The Hunt for John Speer

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 someone in Lawrence shot Sheriff Samuel Jones, twice. The first bullet went through his pants, the second through him. The Herald of Freedom told readers that a proslavery man had to have done it, referring vaguely to enemies Jones had made on his own side of Kansas Territory’s great issue. Outside Kansas people might believe that, but the evidence doesn’t support the proposition at all. Whatever enemies Jones might have made aside antislavery Kansans, Lawrence had no shortage of men who had made violent threats against him and had attacked him previously.

We don’t know who did shoot Jones, but the men he had come to Lawrence to arrest seem like fair enough suspects. John Speer, who later wrote a biography of James Lane, fit that description. He had intervened to prevent the arrest of Samuel Wood, the business that brought Jones to Lawrence in the first place. Jones’ deputy, Sam Salters (the fourth Samuel in the story), thought Speer a likely prospect and had the dragoons surround Speer’s home, twice.

The first time, he was insolent, abusive and profane; and I advised Mrs. Speer, if she saw his hosts coming, to make no resistance, but to barricade the door and compel him to break it down. This she did; and, as he uttered a volley of profanity, she indignantly cast a dipper of water in his face. The dragoons laid back int heir saddles, and laughed and cheered. This so provoked him that he pulled a revolver, swearing he would “kill the abolitionists.”

That went too far for the soldiers with Salters, who told him to cool it. Instead the officer, Lieutenant McIntosh, went up the the window, tapped, and asked her to let him in. Mrs. Speers didn’t cave easily

She replied: “If you are United States officer, I will; if you are a Border Ruffian, you will have to break the door down.”

The soldier confessed to soldiering, so she let him in. He conducted

a very inefficient search, pleasantly remarking about the bright morning, the babe in the cradle, and her four pretty children around the fire, and retired.

All of this makes it sound like the posse caught Speer in his home, with the inefficient search probably including winks and nods. Speer clarifies to the contrary. McIntosh declined, over Salters’ request, to search a small room. He also tells that he had met McIntosh on the road previously and they had passed without incident. It seems no bad blood existed between them and McIntosh may have thought he let Speer go by means of that incomplete hunt. Speer doesn’t say so outright, but it looks like he understood McIntosh’s actions in that light and he elsewhere declares that many of the soldiers sided with the antislavery party at the time. His mourning of the Lieutenant’s later death at the Battle of Cabin Creek, where he took the side of slavery, points to at least some gratitude for the gentle treatment of Speer’s wife and family.

Advertisements

“Unworthy even of the name of a devil” The Shooting of Samuel Jones, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left Samuel Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, still in Lawrence. He did not get his man, Samuel Wood, nor the men he came back to get who had helped Wood escape him. But Jones had a concession prize of six men in custody thanks to the backing of the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth. Confident of his protection and the free state men’s respect of the United States military, Jones pitched a tent in Lawrence to stay the night. He and some other men had gone out to get a drink of water, a fluid antislavery sources might have us believe Jones understood only dimly for lack of study. Thomas Crowder and William Preston stood with Jones just then, and later testified that some men came up looking for Jones. As the Sheriff stooped mere feet away, he rose to identify himself and then stooped down again. Then

some person in a crowd standing near fired into the party, when the remark was made by P[reston] “Jones, you are shot,” and upon examination it was found that a bullet had passed through his pants without any injury.

No physical injury, anyway. The prose makes this all sound very dry and orderly. Someone took a shot at Jones. The bullet whizzed through his pantleg. Preston delivered a Shakespearean stage direction in a flat voice and everyone went about their lives. No one at the time could have missed the tension. Antislavery men had threatened Jones life all day long. He had a large, armed bodyguard of dragoons with him. Jones must have done at least some cursing, as our witnesses hint immediately after:

The party returned to the tent, where, when we commenced talking about this dastardly and hellish attempt at assassination

I expect that getting shot at tends to dominate conversation, but rude free state men would not let Jones, Preston, and Crowder have their chat about extremely recent events unmolested. A man, pretending drunkenness, stumbled into the tent and sat down. Jones told him to get lost, which he did.

in less than five minutes, as we were conversing together, Jones fell, exclaiming, “Oh!” He attempted to draw his knife and find the dastardly scoundrel -worse than a fiend- who would thus, under cover of night, attempt the life of a fellow-being; but the wound was such as to prevent his rising at all. The shot came from the hind part of the tent, and was aimed at the back of the sheriff. We have no doubt, ourselves, that the whole matter was concocted-the rascal hired for the express purpose of assassination; and that there are many persons in Lawrence concerned in this matter, who are very desirous to shield themselves behind this foul and dark scoundrel, unworthy even of the name of a devil.

