1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

WILSON SHANNON

Wilson Shannon succeeded Andrew H. Reeder as Territorial Governor of Kansas. Shannon was born in what is now Belmont County, Ohio, February 24, 1802. His father moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio at an early date and was frozen to death in the winter of 1803 while on a hunting expedition along the Ohio River. He left seven sons and two daughters. These sons seemed to have been of more than ordinary ability. The eldest, John, was nineteen at the time of his father's death. He immediately went to work to support his widowed mother, and his brothers and sisters. He enlisted as a private in the army in the War of 1812 and rose to the rank of captain.

The second son, George, was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. On the Upper Missouri, while repelling an Indian attack, he was wounded in the leg. Upon his return it was found necessary that his leg be amputated because of this wound. He superintended the publication of the valuable journals of the expedition, in Philadelphia. There he studied law and was admitted to practice. Later he went to Lexington, Kentucky, where he was elected Judge of the Circuit Court. From Lexington he moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he was elected to the State Senate. Afterwards he was appointed United States District Attorney for Missouri. He was defeated for the United States Senate by Thomas H. Benton. He died in August, 1836, in the Court House, while defending a man in a criminal action. Shannon County, Missouri, was named for him.

The third son, James, was educated by the efforts of his brother John, and sent to Lexington to study law in the office of his brother George. He became a fine lawyer and a leader in the Democratic party. He married a daughter of Ex-Governor Shelby. In 1832, the President appointed him to an important position in Central America. He died on the way to his post of duty.

John assisted the fourth son, Thomas, to enter commercial life. He was established as a merchant at Barnesville, Ohio. He was elected to Congress after a second year in the State Legislature.

David, the fifth son, was sent to Lexington to study law in the office of his brother George. He was admitted to the bar and afterward settled in Tennessee. President Jackson appointed him Judge of the Courts of Florida Territory. He died while arranging his affairs to enter upon his duties there.


GOV. WILSON SHANNON
[Copy by Willard
of Portrait in
Library of Kansas
State Historical Society]
The sixth son was Wilson. His brothers John and Thomas sent him in his nineteenth year to the University of Ohio, at Athens. He remained there nearly two years. He was then sent to Lexington, Kentucky, to enter the Transylvania University. While there he studied law in the office of his brothers George and James. In 1826 he was admitted to practice, at St. Clairesville, Ohio. He rose rapidly in his profession. When his practice was sufficient to support himself and a wife, he was married to a daughter of Mr. E. Ellis, at that time Clerk of the Circuit Court. Much of his political advancement was the result of this marriage. His brothers-in-law were all influential men in Ohio politics. Among them were Honorable William Kennon; Honorable George W. Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs when Kansas was organized as a Territory, Honorable Hugh J. Jewett; and Honorable Isaac E. Newton. The influence of these men were exerted in his behalf. In 1832 he was the candidate of the Democratic party of his district to Congress, and was defeated by General James M. Bell, by only thirty-seven votes. In 1833 he was elected County Attorney for his county. He was re-elected in 1835. He was elected Governor of Ohio as a Democrat in 1838. He was the party candidate for the same office in 1840, but was defeated by Thomas Corwin. He favored the nomination of General Lewis Cass for the Presidency in 1844. That year he was appointed Minister to Mexico. He returned home on the breaking-out of the Mexican War. Upon the discovery of Gold in California, Governor Shannon went there, in 1849. He remained two years, but accomplished little. returning to Ohio in 1851. In 1852 he was elected to Congress. He approved the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise. His approval of these measures made him unpopular in his district and he was not a candidate for re-election.

When Reeder was removed, the position of Governor of Kansas Territory was tendered to John L. Dawson, of Pennsylvania, who declined it. Shannon was an applicant for the place, and, upon the declination of Dawson, it was given to him. His commission was dated August 10, 1855. He arrived at Westport, Missouri, September 1st. In an address at Westport, he was reported to have admitted the validity of the laws of the bogus Legislature and to have expressed himself in favor of the establishment of slavery in Kansas Territory. In a communication to the newspapers, the Governor denied that he had uttered 1hese sentiments, but it was well known that he held the views said to have been expressed by him, and in his article of denial he did not disavow them.

