William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 23] [part 21] [Cutler's History]



The executive force which inspired life and impelled and directed the work of the movement for a State Government, lay in the Executive Committee of Kansas Territory, which had been appointed by the Topeka primary convention of September 19. It continued to issue its proclamations through its Chairman, James H. Lane, and to do in a most wonderfully efficient manner the work of a provisional and semi-revolutionary government, through the darkest and most disordered and dangerous period of the Territorial history. It is known from whence it derived its first existence, but beyond that, it seemed to have had within itself the combination of qualities required to plan and execute whatever the exigencies of the times demanded in the interest of the Free-state party.

The names of the persons constituting this nucleus of an unborn government are repeated:

James H. Lane, President; J. K. Goodin, Secretary; Cyrus K. Holliday, Marcus J. Parrott, Philip C. Schuyler, George W. Smith, George W. Brown.

From his official acts as the executive head of this committee, and the frequent occurrence of proclamations bearing his signature James H. Lane came to be early recognized as the leader of the Free-state party in Kansas.

The following proclamations were issued by the Chairman of the Committee during the fall of 1855:

(1) Address and call for the election of delegates to the constitutional convention to be holden at Topeka October 23.

(2) Proclamation for supplementary election in Burr Oak District.

(3) Proclamation calling election for ratification of constitution, and for voting on the Banking Law and the exclusion of blacks from the Territory, on December 15.

(4) Proclamation for a day of "Public Thanksgiving and Praise" to be holden December 25, which reads as follows:



In pursuance of a long established usage, which has always found a cheerful acquiescence in the hearts of a grateful people, and by the direction of the Executive Committee of Kansas Territory, I do hereby set apart and appoint Tuesday, the 25th day of December next, to be observed by the people of Kansas as a day of public Thanksgiving and Praise.

While insult, outrage and death have been inflicted upon many of our unoffending citizens by those whom we desire to recognize as brothers; while the attempt is being made to inflict upon us the most galling and debasing slavery, our lives have been spared and a way pointed out by which, without imbruing our hands in blood, we can secure the blessings of Liberty and a good government.

The fields of the husbandman have yielded abundantly, and industry in all its channels has been appropriately rewarded. For these and the innumerable blessings we are enjoying, let our hearts be devoutly thankful. From every altar let Thanksgiving and songs of Praise ascend to that God from whom all these blessings flow. Let the occasion be improved by the people of Kansas for the advancement of Freedom, Virtue and Christianity - let the poor be remembered and relieved, and the day be wholly spent as wisdom shall direct, and God approve and bless.

Given under my hand at the office of the Executive Committee of Kansas Territory, in the city of Topeka, this 27th day of November, A. D. 1855.

(5) Proclamation announcing the result of the election of December 15, whereby the constitution was adopted by the people, a general banking (sic) law adopted and free negroes excluded - December 27.

(6) Proclamation calling an election of State officers and Member of Congress, to be holden January 15, 1856.

The early meetings of the committee were held at divers places. September 20, the records show the first meeting to have been held at the house of E. C. K. Garvey, in Topeka. September 21, another meeting was held at the house of Charles Robinson, in Lawrence. November 10, permanent headquarters were established at Topeka. "The front room" of E. C. K. Garvey's "new brick, building was rented at $100 per annum," the said Garvey to "make a solid partition through the same and furnish the office with carpet, desk, stove and fuel." The meetings thereafter to be held in the room rented, semi-monthly, on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month

The records* show that, on October 1, Dr. Charles Robinson was elected Treasurer of the committee.

(* The original records are in the collection of the Kansas Historical Society. Further extracts from them will appear in their proper chronological connection with transpiring events.)


The foregoing history of the evolution of the Free-state party at Big Springs; the framing of a State constitution at Topeka; the call for an election of State officers; the work of the Territorial Legislature, show something of the political history of the Territory during the summer and autumn of 1855, but give no adequate portrayal of the labors performed, the dangers incurred, the popular excitement, the bitter personal feuds engendered; nor of the murders, robberies and other disorders consequent upon the want of recognized law in the Territory; nor of the absolute blindness and criminal heedlessness of the national Government to every phase of the local tribulation which militated against the establishment of slavery in Kansas. These constituted the infernal woof of Kansas history, of which the strong warp had been already laid.


