The Return of Samuel Jones

 

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Dine and dash aside, W.P. Fain had come and gone from Lawrence. Two members of the committee of safety, Topliff and Perry, had their house burgled while they aided him with making his arrest. But no one had died yet that day. The Free State Hotel still stood. The printing presses remained untroubled. If the day kept on like this, then the second campaign against Lawrence might suffer only a single death in excess of the one that the first campaign had seen. Robert S. Kelley would go home cruelly disappointed yet again.

Colonel Topliff carried yet another letter off to I.B. Donaldson, in command of the hostile force, pleading for the security of Lawrence and repeating all the town’s capitulations. If nothing else, Donaldson now had his men. The Marshal could declare victory and go home. Up on Mount Oread, where Fain took his prisoners, some speech making went on. The deputy himself took to the stump and said, according to William Phillips, that he had no further use for his posse

but that Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve, and that they would hold themselves in readiness to go with him.

In the weeks since his shooting, Jones had recovered enough to sit a horse and make himself a menace again. Phillips takes a paragraph to mock Jones’ injury, noting correctly that the proslavery press declared him murdered. The crowd greeted the sheriff “with enthusiastic cheering.” Lawrence had not gotten clear of trouble after all.

Phillips, writing a few months later, castigates the “Safety Valve” for their capitulations. His condemnation goes on for better than a page about their cowardice, their surrender to territorial authority, and all the rest. This, he deemed, worthy of apology on account of “their extreme peril” but impossible to justify. Even if one could muster a justification, he then insisted that the people would never have supported such a ruinous course. To prove the point, he accuses the committee of fraud:

It is proper to state that several of those men whose names are attached to the document declare that it had not their assent. Messrs. Allen, Babcock, Mallory, and Grover, repudiate, and declare they did not sign it; some of these admitting that they signed a paper that forenoon, but know of no part of such a document sustaining or submitting to the territorial laws. I have been informed that Dr. Prentiss was not present when it was drafted.

If Phillips and his informants told the truth, rather than fixing their reputations after the fact, then only Samuel Pomeroy and W.Y. Roberts endorsed Lawrence’s last appeal. It would not stop Samuel Jones. He may have had process to serve, but he surely wanted revenge and had previously taken any pretext to move against Lawrence. Jones had threatened the lives of antislavery Kansans all the way back to the legislative elections more than a year ago. Even if a letter could save Lawrence from I.B. Donaldson, one would not sway Sheriff Jones.

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“They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The Eldridges, who had gone to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furnishings and the Lawrence that surrounded them, got nowhere. J.B. Donaldson would promise only that he would not destroy the Free State Hotel. Wilson Shannon, when offered everything he had ever asked of the free state party, still declined to order out the Army to preserve the peace. When they told the Governor that this might drive Lawrence into resistance by force, Shannon declared himself for war.

William Phillips doesn’t mention the Eldridges’ mission in his Conquest of Kansas, likely because a promise of total capitulation and repeated begging for help didn’t make for an inspiring story. He does, however, relate a few incidents that the Lawrence memorialists left out of the version they sent to Franklin Pierce. The first concerns “a young man named Jones,” late of Illinois. Jones, who appears to have had no connection to the infamous Sheriff Jones, had gone off to a store to buy some flour. He returned home by way of Blanton’s Bridge, and there met “two of these young Southerners, belonging to the posse.”

Seeing fresh prey, the proslavery men attacked. Phillips arms them

with United States muskets and bayonets. These arms were Mississippi rifles, as they are called. They were public arms, belonging to the territory, in the charge of Governor Shannon, and with his permission given to these young Southerners and Missourians

Shannon did have public arms at his disposal and probably would have let them out to Donaldson’s posse. Whether the Southerners had their weapons from his hand or not, they put them to use against Jones. Still near the store, he dismounted and bolted for it. His enemies followed him inside. Someone there gave Jones a pistol to answer them with,

whereupon the men raised their pieces and threatened to shoot him unless he gave it up. The person in the store again got it, when an altercation between him and the two men ensued.

Jones took that moment to claim the better part of valor, leaving the store while the fight progressed. For his heroism, Jones received pursuit by the two proslavery men, who swore that an abolitionist would not escape them.

They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded, and died during the day, or before next morning. The murderers immediately left.

Through the long build-up to this, many people had faced deadly threats and harassment. A messenger from Lawrence had dodged bullets as he rode. Proslavery men had detained others and warned uninvolved parties that they could not travel safely. Now a man had died, the first political murder in Kansas since Reese Brown in January.