Affairs had changed greatly in the Territory during the administration of Governor Reeder. These changes have already been noted. The Missourians had in no wise relinquished their intention of making Kansas a slave State. The Free-State people of Kansas had organized the Free-State party and set up a Free-State government. Their actions were denounced as rebellion, and the people of Missouri were prepared to go, in the future, to much greater lengths than ever before, in order to accomplish their purpose in Kansas. While the South generally, had been much slower to act than had the North, there was a settled conviction and unity of purpose there that Kansas should be made a slave State. Organizations in various Southern states, for the purpose of sending Pro-Slavery emigrants into Kansas, had been effected. Many companies were in the process of formation in the winter of 1855-6. South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia were foremost in this promoted emigration for political purposes. Major Jefferson Buford, of Eufaula, Alabama, left that place about the 1st of February with two hundred men bound for Kansas Territory. The emigrants from the Southern states were all well armed and formed into military companies. In the month of January the State of Alabama had appropriated $25,000 to "equip and transport emigrants to Kansas." It is supposed that Buford had the benefit of at least a portion of this appropriation. Major Buford arrived at Kansas City, Missouri, in April, with his Alabama companies and large bodies from Georgia and South Carolina. Thus was Mr. Thayer's promoted emigration bearing fruit and being met on the plains of Kansas.

From the organized resistance of the Free-State People. the Kansas or Territorial Legislature became known as the "Bogus" Legislature. It will be remembered that the Free-State people of Kansas had taken a position that the Legislature was largely a non-resident body, illegally constituted after an election by fraud. The resolutions passed on the subject of the Territorial Legislature by the Big Springs Convention, fairly represented the position of the Free-State party. While this Legislature was clothed with the vestments of legality and had the outward form of a legally constituted body, it will be spoken of hereafter as the Bogus Legislature. Morally it had no right to a minute's existence. It was villainously composed, and its purposes and acts reprehensible to the last degree.

The correspondent of the Missouri Republican furnished a communication to the issue of that paper of July 3, 1855, in which he gave an account of an altercation between General B. F. Stringfellow and Governor Reeder, which he described as follows:


BENJAMIN F. STRINGFELLOW
[Copy by Willard
of Portrait in
Library of Kansas
State Historical Society]
Yesterday morning Gen. B. F. Stringfellow, of Weston, Mo., proceeded to Governor Reeder's residence, near the Shawnee Mission, and after introducing himself to the Governor, said, "I understand, sir, that you have publicly spoken and written of me in the East as a frontier ruffian, and I have called to ascertain whether you have done so."

Gov. R. "I did not so write, or speak of you in public."

Gen. S. "Did you speak of me in those terms anywhere, or at any time?"

Gov. R. "No, sir."

Gen. S. "Did you use my name at all?"

Gov. R. "I may have used your name in private conversation."

Gen. S. "Did you use it disrespectfully? Did you intimate, or insinuate that I was other than a gentleman?"

Gov. R. "I might have done so."

Gen. S. "Then, sir, you uttered a falsehood, and I demand of you the satisfaction of a gentleman. I very much question your right to that privilege, for I do not believe you to be a gentleman; but I nevertheless give you the opportunity to vindicate your title to that character, by allowing you to select such friends as you may please, and I will do the same, and we will step out here and settle the matter as gentlemen usually do."

Gov. R. "I cannot go. I am no fighting man."

Gen. S. "Then I will have to treat you as I would any other offensive animal."

And with that he knocked Reeder down with his fist.

