain the Organic Law of the Territory, and the acts of the Territorial legislature, passed in pursuance thereof, and we hereby pledge ourselves to support and sustain Gov. Shannon in the execution of all laws, and that we have the utmost confidence in the disposition and determination of the Executive to fully and faithfully discharge his duties.

They had come a long way from refusing “to discuss the relative merits of the various political sentiments”. From the start, the Law and Order movement clearly saw itself as a proslavery endeavor. However, its founders also made efforts to appeal to universal values. This sufficed to draw in one somewhat prominent antislavery man, Marcus Parrott. Parrott served as James Lane’s second in the abortive Topeka duel. According to Patrick Laughlin, he also gave orders to fix the vote for Andrew Reeder around Doniphan. However, at Big Springs Parrott stood to oppose Andrew Reeder’s resolutions.

Writing a few years later, William Phillips described Parrott as a South Carolina born lawyer who came to Kansas by way of Ohio:

He is a young man of dark complexion and Southern temperament. He was an administration Democrat when he came to Kansas; but I scarcely feel safe in laying down dates for the opinions of this class of politicians after they have experienced “squatter sovereignty as enunciated under the Kansas-Nebraska Bill.” Of thorough acquirements and profound thought, he was yet paralyzed by the listless indolence truly Southern.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Not the most sterling endorsement, admittedly, but Phillips thought that Parrott’s Ohio Democracy ties might help him with Shannon. No such luck:

Mr. Parrot, a free-state man, who had been an associate Democrat with Governor Shannon in this, tried to speak but was not permitted to do so. Shannon, as president of the convention, refused to notice him, and Stringfellow told him that “the convention did not want to hear a free-state man.”

You can’t say Marcus Parrott didn’t try. He had at least the potential connections to get a word in and if the Law and Order party really wanted to collect a few antislavery men to the banner, they had one right there. But they ultimately had little to offer and little interest in such a recruit. In light of this, the convention looks much more like the official marriage of the territorial government under Wilson Shannon with the proslavery party that he had consistently, if informally, linked himself to since he first came to Kansas.

 

Resolutions of the Law and Order Party, Part Three

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Shannon goes to Leavenworth: parts 1, 2

The Law and Order convention at Leavenworth, with Wilson Shannon presiding, published the usual resolutions of such a gathering. They pronounced themselves conservative, establishment men beset by abolitionist fanatics. They had a good word for the Constitution, another for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and a kind smile at the laws of Kansas. These, they would defend at all hazards. They had to, as no government democratic, republican, or even despotic, could endure long if it tolerated open flouting of its edicts. No one would have the freedom to judge the laws for themselves and obey only those they chose, when and how they chose, or law itself would fail before whim and caprice. The free state movement did just as they said they could not abide, setting up its own government, running its own election, writing its own constitution, and establishing its own military. This could not stand. Indeed, the movement “should be crushed at once.”

But the convention had not yet fully expressed its outrage. It resolved that the Topeka constitutional convention

called by and elected by, and composed of members of one political party, the so called “Free State Party,” and neither called nor elected by the PEOPLE OF KANSAS, would have been a farce if its purpose had not been treasonable; and any constitution presented by such a convention is unworthy the serious consideration of freemen, and if presented to Congress, as the Constitution of Kansas-should be scouted from its Halls as an insult to its intelligence, and an outrage upon our sovereign rights.

The implication that allowing antislavery politics to advance meant submission features heavily in proslavery rhetoric. Women and slaves submitted, not free men. Thus slavery’s friends, like its foes, declared that they would not tolerate their own enslavement. A white man must resist, lest he appear neither white nor a man.

Two more resolutions have good words to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both cheekily affirming the right power of the people in the territory to decide for or against slavery for themselves free from meddling by Congress or people from other states. I imagine the men gathered in Leavenworth, fully aware that Missouri votes elected many of them to the legislature, got at least a good smirk out of those.

