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Bleeding Kansas - History

Bleeding Kansas - History

Northern anti-slave organizations encouraged its members to emigrate to Kansas. The New England Emigrant Aid Society, alone, sent 2,000 settlers to Kansas. Most were well armed and spoiling for a fight. Southerners responded in kind, (although in much smaller numbers) and sent their own armed settlers.

When it was time to vote for the first territorial legislature, Southerners poured in from Missouri and voted early and often. The supporters of slavery triumphed in this election and set up a territorial government in Shawnee Mission. The free soilers (those who opposed slavery in Kansas) were outraged by this fraud and set up their own government in Topeka.

As tension mounted, a group of pro-slavery raiders burned part of the free soil town of Lawrence, thus, provoking a civil war in Kansas. In May 1856, John Brown led a band of followers who hacked to pieces a group of five proslavers, in what became known as the "Pottawatomie Massacre".

Legends of America

1856 map showing slave states in gray, free states in pink, U.S. territories in green, and Kansas in white.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 instituted a policy known as popular sovereignty in the Kansas Territory, allowing the settlers to decide by vote whether the territory would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state. Activists from each side flooded the territory in an attempt to influence the outcome, leading to violent, often deadly, clashes that foreshadowed the Civil War to come.

May 30, 1854 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and signed by President Franklin Pierce, and Kansas Territory was organized and opened up for settlement. Its boundary included eastern Colorado, west to the Continental Divide. The purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to open the country to transcontinental railways. The Act was responsible for causing the label “Bleeding Kansas.” The incorporation of popular sovereignty made the territory’s residents responsible for the question of slavery in their own backyard. The proximity of Kansas to slave-owning Missouri and the lack of any natural border between the two regions prompted an influx of pro-slavery individuals into the new territory when it opened up for settlement.

Summer 1854 – Eli Thayer of Worcester, Massachusetts, founds the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society to promote the settlement of anti-slavery groups in Kansas with the ultimate objective of making it a Free-State. This company helped to found Lawrence, Kansas which was named for Amos A. Lawrence, a promoter of the Emigrant Aid Society.

August 1, 1854 – Twenty-nine northern emigrants mostly from Massachusetts and Vermont are the first to arrive in Lawrence, Kansas. A second party of 200 men, women and children arrive in September.

November 29, 1854 – First election held in Kansas. Pro-slavery Missourians flooded the state to vote, where armed pro-slavery advocates intimidated voters and stuffed ballot boxes. Andrew H. Reeder was elected as the first territorial governor of Kansas.

March 1855 – Territorial Legislature election held where again pro-slavery Missourians flooded the state. After winning the territorial legislature, the proslavery officials ousted all Free-State members, secured the removal of Governor Andrew Reeder, adopted pro-slavery statutes. and began to hold their sessions in Lecompton, Kansas about 12 miles from Lawrence .

July 1855 – The first territorial Capitol of Kansas was completed of native stone at Pawnee on the Fort Riley reservation. However, it was only used for four days, before the Missourians in control voted to move the capital to a site closer to the Missouri border.

July 16, 1855 – The pro-slavery capital was moved to the Shawnee Methodist Mission in what is now Fairway, Kansas.

October 1855 – In retaliation of the illegal first territorial legislature, the abolitionists set up a rival government at Topeka and a Free-State constitution was framed in Topeka. However, it did not receive serious consideration in Congress.

October 7, 1855 – Abolitionist John Brown arrives in the Osawatomie, Kansas area to join his 5 sons who had become engaged in the fight of the Free-State cause. He stays in the log cabin home of the Reverend Samuel and Florella Adair, his half-sister.

December 1, 1855 – A small army of Missourians, acting under the command of “Sheriff” Jones, laid siege to Lawrence in the opening stages of what would later become known as “The Wakarusa War.” The intervention of the new governor, Wilson Shannon, kept the proslavery men from attacking Lawrence.

1856 – The proslavery territorial capitol was “officially” moved to Lecompton, a town only 12 miles from Lawrence.

April 1856 – A three-man federal congressional investigating committee arrived in Lecompton to look into the Kansas troubles. The majority report of the committee found the elections to be fraudulent, stating that the Free-State government represented the will of the majority. However, the federal government refused to follow its recommendations and continued to recognize the proslavery legislature as the legitimate government of Kansas.

The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas

May 21, 1856 – The Sacking of Lawrence – A motley group of some 700 armed pro-slavery enthusiasts raided Lawrence, the stronghold of the abolitionist movement. They destroyed the Free-State Hotel (now the Eldridge Hotel), smashed the presses of two Lawrence newspapers, and killed one man.

May 22, 1856 – After making a fiery speech called “The Crime Against Kansas” in the United States Congress, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was beaten unconscious by Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina.

May 24, 1856 – In retaliation for the Lawrence raid, a band led by the abolitionist crusader John Brown murdered five innocent pro-slavery men in the Pottawatomie Massacre.

June 2, 1856 – Battle of Black Jack – Anti-slavery forces, led by the noted abolitionist John Brown, attacked the encampment of Henry C. Pate near Baldwin City, Kansas.

June 4-5, 1856 – Battle of Franklin, near Lawrence. Under direct orders from President Franklin Pierce, Edwin Vose Sumner leads 200 infantrymen into Topeka, Kansas, unlimbered his artillery and informs the Free-Staters they may not hold a convention.

August 1856 – The town of Osawatomie is attacked by 400 pro-slavery Missourians. John Brown, along with 40 other men defended the town, but in the end, all but four homes at the settlement were burned by the invaders and John Brown’s son Frederick was killed. Four wagon loads of dead and wounded were brought into Boonville, Missouri when the invading army returned.

Fort Titus, Lecompton, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

August 16, 1856 – The Battle of Fort Titus occurred at Lecompton, Kansas when about 400 free-staters under the command of Samuel Walker attacked Fort Titus.

August 30, 1856 – Battle of Osawatomie – John Brown leads a raid on proslavery sympathizers in a small Kansas settlement on the Pottawatomie Creek. It is the first battle over slavery in the U.S. Five men are killed. The division in the Kansas territory over slavery leads to much violence in “Bleeding Kansas”.

September 16, 1856 – The Battle of Hickory Point occurred when James H. Lane led a force of Jayhawkers against Hickory Point, a proslavery settlement in Jefferson County, Kansas

1857 – Men in favor of slavery meet in Lecompton to hammer out a constitution, a necessary prerequisite for statehood. The group’s views are not representative of the populace in Kansas, and the words of the Lecompton Constitution will cause additional bloodshed and compound the growing frustration leading to the Civil War. Former Ohio schoolteacher, William Clarke Quantrill, moves to Kansas. He hones his violent nature by living with thieves, murderers, and brigands, and commits several brutal murders.

1858 – Captain Nathaniel Lyon takes command of a detachment of soldiers at Fort Scott to restore law and order during the chaos of “Bleeding Kansas.” Despite the dubious validity of the Lecompton Constitution, President James Buchanan recommended that Congress accept it and approve statehood for the territory. Instead, Congress returned it for another territorial vote, moving the nation closer to war.


Family and childhood

John Brown was born May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut. [16] The fourth of the eight children of Owen Brown (1771–1856) and Ruth Mills (1772–1808), he described his parents as "poor but respectable". [17] : 7 Owen Brown's father was Capt. John Brown (1728–1776), who died in the Revolutionary Army, at New York, Sept. 3, 1776. [18] According to the inscription on his tombstone, now in North Elba, New York, he was of the fourth generation, in regular descent, from Peter Brown, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, who landed from the Mayflower, at Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 22, 1620." [19] Ruth Mills was the daughter of Gideon Mills, also an officer in the Revolutionary Army. [18] She was of Dutch and Welsh descent. [17] : 5 While Brown was very young, his father moved the family briefly to his home town, West Simsbury, Connecticut. [18]

In 1805, the family moved, again, to Hudson, Ohio, in the Western Reserve, which at the time was mostly wilderness, [17] : 5, 7 which went on to become arguably the most anti-slavery region of the country. [20] The founder of Hudson, David Hudson, with whom John's father had frequent contact, was not only an abolitionist but an advocate of "forcible resistance by the slaves". [17] : 17 Owen Brown became a leading and wealthy citizen of Hudson. [18] [21] He opened a tannery. Jesse Grant, father of President Ulysses S. Grant, was his employee and lived with the family for some years. [21] Owen hated slavery [22] and participated in Hudson's anti-slavery activity and debate, offering a safe house to Underground Railroad fugitives. [ citation needed ] With no school beyond the elementary level in Hudson at that time, John studied at the school of the abolitionist Elizur Wright, father of the famous Elizur Wright, in nearby Tallmadge. [23] : 17 John's mother Ruth died in 1808. In his memoir he wrote that he pined after her for years. While he respected his father's new wife, he never felt an emotional bond with her. [17] : 8

Young adulthood

At 16, Brown left his family and came east with the design of acquiring a liberal education. His ambition was the Gospel ministry: "at one time [I] hoped to be a minister myself". [24] In pursuance of this object, he consulted and conferred with the Rev. Jeremiah Hallock, then clergyman at Canton, Connecticut, whose wife was a relative of Brown's, and in accordance with advice there obtained, proceeded to Plainfield, Massachusetts, where, under the instruction of the late Rev. Moses Hallock, he prepared for college. He would have continued at Amherst College, [11] : 13 [23] : 17 but he suffered from inflammation of the eyes which ultimately became chronic, and precluded him from the possibility of the further pursuit of his studies, whereupon he returned to Hudson. [18]