From this incident originated the term, "Border-Ruffian." It was applied to those Missourians, and all the promoted emigration from the South, who took an active part in the effort to force slavery upon Kansas. By the Free-State men it was considered an epithet of opprobrium. The Missourians, however, gloried in it. In many Missouri border towns, merchants called their stores and business enterprises, the Border-Ruffian Store, the Border-Ruffian Company, etc.

On the 5th day of November, 1855, Atchison replying to an invitation to attend the King's Mountain Celebration, wrote the following letter, in which he complained that the South was slow in responding to the calls for help in the work of establishing slavery in Kansas.

PLATTE CITY, MO., SEPT. 12, 1855.

Gentlemen: - Your letter of invitation, requesting my attendance at the Celebration of the Battle of King's Mountain, has been received. It will be altogether inconvenient for me to be present on that occasion. I have certain duties, both private and public, to discharge at home. The Battle of King's Mountain was fought by the Whigs, under the lead of Campbell, McDowell, Shelby, Sevier and Williams, against the forces under the gallant Ferguson. We have a similar foe to encounter, in Kansas, on the first Monday in October next - the "border ruffians," such as fought with McDowell, Shelby, etc., on the one hand, and the Abolitionists, such men as fought with Ferguson, on the other. We (the "border ruffians") have the whole power of the Northern States to contend with, single-handed and alone, without assistance and almost without sympathy from any quarter; yet we are undismayed. Thus far have we been victorious; and with the help of God we will still continue to conquer.

Gentlemen, I thank you for the kind expression in the concluding paragraph of your letter - "three cheers for Atchison and Kansas!" I have read this paragraph to sundry of the "border ruffians," and their eyes sparkle; their arms are nerved. We have been acting on the defensive altogether. The contest with us is one of life and death, and it will be so with you and your institution if we fall. 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 receive no assistance from the Southern States. But the time will shortly come when that assistance must and will be rendered. The stake the "border ruffians" are playing for is a mighty one. If Kansas is Abolitionized, Missouri ceases to he a slave State, and New Mexico becomes a free State; California remains a free State; but if we secure Kansas as a slave State, Missouri is secure; New Mexico and Southern California, if not all of it, becomes slave States. In a word, the prosperity or the ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle.

Your obedient servant,
D. R. ATCHISON.

The correspondent of the Cleveland Ohio Leader, writing from Leavenworth October 2, 1855, gave this forecast of the situation:

These sentiments will serve to show the state of feeling in Kansas Territory in the summer and fall of 1855. The determination of both sides to succeed was rising. The feeling between the Pro-Slavery and Free-State men was increasing in intensity. Instances of barbarity perpetrated by the Border-Ruffians called forth a demand for retaliation, which added a personal feature to the general conflict.

Governor Shannon established himself at the Shawnee Mission. His office there was known as the Governor's Room. He seemed to ignore entirely the real settlers of Kansas, or; at least, made no effort to meet them and hear their side of the situation. He was surrounded by the Missourians and was imbued with their point of view. Steps must be taken to offset the organization of the Free-State party and the Topeka government.

The task of Governor Shannon was very different from that which the slave propaganda had expected of Governor Reeder. In the evolution of the infamous code, they had attempted to render "Abolitionism" impossible of existence in Kansas. It could be obeyed by none save a Pro-Slavery community. If the slave laws of this code could be enforced in a town - Lawrence for instance - and the people compelled to live under them and give allegiance to them, they must of necessity become a Pro-Slavery community. Free-State sentiment would cease to exist, or be so stifled as to become impotent and harmless. The position assumed by the party formed by the Free-State men would, if they were permitted to persist in its maintainance, overthrow the whole structure erected by the bogus Legislature for the establishment of slavery in Kansas Territory. It was not the purpose of the advocates of slavery to passively permit defeat to come so easily to their plans.

