Shannon's Administration.Although Gov. Shannon's commission bore date of Aug. 10, 1855, he was apparently in no hurry to assume the duties of the office. He knew something of the conditions in Kansas, and seemed unwilling to claim the doubtful honor of signing the bills passed by the legislature then in session. Journeying by easy stages he reached Westport, Mo., on Sept. 3, and from that point he was escorted by a large number of Missourians to the Shawnee Mission, where he was welcomed by a speech from O. H. Browne, a member of the legislature which had adjourned only a few days before. In his response Gov. Shannon declared that it was the duty of all good citizens to obey the laws passed by the late legislature, and that it was his duty and intention to enforce such laws. Practically all those present were in favor of making Kansas a slave state, and this announcement of the governor was received with applause. Gov. Shannon was either ignorant of the strength of the free-state population, or was inclined to ignore it, but the Big Springs convention (q. v.), which assembled two days later, ought to have opened his eyes to the fact that there was a large number of the inhabitants opposed to slavery. Notwithstanding this the governor aligned himself irrevocably with the pro-slavery party and was chairman of, and one of the speakers at, the convention of Nov. 14, which organized the socalled "Law and Order party."
The executive minutes show that from the time of taking office until Dec. 1, 1855, a large part of Gov. Shannon's time was devoted to issuing commissions to county officers, justices of the peace, constables, etc. During the month of December but few of these commissions were issued, but from January to June, 1856, a large number of officials were commissioned, most of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the slave power. The minutes for Oct. 30, 1855, contain this entry: "The returns of the judges of the election held on the first Monday in October, in pursuance of law, for a delegate to the Thirty-fourth Congress, being duly examined, and John W. Whitfield having received a majority of the legal votes polled, is declared by the governor to be duly elected, and a certificate of election by the governor, under the seal of the territory, is accordingly issued to the said John W. Whitfield."
At the free-state election on Oct. 9, 1855, for delegates to the Topeka constitutional convention, ex-Gov. A. H. Reeder received 128 more votes for delegate to Congress than had been cast for Whitfield on the 1st, but this election was not recognized by the governor.
Some of the most stirring events that occurred while Mr. Shannon was governor are treated under the title of "Wakarusa War," a conflict between the supporters of slavery and the free-state men, which was concluded on Dec. 6, 1855, by a treaty signed by the governor and some of the free-state leaders. (See Wakarusa War.)
On Dec. 15, 1855, the Topeka constitution was ratified by popular vote, and on Jan. 15, 1856, an election for state officers was held under that constitution, with the following result: Governor, Charles Robinson; lieutenant-governor, William Y. Roberts; secretary of state, Philip C. Schuyler; auditor, Dr. George A. Cutler; treasurer, John W. Wakefield; attorney-general, H. Miles Moore; justices of the supreme court, S. N. Latta, Morris Hunt and Martin F. Conway; reporter of the supreme court, E. M. Thurston; clerk of the supreme court, Spencer B. Floyd; state printer, John Speer; representative in Congress (contingent upon the admission of the state), Mark W. Delahay. The day following this election the executive committee of the territory appointed James H. Lane, M. C. Dickey, Morris Hunt, Turner Sampson, J. K. Goodin, J. S. Emery and Cyrus K. Holliday as agents "to visit the several states of the Union" to ask appropriations of munitions of war and means for the defense of the citizens of Kansas."
At the time the free-state election was held in January Gov. Shannon was absent from the territory. The treaty of Dec. 8 had caused him to lose caste with the pro-slavery party, and as he had not yet been confirmed by the United States senate, he left Kansas on Jan. 5, 1856, for Washington "to set himself right." He succeeded so well in his mission that he was confirmed, and on March 5 he returned to Kansas "invested with all the power of the United States army to enforce the bogus laws."
The Law and Order party insisted that the election of state officers by the free-state men and the sending of agents to other states to solicit aid were violations of the treaty made with the governor. They were apparently oblivious to the fact that certain Southern states had made appropriations in the interest of the pro-slavery cause, Alabama having appropriated $25,000 "to equip and transport emigrants to Kansas." Acting Gov. Woodson was inclined to support the claims of his party, and the trouble threatened to break out anew. At this juncture the free-state leaders sent the following letter to President Pierce:
"Sir: We have authentic information that an overwhelming force of the citizens of Missouri are organized on the border, amply supplied with artillery, for the avowed purpose of invading the territory, demolishing our towns and butchering our unoffending free-state citizens. We respectfully demand, on behalf of the citizens of Kansas, that the commandant of the United States troops in this vicinity he instructed to interfere to prevent such an inhuman outrage."