Then the Law and Order Party, which cast itself as a nonpartisan group and framed its concerns in at least arguably universal tones, expressed

our gratitude to the Democrats of the Northern States for their undeviating support of the true principles of Government, contained in the organic law of this territory.

The non-partisan party thus endorsed the proslavery wing of Northern Democracy. One could expect little else from a body where an appointee of that Democracy presided.

The convention disbursed “contempt and scorn” for the antislavery press for

misrepresenting the facts growing out of the organization of this Territory, all of which are calculated to mislead public sentiment abroad and retard growth and settlement and prosperity of this Territory.

Reading this, one has to remember that no one has the Howard Report to consult. Most everything a person could learn about events in Kansas came from the press and every paper in the land had an open partisan affiliation. Thus to some degree one believed what suited one’s politics. If the convention didn’t deny antislavery reports, then less committed people might take them more seriously.

Resolutions of the Law and Order Party, Part Two

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Shannon goes to Leavenworth: parts 1, 2

Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon, Speaker of the House John Stringfellow, Territorial Secretary Daniel Woodson, and other Kansas proslavery luminaries got together in Leavenworth to have a Law and Order convention. By law, they meant the law of the bogus legislature’s slave code. By order, they meant complete adherence to it. However, they had at least thin grounds to make a general appeal to moderate-minded Kansans. The proslavery party could have gone a bit too far, but the free state movement threatened revolution and anarchy:

The course pursued in this Territory, by certain persons professing to be the peculiar friends of human freedom, is at variance with all law, entirely subversive of good order, and is practical nullification, rebellion, and treason, and should be frowned upon and denounced by every lover of civil liberties and the perpetuity of the Union.

Nullification, in the middle 1850s, had yet to transform itself into the white South’s most popular dogma. If may have taken the Civil Rights Movement to manage that feat. At the time, Shannon and his fellows sat comfortably within a majoritarian tradition of proslavery rhetoric.

Free state men could argue their fidelity to the nation and its traditions of protest, but they proudly declared that they held no loyalty to the government of Kansas and pledged to disregard its laws. To proslavery men, that made for treason. Even without their commitments, the charge of rebellion looks reasonable. Kansas had a lawful government recognized by the United States and it did not meet in Lawrence.

The free soil party could further argue that the proslavery men stripped themselves of any legitimacy they might have by their cooperation with Missourians in purloining Kansas’ elections. The law and order men had heard that often enough to draw up an answer:

the repudiation of the laws and properly constituted authorities of this Territory, by the agents and servants of the Massachusetts Aid Society, and the armed preparation of such agents and servants to resist the execution of the laws of Kansas, are treasonable and revolutionary in their character, and should be crushed at once by the strong, united arm of all lovers of law and order.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

So the central argument of the free state party, that external forces had seized and corrupted the government of the territory, turns back on it. That the blue lodges organized first and rushed across the border to threaten and eventually attack antislavery Kansans did not enter into it. People arriving on Emigrant Aid money did, especially if some found Kansas less idyllic than promised and turned back for home at once. Consistency matters in these things.

At this point, I don’t know who the Law and Order convention’s organizers expected to win over. Moderate antislavery opinion aligned with the free state movement. They offered nothing except orders to do as told and condemnation of antislavery strategy in the strongest terms short of violence. Who did they have left in Kansas to persuade? Perhaps no one, but the resolutions could reach other audiences. We can read them, with their official imprimatur and invocations of conservative order, as both a defense of the proslavery party to those abroad and an effort to ease tempers among those within Kansas. On the first count, they tell the nation just how wild antislavery Kansans had run. On the second, they imply to angry proslavery Kansans that the adults have things under control and they should wait for direction rather than take things into their own hands.