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.

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.

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.”

“Worthy only of barbarians” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On April 29, 1856, J.N. Mace, a free soil Kansan, finished his testimony before the Howard Committee and went home. That night, his dog raised an alarm and Mace went outside. Two proslavery men shot him in the leg. Mace survived, but it took him a few hours to get back indoors. Mace lived near to Lawrence, so the town got together for another mass meeting. Charles Robinson, G.P. Lowery, James Legate, and others addressed the crowd. A Mr. Smith, probably George W. Smith, offered the customary resolutions. The crowd at Faxon’s Hall adopted them unanimously. The first condemned the attacks upon both Mace and Samuel Jones as

disgraceful to any community, and worthy only of barbarians destitute of the first principles of honor or common humanity

An honorable man would have challenged Mace or Jones to come out and have a fair duel, but in both cases would-be assassins struck under the cover of darkness and fled. Everyone, whatever their party, should condemn such behavior “as highly destructive of the peace and best interests” of Kansas. Maybe everyone but a few malcontents could manage those condemnations, but the meeting’s ecumenical spirit quickly fell away. Its members hailed from Lawrence and considered themselves free soilers, after all. They thus noted that under the present government of Kansas,

the people can have no laws, executive or judicial officers of their own, and since those that have been attempted to be imposed upon the people are partial, unjust and oppressive, not recognized or approved by the bona fide residents of the State, it is the duty of Congress at once to remove every vestige of the Territorial Government, and to admit the State into the Union under her present Constitution.

They wouldn’t let an opportunity to make that call go to waste, but one of their own had just taken a bullet from a proslavery assassin. They could expect no justice for him from a government made of border ruffians and their supporters. Thus, the resolutions speak to their genuine concerns for Kansas. Until they got their redress from Congress, the resolved concluded that attempts to enforce the laws could only come to naught. Why should they respect the lawful authority of men imposed upon them? Free state Kansans had not merely lost an election fair and square; they lost their elections to violence and intimidation by Missourians intent on prosecuting their gain to the fullest extent.

The meeting concluded:

until such laws [by Kansans for Kansans] can be made and executed, every man should be a “law unto himself,” and brand with infamy any man who would brutally assault his fellow-man, or in any way disturb the peace and good order of the community.

This sent a mixed message. On one hand, the people of Lawrence asked for a legitimate government to protect them and secure their peace and prosperity. The men who shot Mace and Jones demonstrated the need for just that government, as the present state brought bouts of anarchy and proslavery oppression. Frequently the two worked together, with oppression from the government and anarchy from proslavery bands allied to that government’s program. On the other hand, until they got satisfaction Lawrence endorsed individuals taking law into their own hands. A brand of infamy might constitute only public scorn, but in context it hints at more. Someone -anyone- should do something.

“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.

Back in Lawrence with the Herald of Freedom

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We’ve followed Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson out of Kansas, both fleeing their arrest in pursuit of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury investigation. Reeder made it to safety, while Robinson got as far as Lexington, Missouri before proslavery men took him off his boat and back to Kansas. Both feared that they would share in Reese Brown’s fate if taken, killed either extrajudicially or after a jury declared them traitors. However, events progressed around Lawrence even without Reeder and Robinson in attendance. We left the Emigrant Aid Company’s town in the aftermath of Samuel Jones’ shooting. He had come to arrest the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had rescued free state militia leader Jacob Branson from Jones custody back in late November. The last time Wood and Jones crossed paths, a proslavery army came near to destroying Lawrence. The locals could hardly forget that so soon and took pains to distance themselves from whichever of them shot the infamous Jones in the back.

Robinson’s arrest at Lexington took place on May 10, 1856. He remained briefly with a judge there, but soon the word came from the legal governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, that the territory wanted its illegal governor back on charges of usurpation of office. I meant to hop back to Kansas with Marcus Parrott’s letter to his brother about the current situation, but an unfortunate infirmity prevents that: I can’t read the handwriting with enough confidence to use it at present. I’ve asked some friends if they might make heads or tails of it, but for now Parrott must wait.

On May 10, 1856, the Herald of Freedom began its second page with an item titled “Another War Threatening Us!” It ran just beneath the endorsement of John C. Fremont for president, “subject to the decision of the national Republican convention.”