Andrew H. Reeder was removed from office July 28, 1855, received official notice of his removal and ceased to act as Governor August 15. The Secretary, Hon. Daniel Woodson, became acting Governor during the remaining part of the session of the Territorial Legislature. On the removal of Gov. Reeder, the vacant office was tendered to Hon. John L. Dawson, who declined the appointment. August 10, Hon. Wilson Shannon was commissioned as Governor of Kansas Territory. He did not see fit to assume the duties of the office until after the adjournment of the Territorial Legislature. Thus the honor of signing the laws of that delectable body was allowed by the not over-selfish Shannon to go down to history as inseparably connected with the executive career of Woodson.

[Insert picture of Gov. Shannon]

The Governor arrived at Westport, Mo., on the borders of his appointed dominion, September 1, 1855 - the second day after the adjournment of the Territorial Legislature. He was a native of the Territory of Ohio, where he was born February, 1802. He was the youngest of a family of nine children, seven boys and two girls, the oldest being, at the time of his birth, nineteen years old. In the winter of 1803, his father was frozen to death while on a hunting expedition, and the widowed mother, with her family, left to struggle alone with the world as best she could.

John, the eldest son, took upon himself the cares of the farm, and aided his younger brothers in gaining a livelihood and establishing themselves in life. Wilson Shannon worked on the farm until nineteen years of age, at which time his older brothers sent him to the Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, two years; thence he went to the Transylvania University, Lexington, where he completed his collegiate education, studied law in the office of his brothers, George and James, and in 1826 returned to St. Clairsville, his old home, and commenced the practice of his chosen profession. He soon took rank as one of the ablest young lawyers of the State. While at St. Clairsville he married one of five daughters of E. Ellis, Esq., Clerk of the Courts, thus becoming allied to strong and influential friends - the elder sister being the wife of William Kennon, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio; another the wife of George W. Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs; the fourth, the wife of Hugh J. Jewett, a leading lawyer, a Member of Congress, and later President of the New York & Erie Railroad; and fifth, the wife of Isaac E. Eaton, Esq., a leading lawyer, who settled in Leavenworth, Kan.

He early engaged in politics, being a strong and reliable Democrat from the beginning. As such, by election and appointment, he filled the following officers: County Attorney, 1832 to 1836; Governor of Ohio, 1838-40, and again 1842-44; Minister to Mexico, 1844; Member of Congress, 1852-54.

He entered upon the duties of his office as Governor of Kansas Territory in the prime of life, fortified by large experience in public life as a legislator, a diplomatist, and as Governor of the State of Ohio for four years. He was, withal, an eminent lawyer, a trustworthy Democrat, had supported and voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in Congress, and had the full confidence of the administration from whom he had received his appointment.

In person, he was tall, spare, with brown hair plentifully sprinkled with grey, light blue eyes, and a severe cast of countenance. He was leisurely in this movements, deliberate in his speech, and spoke with great effect in a jury or any small assembly. He had none of the magnetism or eloquence which carries the crowd, and, as a popular orator, was scarcely above mediocrity.

On his arrival at Westport September 1, he was received by the Pro-slavery residents of the town, to whom, it was reported, he made his inaugural speech, in which he affirmed the legality of the acts of the Pawnee Legislature, and avowed himself as in favor of "slavery in Kansas." As he publicly denied the utterances as reported, and as the reports were not originally from a source worthy of full credence, it is sufficient to record the fact that he addressed the Westport crowd in such terms as to give no offense or cause for distrusting his soundness on the slavery question.

