Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bleeding Kansas

The first battle of the Civil War is Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The first shots fired at US forces of the Civil War are at Harper’s Ferry by John Brown’s men on October 16, 1859. John Brown made his reputation in the 1850s ’Bleeding Kansas’. 'Bleeding Kansas’ results from the policy of ‘popular sovereignty’, enabled in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and fathered by the tremendously ambitious Stephen A. Douglas.

Douglas wishes to improve his Presidential chances with concessions to the South by repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing a territory’s inhabitants to determine the slavery question. He grossly underestimates the negative reaction of anti-slavery forces.

Most of the early immigrants to Kansas are Southern and many from Missouri. Naturally, they lean to ensuring Kansas is a slave state. Northern anti-slavery organizations soon organize and send thousands of settlers as well. The eastern Kansas counties tend to be pro-slavery and free-staters settle in western Kansas - Atchison and Leavenworth, in eastern Kansas, are pro-slavery towns; Topeka, Lawrence and Manhattan, farther west, become free-state towns.

[It pays to review a little geography: In an era where 20 miles is a day’s travel, ‘eastern’ Kansas is the tier of counties along the Missouri border; ‘western’ Kansas was the next western tier. Today’s state of Colorado is part of the Kansas territory and present-day Wyoming is part of the Nebraska territory.]

In 1854, with 2900 registered voters, many Missourians cross the border to vote in Kansas’ first territorial vote. 6000 total votes are cast in the election, most by these ‘Border Ruffians’, for a Congressional delegate. This tactic continues in 1855 when the first legislature is elected, ensuring a strongly pro-slavery, pro-Southern legislature which meets and passes pro-slavery laws. This leads to the formation of a free-state shadow government in Topeka and the relatively bloodless ‘Wakarusa War’. President Franklin Pierce opposes the Topeka government and backs the elected pro-slavery government.

In May 1856 pro-slavery Border Ruffians attack Lawrence, burn the Free State Hotel, loot stores, ransack homes and demolish 2 print shops. The next day, Senator Charles Sumner is caned by Preston Brooks in the US Capitol for criticizing the South for the violence in Kansas. Days later, John Brown, his sons and some followers, hack 5 pro-slavery men to death in Pottawatomie, Kansas.

The Kansas capital moves to Lecompton and a congressional committee labels the previous elections to be fraudulent. Pierce ignores their finding, continues to recognize the pro-slavery Lecompton legislature and sends troops to disperse the free-state Topeka shadow government. In August 1856, both sides form virtual armies and hostilities rage through October. In all 56 people were killed on both sides. A new (the 3rd) territorial governor, John W. Geary, takes office and manages to broker a fragile peace.

By 1859, the influx of free-staters overwhelms the small number of pro-slavery immigrants and an uneasy peace reigns until the Civil War brings guerilla violence to the border in 1861.

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