George Washington Brown opened up with just the kind of appeal in writing that Charles Robinson and Andrew Reeder hoped to make in print:

“Let our friends in the North be ready! Kansas is again invaded by armed ruffians. They are gathering in by tens, and fifties, and hundreds.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Brown probably had the numbers right, to judge from what I’ve seen elsewhere. The hundreds could come in the form of Jefferson Buford’s men. Smaller contingents fit with the pattern established at previous Missourian invasions: local groups would travel together and only collect once within Kansas. The free state editor also claimed that Wilson Shannon had enrolled the lot in the militia, as he had done back during the Wakarusa War. Shannon might well have repeated himself, particularly as the leaders of the proslavery force then proved amenable to calming their men and seeing them off to home when enrolled. Rumors also held that Shannon wanted to bring in the United States Army to handle any arrests, as had happened when Jones tried to take Wood from Lawrence, “but the other officials swear this shall not be.”

With so much of the present crisis looking like a repeat of the previous, one can’t fault Brown for expecting everything to continue.

Then Brown opted to dramatize the real fear that many in Lawrence must have felt, himself included:

The Reign of Terror has commenced. The bowie knife and revolver, the hatchet and hempen rope, are the instruments brought into requisition to awe, intimidate, and crush out the liberty-loving portion of our fellow citizens. Stealthy assassins roam over the country, under cover of night, dogging the footsteps of unsuspecting citizens, and watching the opportune moment to strike the cowardly blow. Men known of men to be murderers, walk unabashed, unwhipped of Justice, in the very presence of the shameless officers of misnamed Law, boldly and boastingly proclaiming their complicity in crime. No man’s life is safe from one day to another, if he has declared, never so mildly, his opposition to the aggressions of Slavery.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether you think Brown a bit purple here or not, you can’t argue with his facts. Proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies had bragged of their hooliganism. Samuel Jones started his career in Kansas by pulling a gun on the judges of election at Bloomington and telling them they had five minutes to let anyone vote or he would kill them. The bogus legislature made him a sheriff. Knives, revolvers, and hatchets all feature into violent clashes -some of which happened at night- as well as more mundane intimidation.

The Chief Justice’s Instructions to the Jury

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

A grand jury acting under the instructions of Chief Justice Samuel Lecompte, a Pierce appointee and slaveholder, issued warrants to arrest Charles Robinson, Andrew Reeder, James Lane, and several other prominent free state men. The proslavery party now had the legal weaponry it needed to decapitate their enemies, end the free state government, and complete their paper conquest of Kansas Territory. No one could have mistaken Lecompte’s end, but his reasoning bears looking into. William Addison Phillips has the text of Lecompte’s “most remarkable charge”. It deserves a look.

Lecompte began with an ordinary statement of what a grand jury needed to do: look into any possible lawbreaking that came up and issue what indictments seemed proper. As it happened, the Chief Justice had one in mind.

Your attention will naturally be turned toward an unlawful, and before unheard-of organization, that has been formed in our midst, for the purpose of resisting the laws of the United States.

The jurors must proceed “calmly,” without concern for “the exciting state of affairs.” They had a duty to stick to their oaths and act without respect to party or person, taking only the law as their guide. In the unlikely event that someone thought Lecompte meant antislavery militia companies or some other threat to good order, he laid it out so no one could mistake him:

You will take into consideration the cases of men who are dubbed governors […] lieutenant-governors […] secretaries and treasurers, and men who are dubbed all the various other dubbs with which this territory is filling

When weighing the cases against such men, essentially the entire free state government, Lecompte told the jurors that they must take the territorial laws seriously. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, a federal statute, made the territory and established its government. The purloined territorial legislature and its officers, as well as federal appointees like Lecompte and Governor Shannon, derived their authority from that statute. The laws of the territory and acts of its officials thus inherited the authority of the United States itself. As Phillips puts it:

the United States makes laws by proxy, employing the borderers of Missouri to make the laws, inasmuch as being way out West it is inconvenient for her to come herself

To resist those laws meant to defy the Union, not some mere territorial government. To fly in the face of the authority of the United States made men disloyal and “guilty of high treason.” Thus, should the jurors find any such men who had defied the laws, by the strength of their oaths they had a duty to indict them. If the jurors found no active resistance, but organizations devoted to it all the same, then they must indict for the crime of “constructive treason”. Treasonable intention in itself sufficed.

We might take all of this as so much bluster. Talk about treason has permeated Kansas affairs in one way or another for as long as antislavery Kansans have chosen to resist their illegitimate government and Lecompte’s instructions to the jury fit neatly into that tradition. But we should not forget that he occupied a federal office of real authority. The Squatter Sovereign could gas about treason all it wanted and never have it come to much. When a federal judge deemed a person a traitor, they stood a good chance of soon decorating a gallows.