Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bleeding Kansas

The violence that erupted in the Kansas Territory after 1853 centered on pro-slavery components clashing with free soil/anti-slavery abolitionists, and the levels of violence reached such high enough level s to earn the territory the national nickname of ‘Bleeding Kansas’. The conflicting forces in Kansas reflected the national North-South conflict that would result in succession and civil war, only the situation in ‘bleeding Kansas’ was packaged into a smaller territorial area with an uncertain political future which resulted in much more unregulated and explosive results. The Kansas-Nebraska bill proposed by Stephen Douglas and passed by Congress in 1854, dissolving the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was the ignition point for contesting future control of Kansas between anti- and pro-slavery factions.

Mass immigration into the Kansas Territory aimed to impact the 1855 territorial legislative voting, the first for the territory, which would ultimately decide whether Kansas, upon becoming a state, would become free soil or slave state [1]. Missouri Senator Atchison led armed “ruffians” into the territory to set-up camp, strong arm election polls and cast pro-slavery votes which “yielded a heavy majority of pro-slavery men in the new legislature” [2].

Free soil supporters, denouncing the elections as a fraud after new slave codes were implemented by the elected legislation, quickly created their own territorial government with Lawrence as the capitol. The newly erected free soil antagonist government quickly began a scramble to create a state constitution and apply for entry into the Union. The pro-slavery territorial government was rushing the exact same plan, only with pro-slavery implications. In October of 1855, With “Northerners and Southerners in Kansas pledging allegiance to rival governments” [3], both pro-slavery and free soil governments attempted to hold elections for a congressional representative.

The area of Lawrence was one of the heaviest areas of violence during the years leading into the Civil War. The capital of the free soil territorial government was even “denounced as an outlaw regime” [4] by democratic president Franklin Pierce. As the national political conflict worsened between 1856 and 1859, violence increased in Kansas. In May 1856, Lawrence was attacked by armed pro-slavery Missouri mobs that burned buildings, printing presses and the home of the governor. Days afterwards, abolitionist John Brown and his sons murdered five pro-slavery settlers in the area of Pottawatomie Creek [5]. The slogan of ‘bloody Kansas’ quickly became a tool of the Republican Party leading into the presidential election of 1856 [6].

Buchanan and the Democrats managed to win the presidential election of 1856. Entering into his only term as president, Buchanan endorsed a pro-slavery constitution for Kansas and supported early statehood for the territory in order to secure it once and for all as a slave state. This caused a political politically fatal fallout with fellow democrat Stephen Douglas of Illinois, as Douglas split from and challenged Buchanan with demands for a popular vote in Kansas, which ultimately fragmented the entire Democratic Party and allowed the newly created Republicans to win the presidency in 1860, setting the stage for succession and war [7].

[1] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 116.

[2] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 116.

[3] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 117.

[4] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 117.

[5] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 117.

[6] Michael Holt. 2004. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2004), 117.

[7] Miller Center. American President: A Reference Resource. University of Virginia. Accessed on February 13, 2014. http://millercenter.org/president/buchanan/essays/biography/1

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