This letter was dated at Lawrence Jan. 21, 1856, and was signed by J. H. Lane, chairman of the executive committee, Kansas Territory; Charles Robinson, chairman of the committee of safety; J. K. Goodin, secretary of the executive committee, Kansas Territory; and George W. Deitzler, secretary of the committee of safety. On the 23d, two days later, another letter to the president from the same parties asked him to issue a proclamation forbidding the invasion. The proclamation was not issued, however, until Feb. 11, and then it was more against the free-state movement than it was in its favor. In the long preamble there are six distinct references to the "insurrection" of the inhabitants and only three to "invasion" by outside forces. Cutler's History of Kansas says: "After due deliberation, and consultation with Atchison and Winfield, and full examination of the letters from Stringfellow, Lecompte, and others of his ilk, he (Pierce) put forth, in answer to the calls of the helpless people of Kansas, a heartless proclamation, which covertly approved the outrages already perpetrated, by not condemning them, thus encouraging a repetition of the outrages."
There was no open disturbance until several weeks after the return of Gov. Shannon from Washington. On April 18 the Congressional investigating committee reached Lawrence, and began the work of taking testimony bearing on the recent outrages. About the same time Sheriff Jones of Douglas county called on the governor with the complaint that he had met with resistance in his attempt to arrest some of the persons who had aided in the rescue of Branson, and asked for troops to assist him. Lieut. McIntosh, with ten men, was detailed to act under the sheriff's orders, but the military was not needed, as the men submitted quietly to arrest. Jones was shot on the evening of April 23, and this gave the Law and Order party an excuse for starting fresh trouble, the object being to prevent the investigating committee from prosecuting its work. Whitfield, the territorial delegate to Congress, pretended to be very much alarmed and urged the committee to return to Washington, after which he fled to Franklin, then to Lecompton, but finding the committee was determined to continue its work, he returned to Lawrence.
Early in May the United States district court met at Lecompton, with Chief Justice Lecompte presiding. A grand jury was impaneled and charged by Lecompte to find indictments for treason against certain free-state men. Indictments were accordingly returned against Charles Robinson, James H. Lane, ex-Gov. A. H. Reeder, George W. Brown, Samuel N. Wood, George W. Smith, Gaius Jenkins and George W. Deitzler. On May 11 Marshal Donalson issued a proclamation setting forth that he had been resisted in the execution of the warrants "by a large body of armed men," and calling on "all law-abiding citizens of the territory to be and appear at Lecompton as soon as practicable, and in numbers sufficient for the execution of the law."
This proclamation appears to have been part of a well concerted plot to crush the free-state movement. Col. Sumner and his troops had been dismissed by the governor, and had returned to Fort Leavenworth. Two days before the marshal's proclamation was issued bodies of armed men appeared in the vicinity of Lawrence and commenced committing outrages upon the free-state citizens. On the 10th the citizens of Lawrence held a meeting and appointed a committee to call on Gov. Shannon, apprise him of the facts, and ask for protection by the United States troops. The governor replied to this committee on the 12th as follows:
"Your note of the 11th inst. is received, and in reply I have to state that there is no force around or approaching Lawrence, except the largely constituted posse of the U. S. marshal and sheriff of Douglas county, each of whom I am informed have a number of writs in their hands for execution against persons in Lawrence. I shall in no way interfere with either of these officers in the discharge of their official duties.
"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 upon, they, or all such, will entitle themselves to the protection of the law. But so long as they keep a military or armed organization to resist the territorial laws and the officers charged with their execution, I shall not interpose to save them from the legitimate consequences of their illegal acts."
In other words, if the free-state men would tamely submit to the execution of laws passed by a legislature, the members of which were elected by illegal votes forced into the ballot box under the influence of an armed mob, all would be well. This they declined to do, and on May 21 the town of Lawrence was sacked by a force of border ruffians, comparatively few of whom were actual residents of the territory. On June 4 the governor issued a proclamation calling on the people to cease their warfare, and commanding "all persons within this territory, not authorized by the laws thereof, to disperse and return peaceably to their respective abodes." Subsequently he called on Col. Sumner to use the United States troops under his command to quell the disturbance. This raised a howl of protest from the pro-slaveryites, with whom the governor again fell into disrepute. The vacillating course of Gov. Shannon, in trying to please both factions, resulted, as is usual in such cases, in his pleasing neither. But little attention was paid to his proclamation, and the conflict went on. In the battles of Black Jack, Franklin, Osawatomie, Fort Saunders and Fort Titus (q. v.) the free-state men more than held their own, and the prospect of making Kansas a slave state grew darker as the summer passed.
In the meantime the legislature elected under the Topeka constitution met on March 4, 1856, but after a short session adjourned to July 4. On June 23 Gov. Shannon wrote to Col. Sumner: "I am compelled to visit St. Louis on official business which can no longer be postponed. . . . Should this pretended legislative body meet as proposed, you will disperse them, peaceably if you can, forcibly if necessary. Should they reassemble at some other place, or at the same place, you will take care that they are again dispersed."