Back In Hudson, Brown taught himself surveying from a book, [25] : 31 and in his will he had surveyor's implements. He worked briefly at his father's tannery before opening a successful tannery of his own outside of town with his adopted brother Levi Blakeslee. [23] : 17 The two kept bachelor's quarters, and Brown was a good cook. [23] : 17 However, he had been having his bread baked by a widow, Mrs. Amos Lusk, and as the tanning business had grown to include journeymen and apprentices, Brown persuaded her to take charge of his housekeeping, "mov[ing] into his log cabin" with her daughter Dianthe, whom Brown married in 1820. [23] : 18 He described her as "a remarkably plain, but neat, industrious and economical girl, of excellent character, earnest piety, and practical common sense." [25] : 32 She was also "as deeply religious as her husband". Their first child, John Jr., was born 13 months later. During 12 years of married life Dianthe gave birth to 7 children, but she died from complications of childbirth in 1832. [23] : 18–19

Time in Pennsylvania

John Brown lived longer in Pennsylvania than he did anywhere else, including Hudson and North Elba. According to a Pennsylvania friend who visited him in jail in Charles Town just before his execution, "he alluded to Crawford [County] as being very dear to him, as its soil was hallowed as the resting place of his former wife and two beloved children". [26]

In 1825, despite the success of the tannery and having built a substantial house the year before, Brown and his family, seeking a safer location for fugitive slaves, moved to New Richmond, Pennsylvania. There he bought 200 acres (81 hectares) of land, cleared an eighth of it, and quickly built a cabin, a two-story tannery with 18 vats, and a barn in the latter was a secret, well-ventilated room to hide escaping slaves. [27] : 4–5 [28] From 1825 to 1835, the tannery was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and during this time, "Brown aided in the passing [to Canada] of an estimated 2,500 slaves." [29]

Brown made money surveying new roads, and was involved in erecting a school, which first met in his home, and attracting a preacher. [23] : 23 He also helped to establish a post office, and in 1828 President John Quincy Adams named him the first postmaster of Randolph, Pennsylvania he was reappointed by President Andrew Jackson, serving until he left Pennsylvania in 1835. [23] : 23 [30] : 325 He carried the mail for some years from Meadville, Pennsylvania, through Randolph to Riceville, some 20 miles (32 km). He paid a fine at Meadville for declining to serve in the militia. During this period, Brown operated an interstate cattle and leather business along with a kinsman, Seth Thompson, from eastern Ohio. [27] : 7

In 1829, some white families asked Brown to help them drive off Native Americans who hunted annually in the area. Brown replied, "I will have nothing to do with so mean an act. I would sooner take my gun and help drive you out of the country." [31] : 168–69 As a child in Hudson, John not only came into contact with the local Indians, he "hung about them. & learned a trifle of their talk". [17] : 7 Throughout his life, Brown maintained peaceful relations with Native Americans, even accompanying them on hunting excursions and inviting them to eat in his home. [32] [3]

Brown was involved in setting up a Congregational Society in Richmond, whose first meetings were held in the tannery. [27] : 6

In 1831 Brown's youngest son died, at the age of 4. Brown fell ill, and his businesses began to suffer, leaving him in severe debt. In the summer of 1832, shortly after the death of a newborn son, his wife Dianthe also died, either in childbirth or as an immediate consequence of it. [33] : 35 He was left with the children John Jr., Jason, Owen, and Ruth. On July 14, 1833, Brown married 17-year-old Mary Ann Day (1817–1884), originally from Washington County, New York [34] she was the younger sister of Brown's housekeeper at the time. [27] : 8 They would eventually have 13 children. [35] [36] "He evinced a good deal of pride in stating that he had seven sons to help him in the cause" of abolishing slavery. [37]

In 1836, Brown moved his family from Pennsylvania to Franklin Mills, Ohio (now Kent, Ohio). There he borrowed heavily to buy land in the area, land along canals being built, building and operating a tannery along the Cuyahoga River in partnership with Zenas Kent. [38] He became a bank director and was estimated to be worth $20,000 (equivalent to $501,742 in 2020). [25] : 50 Brown, like many businessmen in Ohio, trusted too heavily in credit and state bonds and suffered great financial losses in the Panic of 1837. In one episode of property loss, Brown was jailed when he attempted to retain ownership of a farm by occupying it against the claims of the new owner. [ citation needed ]

In Franklin Mills, according to Henry Thompson, husband of Brown's eldest daughter Ruth, whose brother was killed at Harpers Ferry: [ contradictory ]

[H]e and his three sons, John, Jason, and Owen, were expelled from the Congregational church at Kent, then called Franklin. Ohio, for taking a colored man into their own pew and the deacons of the church tried to persuade him to concede his error. My wife and various members of the family afterward joined the Wesley Methodists, but John Brown never connected himself with any church again. [39]

For three or four years he seemed to flounder hopelessly, moving from one activity to another without plan. Like other determined men of his time and background, he tried many different business efforts in an attempt to get out of debt. He bred race horses briefly, did some surveying, farmed, and did some tanning. [25] : 50–51 In 1837, in response to the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, Brown publicly vowed: "Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!" [40] Brown declared bankruptcy in federal court on September 28, 1842. In 1843, four of his children died of dysentery three were buried in a single grave.

As Louis DeCaro Jr shows in his biographical sketch (2007), [ full citation needed ] from the mid-1840s Brown had built a reputation as an expert in fine sheep and wool, and entered into a partnership with Col. Simon Perkins of Akron, Ohio, whose flocks and farms were managed by Brown and sons. Brown eventually moved into a home with his family across the street from the Perkins Stone Mansion on Perkins Hill.

Time in Springfield, Massachusetts

In 1846, Brown and his business partner Simon Perkins moved to the ideologically progressive city of Springfield, Massachusetts. There Brown found a community whose white leadership—from the community's most prominent churches, to its wealthiest businessmen, to its most popular politicians, to its local jurists, and even to the publisher of one of the nation's most influential newspapers—were deeply involved and emotionally invested in the anti-slavery movement. [42] Brown's and Perkins' intent was to represent the interests of the Ohio's wool growers as opposed to those of New England's wool manufacturers—thus Brown and Perkins set up a wool commission operation. While in Springfield, Brown lived in a house at 51 Franklin Street. [43]

Two years before Brown's arrival in Springfield, in 1844, the city's African-American abolitionists had founded the Sanford Street Free Church—now known as St. John's Congregational Church—which went on to become one of the United States' most prominent platforms for abolitionists. From 1846 until he left Springfield in 1850, Brown was a parishioner at the Free Church, where he witnessed abolitionist lectures by the likes of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. [44] In 1847, after speaking at the Free Church, Douglass spent a night speaking with Brown, after which Douglass wrote, "From this night spent with John Brown in Springfield, Mass. [in] 1847[,] while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man's strong impressions." [42] During Brown's time in Springfield, he became deeply involved in transforming the city into a major center of abolitionism, and one of the safest and most significant stops on the Underground Railroad. [45] Brown contributed to the 1848 republication, by his friend Henry Highland Garnet, of David Walker's Appeal. to the Colored Citizens. of the United States of America, semi-forgotten as it had not been reprinted since Walker's death in 1830.

Brown also learned much about Massachusetts' mercantile elite while he initially considered this knowledge a curse, [ citation needed ] [ why? ] it proved to be a boon [ how? ] to his later activities in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry. The business community had reacted with hesitation when Brown asked them to change their highly profitable practice of selling low-quality wool en masse at low prices. Initially, Brown naïvely trusted them, but he soon realized they were determined to maintain their control of price-setting. Also, on the outskirts of Springfield, the Connecticut River Valley's sheep farmers were largely unorganized and hesitant to change their methods of production to meet higher standards. In the Ohio Cultivator, Brown and other wool growers complained that the Connecticut River Valley's farmers' tendencies were lowering all U.S. wool prices abroad. In reaction, Brown made a last-ditch effort to overcome the wool mercantile elite by seeking an alliance with European manufacturers. Ultimately, Brown was disappointed to learn that Europe preferred to buy Western Massachusetts wools en masse at the cheap prices they had been getting. Brown then traveled to England to seek a higher price for Springfield's wool. The trip was a disaster, as the firm incurred a loss of $40,000, of which Perkins bore the brunt. With this misfortune, the Perkins and Brown wool commission operation closed in Springfield in late 1849. Subsequent lawsuits tied up the partners for several more years. [ citation needed ]