Resolutions of the Law and Order Party, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Shannon goes to Leavenworth: parts 1, 2

Wilson Shannon went off to the Law and Order Convention at Leavenworth, where he presided and won the crowd with a rousing speech in defense of the laws of Kansas. He notionally represented Douglas County, home of the infamously free soil Lawrence. This news would have made an unwelcome surprise for most of the people living in the county.

A nineteenth century public meeting would hardly pass without resolutions. Writing and approving such resolutions constituted their main business, aside from the speeches and liberal helpings of food and drink. The Law and Order men did not make themselves an exception. As one would guess from their chosen name and past resolutions calling the convention, they framed themselves as thoroughly establishment gentlemen

believing the constitution of the U.S. and the Law passed in pursuance thereof, are sufficient for the protection of our rights, both of person and property, and that in the observance of the same, are vested our only hopes of security for Liberty and the Union, and that we will maintain the same at all hazzards.

Out of context, this all comes across as bland conservative piety with a bit of vigorous nineteenth century manhood at the end. They may as well have endorsed the hallowed platform of Mom and Apple Pie. But none at the time could have missed that they invoked the Constitution to specifically link it to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, from which the legislature derived its authority. By extension, the works of the legislature had the same imprimatur. Fraudulent elections or not, proslavery men commanded the recognized, legal authority in the Territory of Kansas. Their power thus reached back up through the Kansas-Nebraska Act to the Congress and the Constitution that established it.

Invocation of constitutional niceties went only so far. No less then than now, we all fancy the Constitution to read precisely as we intend to do, forbidding any other course. Thus they further endorse the laws of Kansas as adequate to secure their rights, including property rights. By this they may have also meant rights to their homes, land, and conventional belongings, but also their right to what people of the time called property in man. This, they would maintain “at all hazzards.”

There too, the subtext of the resolution extends beyond conventional piety. The convention made this clear in its next resolve, which declared that in every form of government

Monarchial, Aristocratical, Democratic, or Republican, the liberty, the life, and the property of no individual is safe unless the Laws passed by the properly constituted authorities are strictly and freely obeyed.

As little as we care for their actual ends, the law and order men have a point. Even the finest laws written with the most careful sensitivity to human rights do no more than entomb what they propose to defend if the people fail respect and obey them. This holds as much true for laws abolishing slavery as for laws instituting it. Thus:

we hold the doctrine to be strictly true, that no man, or set of men are at liberty to resist a law passed by a legislative body, legally organized, unless they choose by their actions to constitute themselves rebels and traitors, and take all the consequences that legitimately follow the failure of a revolution.

William H. Seward in 1851

William H. Seward

The free soil men would probably answer back that they obeyed higher obligations, perhaps even William H. Seward’s Higher Laws for the real radicals, but also that they did so firmly seated in the American tradition of protest. They rebelled against an illegitimate authority and its tyrannical actions, whatever the legal forms of legitimacy. The made themselves into rebels against it, but by no means traitors to the United States. One can go back and forth like this indefinitely, with both parties insisting that they cast the tea over the side while the other passed the Stamp Act.

We should not, however, understand their expressions of fidelity to American tradition as insincere. Both parties understood themselves as defending the right and good against great peril. The free state movement had erected an illegal shadow government which acted in all the ways it could as though it had legal power over Kansas. This might sometimes make for an idle show, but we should not forget that they also had an armed militia and one of its members, Samuel Collins, had just tried to kill a proslavery man. This had the look of a genuine crisis as much from a proslavery perspective as the opposite.

 

Wilson Shannon Goes to Leavenworth, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Part 1

We left Wilson Shannon at the Law and Order Convention in Leavenworth, on the fourteenth of November, 1855. At the time, I had only limited access to the Library of Congress historical newspaper database. This no longer holds and so I can check William Phillips’ assertion that the governor came at a delegate from Douglas County. The Squatter Sovereign printed a delegate list that agreed with him:

Delegates from Douglas and Doniphan Counties as listed in the Squatter Sovereign

Delegates from Douglas and Doniphan Counties as listed in the Squatter Sovereign

I don’t know the exact boundaries of Douglas County as of 1855, but I suspect that neither Shannon nor former and future Acting Governor Daniel Woodson lived within them. All of those delegates had to come from somewhere. Phillips suggests that maybe three men got together somewhere and named Shannon.. The convention would hardly have scrutinized the qualifications of a sitting governor they wanted as a patron.