Gov. Shannon arrived at Shawnee Mission on Monday, September 3. He came escorted from Westport by several of the late Representatives and some of the leading citizens of that place. He arrived at 9 A. M., and repaired to the Governor's room, where his first reception was held, and his first speech in Kansas was made. Hon. O. H. Brown delivered the following somewhat florid address of welcome:

GOV. SHANNON - In the name of the people of Kansas, I am proud to welcome you to our prairie home. Coming from every State in the Union - from almost every civilized country on the globe, the people of Kansas have mingled their sympathies, and combined their energies to protect our infant Republic. Kansas, the offspring of Missouri, the hope and pride of America, will ever imitate the excellence, and rival the beauty of her illustrious parents. When you grasp the land of our pioneers, you may trust your honor in their custody. With them, the gentle pressure of the hand attests the cordial welcome of the heart. We have no Catalines here, no lank and hungry Italians with their treacherous smiles - no cowards with their stillettos (sic) (sic) - no assassins of reputation. Here man walks abroad in the majesty of his Maker. He breathes the pure air, surveys the beauty, and reaps the products of nature. His heart expands with gratitude and devotion. The morning prayer is heard on every hill; the evening orison is chanted by the glad tenants of every valley and glen. What earthly power can retard the progress of such a people? They must be great - great in all the attributes of sovereign power. In the name of such a people, welcome, Gov. Shannon.

To which Gov. Shannon replied:

SIR - For the very friendly reception I have met with on the present occasion, I beg leave to tender you, and through you, to the citizens of Kansas (whom you represent), my thanks. In entering upon the duties of the responsible office to which I have been appointed, it is highly gratifying to me to find so much good feeling prevailing among the citizens of the Territory. Coming, as you do, from almost every part of the civilized globe, with different manners, customs and modes of thinking, it must be expected that there will be some conflict of opinion, in settling the policy which is to control the destinies of this Territory. But while we may differ in opinion on questions of public policy, the object of all, it is to be hoped, is the same - the advancement of the best interests of the Territory. By respecting the opinions and even prejudices of each other, and cultivating a social feeling, we will soon harmonize, and learn to act together for the benefit and advancement of our highly favored country.

Looking at many of the public papers in the States, one would be led to believe that Kansas was the scene of lawless confusion and discord - no greater error could be committed. I will not criticise (sic) the motives that have induced these unfounded representations, but I will say, because I believe it to be true, that there is not a more law-abiding people in the United States than the great mass of the citizens of Kansas. There is no State in the Union where person and property are more secure than in this Territory. That some irregularities may have taken place in the heat and excitement of a first election is true; but they sink into utter insignificance when compared with the bloody riots that have characterized the elections in some of the States, and the lawless mobs that have disgraced some of our large cities. While the latter have received but a passing notice from the public press, the former have been held up to the world as enormities without a parallel. This is all wrong and calculated to prejudice the best interest of the Territory, by deterring a large and respectable class of emigrants from coming amongst us.

I duly appreciate the warm and generous feelings that have ever characterized our hardy, intelligent and enterprising pioneers in the West. It has been my lot to have mingled much with them in the course of my life, and I have always found them true and warm-hearted friends and patriotic citizens. I come amongst you, not as a new adventurer seeking to better his fortune and then return home, but as one desiring for himself and family a permanent location; and it shall be my highest ambition to devote my humble efforts to the promotion of the interest, happiness and prosperity of this Territory. To accomplish these objects, we will all admit that a government of law and order is absolutely necessary. We all feel the importance of this, and I trust, will all unite in securing so desirable an object. We have no security for person or property, except by the maintenance of law and order, and interest and duty - both uniting in enforcing on us the obligation to maintain each. Your Legislative Assembly that has just adjourned, has provided a code of laws for the Territory. It is my duty as an executive officer, and the duty of every good citizen, to abide by those laws so long as they remain in force. To maintain the Constitution of the United States, the organic laws of the Territory, and the laws passed by the Legislative Assembly in conformity thereto, is an obligation imposed upon me by my oath of office, as well as the duty I owe to the Territory as a citizen, in common with others. With the law for our guide, and the best interests of the Territory for our object, all uniting and harmonizing together, we cannot fail, under Providence, to build up a great State, furnishing happy homes to thousands of our people, adding additional strength to our Union, and opening the way for the advancement of civilization and refinement over our vast territorial possessions in the West.