Second time’s the charm, apparently. Subtlety went out the window after the first shot, if resident at all. Whoever wanted Jones dead must not have cared to ventilate his friends or his military guards, so they had to make sure they had the right spot to aim at.

The Herald of Freedom tries to blame the shooting on proslavery men who disliked Jones, implausibly enough. So far as aiming at him, George Brown argues that Jones

took a seat in an exposed condition-in an unoccupied tent, with a bright light beside him, which, through the cloth, rendered everything perfectly and plainly visible from the outside. In this position he received a bullet in his back-fired by an assassin hand.

Brown’s explanation relies on Jones not having company, which would come as a surprise to Crowder and Preston. Everything else would fit just fine. A light in a tent would give the shooter an ideal target, but shadows don’t come with name tags and the tent had three. Someone would have had to go look, either the shooter himself or a confederate.

Wilson Shannon Successfully Calls Out the Army

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Arrest of Wood: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Samuel Jones wrote to Wilson Shannon as he had before: Lawrence defied him. The locals proclaimed they would ignore the law and deny his authority. They resisted his attempts to arrest Samuel Wood and then Samuel Tappan by force. Douglas County’s sheriff tried twice. He even summoned a posse within Lawrence and got no one for his trouble. Governor Shannon had to give him the power, by which Jones meant military force, to do his job.

Last time around, Shannon keenly sought the help of the United States Army in resolving the crisis. It did not come, as Colonel E.V. Sumner preferred to have proper orders rather than intervene on his own authority. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed his force at Shannon’s disposal. The Governor aimed to use it. He wrote to Sumner on April 20th:

Knowing the irritated feelings that exist between the two parties in this Territory, growing out of their former difficulties, and being exceedingly desirous to avoid the effusion of blood, or any cause or excuse for further conflict or disturbance, I have thought it most advisable to call on you for an officer and six men to accompany the sheriff and aid him in the execution of the legal process in his hands.

Seven men didn’t make for much of an army, but they did come from the Army. The free state leadership badly wanted to avoid any clash with the United States military, as that would damn them as traitors in the eyes of the nation. They knew they could get no help from the territorial government in their cause, nor from Franklin Pierce’s White House. The whole free state strategy rested on their ability to present themselves as loyal Americans who suffered the trampling of their rights in the name of slavery. An armed insurrection against the territorial government hadn’t hurt that image, but one against the United States surely would.

From Shannon’s perspective, that counted as the best reason to use the military. The locals would surely not help Jones, unless he found some proslavery locals who would likely get the idea that they gathered to ruin Lawrence and murder abolitionists rather than conduct a few arrests. It had happened before. Thus

To call on any of the citizens of the county to accompany the sheriff and aid in overpowering the resistance on the part of the defendants, that is anticipated, would most probably lead to a conflict which, when once commenced, it is difficult to foresee where it might end, but in the use of the U.S. troops, no personal or party feelings can exist on either side, and their presence will most likely command obedience to the laws.

Going for a Sequel: The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Five

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

 

Douglas County sheriff Samuel Jones gave it another go. After first failing to arrest Samuel Wood, he went back to Lawrence the next day with a larger posse. He aimed to take Samuel F. Tappan, who had resisted him the day prior, and then move on to the rest of Wood’s defenders. He had the poor luck to come on Tappan near to a Sunday service attended in chief by armed antislavery Kansans. They came to the rescue of Wood, sending Jones packing for a second time in as many days. According to Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars, resistance on April 20th included how

the Free State secretary, pro tem., declared that he would sooner obey the laws of hell, than the laws of the Territory.

In addition, Jones enjoyed “every imaginable indignity .” That banquet of delights so pleased Jones that he removed to Lecompton and turned the clock back to the heady days of early December. Just as when Samuel Wood rescued Jacob Branson from Jones’ custody, the sheriff wrote Governor Shannon. He related how “a mob” of Lawrence citizens rescued Wood “and with violence and force took him from me.” The mob even took Jones guns, which they retained.