In his consultation with the Missourians, Governor Shannon had evidently marked out a course for himself. It was in accordance with the progress already made by the Missourians and their friends. The task set for himself by Governor Shannon, was to enforce the laws passed by the Territorial Legislature, now denominated by the people of Kansas, the "bogus" laws. Some plan must be devised to compel the Free-State people to accept and obey these laws. This had been the burden of the utterances of President Pierce and Jefferson Davis. Refusal to obey these bogus laws was rebellion, they proclaimed. All the power of the administration, all the force possible to be exerted by the slave propaganda of the South, and all the fury of the Border-Ruffians were to be turned into Kansas and compel obedience to the bogus laws. The first step in this process was to be the formation of a "Law and Order" party.

On the 3rd of October, a Pro-Slavery meeting was held at Leavenworth which discussed the situation fully. A committee was chosen to issue an address to the people on existing conditions. The committee was composed of the following named gentlemen: Andrew J. Isacks, D. J. Johnson, W. G. Mathias, R. R. Rees, L. F. Hollingsworth and D. A. N. Grover. It has been the custom from time immemorial for persons who are preparing to violate all laws to take refuge under cover of law - the dry and withered husk of technicality. They invoke strict construction of laws, and what this vague "strict construction" really implies never can be determined. In Kansas Territory it was made to cover every form of outrage and violence which malevolent ingenuity could invent. This address appealed to "the lovers of law and order" urging them to resist the measures of the Free-State people in opposition to the actions of the Territorial Legislature. It urged these same "lovers of law and order" to assemble in mass meeting at Leavenworth on the 14th of November. The Pro-Slavery forces responded, and the meeting held on that day was composed of the Border-Ruffians at Leavenworth and the vicinity, with a goodly number of those from Missouri. Governor Shannon was present. He was an accredited delegate from Douglas County, although he did not reside there. He was fully acquainted with the object of the meeting of which he was elected President.

The Vice Presidents were: Chief Justice S. D. Lecompte, Gen. G. W. Clark, T. C. Slocum, I. B. Donalson, Colonel G. W. Purkins, Honorable A. McDonald, General William Barbee, General A. J. Isacks, Judge Rush Elmore, Judge John A. Halderman, General W. P. Richardson, Colonel J. C. Burge, Colonel B. H. Twombly.

The Secretaries were: Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, T.. J. Eastin, James H. Thompson, S. A. Williams, George N. Propper, H. A. Halsey.

The Committee on Resolutions was composed of the following named gentlemen: John A. Halderman, G. W. Purkins, J. H. Stringfellow, J. C. Thompson, L. J. Eastin, W. G. Mathias, G. W. Clark, Thomas T. Slocum, S. A. Williams, D. M. Johnson, A. Payne, Amos Rees, W. P. Richardson.

A committee was appointed to prepare an address to the people of the United States. This committee was made up as follows: Governor Wilson Shannon, Chairman; John Calhoun, from Illinois; James Christian, from Kentucky; Thomas T. Slocum, of Pennsylvania; George W. Clark, from Arkansas; A. J. Isacks, of Louisiana; George W. Purkins, of Virginia; I. B. Donalson, of Illinois; G. W. Johnson, of Virginia; John A. Halderman, of Kentucky; A. Rodrigue, of Pennsylvania; Ira Norris, of New Hampshire; O. B. Dickinson, of New York, and W. H. Marvin, of Iowa.

It has been frequently noted herein that the Democratic party was not considered entirely suitable to the work of enforcing the Pro-Slavery propaganda in Kansas. Governor Reeder had found that Democracy in Pennsylvania, and Democracy in Missouri and Kansas Territory, were entirely dissimilar in purpose and method. The resolutions brought in emphasized this difference. And they were adopted as follows:

These are turbulent times. We are in the commencement of a great battle. The 6kirmishes we have had are but the scattering drops before the storm that is approaching. The thunders will be upon us unless the PEOPLE of the North rise in their might and say to the Slavery Propagandists and their subservient slaves - the present Administration - THESE OUTRAGES MUST CEASE! We hope to hear the thunders of the voice of the people of Ohio, on the 9th day of October, in the ears of these tyrants. Arouse, Free-men! Slumber not while this black nightmare of Slavery rests upon the bosom of Liberty! Awake! And scare away the grim demon that haunts our rest! Our hope is in YOU. Our election is appointed for October 9th, the same day of your own. The enemy is preparing to attack us in large forces that day. A band of seventy-five are now approaching our Southern border. The officers of the United States troops stationed in this place, under instructions from headquarters, wink at the villainies of the Missourians and refuse to interfere or protect life, property and liberty. Unless you rebuke and frighten with the thunders of your just indignation this corrupt pro-slavery Administration, we fear that our fate is sealed and this fair land doomed forever to the black curse of Slavery.
(1) Resolved, That we, the people here assembled, believing the Constitution of the United States, and the laws 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 hazards.

(2) Resolved, That in every government, whether Monarchical, Aristocratic, 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.

(3) Resolved, That 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.

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

(5) Resolved, That 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.

(6) Resolved, That the admission of Andrew H. Reeder, to a seat in the next Congress of the United States, would be in violation of all law and precedent, and would have a tendency to encourage treason against all good government, and that the same would be an outrage upon the citizens of Kansas.

(7) Resolved, That the convention lately assembled at Topeka, to form a constitution for a State Government, called 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 purposes 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.

(8) Resolved, That we cordially indorse the Kansas-Nebraska act, and more especially that part of it which repeals the Missouri Compromise and enunciates the principle that the people of every Territory, in framing their organic law, have a right to decide for themselves what domestic institutions they will or will not have.

(9) Resolved, That the Kansas-Nebraska bill recognizes the true principles of Republican Government, and that we feel that we are as fit for, and as capable of, self-government as we were when citizens of the States, and that we denounce any attempt on the part of Congress or the citizens of other States to interfere with or control our domestic affairs.

(10) Resolved, That, as citizens of a Territory, not having any right to the expression of our voice in the election of the Chief Magistrate of the nation, yet we cannot refrain from the expression of 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.

(11) Resolved, That we condemn and scorn the acts and falsehoods of the Abolition and Free-soil prints throughout the country, in misrepresenting the facts growing out of the organization of this Territory, all which are calculated to mislead public sentiment abroad, and retard growth, settlement and prosperity of the Territory.

(12) Resolved, That we, the members of this Convention, the Law and Order Party, the State Rights party of Kansas, the opponents of Abolitionism, Free-soilism and all the 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.

The address provided for was issued on the 30th of November. It was signed by Wilson Shannon, John Calhoun, George W. Purkins, G. W. Johnson, A. Rodrigue, G. W. Clark, A. J. Isacks, I. B. Donalson, John A. Halderman and Ira Norris. The closing paragraph of the address is as follows:

In conclusion we have to say what Whig and Democrat, Pro-slavery and Free-state men, making a sacrifice of all party names and organizations upon the altar of the public good, have resolved to be known hereafter as the Law and Order party, or "State Rights" party of Kansas, and have given to the world, and have pledged their united faith in support of a platform of principles laid down in the resolutions which follow. Upon that platform they will stand, insisting upon the execution of the laws; the maintenance of the principles of the organic act of the Territory, affirming for the citizens of Kansas the right to frame their own institutions in their own way, and resisting and repelling all interference from abroad, let it come from what quarter it may, claiming for ourselves the capacity of self-government, to be the friends of the Union, and of the rights of the States. We ask of our friends abroad only the benefit of their advice, sympathy and prayers for our success, and hope to merit their approving judgment.

The adoption of the resolutions by the Pro-Slavery party founded the Law and Order party in Kansas Territory. The Law and Order party as organized by the meeting at Leavenworth was, in fact, a vicious and atrocious vigilance committee, and it developed into an instrument of terrorism. It was a weapon placed in the hands of the lawless element which had invaded Kansas to fraudulently carry elections, and which it was designed to have invade Kansas in the future to inaugurate civil war.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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