The above addresses were published in the Leavenworth Herald with the following suggestive comments from its correspondent:

"After the delivery of the speeches, a committee consisting of Messrs. B. F. Simmons, J. Martin and J. T. Brady, previously appointed for that purpose, waited upon His Excellency, Gov. Shannon, and Hon. O. H. Brown, and requested a copy of their respective addresses for publication, which, being granted, the Secretary of the meeting was instructed to place the addresses (herein inclosed by me) in the hands of Messrs. Eastin & Adams for publication in their excellent Pro-slavery paper."

This speech of the newly-arrived Governor was not calculated to allay the excitement of the Free-state citizens of Kansas, who had three weeks before his arrival met in Lawrence and prepared the way for the coming conventions at Big Springs and Topeka. It was not to be supposed for a moment that he was personally ignorant or oblivious of the meetings held, nor of the outrages that incited them, nor of the well-organized plans for resistance to the acts of the Legislature which had been begotten in fraud, and fostered into life by the support of Missouri politicians and the decisions of a subservient court. The people had a right to judge of the policy of the new Governor from the authoritative enunciations of this first speech. It meant to them only this:

(1) He viewed the Pro-slavery inhabitants of Missouri, their friends about Shawnee Mission, and the lawless squatters on the Delaware reserve as the only people in Kansas.

(2) He ignored, or professed to disbelieve all the reports concerning the violation of the right of franchise at the ballot-box, or treated it as an unimportant element not worthy the attention of himself, and made an extra-official apology for the irregularities, which showed plainly that he was fully cognizant of them.

(2) (sic) He approved the reign of "law and order" inaugurated in Missouri, which resulted in the lynching of any Free-soiler on whom the "law and order" Pro-slavery party might choose to exert their power.

(4) He announced himself as the sincere and ardent champion of the laws passed by the late Territorial Legislature, and defined his own duties to be to enforce them.

The Free-state inhabitants were totally ignored by Gov. Shannon, as an important element to be considered in his administration of affairs. All, from his view of the situation, taken from the place of his first landing at Westport, and from the "Governor's Room" at Shawnee Mission, surrounded by the men who had followed him over from Missouri, was peaceful and serene. The Missouri squatters on the Delaware lands, with homes in Missouri, were the only people of Kansas - industrious, intelligent and devout, peacefully tilling the soil and tending their flocks and herds, with Abrahamic faith in the God to whom they paid their morning devotions, and sang their vesper hymns of praise. So Hon. O. H. Brown put the case to the Governor, and in a like spirit the Governor responded.

The Governor held court at the Shawnee Mission, and saw little of the Free-state rebels until circumstances quite beyond his own control, which will be recounted further on, brought about a forced acquaintance with them. He visited Lecompton, and was present at the sale of city lots held there on October 23. On his return, he passed through Lawrence, making but a temporary halt, declining a reception and all other civilities tendered him by the inhabitants, receiving such as called on him with coolness, and leaving the town as soon as possible. On his departure, the crowd of boys gathered to gaze on the Governor, gave him a farewell greeting of groans and hisses, in return for what they deemed his unhandsome behavior in declining the proffered civilities of the citizens, and he drove away, more than ever impressed with the inherent vileness of the "Abolition" town.

The Governor was not reluctant, nor equivocal, in publicly defining his position. He attended the political meeting at which Gen. Whitfield opened his canvass for re-election as Territorial Delegate to Congress. It was held at Wyandotte. Whitfield in his speech frankly defined the issue as slavery or no slavery, and announced himself as the candidate of the Pro-slavery party in the pending struggle. Gov. Shannon, following him in a speech fraught with earnest precepts, inculcating observance of the laws, recommended him as a "suitable person" for the position.

[TOC] [part 23] [part 21] [Cutler's History]