I came back to this place for an additional force, and returned to Lawrence with a posse composed of four men, citizens of this county, to assist me in recovering my prisoner; and arresting other persons for theft and other crimes. When there, I summoned an additional posse from among the citizens of Lawrence, -they refused to act, and with my small posse of four men, I attempted to make the arrests, and was again repulsed, and the prisoners taken from me by force, and violent threats uttered against me, and the laws of the territory.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Jones might as well have just told Shannon that he starred in the sequel to December’s trials. No law of nature demands history repeat; people insist on that. If Lawrence chose to resist him again, Jones could choose to move against the town with military force for a second time. He called on Shannon, who must have seen this coming from a sentence or two into the letter,

to furnish me with such military force as may be at your disposal, to assist me in enforcing the laws.

In late 1855, the force at Shannon’s disposal amounted to the half-organized territorial militia. This time around, Wilson Shannon had authorization from Franklin Pierce to call out the Army.

 

“Nearly all were armed” The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Four

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Lawrence on the night of April 19, 1856. The town probably had a public meeting that endorsed resisting Sheriff Jones in his effort to arrest Samuel Wood, reciting the normal free state position that they had no obligation to follow the laws of the territorial government or respect the orders of its officers. While Lawrence did its usual, Samuel Jones also took inspiration from the past. Samuel Wood had thwarted Jones last time around, showing up with more men than Jones had to rescue Jacob Branson. Jones elected to try again with more men.

John Speer takes us from there:

The following Sunday, April 20, Jones made a descent on the city, with a posse of ten men. The first effort was to arrest Mr. Tappan, (he was was afterward Colonel of the First Colorado, and a member of the Peace Commission under President Grant,) but Tappan resisted; and then, “there was a splendid chance for fun,” as the boys remarked.

Jones differs from Speer in telling Wilson Shannon that he came in with four men, but tried to get more inside Lawrence. Given we know proslavery people passed through the town, thanks to the example of Axalla Hoole, Jones might have genuinely expected to get more. Jones and Speer both have reasons to slant the numbers. For Jones, a small posse makes him appear more vulnerable and stresses how no one in Lawrence respected his authority. For Speer, a large one casts Jones more convincingly as an invader.

Either way, it seems Jones and his posse came upon Samuel Tappan and found the third Samuel of this story not inclined to go quietly. The news reached to a nearby hall, where Reverend S. Y. Lum conducted a Sunday service.

It was “the church militant and the church triumphant” -and the church a la militaire, for that matter; for they were nearly all armed. The audience almost fell over each other in attempt to reach the scene; and the preacher was not more than a length behind, accusing Jones of breaking up his church.

This all sounds a bit too good to be true, but Lawrence’s men did rise against Jones and drive him off. Speer reports a rumor that Jones picked Tappan for his reputation as “a non-resistant.” If Tappan had ever professed pacifism, as some abolitionists did, but Speer believes the conviction left him when a territorial legislator knocked Tappan down. Tappan called the bogus legislature “a Nero Legislature”. The proslavery man didn’t know from Nero, but believed Tappan meant “a negro Legislature.” Thereafter, Tappan armed himself. That also sounds too good to be true, but if Tappan said it then he had to know southerners, and plenty of Yankees, would take it as a mortal insult. He might well have called the body “negro” and claimed Nero later on.

An Elusive Meeting: The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Three

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Jones had a plan. The last time he tried to arrest people out of Lawrence, Lawrence got up an army to stop him. The good sheriff didn’t intend to allow time for that again, but as he leaves the Emigrant Aid Company’s town, we must linger. In addition to Samuel Wood, Jones’ quarry, Lawrence then hosted the Howard Committee and Andrew Reeder. The events of the day also found Free State Governor Robinson at home. In such a small town news of a politically-charged brawl with such an infamous person as Jones and Wood, a local hero, had to spread fast. They can’t have missed the mass meeting that happened next, which O.N. Merrill, reports in True History of the Kansas Wars:

These threats [against Jones] were made openly, and were known to the whole town. Threats that were thus made publicly and in loud tones, could not but be known to Reeder and Robinson, who undoubtedly, were fully aware of them. Indeed, on the very evening in question, a public meeting was held, in which Reeder and Robinson were prominent actors. They advised the citizens to resist the laws of the Territory; to own no allegiance but a State Government; and not resist the United States lest they might be overpowered. Their language was plain, and to all intents and purposes, was, that the arrest of N. S. Wood, should be resisted even by force, if necessary.