Before Brown left Springfield in 1850, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act, a law mandating that authorities in free states aid in the return of escaped slaves and imposing penalties on those who aid in their escape. In response Brown founded a militant group to prevent the recapture of fugitives, the League of Gileadites. [46] In the Bible, Mount Gilead was the place where only the bravest of Israelites gathered to face an invading enemy. Brown founded the League with the words, "Nothing so charms the American people as personal bravery. [Blacks] would have ten times the number [of white friends than] they now have were they but half as much in earnest to secure their dearest rights as they are to ape the follies and extravagances of their white neighbors, and to indulge in idle show, in ease, and in luxury." [47] Upon leaving Springfield in 1850, he instructed the League to act "quickly, quietly, and efficiently" to protect slaves that escaped to Springfield—words that would foreshadow Brown's later actions preceding Harpers Ferry. [47] From Brown's founding of the League of Gileadites onward, not one person was ever taken back into slavery from Springfield. Brown gave his rocking chair to the mother of his beloved black porter, Thomas Thomas, as a gesture of affection. [42]

Some popular narrators [ who? ] have exaggerated the impact of the demise of Brown and Perkins' wool commission in Springfield on Brown's later life choices. In actuality, Perkins absorbed much of the financial loss, and their partnership continued for several more years, with Brown nearly breaking even by 1854. [ citation needed ] Brown's time in Springfield sowed the seeds [ how? ] for the future financial support he received from New England's great merchants, allowed him to hear and meet nationally famous abolitionists like Douglass and Sojourner Truth, and included the foundation of the League of Gileadites. [42] [43] During this time, Brown also helped publicize David Walker's speech Appeal. [48] Brown's personal attitudes evolved in Springfield, as he observed the success of the city's Underground Railroad and made his first venture into militant, anti-slavery community organizing. In speeches, he pointed to the martyrs Elijah Lovejoy and Charles Turner Torrey as whites "ready to help blacks challenge slave-catchers." [49] In Springfield, Brown found a city that shared his own anti-slavery passions, and each seemed to educate the other. Certainly, with both successes and failures, Brown's Springfield years were a transformative period of his life that catalyzed many of his later actions. [42]

Time in New York

In 1848, Brown heard of Gerrit Smith's Adirondack land grants to poor black men, called Timbuctoo, and decided to move his family there to establish a farm where he could provide guidance and assistance to the blacks who were attempting to establish farms in the area. [50] He bought from Smith land in the town of North Elba, New York (near Lake Placid), for $1 an acre ($2/ha), and spent two years there. [51] It has a magnificent view [10] and has been called "the highest arable spot of land in the State, if, indeed, soil so hard and sterile can be called arable." [52]

After he was executed on December 2, 1859, his widow took his body there for burial the trip took three days, and he was buried on December 7. Watson's body was located and buried there in 1882. In 1899 the remains of 12 of Brown's other collaborators, including his son Oliver, were located and brought to North Elba. They could not be identified well enough for separate burials, so they are buried together in a single casket, with a collective plaque. Since 1895, the John Brown Farm State Historic Site has been owned by New York State and it is now a National Historic Landmark. [50]

Kansas Territory was in the midst of a state-level civil war from 1854 to 1860, referred to as the Bleeding Kansas period, between pro- and anti-slavery forces. The issue was to be decided by the voters of Kansas, but who these voters were was not clear there was widespread voting fraud in favor of the pro-slavery forces, as a Congressional investigation confirmed. [53]

Move to Kansas

In 1855, Brown learned from his adult sons in Kansas that their families were completely unprepared to face attack, and that pro-slavery forces there were militant. Determined to protect his family and oppose the advances of slavery supporters, Brown left for Kansas, enlisting a son-in-law and making several stops just to collect funds and weapons. As reported by the New York Tribune, Brown stopped en route to participate in an anti-slavery convention that took place in June 1855 in Albany, New York. Despite the controversy that ensued on the convention floor regarding the support of violent efforts on behalf of the free state cause, several people gave Brown financial support. As he went westward, Brown found more militant support in his home state of Ohio, particularly in the strongly anti-slavery Western Reserve section, where his boyhood home of Hudson is located. [ citation needed ]


Brown and the free-state settlers were optimistic that they could bring Kansas into the union as a slavery-free state. [54] After the winter snows thawed in 1856, the pro-slavery activists began a campaign to seize Kansas on their own terms. Brown was particularly affected by the sacking of Lawrence, the center of anti-slavery activity in Kansas, on May 21, 1856. A sheriff-led posse from Lecompton, the center of pro-slavery activity in Kansas, destroyed two abolitionist newspapers and the Free State Hotel. Only one man, a Border Ruffian, was killed. Preston Brooks's May 22 caning of anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner in the United States Senate also fueled Brown's anger. A pro-slavery writer, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, of the Squatter Sovereign, wrote that "[pro-slavery forces] are determined to repel this Northern invasion, and make Kansas a slave state though our rivers should be covered with the blood of their victims, and the carcasses of the abolitionists should be so numerous in the territory as to breed disease and sickness, we will not be deterred from our purpose". [55] Brown was outraged by both the violence of the pro-slavery forces and what he saw as a weak and cowardly response by the antislavery partisans and the Free State settlers, whom he described as "cowards, or worse". [56]

The Pottawatomie massacre occurred during the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. Using swords, Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers took from their residences and killed five "professional slave hunters and militant pro-slavery" [57] settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek, in Franklin County, Kansas.

In the two years prior to the Pottawatomie Creek massacre, there had been eight killings in Kansas Territory attributable to slavery politics, but none in the vicinity of the massacre. The massacre was the match in the powderkeg that precipitated the bloodiest period in "Bleeding Kansas" history, a three-month period of retaliatory raids and battles in which 29 people died. [58]

Palmyra and Osawatomie

In 1856, a force of Missourians, led by Captain Henry Clay Pate, captured John Jr. and Jason, destroyed the Brown family homestead, and later participated in the Sack of Lawrence. On June 2, in the Battle of Black Jack, John Brown, nine of his followers, and 20 local men successfully defended a Free State settlement at Palmyra, Kansas, against an attack by Pate. Pate and 22 of his men were taken prisoner. [59] After capture, they were taken to Brown's camp, and received all the food Brown could find. Brown forced Pate to sign a treaty, exchanging the freedom of Pate and his men for the promised release of Brown's two captured sons. Brown released Pate to Colonel Edwin Sumner, but was furious to discover that the release of his sons was delayed until September. [ citation needed ]

In August, a company of over 300 Missourians under the command of General John W. Reid crossed into Kansas and headed towards Osawatomie, intending to destroy the Free State settlements there, and then march on Topeka and Lawrence. [60]

On the morning of August 30, 1856, they shot and killed Brown's son Frederick and his neighbor David Garrison on the outskirts of Osawatomie. Brown, outnumbered more than seven to one, arranged his 38 men behind natural defenses along the road. Firing from cover, they managed to kill at least 20 of Reid's men and wounded 40 more. [61] Reid regrouped, ordering his men to dismount and charge into the woods. Brown's small group scattered and fled across the Marais des Cygnes River. One of Brown's men was killed during the retreat and four were captured. While Brown and his surviving men hid in the woods nearby, the Missourians plundered and burned Osawatomie. Despite his defeat, Brown's bravery and military shrewdness in the face of overwhelming odds brought him national attention and made him a hero to many Northern abolitionists. [62]

On September 7, Brown entered Lawrence to meet with Free State leaders and help fortify against a feared assault. At least 2,700 pro-slavery Missourians were once again invading Kansas. On September 14, they skirmished near Lawrence. Brown prepared for battle, but serious violence was averted when the new governor of Kansas, John W. Geary, ordered the warring parties to disarm and disband, and offered clemency to former fighters on both sides. [63] Brown, taking advantage of the fragile peace, left Kansas with three of his sons to raise money from supporters in the North. [ citation needed ]

Brown's plans

Brown's plans for a major attack on American slavery go back at least 20 years before the raid. He spent the years between 1842 and 1849 winding up his business affairs, settling his family in the Negro community at Timbuctoo, New York, and organizing in his own mind an anti-slavery raid that would strike a significant blow against the entire slave system, running slaves off Southern plantations. [64]

As put by Frederick Douglass, "His own statement, that he had been contemplating a bold strike for the freedom of the slaves for ten years, proves that he had resolved upon his present course long before he, or his sons, ever set foot in Kansas." [65] According to his first biographer James Redpath, "for thirty years, he secretly cherished the idea of being the leader of a servile insurrection: the American Moses, predestined by Omnipotence to lead the servile nations in our Southern States to freedom." [66]

Brown was careful about whom he talked to. "Captain Brown was careful to keep his plans from his men", according to Jeremiah Anderson, one of the participants in the raid. [67] : 358 According to his son Owen, the only one who survived of Brown's three participating sons, interviewed in 1873, "John Brown's entire plan has never, I think, been published." [68]

He did discuss his plans at length, for over a day, with Frederick Douglass, trying unsuccessfully to persuade Douglass, a Black leader, to accompany him to Harpers Ferry (which Douglass thought a suicidal mission that could not succeed). [67] : 350–351 [67] : 355–356

Brown thought that "A few men in the right, and knowing that they are right, can overturn a mighty king. Fifty men, twenty men, in the Alleghenies would break slavery to pieces in two years". [11] : 426 As he put it later, after the failure of his raid, "I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed [through the revolt supposed to start with Harpers Ferry] it [ending slavery] might be done." [11] : 398


Brown returned to the East by November 1856, and spent the next two years in New England raising funds. Initially he returned to Springfield, where he received contributions, and also a letter of recommendation from a prominent and wealthy merchant, George Walker. Walker was the brother-in-law of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, the secretary for the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, who introduced Brown to several influential abolitionists in the Boston area in January 1857. [43] [17]