From the Sovereign I also learn that while chosen to represent Doniphan, Patrick Laughlin did not appear. A separate piece informs the reader that Laughlin remained confined the bed and alleges some kind of free soil midnight raid on the place where he rested to finish him off. Given Laughlin didn’t sound well before, it seems Doniphan made him a delegate as a show of support rather than with the expectation that he would attend the convention.

The convention named Shannon its president and according to the Sovereign he made one of those long nineteenth century political speeches:

more than an hour in a very able and earnest manner, and to the entire satisfaction of all present. His address satisfied all that he was an able, liberal, devoted patriot; States Rights to the back-bone. We shall not do him the injustice of attempting even a synopsis of his admirable effort.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

We don’t have to entirely take the Sovereign’s word for it. A copy, or at least a good synopsis, probably went around. It might have gone into the Leavenworth Kansas Herald, but the Library of Congress scans for that paper run out before the convention. William Phillips denounced Shannon’s words as “indiscreet and partisan,” which suggests that the convention got exactly what it wanted. Shannon, per Phillips, committed himself to

enforce obedience to the laws enacted at the Shawnee Mission; and he called upon those by whom he was surrounded to aid him in enforcing those laws. He took occasion to denounce the constitutional movement at Topeka; declaring it treasonable, and expressed his determination that such a state of affairs must not be permitted. In this speech he also alluded, in disrespectful terms, to the majority in Congress, and said that, in the next presidential election, the party with which he then acted would carry everything before them.

Levrett Spring agrees that Shannon made quite the speech, adding that he pledged Franklin Pierce backed the proslavery party.

Wilson Shannon Goes to Leavenworth, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon, the second governor of Kansas, presented himself as a neutral man. New to the territory, he had no particular commitment to the proslavery or free state party. But he had yet to set foot on Kansan soil before declaring himself in favor of the legislature’s slave codes. Whatever defects they might possess, the legal legislature had passed them and acting governor Daniel Woodson, who replaced Andrew Reeder in the interim, had signed them into law. Irrespective of their content, the forms of law gave them a kind of legitimacy. Shannon’s scrupulously proslavery neutrality further drew him into the Leavenworth Law and Order Convention, where he would preside.

Leverett Spring generously calls this “unwise” and characterizes Shannon’s affiliation with the proslavery party as an error which he would later try to correct. I hoped to have proceedings from the convention today, but the Library of Congress historical newspapers database appears only intermittently accessible. In lieu of them, I have Spring’s account from Kansas: Prelude to the War for the Union and William Phillips’ from The Conquest of Kansas. Phillips informs us that though the Law and Order men issued their call all around Kansas and had the governor, Surveyor-General John Calhoun other territorial officials attend.

The John C. Calhoun of South Carolina died back in 1850. According to Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, John Calhoun of Kansas had lived in Illinois where he taught Abraham Lincoln to survey and befriended Stephen Douglas. I remember reading that this Calhoun had some relation to the famous one, but haven’t had luck turning up the reference.

William Phillips

William Phillips

Multiple Calhouns aside, Phillips reports that

Outside of the citizens of Leavenworth there were not more than eighty persons present, and by far the larger portion of these were from Missouri. The leading men on the Missouri border were there. The Stringfellows were officers of the convention, and several of the vice-presidents and secretaries were residents of Missouri.

