Bleeding Kansas

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Brown, John (1).jpg
Photographic reproduction of a portrait of abolitionist John Brown who lead a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia and intended to start a slave revolt, ca. 1855-1859.

Bleeding Kansas was a mini civil war between pro- and anti-slavery forces that occurred in Kansas from 1856 to 1865.

Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, thousands of Northerners and Southerners came to the newly created Kansas Territory. Some of these settlers simply wanted the new land now open to settlement, but many other people came to cast their votes either for or against slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had allowed the people residing in the Kansas Territory to decide for themselves whether or not to permit slavery. This legislation overturned the earlier Missouri Compromise, which declared that Kansas was to be free of slavery. Some Southerners hoped to make Kansas a slave state, intending to reduce the North's advantage in the United States Senate. Southerners believed that they could prevent the North from limiting or ending slavery if they regained at least a tie, if not a majority, of senators in the United States Senate. Many Northerners intended to prevent slavery at all costs. The government's approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act helped lead to the formation of the Republican Party, a political party, which was centered in the North, dedicated to preventing slavery's expansion.

Violence quickly came to the Kansas Territory as representatives of both sides migrated to the area. Thousands of pro-slavery men from neighboring Missouri moved into the territory. These men did not live in Kansas, but they still cast nearly five thousand votes to elect a territorial legislature favorable to slavery in 1855. The legislature convened in Lecompton, Kansas. The territorial governor, Andrew Reeder, originally supported slavery in Kansas, but after witnessing the actions of the pro-slavery Missourians, he tried to have the legislative election overturned. Hoping to avoid additional tensions, President Franklin Pierce upheld the election and replaced Reeder with Wilson Shannon, a transplanted Ohioan. Shannon enforced the pro-slavery actions of the legislature and angered the anti-slavery people in the territory.

Residents opposed to slavery's expansion formed their own legislature. They argued that they comprised the majority and that the legislature should reflect this fact. The anti-slavery legislature convened in Topeka, Kansas, in January 1856. Two separate legislatures with diametrically opposite views were attempting to govern in Kansas.

Pro-slavery residents began to advocate violence to settle the differences within the territory. On May 21, approximately eight hundred pro-slavery men attacked Lawrence, an anti-slavery community and the home of the free-soil governor. Most people fled the town as pro-slavery forces burned the governor's home, the hotel, and the town's two newspapers. They also plundered shops and homes. Bloodshed to settle the differences between the North and the South was becoming more frequent.

Anti-slavery Kansans did not sit idly by following the attack on Lawrence. Numerous Ohioans actively participated in the resulting minor civil war that became known as "Bleeding Kansas." On May 24, 1856, John Brown, who was raised in Ohio, four of his sons, and two additional men rode into Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, a village of several slave-owning families. Brown and his followers attacked five men in front of their wives and children and hacked them to death with swords.

Even religious leaders began to condone violence. Among them was Henry Ward Beecher, a former resident of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1854, Beecher sent rifles to anti-slavery forces participating in "Bleeding Kansas." These guns became known as "Beecher's bibles," because they arrived in Kansas in crates marked "bibles." Kansas continued to be "Bleeding Kansas" until the Civil War's conclusion in 1865.

See Also

References

  1. Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 2004.  
  2. Fellman, Michael. Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989.

 

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