Amos Adams Lawrence, a prominent Boston merchant, secretly gave Brown a large amount of cash. William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker and George Luther Stearns, and Samuel Gridley Howe also supported Brown. A group of six wealthy abolitionists—Sanborn, Higginson, Parker, Stearns, Howe, and Gerrit Smith—agreed to offer Brown financial support for his antislavery activities they eventually provided most of the financial backing for the raid on Harpers Ferry, and came to be known as the Secret Six [69] or the Committee of Six. Brown often requested help from them with "no questions asked", and it remains unclear how much of Brown's scheme the Secret Six were aware. [ citation needed ]

In December 1857, an anti-slavery Mock Legislature, organized by Brown, met in Springdale, Iowa. [4] On several of Brown's trips across Iowa he preached at Hitchcock House, an Underground Railroad stop in Lewis, Iowa. [70]

On January 7, 1858, the Massachusetts Committee pledged to provide 200 Sharps Rifles and ammunition, which were being stored at Tabor, Iowa. In March, Brown contracted with Charles Blair, through an intermediary friend, Horatio N. Rust of Collinsville, Connecticut (1828–1906), [71] for 1,000 pikes. [72]

In the following months, Brown continued to raise funds, visiting Worcester, Springfield, New Haven, Syracuse, and Boston. In Boston, he met Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He received many pledges but little cash. In March, while in New York City, he was introduced to Hugh Forbes, an English mercenary, who had experience as a military tactician fighting with Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy in 1848. Brown hired him as his men's drillmaster and to write their tactical handbook. They agreed to meet in Tabor that summer. Using the alias Nelson Hawkins, Brown traveled through the Northeast and then visited his family in Hudson, Ohio. On August 7, he arrived in Tabor. Forbes arrived two days later. Over several weeks, the two men put together a "Well-Matured Plan" for fighting slavery in the South. The men quarreled over many of the details. In November, their troops left for Kansas. Forbes had not received his salary and was still feuding with Brown, so he returned to the East instead of venturing into Kansas. He soon threatened to expose the plot to the government. [ citation needed ]

As the October elections saw a free-state victory, Kansas was quiet. Brown made his men return to Iowa, where he told them tidbits of his Virginia scheme. [73] In January 1858, Brown left his men in Springdale, Iowa, and set off to visit Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. There he discussed his plans with Douglass, and reconsidered Forbes' criticisms. [74] Brown wrote a Provisional Constitution that would create a government for a new state in the region of his invasion. He then traveled to Peterboro, New York, and Boston to discuss matters with the Secret Six. In letters to them, he indicated that, along with recruits, he would go into the South equipped with weapons to do "Kansas work". [75] While in Boston making secret preparations for his operation on Harper's Ferry. He was raising money for weapons that were manufactured in Connecticut. Abolitionist Chaplain Photius Fisk gave him a sizable donation and obtained his autograph which he later gave to the Kansas Historical Society. [76]

Brown and 12 of his followers, including his son Owen, traveled to Chatham, Ontario, where he convened on May 10 a Constitutional Convention. [77] The convention, with several dozen delegates including his friend James Madison Bell, was put together with the help of Dr. Martin Delany. [78] One-third of Chatham's 6,000 residents were fugitive slaves, and it was here that Brown was introduced to Harriet Tubman, who helped him recruit. [79] The convention's 34 blacks and 12 whites adopted Brown's Provisional Constitution. Brown had long used the terminology of the Subterranean Pass Way from the late 1840s, so it is possible that Delany conflated Brown's statements over the years. Regardless, Brown was elected commander-in-chief and named John Henrie Kagi his "Secretary of War". Richard Realf was named "Secretary of State". Elder Monroe, a black minister, was to act as president until another was chosen. A. M. Chapman was the acting vice president Delany, the corresponding secretary. In 1859, "A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America" was written. [80] [81]

Although nearly all of the delegates signed the constitution, few volunteered to join Brown's forces, although it will never be clear how many Canadian expatriates actually intended to join Brown because of a subsequent "security leak" that threw off plans for the raid, creating a hiatus in which Brown lost contact with many of the Canadian leaders. This crisis occurred when Hugh Forbes, Brown's mercenary, tried to expose the plans to Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson and others. The Secret Six feared their names would be made public. Howe and Higginson wanted no delays in Brown's progress, while Parker, Stearns, Smith and Sanborn insisted on postponement. Stearns and Smith were the major sources of funds, and their words carried more weight. To throw Forbes off the trail and invalidate his assertions, Brown returned to Kansas in June, and remained in that vicinity for six months. There he joined forces with James Montgomery, who was leading raids into Missouri.

On December 20, Brown led his own raid, in which he liberated 11 slaves, took captive two white men, and looted horses and wagons. (See Battle of the Spurs.) The Governor of Missouri announced a reward of $3,000 (equivalent to $86,411 in 2020) for his capture. On January 20, 1859, he embarked on a lengthy journey to take the liberated slaves to Detroit and then on a ferry to Canada. While passing through Chicago, Brown met with abolitionists Allan Pinkerton, John Jones, and Henry O. Wagoner who arranged and raised the fare for the passage to Detroit [82] and purchase clothes and supplies for Brown. Jones's wife, Mary, guessed that the supplies included the suit Brown was later hanged in. [83] On March 12, 1859, Brown met with Frederick Douglass and Detroit abolitionists George DeBaptiste, William Lambert, and others at William Webb's house in Detroit to discuss emancipation. [84] DeBaptiste proposed that conspirators blow up some of the South's largest churches. The suggestion was opposed by Brown, who felt humanity precluded such unnecessary bloodshed. [85]

Over the course of the next few months, he traveled again through Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to drum up more support for the cause. On May 9, he delivered a lecture in Concord, Massachusetts, that Amos Bronson Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau attended. Brown reconnoitered with the Secret Six. In June he paid his last visit to his family in North Elba before departing for Harpers Ferry. He stayed one night en route in Hagerstown, Maryland, at the Washington House, on West Washington Street. On June 30, 1859, the hotel had at least 25 guests, including I. Smith and Sons, Oliver Smith and Owen Smith, and Jeremiah Anderson, all from New York. From papers found in the Kennedy Farmhouse after the raid, it is known that Brown wrote to Kagi that he would sign into a hotel as I. Smith and Sons. [86]

As he began recruiting supporters for an attack on slaveholders, Brown was joined by Harriet Tubman, "General Tubman," as he called her. [87] Her knowledge of support networks and resources in the border states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware was invaluable to Brown and his planners. Some abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, opposed his tactics, but Brown dreamed of fighting to create a new state for freed slaves and made preparations for military action. After he began the first battle, he believed, slaves would rise up and carry out a rebellion across the South. [88]

Brown asked Tubman to gather former slaves then living in present-day southern Ontario who might be willing to join his fighting force, which she did. [89] He arrived in Harpers Ferry on July 3, 1859. A few days later, under the name Isaac Smith, he rented a farmhouse in nearby Maryland. He awaited the arrival of his recruits. They never materialized in the numbers he expected. In late August he met with Douglass in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he revealed the Harpers Ferry plan. Douglass expressed severe reservations, rebuffing Brown's pleas to join the mission. Douglass had known of Brown's plans since early 1859 and had made a number of efforts to discourage blacks from enlisting.

In late September, the 950 pikes arrived from Charles Blair. Kagi's draft plan called for a brigade of 4,500 men, but Brown had only 21 men (16 white and 5 black: three free blacks, one freed slave, and a fugitive slave). They ranged in age from 21 to 49. Twelve had been with Brown in Kansas raids. On October 16, 1859, Brown (leaving three men behind as a rear guard) led 18 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory. He had received 200 Beecher's Bibles—breechloading .52 (13.2 mm) caliber Sharps rifles—and pikes from northern abolitionist societies in preparation for the raid. The armory was a large complex of buildings that contained 100,000 muskets and rifles, which Brown planned to seize and use to arm local slaves. They would then head south, drawing off more and more slaves from plantations, and fighting only in self-defense. As Douglass and Brown's family testified, his strategy was essentially to deplete Virginia of its slaves, causing the institution to collapse in one county after another, until the movement spread into the South, wreaking havoc on the economic viability of the pro-slavery states. [ citation needed ]

The raid

Initially, the raid went well, and they met no resistance entering the town. They cut the telegraph wires and easily captured the armory, which was being defended by a single watchman. They next rounded up hostages from nearby farms, including Colonel Lewis Washington, great-grandnephew of George Washington. They also spread the news to the local slaves that their liberation was at hand. Two of the hostages' slaves also died in the raid. [90]

Things started to go wrong when an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train approached the town. After holding the train, Brown inexplicably allowed it to continue on its way. At the next station where the telegraph still worked, the conductor sent a telegram to B&O headquarters in Baltimore. [91] The railroad sent telegrams to President Buchanan and Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise.