The day after this letter was written the governor departed for St. Louis. On the 27th he wrote from that city to President Pierce informing him of the political and military situation in Kansas. Said he: "Col. Sumner advises me that his regiment is subject to the order of Gen. Harney, and liable to be called away at any time. It would greatly endanger the peace of the territory to have the troops now withdrawn from their various stations before others were substituted in their places. . . . The mere presence of these forces, with the knowledge that they are authorized to act promptly in dispersing and suppressing all illegal military bodies, has the effect of preventing any attempt to renew the contest between the two parties."
The governor's greatest anxiety, however, seemed to be concerning an invasion from the northern states. "Judging from what I see in the public prints," he goes on in his letter to the president, "there is some danger of armed bodies of men entering the territory from the north, with views hostile to the peace of the country. That a powerful effort is being made in certain quarters to send bodies of armed men into Kansas, from the north, is beyond doubt. Ample instructions have been given to Col. Sumner to meet all such bodies of men as soon as they cross the line., and, if necessary, to disarm them. It is to be hoped, however, that they will follow the example set by the armed bodies that entered the territory from Missouri, and retire peacefully to their homes or settle in the territory as law-abiding citizens."
It certainly required some stretch of the imagination to conceive of any of the border ruffians, who crossed the Missouri for the purpose of forcing slavery into the Territory of Kansas, becoming "law-abiding citizens," but the governor evidently referred to the laws enacted by the bogus legislaturelaws that were very dear to the pro-slavery heart.
On July 7 Gov. Shannon returned from St. Louis, and from that time until the close of his administration the following month, the greater part of his time was taken up in trying to maintain peace in the territory, but without much success. (See Border War.)
There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether Gov. Shannon resigned or was removed from office. Shortly after the legislature of Alabama voted the $25,000 appropriation to aid in establishing slavery in Kansas a Col. Jefferson Buford of that state raised a force and hurried to the territory. After the governor's proclamation of June 4, 1856, ordering such companies as Buford's to disperse and return to their homes, Buford wrote a letter to the governor saying that his men were bona fide settlers, or were seeking to locate claims, and protesting against their being sent away from the territory according to the proclamation. To this letter Gov. Shannon replied on June 10 as follows: "I have resigned my office, and leave for St. Louis, probably on tomorrow. As soon as I pass the line Col. Woodson will be the acting governor, and if you have any difficulty with the troops you will address him on the subject."
Concerning this letter Cutler says: "The fact of Shannon's resignation was not known at the time. It was deemed politic to keep it secret until his successor was appointed. Accordingly to allay rumor to that effect Gov. Shannon published a card while in St. Louis denying the report. His offered resignation was perhaps withdrawn by him."
This seems to have been largely a matter of speculation with Cutler. May it not have been equally as probable that the governor wrote the letter to Buford merely to escape the responsibility of acting in the premises, the design being to transfer that responsibility to Col. Woodson?
On Aug. 18, 1856, Gov. Shannon wrote to President Pierce: "Having received unofficial information of my removal from office, and finding myself here without the moral power which my official station confers, and being destitute of any adequate military force to preserve the peace of the country, I feel it due to myself, as well as to the government, to notify you that I am unwilling to perform the duties of governor of this territory any longer. You will therefore consider my official connection as at an end."
The executive minutes of the same date contain this entry: "Gov. Shannon this day resigned the office of governor of the territory of Kansas, and forwarded his resignation by mail to the president of the United States, having previously visited the town of Lawrence, at the imminent hazard of his life, and effected the release of Col. H. T. Titus and others, who had been forcibly taken there by the armed organization of outlaws whose headquarters are at that place."
These prisoners were released by a treaty and exchange negotiated by Gov. Shannon with the free-state leaders, and it appears to have been his last official act. So far the authorities rather support the resignation theory. But the fact that Gov. Geary, Shannon's successor, was appointed on July 31 would indicate that his removal was at least contemplated by the authorities at Washington. Holloway (p. 382) says: "Gov. Shannon, after repeated solicitations, and having, it was thought, for sometime contemplated it, at length resigned. On the same day of his resignation, the 21st of August, the papers containing his removal were received."
In the matter of date Holloway is clearly wrong, as the executive minutes, the official record of the governor's administration, give the date as the 18th. As soon as he had despatched his resignation to the president Gov. Shannon ceased to exercise the functions of the office, and Secretary Woodson again became the acting governor.
(Works consulted: Cutler's, Holloway's and Hazelrigg's Histories of Kansas; National Cyclopedia of American Biography; American Historical Review; Executive Minutes; Kansas Historical Collections; Report of the Congressional Investigating Committee; Wilder's Annals of Kansas, and Connelley's Territorial Governors.)Pages 676-681 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
TITLE PAGE / LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I
TITLE PAGE / LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
J | K | L | Mc | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Background and KSGenWeb logo were designed and are copyrighted by
Tom & Carolyn Ward
for the limited use of the KSGenWeb Project.
Permission is granted for use only on an official KSGenWeb page.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project