John Speer, who participated in the fight with Jones, doesn’t mention the meeting in his version of events. Nor does a report of it appear in the Herald of Freedom or Squatter Sovereign soon thereafter, though the Herald has a lengthy piece on the Jones affair including word of a later meeting. The Howard Committee, while in town, doesn’t appear to have taken any testimony on the situation. Their investigation ends with the siege of Lawrence.

The meeting might not have happened. Merrill leans proslavery and may simply have invented it to underline the extent of antislavery sentiment in Lawrence. Or he might have confused the timing, willingly or not, of the meeting that the Herald of Freedom reports on a few days later. That he calls out Reeder as prominent could point to that, as Reeder chaired the later gathering.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

It could also have gone just as Merrill said. Speer and the Herald’s omission might come out of not seeing the relevance, given that no one in Lawrence felt obliged to help Jones. The resolutions wouldn’t have said anything new. Antislavery Kansans seem to have loved nothing more than a public meeting where they denounced the territorial government, its laws, and its officers. By this point they might have gotten away with just resolving the name of the town and leaving the rest as understood.

On the balance, I think it likely that a meeting of some kind took place in Lawrence on the evening of the 19th. It may have come down to a few extemporaneous speeches and a crowd, which wouldn’t necessarily deserve mention in the papers. Even for mass meetings announced in advance and carried on in an orderly fashion, newspaper articles tend to print their resolutions and only make summary sketches of any speech given. Given the choice between printing a more conventional and weighty public meeting and a minor event, the news will understandably prefer the former.

 

 

“Or kill every D—–d Son of a B—h there” The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

 

We left Lawrence on April 19, 1856, with Samuel Jones placing Samuel Wood under arrest for seizing Jacob Branson from him way back in December. Wood had left Kansas for a while thereafter, but on his return Jones soon got word and came to do his duty and get his revenge. Wood appeared inclined to comply, asking only that Jones let him see his family before they departed. That didn’t sound too bad, but Jones wanted Wood to accept his authority and insisted on a promise that Wood give himself up after the visit. Wood would have none of that, so Jones refused permission. Wood twisted free and bounded for the house.

John Speer saw, and participated in, what happened next:

Jones jumped for him [Wood] and caught him by the collar just as he reached me at the door; when, impromptu, and apparently without reflection, I caught Jones by the throat and wood by the coat collar, and saying, “Get away, Wood.”

Wood saw the wisdom of that, but relieved Jones of a revolver before departing. Jones had deputies with him. Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars lists only one, which I reported before, but Speer insists on three. They might both have it right, as Jones might have gone to town with one person and had others join him there. James B. Abbott “laid one of them down on the ground very hard.” Charles F. Garrett “swung another off the porch by the coat tail.” I don’t know how that maneuver works, but it sounds uncomfortable. Samuel F. Tappan “throttled” the last.

Jones, just as delighted as one would expect given his circumstances. According to Edward Fitch (PDF),

Jones raved and swore some and said he would have S.N. Wood or kill every D—-d Son of a b—h there

The crowd, enchanted by Jones’ repartee, tried to offer their own graceful converse: “Put him in the river!” Speer tried to talk the Lawrence crowd down, advising them that proslavery men should have the outrage market cornered. One of the deputies then cried Uncle, at which point Jones and friends departed.

If you remember the events of the Wakarusa War, you know that Jones doesn’t take this kind of thing laying down. When Wood relieved him of Jacob Branson, Jones called in an army. He wrote to Missouri and then to Governor Shannon, setting in motion the siege of Lawrence. Coming near to a bloodbath apparently didn’t leave Jones much more satisfied than it had Robert S. Kelley, but the sheriff of Douglas County had some creativity in him. The last time, he dallied long enough for Lawrence to amass defenders. For a second try, he aimed to serve his warrants before anyone knew they needed an army again.