News of the raid reached Baltimore early that morning and Washington by late morning. In the meantime, local farmers, shopkeepers, and militia pinned down the raiders in the armory by firing from the heights behind the town. Some of the local men were shot by Brown's men. At noon, a company of militia seized the bridge, blocking the only escape route. Brown then moved his prisoners and remaining raiders into the fire engine house, a small brick building at the armory's entrance. He had the doors and windows barred and loopholes cut through the brick walls. The surrounding forces barraged the engine house, and the men inside fired back with occasional fury. Brown sent his son Watson and another supporter out under a white flag, but the angry crowd shot them. Intermittent shooting then broke out, and Brown's son Oliver was wounded. His son begged his father to kill him and end his suffering, but Brown said "If you must die, die like a man." A few minutes later, Oliver was dead. The exchanges lasted throughout the day. [ citation needed ]

By the morning of October 18 the engine house, later known as John Brown's Fort, was surrounded by a company of U.S. Marines under the command of First Lieutenant Israel Greene, USMC, with Colonel Robert E. Lee of the United States Army in overall command. [92] Army First Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart approached under a white flag and told the raiders their lives would be spared if they surrendered. Brown refused, saying, "No, I prefer to die here." Stuart then gave a signal. The Marines used sledgehammers and a makeshift battering ram to break down the engine room door. Lieutenant Israel Greene cornered Brown and struck him several times, wounding his head. In three minutes Brown and the survivors were captives. [ citation needed ]

Altogether, Brown's men killed four people and wounded nine. Ten of Brown's men were killed, including his sons Watson and Oliver. Five escaped, including his son Owen, and seven were captured along with Brown they were quickly tried and hanged two weeks after John. Among the raiders killed were John Henry Kagi, Lewis Sheridan Leary, and Dangerfield Newby those hanged besides Brown included John Copeland, Edwin Coppock, Aaron Stevens, and Shields Green. [93] [94]

Brown and the others captured were held in the office of the armory. On October 18, 1859, Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, Virginia Senator James M. Mason, and Representative Clement Vallandigham of Ohio arrived in Harpers Ferry. Mason led the three-hour questioning session of Brown. [ citation needed ]

Although the attack had taken place on federal property, Wise wanted him tried in Virginia, and President Buchanan did not object. Murder was not a federal crime, nor was inciting a slave insurrection, and federal action would bring abolitionist protests. Brown and his men were tried in Charles Town, the nearby seat of Jefferson County, just 7 miles (11 km) west of Harpers Ferry. The trial began October 27, after a doctor pronounced the still-wounded Brown fit for trial. Brown was charged with murdering four whites and a black, inciting a slave insurrection, and treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. A series of lawyers were assigned to him, including Lawson Botts, Thomas C. Green, Samuel Chilton, a lawyer from Washington D.C., and George Hoyt, but it was Hiram Griswold, a lawyer from Cleveland, who concluded the defense on October 31. In his closing statement, Griswold argued that Brown could not be found guilty of treason against a state to which he owed no loyalty and of which he was not a resident, that Brown had not killed anyone himself, and that the raid's failure indicated that Brown had not conspired with slaves. Andrew Hunter, the leading attorney in Charles Town and Governor Wise's personal lawyer, presented the closing arguments for the prosecution. [ citation needed ]

On November 2, after a week-long trial and 45 minutes of deliberation, the Charles Town jury found Brown guilty on all three counts. He was sentenced to be hanged in public on December 2. [ citation needed ]

The trial attracted reporters who were able to send their articles via the new telegraph. They were reprinted in numerous papers. It was the first trial in the U.S. to be nationally reported. [95] : 291

November 2 to December 2, 1859

Under Virginia law, a month had to elapse before the death sentence could be carried out. Governor Wise resisted pressures to move up the execution date because, he said, he wanted everyone to see that Brown's rights had been thoroughly respected.

Brown made it clear repeatedly in his letters and conversations that these were the happiest days of his life. He would be publicly murdered, as he put it, but he was an old man and, he said, near death anyway. Brown was politically shrewd and realized his execution would strike a massive blow against Slave Power, a greater blow than he had made so far or had prospects of making otherwise. His death now had a purpose. In the meantime, the death sentence allowed him to publicize his anti-slavery views through the reporters constantly present in Charles Town, and through his voluminous correspondence.

Before his conviction, reporters were not allowed access to Brown, as the judge and Andrew Hunter feared that his statements, if quickly published, would exacerbate tensions, especially among the enslaved. This was much to Brown's frustration, as he stated that he wanted to make a full statement of his motives and intentions through the press. [33] : 212 Once he had been convicted, the restriction was lifted, and, glad for the publicity, he talked with reporters and anyone else who wanted to see him, except pro-slavery clergy. [26]

Brown received more letters than he ever had in his life. He wrote replies constantly, hundreds of eloquent letters, often published in newspapers, [96] : 43 and expressed regret that he could not answer every one of the hundreds more he received. His words exuded spirituality and conviction. Letters picked up by the Northern press won him more supporters in the North while infuriating many white people in the South.

Rescue plans

There were well-documented and specific plans to rescue Brown, as Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise wrote to President Buchanan. Throughout the weeks Brown and six of his collaborators were in the Jefferson County Jail in Charles Town, the town was filled with various types of troops and militia, hundreds and sometimes thousands of them. Brown's trips from the jail to the courthouse and back, and especially the short trip from the jail to the gallows, were heavily guarded. Wise halted all non-military transportation on the Winchester and Potomac Railroad (from Maryland south through Harpers Ferry to Charles Town and Winchester), from the day before through the day after the execution. Jefferson County was under martial law, [97] and the military orders in Charles Town for the execution day had 14 points. [98]

However, Brown said several times that he did not want to be rescued. He refused the assistance of Silas Soule, a friend from Kansas who somehow infiltrated the Jefferson County Jail one day and offered to break him out during the night and flee northward to New York State and possibly Canada. Brown told Silas that, aged 59, he was too old to live a life on the run from the federal authorities as a fugitive. As he wrote his wife and children from jail, he believed that his "blood will do vastly more towards advancing the cause I have earnestly endeavoured to promote, than all I have done in my life before." [99] "I am worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other purpose." [100]

On December 1, Brown's wife arrived by train in Charles Town, where she joined him at the county jail for his last meal. She was denied permission to stay the night, prompting Brown to lose his composure and temper for the only time during the ordeal. [ citation needed ]

Victor Hugo's reaction

Victor Hugo, from exile on Guernsey, tried to obtain a pardon for John Brown: he sent an open letter that was published by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. This text, written at Hauteville-House on December 2, 1859, warned of a possible civil war:

Politically speaking, the murder of John Brown would be an uncorrectable sin. It would create in the Union a latent fissure that would in the long run dislocate it. Brown's agony might perhaps consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it would certainly shake the whole American democracy. You save your shame, but you kill your glory. Morally speaking, it seems a part of the human light would put itself out, that the very notion of justice and injustice would hide itself in darkness, on that day where one would see the assassination of Emancipation by Liberty itself.

The letter was initially published in the London News and was widely reprinted. After Brown's execution, Hugo wrote a number of additional letters about Brown and the abolitionist cause. [31] : 408–10

Abolitionists in the United States saw Hugo's writings as evidence of international support for the anti-slavery cause. The most widely publicized commentary on Brown to reach America from Europe was an 1861 pamphlet, John Brown par Victor Hugo, that included a brief biography and reprinted two letters by Hugo, including that of December 9, 1859. The pamphlet's frontispiece was an engraving of a hanged man by Hugo that became widely associated with the execution. [101]

Bleeding Kansas

". A stain that shall never bleach out in the sun! . "

John Greenleaf Whittier
The Marais Des Cygnes Massacre
published September 1858

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. Violence broke out immediately between these opposing factions and continued until 1861 when Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29th. This era became forever known as "Bleeding Kansas".

Murder and Mayhem

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.

A Town Divided

Fort Scott and the surrounding area were not immune from the violence. The division of the opposing factions was clearly visible at the site of the "old fort". The military had abandoned Fort Scott in 1853. Two years later, the buildings were sold at a public auction and the former fort immediately became the nucleus of a rapidly growing town.

Two of the buildings became hotels. One, a former officer's quarters, was opened as the Fort Scott or Free State Hotel. Located right across the parade ground was the Western or Pro-Slavery Hotel, a former infantry barracks. The residents of Fort Scott were predominately pro-slavers, while free-staters and abolitionists dominated the surrounding countryside. Radicals of each faction terrorized the town throughout the "Bleeding Kansas" era.

1858: A Most Violent Year

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, known as the Marais des Cygnes Massacre was rumored to have been plotted in the Western Hotel.
  • On June 5, 1858, Montgomery and his raiders tried to burn down the Western Hotel. Several shots were fired into the hotel and surrounding homes, but the hotel was saved.
  • Violence, such as this, caught the governor's attention. On June 15, 1858, he held a meeting at the Western Hotel in order to settle political unrest. While this meeting nearly broke out into a riot, it was successful. Peace and quiet reigned for a brief five-month period.
  • Montgomery and his raiders struck again in December of 1858 when he rescued Benjamin Rice, a free-soiler. Rice had been arrested for murder and was imprisoned in the Fort Scott Hotel. Montgomery claimed that he was jailed illegally, so he came to Fort Scott to free him.