The charge that Missourians dominated the proslavery movement in Kansas has some truth to it, even aside the obvious cases where Missourians intervened in numbers to decide Kansas issues. To my knowledge, Benjamin Stringfellow did not care to remove to Kansas. His brother John, however, had a medical practice in Atchison. Whether his personal habits left him more usually in Missouri or not, I can’t say. As a free state man writing while the struggle took place, Phillips had a strong interest in emphasizing the Missourian connections. However, Charles Clark’s listing of participants who held seats in the legislature at the time, thanks to Missouri votes, suggests Phillips at least correctly spotted a Missouri-minded majority in the convention’s leadership.

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Phillips considered it “singular”

that Gov. Shannon should take an active part in an assemblage where the violent Missouri borderers had the sway, and where its character as a simple pro-slavery convention was so apparent. The governor, in doing this, conclusively showed that he was the tool of the Missouri borderers, and blindly obedient in their scheme of subduing Kansas to slavery.

However, Shannon wanted people to consider himself the tool of Douglas County, home of Lawrence. He claimed to sit as a delegate from the county. This seems improbable. Spring does not repeat the accusation and I lack the documents to check it at the moment. However, claiming that he sat as a delegate from somewhere unlikely to have sent one would let Shannon appear somewhat more disinterested and fit with the pose of neutrality that the Law and Order movement preferred. If he really made the claim, then he probably got a few appreciative laughs.

Stealing the Leavenworth County Seat, Part One

William Phillips

William Phillips

The proslavery friends of law and order had their preliminary meeting at Leavenworth on October 3, 1855. That city occupied an odd place in Kansas politics. According to William Phillips’ The Conquest of Kansas, the people of Leavenworth largely preferred the free state party. However, the city also accepted the rule of the territorial legislature, laws and all, in order to enjoy a charter from the Kansas Assembly. Phillips relates that this position arose “partly by business considerations, and partly by timidity.” This may have made it the ideal place for a notionally slavery-agnostic movement that opposed the free state men to gather. It also made the city into a target for proslavery men who had less tolerance for the soft sell.

The Assembly failed to name the seats of each county in Kansas, which left some of them up to the citizens to decide. The men of the county went to the polls on the subject in early October:

Three points contended for the honor. Leavenworth, the largest, and now the largest city in the territory, felt sure of it; so sure that no very special effort was made. Kickapoo was another contestant. Kickapoo is a river town, being some ten miles up the Missouri river from Leavenworth. It is a cotton-wood town of the “great futurity” school, and does a heavy business in the whiskey-retailing line. The other point, Delaware, is also a river town, eight miles below. This latter place has an admirable faculty for making a great place, there being scarcely anything of it now.

Kickapoo had a strong proslavery contingent, which prevented the free state delegate election polls from operating. I’ve also seen references to a proslavery militia called the Kickapoo Rangers. It had to look like a better prospect for county seat than the questionable Leavenworth, even if the latter sat just across the river from Platte County and had proslavery men committed enough to lynch William Phillips and brag about it back in the spring. As Phillips had it:

Previous elections had taught them a lesson, and furnished a valuable precedent. Western Missouri is just over the river from Kickapoo, and many of the citizens of the former place have an interest in the latter. So it is with Delaware; many of the most deeply interested speculators in this yet-to-be-Babylon live in Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri. Under these circumstances it is not wonderful that it was not difficult to arouse an interest in this election in Missouri. Another thing against Leavenworth-it was reputed to be an “abolition hole.”

All of this reminds me a bit of the argument in John McNamara’s account of Phillips’ mobbing. He argued that the papers in Missouri condemned Leavenworth as soft on slavery and the town’s proslavery men took Phillips on in part to prove them wrong. Leavenworth’s business-minded timidity on slavery could come across, especially from Missouri, as simultaneously making it a threat and a good place to win an easy victory. Add into this the issue of Missouri men having considerable money invested in its much smaller population -Phillips insists that Kickapoo and Delaware added together and doubled wouldn’t have matched Leavenworth’s numbers- and one has a convenient and relatively compelling case to steal yet another election.