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1855 - Bleeding Kansas

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 it negated the long held Missouri Compromise from 1820. The Missouri Compromise had stated that slavery would not be allowed north of the latitude line of 3630', which Kansas was clearly north of, so by the Missouri Compromise slavery would never be allowed in Kansas. However, many settlers and politicians did not agree, so Steven Douglas introduced and got Congress to pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed for the two new territories to decide by popular sovereignty whether or not to allow slavery. Popular sovereignty meant that each territory would hold an election to decide. For Nebraska this process was simple, but in Kansas where it was bordered by Missouri that allowed slavery, the process did not go as planned.

Bleeding Kansas, as it is known, was in the midst of a civil war. Between 1855 and 1860 about 200 men were killed in Kansas. Not all were politically motivated, and historians disagree on what constitutes a "political" killing. But even the most conservative scholar of this violence finds 56 killings that were tied to slavery and politics.

In Kansas there was no democratic government. Elections were notoriously fraudulent and violent. The majority of the settlers were from the free states, but the national government recognized a minority government that was proslavery. That legislature made it a crime to publicly oppose slavery. There was, at least under the formal law, no free speech in Kansas for abolitionists.

The years of 1854-1861 were a turbulent time in Kansas territory. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 established the territorial boundaries of Kansas and Nebraska and opened the land to legal settlement. It allowed the residents of these territories to decide by popular vote whether their state would be free or slave. This concept of self-determination was called popular sovereignty'. In Kansas, people on all sides of this controversial issue flooded the territory, trying to influence the vote in their favor.

Rival territorial governments, election fraud, and squabbles over land claims all contributed to the violence of this era. Three distinct political groups occupied Kansas: pro-slavers, free-staters and abolitionists. Men from Missouri invaded Kansas at every opportunity to vote, illegally, in the elections to decide the issue of slavery. The struggle resulted in a series of six territorial governors, four territorial constitutions, and two rival legislatures operating independently of each other.

During "Bleeding Kansas", murder, mayhem, destruction and psychological warfare became a code of conduct in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. Well-known examples of this violence include the massacre in May 1856 at Pottawatomie Creek where John Brown and his sons killed five pro-slavery advocates.

Locally, trouble began in the summer of 1856 when a group of about 30 pro-slavery settlers from South Carolina arrived in Bourbon County. It was suspected that they were sponsored by the Southern Emigrant Aid Society and were members of the Dark Lantern Societies. These societies terrorized free-state settlers and attempted to drive them from Kansas.

By 1858, trouble had intensified in southeast Kansas. Radical elements from other theaters of the conflict were now converging on this area. James Montgomery became a leader of free state forces and was involved in several violent incidents. In April of 1858, Montgomery and his men fought U. S troops stationed at Fort Scott in the battle of Paint Creek. One soldier was killed in this encounter. In May of 1858, Montgomery and his men drove pro-slavery forces from Linn County. In retaliation, eleven free-staters were pulled out of their homes, taken to a ravine and shot down. This incident came to be known as the Marais des Cygnes Massacre.

The division over the territory of Kansas and the ensuing violence was just the beginning of what the country would suffer over the next four years during the Civil War. The struggles and violence in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri was a prelude to the approaching confrontation throughout the country. "Bleeding Kansas" was prelude to the political storm that occurred throughout the United States before the Civil War. Violence continued until 1861 when Kansas entered the Union. The anti-slavery forces prevailed as Kansas entered into the Union a free state on January 29, 1861.

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Page last modified: 07-09-2017 16:56:48 ZULU