In the struggle following Rice's rescue, former Deputy Marshal John Little, a pro-slavery advocate, fired shots into the ranks of the free-staters. Little peered out of a window of his father's store (the former post headquarters) to observe the effects of the shooting. His movement was noted by a free stater who shot and killed him. Little's fiancé, Sene Campbell, wrote Montgomery a letter reprimanding him and saying that he was a "minister of the devil, and a very superior one too. "

Fort Scott
January 4, 1859


Listen to me. Today I heard that you said in a speech a few days ago that you were not sorry you had killed John Little. That he was not killed too soon. Can you before God say so? Oh, the anguish you have caused. He was one of the noblest men ever created, brave and true to his country and to his word. You can't prove that he ever injured an innocent person. A few days more and we were to have been married, then go south to trouble you no more.

But through your influence, he was killed. He was sent to another world without even time to pray or to say goodbye to his friends. But thanks to God, though you did kill his body, you can't touch his soul. No. No, it is in the spirit land. Now the cry of "the Osages are coming!" can awaken him no more. He quietly sleeps in our little graveyard.

But remember this. I am a girl, but I can fire a pistol. And if ever the time comes, I will send some of you to the place where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". You, a minister of God? You mean a minister of the devil, and a very superior one too. I have no more to say to you and your imps. Please accept the sincere regards of your future repentance.

Sene Campbell

A Nation Divided

"Bleeding Kansas" was part of the political storm that occurred throughout the United States before the Civil War. The anti-slavery forces prevailed as Kansas entered into the Union a free state on January 29, 1861. This turbulence illustrated the beginning of the terrifying bloodshed that was to come during the Civil War.

Bleeding Kansas

National Parks Service

Between roughly 1855 and 1859, Kansans engaged in a violent guerrilla war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in an event known as Bleeding Kansas which significantly shaped American politics and contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

Wikimedia Commons

In May 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which formally organized the territory west of Missouri and Iowa (Kansas and Nebraska) and opened this space up to settlers. In a departure from previous territorial and state organization bills, Congress did not explicitly designate these territories to be either free or enslaved. Rather, the Kansas-Nebraska Act adhered to popular sovereignty a principle where the people residing in Kansas and Nebraska would determine if the territory shall be free or enslaved either by a popular referendum or through the election of pro-slavery and anti-slavery representatives to draft a constitution. Consequently, free state and slave state proponents rushed to Kansas to try to stake their claim in their efforts to either legalize or prohibit slavery there. There was not the same flurry in Nebraska as it was largely assumed that it would become a free state without much debate however, Kansas was a different story. Located directly west of Missouri, under the Missouri Compromise, slavery would be prohibited in the Kansas territory however, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened up the possibility for slavery to exist in this territory and many southerners remained committed to take advantage of this opportunity and make Kansas a slave state.

Two border ruffians Library of Congress

Most of the settlers who first moved to Kansas after the land went on sale were small midwestern farmers and non-slave holders from the Upper South and both groups had little interest in slavery’s extension. While there were few slave owning settlers, pro-slavery proponents were determined to legalize slavery in Kansas. On March 30, 1855 hundreds of heavily armed Missourians poured over the border, exploited a loophole as to what constituted “residency” in Kansas and voted in the first territorial election. Not only did they illegally cast their own ballots but these border ruffians also stuffed the ballot box with hundreds of fictious ballots. Consequently, a high majority of pro-slavery men were voted into the territorial legislature. This territorial legislature immediately passed draconian pro-slavery laws, including a law that stipulated the possession of abolitionist literature to be a capital offense. In response, the anti-slavery men formed their own government in Lawrence, Kansas, which the Pierce administration denounced as an illegitimate and outlaw regime. With this split between a pro-slavery government and an anti-slavery government it was only a matter of time before violent clashes broke out.

On May 21, 1856 hundreds of border ruffians once again crossed the border between Missouri and Kansas and entered Lawrence to wreak havoc—setting fire to buildings and destroying the printing press of an abolitionist newspaper. Although no one was killed, the Republican press labeled this event as the “Sack of Lawrence,” which officially ignited a guerrilla war between pro-slavery settlers aided by border ruffians and anti-slavery settlers. It is important to note that sporadic violence existed in the territory since 1855. This period of guerrilla warfare is referred to as Bleeding Kansas because of the blood shed by pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups, lasting until the violence died down in roughly 1859. Most of the violence was relatively unorganized, small scale violence, yet it led to mass feelings of terror within the territory. The most horrific incident occurred in late May 1856 when one night abolitionist fanatic John Brown and his sons forced five southerners from their homes along the Pottawatomie Creek and murdered them in cold blood. While their victims were southerners they did not own any slaves but still supported slavery’s extension into Kansas. Republicans used Bleeding Kansas as a powerful rhetorical weapon in the 1856 Election to garner support among northerners by arguing that the Democrats clearly sided with the pro-slavery forces perpetrating this violence. In reality, both sides engaged in acts of violence—neither party was innocent.

Caning of Sumner Wikimedia Commons

The violence surrounding Bleeding Kansas even made its way to Washington D.C. On May 19 and 20, 1856, on the Senate floor, Senator Charles Sumner (Republican-Massachusetts) gave an impassioned yet carefully rehearsed speech entitled “the Crime Against Kansas.” In this speech, Sumner denounced popular sovereignty and described Bleeding Kansas as “the rape of a virgin territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery.” Sumner accused Senators Stephen Douglas (Democrat-Illinois) and Andrew Pickens Butler (Democrat-South Carolina) of this crime and claimed they were personally responsible for the horrific crimes perpetrated in Kansas as they co-authored the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner also made personal and insulting remarks against the two Senators. Butler was absent for Sumner’s speech however, his cousin Representative Preston Brooks (Democrat-South Carolina) was present for these remarks. On May 22, 1856, in retaliation for the degrading remarks made against his cousin, Brooks entered the Senate chambers and accosted Sumner at his desk, beating him with a cane until Sumner was a bloody unconscious pulp. The canning of Sumner inspired intense polarizing reactions. In general, southerners were overjoyed that someone finally stood up and defended southern honor against the perceived encroaching abolitionist sentiment that increasingly threatened their societal foundation: slavery. On the opposite end of the spectrum, northerners were absolutely horrified over what they viewed as an egregious and violent expression of the slave power against northerners which would only continue unless the slave power was stopped. Adding to this fear was the fact that Brooks retook his House seat in July 1856, facing almost no negative repercussions. In contrast, Sumner was so badly injured that he could not return to his Senate seat until three years after the ordeal.

The canning of Sumner and Bleeding Kansas drove many northern Know Nothings to the Republican Party, as they viewed it as the only political party actively opposing the slave power. In order to justify their party’s existence, Republicans required evidence of the slave power’s continual harassment of northerners, which Bleeding Kansas easily provided. As the Republicans gained power the Democrats continued to fracture along sectional lines, which only increased with the crisis over the Lecompton Constitution. To southern Democrats, Bleeding Kansas illustrated the danger free soilers (who they lumped in with abolitionists) posed to the southern society, and yet, many southern Democrats felt that the northern wing of the party remained sympathetic to free soilers and were unwilling to denounce them. These increased demands to bend to the will of the southern wing of the party alienated many northern Democrats who wanted their politicians to act in the best interest of northerners, which further divided northern and and southern Democrats.

Political cartoon depicting the violence of Bleeding Kansas Wikimedia Commons

Bleeding Kansas is just one in a series of growing acts of violence surrounding slavery and abolition in the lead up to the Civil War. This event led to the crisis over the Lecompton Constitution as the violence surrounding Kansas put pressure of national politicians to accept a constitution that definitively legalized or prohibited slavery in an attempt to stop the bloodshed. Although horrified over the violence, Republicans used the events in Kansas to their political advantage to build their base, whereas the events only widened the divide between northern and southern Democrats. The political ramifications highlight the growing sectional tensions and the violence that ensured. Although not a direct cause of the Civil War, Bleeding Kansas represented a critical event in the coming of the Civil War.

Bleeding Kansas

Bleeding KansasBloody Kansas, or the Border War was a series of violent civil confrontations in the Kansas Territory between 1854 and 1861. These emerged from a political and ideological conflict over the legality of slavery in the proposed state of Kansas. The conflict was characterized by years of electoral fraud, raids, assaults, and retributive murders carried out in Kansas and neighboring Missouri by pro-slavery "Border Ruffians" and anti-slavery "Free-Staters", John Brown in particular.

There were during part of this period simultaneously two different governments, in different cities, with different constitutions, each — one slave, one free — claiming to be the legitimate government of the entire Kansas Territory.

At the core of the conflict was the question of whether the territory would allow or prohibit slavery, and thus enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 called for popular sovereignty, specifying that the decision about slavery would be made by popular vote of the territory's settlers, rather than legislators in Washington. This apparently rational solution did not work because there was no way to determine whether a man desiring to vote was a resident of Kansas or not. This question became a bitterly disputed matter.

The only state with which Kansas Territory had a border was the slave state of Missouri. It was easy for Missouri slaveowners, and other slavery sympathizers, to cross the border into Kansas and set up a homestead, genuinely or fraudulently, bringing their enslaved persons with them, if they owned any. Anti-slavery societies in the Northeast sponsored moves to the territory of prospective homesteaders who agreed to oppose slavery. The most famous of these was John Brown.