The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Back in late November, 1855, Samuel Jones and a posse arrested Jacob Branson in the middle of the night. Jones, the Douglas County sheriff under the territorial government, earned his fame by threatening to execute judges of election, couldn’t see fit to make a man ride through the November chill in his skivvies. Samuel Newitt Wood and some other Kansas Legion members came to Branson’s aid, rescuing him from Jones and taking their officer into Lawrence. Jones in turn got Wilson Shannon to call out the militia against the Emigrant Aid Company’s town, resulting in a siege that Shannon, Missouri’s David Rice Atchison, and others barely kept from turning bloody. All of this because Branson’s friend and boarder, Charles Dow, came on the wrong end of a deadly claim dispute with a proslavery man, Franklin Coleman.

The good people of Lawrence had asked Branson to go on his way back before the militia descended upon them. They requested the same of Wood, who obligingly returned to Ohio. There he raised money for Kansas. Wood returned to Kansas on April, coming to Lawrence on the 18th. By coincidence, the Howard Committee arrived in town the day prior, taking up lodging at the Free State Hotel. One can read partiality into that, and probably ought to, but Lawrence did not suffer a glut of available housing. Axalla John Hoole, originally from South Carolina, came into Kansas on the 5th. He settled in Douglas

after staying at that nasty Abolition town of Lawrence for a week. This is called a City, but there are only four little log houses in it, but it is laid out into lots for a town, and I expect one day it will be. […] almost everyone I met was profane

Hoole and his wife ended up boarding with the Ellison family, declaring the patriarch “the most enthusiastic Proslavery man I have met with.” For a South Carolinian, that makes an extraordinary distinction.

Amenities aside, the middle of April brought Samuel Wood back to Lawrence. Samuel Jones still had the warrant for his arrest from back in November and determined to serve it. Per Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars, Jones had intended to make for St. Louis until he got the news. Duty and pleasure, or at least the satisfaction of revenge, called him to Hoole’s nasty abolition town. He felt confident enough to go with a single deputy.

John Speer, future author of The Life of General James H. Lane saw most of what happened next:

Being informed by Charles F. Garrett that Wood was arrested in the law office of James Christian, I walked in a perfectly perfunctory manner toward the office, all the time persuading Mr. Garrett to keep out of the difficulty, as he and I were in business, which any interference would break up. His reply was: “But if they take him to Lecomtpon, they will kill him.” “Oh,” I said, “there is more danger that Jones will be thrown in the river than that he will be allowed to take him away; and there are plenty of young men, whom nobody will ever be able to identify, who will rescue him without us involving ourselves.”

Speer changed his mind on seeing Jones holding Wood by the wrists. Wood asked if he could see his family, promising he would come back after all of ten minutes. Jones could surround the house if he liked. I don’t know what kind of house Wood had, but even a sod hut might grow a second way out given ten minutes and a sufficiently committed digger. Jones didn’t buy it and asked if Wood would willingly give himself up. In other words: did he really plan to come back? Reading between the lines a bit further, did Wood promise to come back unarmed if he did?

Wood replied: “No, I do not recognise your right to take me; but I will put myself in precisely the position I am in now.”

Jones understood that as a no and refused permission.

“I will go,” said Wood; and suiting the action to the word, with a sudden twist of his hands, he jerked loose, quickly making for the door.

“Martyrdom on the scaffold or the stake”

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Robinson concluded his first message (PDF) to Kansas’ new legislature with some further remarks on their situation. Everyone had seen Sheriff Jones taking names down as men came forward and swore their oaths of office. They might have exchanged some jokes or tossed a few insults his way, but everybody knew Jones meant business. Robinson didn’t name him, but none could have had to guess for long just who he meant when the new governor said

It is understood that the Deputy Marshal has private instructions to arrest the members of the Legislature and the State officers for treason as soon as this address is received by you. In such an event of course, no resistance will be offered to the officer.

The last time someone, Samuel Newitt Wood, offered resistance to Jones it ended with an army outside Lawrence. For all the bellicose language common in such times, the free state movement had barely gotten clear of that without a battle they might well have lost or, failing that, won at the expense of bringing the United States Army down on their heads.

