Charles Robinson was a peaceful abolitionist leader who opposed the use of offensive violence to combat the pro-slavery forces in Kansas Territory during the “Bleeding Kansas” era of Kansas History.

He preferred to use political maneuvering and propaganda as the primary offensive weaponry of the free state cause. Quite understandably, Charles Robinson’s peaceful set of strategies and tactics did not find a receptive audience in John Brown.

This conflict of policy created ideological sparks of conflict within the ranks of the free state advocates in Kansas Territory in Lawrence in early December 1855, when pro-slavery militia men had surrounded the free state community of Lawrence with the intent of attacking and destroying the nascent free state town.

John Brown, Jim Lane and other free state militants clamored for offensive military action against the pro-slavery force that encompassed Lawrence, but Charles Robinson and other peaceful abolitionists and free-soil advocates pursued negotiations with the pro-slavery force and especially the Territorial Governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon.

Charles Robinson was a shrewd politician and negotiator, and he knew that Wilson Shannon liked to party and had a weakness for imbibing in alcoholic beverages. Charles Robinson cunningly invited Wilson Shannon into Lawrence and plied him with flattery and flowery speeches at a reception.

Robinson suggested that Shannon enjoy some of the finest whiskey that Lawrence’s citizens had to offer. Shannon, never one to turn down a chance to enjoy a good party and good whiskey, accepted Robinson’s hospitality. Shannon woke in the morning with faint to no memories of the party, and a massive hangover.

Shannon soon realized that he had signed an agreement with Charles Robinson and the free state forces that gave them the legal authority to effectively arm themselves and fight pro-slavery forces on Dec. 9, 1855.

Shannon had to ride out to the pro-slavery force that had surrounded Lawrence and inform them that the siege of Lawrence was over, and he was ordering them to return to Missouri from whence they had come. Neither Wilson Shannon nor the pro-slavery militia men were happy campers.

For most of the free state citizens of Lawrence, Charles Robinson was the hero of the day, but not to John Brown. When the agreement was announced, Brown was incensed that what to him was a optimum time to take on the pro-slavery forces and demonstrate that free state forces would and could fight well had been squandered.

He mounted the speakers stand uninvited and decried the agreement in no uncertain terms, only to be forcibly pulled off of the speakers platform by Charles Robinson’s supporters.

John Brown, Jim Lane and militant abolitionists and free soil advocates and Charles Robinson and other peaceful abolitionists thus were bickering factions within the free state forces in Kansas Territory during the 1850s.

This led to ideological debates and divisions that still echo today when the moral propriety of John Brown’s militant abolitionist crusade is debated and discussed in Kansas and around the world.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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