Those in favor of slavery argued that every settler had the right to bring his own property, including slaves, into the territory. In contrast, while some "Free Soil" proponents opposed slavery on religious, ethical, or humanitarian grounds, at the time the most persuasive argument against introducing slavery in Kansas was that it would allow rich slaveholders to control the land, to the exclusion of white non-slaveholders who regardless of their moral inclinations did not have the means to acquire either slaves or sizable land holdings for themselves.

Missouri, a slave state since 1821, was populated by settlers with Southern sympathies and pro-slavery views, some of whom tried to influence the decision by entering Kansas and claiming to be residents. This faction used brutal gang violence and paramilitary guerrilla warfare, although there was also some among the anti-slavery activists. (See Pottawatomie massacre.) At the same time, anti-slavery societies in the Northeast were helping anti-slavery settlers move to Kansas.

Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861, which was made possible by the departure of the legislators from the states that had seceded earlier in January. (A long-standing, similarly contentious issue whose resolution also became possible was ending slavery in the District of Columbia.) While partisan violence continued along the Kansas–Missouri border for most of the war, Union control of Kansas was never seriously threatened.

The term "Bleeding Kansas" was popularized by Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. Bleeding Kansas demonstrated the gravity of the era's most pressing social issues, from the matter of slavery to states' rights. Its severity made national headlines, which suggested to the American people that the sectional disputes were unlikely to be resolved without bloodshed, and it therefore anticipates the American Civil War.

May 21, 1856 Bleeding Kansas

As the young nation expanded ever westward, attempts to “democratize” the issue of slavery instead had the effect of drawing up battle lines. Pro-slavery forces established a territorial capital in Lecompton, Kansas while “antis” set up their own government in Topeka. The resulting standoff would soon escalate to violence. Upwards of a hundred or more would be killed between 1854 – 1861, in a period called “Bleeding Kansas”.

Since the time of the Revolution, conflicts arose between those supporting a strong federal government, and those favoring greater self-determination for the states. In the South, climate conditions led to dependence on agriculture, the rural economy of the southern states producing cotton, rice, sugar, indigo and tobacco. Colder states to the north tended to develop manufacturing economies, urban centers growing up in service to hubs of transportation and the production of manufactured goods.

In the first half of the 19th century, 90% of federal government revenue came from tariffs on foreign manufactured goods. Most of this revenue was collected in the South, with the region’s greater dependence on imported goods. Much of this federal largesse was spent in the North, with the construction of roads, canals and other infrastructure.

The debate over economic issues and rights of self-determination, so-called ‘state’s rights’, grew and sharpened in 1828 with the threatened secession of South Carolina and the “nullification crisis” of 1832-33, when South Carolina declared such tariffs unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the state. Encyclopedia Britannica includes a Cartoon from the time depicting “Northern domestic manufacturers getting fat at the expense of impoverishing the South under protective tariffs.”

Chattel slavery existed from the earliest days of the colonial era, from Canada to Mexico, and around the world. Moral objections to what was really a repugnant practice could be found throughout, but economic forces had as much to do with ending the practice, as any other. The “peculiar institution” died out first in the colder regions of the US and may have done so in warmer climes as well, but for Eli Whitney’s invention of a cotton engine (‘gin’) in 1792.

It takes ten man-hours to remove the seeds to produce a single pound of cotton. By comparison, a cotton gin can process about a thousand pounds a day, at comparatively little expense.

The year of Whitney’s invention, the South exported 138,000 pounds a year to Europe and the northern colonies. Sixty years later, Britain alone was importing 600 million pounds a year, from the American south. Cotton was King, and with good reason. The stuff is easily grown, is more easily transportable, and can be stored indefinitely, compared with food crops. The southern economy turned overwhelmingly to this one crop and its need for plentiful, cheap labor. The issue of slavery had joined and become so intertwined with ideas of self-determination, as to be indistinguishable.

The Cotton Gin

The first half of the 19th century was one of westward expansion in the United States, generating frequent and sharp conflicts between pro and anti-slavery factions. The Missouri compromise of 1820 was the first attempt to reconcile these factions, defining which territories would be slave states, and which would be “free”.

The short-lived “Wilmot Proviso” of 1846 sought to ban slavery in new territories, after which the Compromise of 1850 attempted to strike a balance. The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, basically repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing settlers to determine their own way through popular sovereignty.

This attempt to democratize the issue instead had the effect of drawing up battle lines. Pro-slavery forces established a territorial capital in Lecompton, while “antis” set up an alternative government in Topeka.

In Washington, Republicans backed the anti-slavery forces, while Democrats generally supported their opponents. The resulting standoff would soon escalate to violence. Upwards of a hundred or more would be killed between 1854 – 1861, in a period called “Bleeding Kansas”.

The town of Lawrence, Kansas was established by anti-slavery settlers in 1854, and soon became the focal point of pro-slavery violence. Emotions were at the boiling point when Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones was shot trying to arrest free-state settlers on April 23, 1856. Jones was driven out of town but he would return.

Lawrence Massacre, 1863

On this day in 1856, a posse of 800 pro-slavery forces closed around the town, led by Sheriff Jones. Cannon were positioned to cover the town and detachments of troops posted, to prevent escape. They commandeered the home of the first governor of Kansas, Charles L. Robinson, and used it as their headquarters.

The town’s two printing offices were sacked, the presses destroyed, and the type thrown into the river. The posse next set about to destroy the Free State Hotel, which they believed had been built to serve more as a fort than a hotel.

They may have been right, because it took the entire day with cannon shot, kegs of gunpowder and incendiary devices, before the hotel was finally reduced to a roofless, smoldering ruin.

There was looting and a few robberies as the men left town, burning Robinson’s home on the way out. Seven years later, a second raid on Lawrence resulted in the murder of over 150 boys and men. For now there was only one fatality: That of a slavery proponent killed, by falling masonry.

In the following days, five unarmed men will be taken from their homes and butchered with broadswords, by anti-slavery radicals John Brown, his sons and allies. Four months of partisan violence ensued when small armies formed up across eastern Kansas, clashing at places like Black Jack, Franklin, Fort Saunders, Hickory Point, Slough Creek, and Osawatomie

In Washington DC, a Senator will be beaten nearly to death on the floor of the United States Senate, by a member of the House of Representatives.

The 80-year-old nation forged inexorably onward, to a Civil War which would kill more Americans than every conflict from the American Revolution to the War on Terror, combined.

Settling Kansas: Free Soil or Slave Power

After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, activists on both sides of the slavery debate more or less had the same idea: flood these new territories with people sympathetic to their side.

Of the two territories, Nebraska was further north, and therefore more difficult for the South to influence. As a result, both sides decided to focus their efforts on the Kansas territory, something that quickly became violent and thus led to Bleeding Kansas.

Border Ruffians vs. Free-Staters

In 1854, the South got off to a quick lead in this race to win Kansas, and during that year, a pro-slavery territorial legislature was elected. But, about only half of the people who voted in this election were actually registered voters. The North claimed this was the result of fraud — i.e. people crossing the border from Missouri to illegally vote in the election.

But in 1855, when the elections were held again, the number of registered voters who supported a pro-slavery government went up considerably. Seeing this as a sign that Kansas might be headed towards voting to keep slavery, abolitionists in the North began to more aggressively promote the settlement of Kansas. Organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company helped thousands of New Englanders resettle in the Kansas territory and fill it with a population that wanted to ban slavery and protect free labor.

These Northern settlers in the Kansas territory became known as Free-Staters. Their main opposing force, the Border Ruffians, were made up primarily of pro-slavery groups crossing the border from Missouri into Kansas.

After the 1855 election, the territorial government in Kansas began passing laws that mimicked those of other slaveholding states. The North called these the “Bogus Laws” as they thought both the laws, and the government who made them, were… well… bogus.

The Free Soilers

Much of the early confrontation of the Bleeding Kansas era centered formally on the creation of a constitution for the future state of Kansas. The first of four such documents was the Topeka Constitution, written by anti-slavery forces unified under the Free-Soil Party in December 1855.

A big part of the abolitionist effort in the North was driven by the Free Soil movement, which had its own political party. Free soilers sought free soil (get it?) in the new territories. They were anti-slavery, as it was morally wrong and undemocratic — but not because of what slavery did to the slaves. No, instead, the Free Soilers believed slavery denied free White men access to land which they could use to establish an independently run farm. Something they viewed as a pinnacle to the (White) democracy functioning in America at the time.

Free Soilers essentially had the one issue: abolishing slavery. But they also sought the passage of the Homestead Act, which would essentially make it much easier for independent farmers to acquire land from the federal government for next to nothing, a policy the Southern slave states vehemently opposed — because, don’t forget, they wanted to reserve those open lands for slaveholding plantation owners.

But despite the Free Soilers’ focus on abolishing slavery, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking these folks were “woke.” Their racism was just as strong as that of the pro-slavery South. It was just a bit different.

For example, in 1856, ‘Free Staters’ lost the election once again and the territorial legislature remained in power. Republicans used Bleeding Kansas as a powerful rhetorical weapon in the 1856 Election to garner support among northerners by arguing that the Democrats clearly sided with the pro-slavery forces perpetrating this violence. In reality, both sides engaged in acts of violence—neither party was innocent.