The standards of manly performance would not allow Robinson to admit to that in so many words, but nineteenth century discourse permitted him other avenues:

Men who are ready to defend their own and their country’s honor with their lives, can never object to a legal investigation into their action, nor to suffer any punishment their conduct may merit. We should be unworthy the constituency we represent did we shrink from martyrdom on the scaffold or at the stake should duty require it. Should the blood of Collins and Dow, of Barber and Brown, be insufficient to quench the thirst of the President and his accomplices in the hollow mockery of “Squatter Sovereignty” they are practising upon the people of Kansas, then more victims must be furnished. Let what will come not a finger should be raised against the Federal authority until there shall be no hope of relief but in revolution.

If the vampiric president descended upon them, Robinson told the free state men to stand ready. Should Pierce throw a war, they ought to come. Should he martyr them, they died for righteousness’ sake and could claim whatever patriotic and heavenly blessings such an office would convey. Kansas had hard times yet ahead, Robinson averred, but together and putting their faith in the Almighty, “His wisdom who makes ‘the wrath of men praise him'” they would make their Kansas into the Kansas, a state of the Union free twice over. Their Kansas would have no slaves and no black Americans alike, preserving it for them and their posterity. To that cause, the Governor need not add, they would commit their lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor.

Nathaniel Banks

Nathaniel Banks

It must have made for a rousing read, thick with the patriotic and religious sentiments most potent to Robinson’s audience. But the bold words had to come with more than a hint of desperation. Jones would probably try nothing then and there, but what would happen down the road? The free state men had stuck their necks out, then stuck them out still further, in the hope that Congress would come to their rescue. That same Congress finally agreed on who ought to serve as Speaker of the House after a solid two months of debate, finally settling on a Know-Nothing antislavery man called Nathaniel Banks. They elected him on a plurality, not a majority, and it took one hundred and thirty-three ballots. The question of the free state government’s legitimacy could not hope to be any less explosive than that.

Kansas, Boston, and Treason in the Nineteenth Century, Part Four

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Curtis laid out a thoroughgoing definition of treason for his Boston grand jury back on October 15, 1851. You had to conspire to resist the laws of the United States, or their enforcement. You must use or threaten force. You didn’t have to plan far ahead or come in full military panoply, but you did have to intend to oppose execution of at least one law in all cases rather than just in a particular instance. Through all of this, Curtis has largely written in the context of the act itself and immediate perpetrators, but he did specify that treason came out of conspiracies and combinations. How far could those reach, legally speaking?

It should be known also, that treason may be committed by those not personally present at the immediate scene of violence. If a body of men be actually assembled to effect by force a treasonable purpose, all those who perform any part, however minute, or however remote from the scene of action, and who are actually leagued in the general conspiracy, are to be considered guilty of treason.

That spelled bad news for vigilance committees out to aid fugitive slaves in their escape. If we take the laws of Kansas as those of the United States, an arguable proposition but probably close enough for proslavery Kansans, then it also implicated the entire Kansas Legion. They had a military band aimed at resisting the territory’s laws, which they hardly needed unless they foresaw the use of force to resist. The Legion’s constitution specified that once a group reached a thirty men, it must have a military character. Jacob Branson, his rescuer Samuel Wood, and likely everybody of consequence in the free state movement had membership in such a combination.

The sudden burst of warrants and eager exploitation of the crisis to seize the free state leaders in Lawrence still looks like an opportunistic fishing expedition in light of this, but one with at least a plausible legal leg to stand on. Legal niceties didn’t bother proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies all that much, but they could honestly say they observed some of the forms.

Curtis spelled it out in words that anticipate free state political activity almost word for word:

Influential persons cannot form associations to resist the law by violence, excite the passions of ignorant and unreflecting, or desperate men, incite them to action, supply them with weapons, and then retire and await in safety the result of the violence which they themselves have caused. To permit this, would not only be inconsistent with sound policy, but with a due regard to the just responsibilities of men. The law does not permit it. They who have the wickedness to plan and incite and aid, and who perform any part however minute, are justly deemed guilty

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Set aside the fact that Curtis had antislavery efforts in mind when he wrote all of this and I don’t see a great deal one could argue with. We might not reach for treason so quickly today as Curtis did, preferring some other offense, but his reasoning on each point appears sound and practical. His definitions don’t perfectly fit events in Kansas, but they come close. Given the real fear of slave revolt and already-extant inattention to the finer points of law, I come away from this with the strong sense that when most proslavery men said treason, they meant it. It served their purposes to make the claim, and some of the lawyers probably knew better, but it all fits together too well to read the accusations as entirely cynical.