One of their first orders of business was to ban all Blacks, both slave and free alike, from from the Kansas territory so as to leave the land open and free for White men… because, you know, they really needed every advantage they could get.

This was hardly a more progressive position than the one taken by Southern slavery advocates.

All of this meant that, by 1856, there were two governments in Kansas, although the federal government only recognized the pro-slavery one. President Franklin Pierce sent federal troops to demonstrate this position, but throughout that year, violence would dominate life in Kansas, giving rise to the bloody name.

Bleeding Kansas Begins: Sack of Lawrence

On May 21, 1856, a group of Border Ruffians entered Lawrence, Kansas — a strong free state center — during the night. They burned the Free State Hotel and they destroyed newspaper offices, looting and vandalizing homes and stores.

This attack became known as the Sack of Lawrence, and, although no one died, this violent outburst on the part slavery advocates from Missouri, Kansas, and the rest of the pro-slavery South, crossed a line.

In response, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave an infamous speech on Bleeding Kansas at the Capitol, titled “The Crime Against Kansas.” In it, he blamed Democrats, specifically Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina, for the violence, mocking Butler the entire way through. And the next day, a group of several Southern Democrats, led by Representative Preston Brooks — who totally by chance happened to be Butler’s cousin — beat him to within an inch of his life with a cane.

Things were pretty obviously heating up.

Pottawatomie Massacre

Shortly after the Sacking of Lawrence and the attack on Sumner in Washington, avid abolitionist John Brown — who later gained fame for his attempted slave revolt launched out of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia — was furious.

John Brown was an American abolitionist leader. Brown felt that speeches, sermons, petitions, and moral persuasion were ineffective in the cause for abolishing slavery in the United States. An intensely religious man, Brown believed he was raised up by God to strike the death blow to American slavery. John Brown felt that violence was necessary to end it. He also believed that “in all ages of the world God had created certain men to perform special work in some direction far in advance of their countrymen, even at the cost of their lives”.

He’d been marching into the Kansas territory with the Pottawatomie Company, an abolitionist militia operating in Kansas at the time, towards Lawrence to protect it from the Border Ruffians. They did not arrive in time, and Brown decided to retaliate by attacking pro-slavery families living alongside the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, 1856.

In total, Brown and his sons attacked three separate pro-slavery families, killing five people. This event became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre, and it only helped to intensify the conflict further by sparking fear and rage in the local population. Brown’s actions precipitated a new wave of violence Kansas soon became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

After Brown’s assault, many people living in Kansas at the time chose to flee, running in fear of the violence to come. But the conflicts actually stayed relatively contained, in that both sides targeted specific individuals who had committed crimes against the other. Despite this wholly reassuring fact, the guerrilla tactics used by both sides probably still made Kansas during the summer of 1856 a scary place to be.

In October 1859, John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), intending to start a slave liberation movement that would spread south through the mountainous regions of Virginia and North Carolina he had prepared a Provisional Constitution for the revised, slavery-free United States he hoped to bring about.

John Brown seized the armory, but seven people were killed, and ten or more were injured. Brown intended to arm slaves with weapons from the armory, but very few slaves joined his revolt. Within 36 hours, those of John Brown’s men who had not fled were killed or captured by local militia and U.S. Marines.

The latter led by Robert E. Lee. Brown was hastily tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men, and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty of all counts and was hanged on December 2, 1859. John Brown became the first person executed for treason in the history of the United States.

Two years later, the country erupted into Civil War. A famous marching song from the early 1850s called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” incorporated Brown’s legacy into new lyrics to the army tune. The Union soldiers declared:

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave. His soul is marching on!

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.”

The Battle of Black Jack

The next major altercation occurred less than a week after the Pottawatomie Massacre, on June 2, 1856. Many historians consider this round of fighting to be the first battle of the American Civil War, although the actual civil war would not start for another five years.

In response to John Brown’s attack, U.S. Marshall John C. Pate — who was also a key Border Ruffian — gathered pro-slavery men and managed to kidnap one of Brown’s sons. Brown then marched in search of Pate and his forces which he found just outside Baldwin, Kansas, and the two sides then engaged in a day-long battle.

Brown fought with only 30 men, and Pate had him outnumbered. But, because Brown’s forces were able to hide in the trees and gullies made by the nearby Santa Fe road (the road that travelled all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico), Pate was unable to gain an advantage. Eventually, he signalled that he wanted to meet, and Brown forced him to surrender, taking 22 men prisoner.

Later, these prisoners were set free in exchange for Pate turning over Brown’s son, as well as any other prisoners he had taken. The battle did very little to improve the situation in Kansas at the time. But, it did help catch Washington’s attention and spark a reaction that eventually led to some reduction in violence.

The Defense of Osawatomie

Throughout the summer, more fighting took place as people from all over the country made their way to Kansas to try and influence its position on slavery. Brown, who was one of the leaders of the Free State movement in Kansas, had made his base the town of Osawatomie — not far from Pottawatomie, where he and his sons had killed five pro-slavery settlers just a few weeks prior.

Seeking to eliminate Brown from the picture, the Ruffians from Missouri gathered together to form a force of around 250 strong, and they crossed into Kansas on August 30, 1856, to attack Osawatomie. Brown was caught off guard, as he had been expecting the attack to come from a different direction, and he was forced to retreat soon after the Border Ruffians arrived. Several of his sons died in the fight, and although Brown was able to retreat and survive, his days as a free state fighter in Kansas were officially numbered.

Kansas Stops the Bleeding

Throughout 1856, both the Border Ruffians and the Free-Staters recruited more men to their “armies,” and violence continued throughout the summer until a new territorial governor, appointed by Congress, arrived in Kansas and began using federal troops to stop the fighting. There were sporadic conflicts afterwards, but Kansas mainly stopped bleeding by the beginning of 1857.

In total, 55 people died in this series of disputes known as Bleeding Kansas, or Bloody Kansas.

As the violence died down, the state turned more and more free state, and in 1859, the territorial legislature — in preparation for becoming a state — passed a state constitution that was anti-slavery. But it was not approved by Congress until 1861 after the Southern states had decided to jump ship and secede.

Bleeding Kansas demonstrated that armed conflict over slavery was unavoidable. Its severity made national headlines, which suggested to the American people that the sectional disputes were unlikely to be resolved without bloodshed, and it therefore directly anticipated the American Civil War.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed. This caused many settlers to travel to the newly created Kansas Territory.

Folks came to the Kansas territory for a variety of reasons. Many wanted the opportunity to settle the new land and build a new life. While others came for political reasons.

The Kansas-Nebraska act allowed the people living in Kansas to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to allow slavery. This was very controversial since it overturned the Missouri Compromise which made Kansas a free state.

Southerners wanted to reduce the Northern advantage in Congress and preserve slavery while the many Northerners wanted to prevent the spread of slavery at all costs

Thousands of pro-slavery men from Missouri moved into the territory. Although these men did not live in Kansas they were permitted to vote and in 1855 they were able to elect a territorial legislature favorable to slavery.

Governor Andrew Reeder supported slavery in Kansas until he saw how the pro-slavery Missourians hijacked the process. He tried to have the election overturned which raised tensions.

In response, President Franklin Pierce replaced the governor and upheld the elections. He believed that would help calm the tensions, it did not.

The residents that opposed slavery&rsquos expansion formed their own legislature and argued that they were the majority and that the government should respect their wishes.

In response, an anti-slavery legislature met in Topeka.

Pro-slavery resident attacked an anti-slavery community in Lawrence, Kansas. The pro-slavery men burned the governor&rsquos home, local hotel, and the town&rsquos newspaper to the ground.

In response, John Brown and his four sons attacked Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. Here Brown and his followers attacked five pro-slavery men and hacked them to death in front of their families.

Many religious leaders, on both sides of the argument, began to condone the violence and even encourage it.

Bleeding Kansas continued throughout the Civil War and did not end until Lee&rsquos surrender at Appomattox.

31. "Bloody Kansas"

Some consider abolitionist John Brown a madman, others a martyred hero.

For decades, both northern states and southern states had threatened secession and dissolution of the Union over the question of where slavery was to be permitted. At issue was power. Both sides sought to limit the governing power of the other by maintaining a balance of membership in Congress. This meant ensuring that admission of a new state where slavery was outlawed was matched by a state permitting slavery. For example, at the same time that Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, Maine entered the Union as a free state.

New states were organized into self-governing territories before they became states. Hence, they developed a position on the slavery issue well before their admission to the Union. Southerners held that slavery must be permitted in all territories. Northerners held that slavery must not be extended into new territories.

A border ruffian dropped this flag in Olathe, Kansas in 1862 after a raid on the town.

If slavery were not permitted in the territories, slavery would never gain a foothold within them and southern power in Congress would gradually erode. If either side were successful in gaining a distinct advantage, many felt disunion and civil war would follow.

Kansas would be the battleground on which the north and south would first fight. The Kansas-Nebraska Act led both to statehood and to corruption, hatred, anger, and violence. Men from neighboring Missouri stuffed ballot boxes in Kansas to ensure that a legislature friendly to slavery would be elected. Anti-slavery, or free soil, settlers formed a legislature of their own in Topeka . Within two years, there would be armed conflict between proponents of slavery and those against it.

Watch the video: The Kansas Nebraska Act (January 2022).