The Bleeding of Kansas

When the people of Nebraska voted, they did not surprise anybody by opting to have free status. The southern Democrats did not want to see this repeated when Kansas voted. In March 1855, an announcement was made concerning an upcoming census count and election of the Kansas Territorial legislature; pro-slavery settlers publicly proposed violence if the voting did not produce results they liked.

Arms were openly transported into the region and the settlers in the territory began to defend themselves. The temporary Governor of the territory called for peace and order, but on the day of the census, thousands of organized pro-slavery supporters from Missouri rushed across the territorial border and pretended to be Kansans. The election put pro-slavery candidates into office and for the next year, free-soilers and pro-slavery settlers cautiously eyed one another.

During this time, the new legislators drafted their own strict Fugitive Slave Act and passed a law which made it a capital offense to publicly question or debate slavery within the territory of Kansas. This was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution I Amendment; free-soilers responded by establishing their own independent territorial legislature. The blueprint for civil war had been written.

In May 1856, the anticipated violence began. The free-status town of Lawrence was raided and leveled; one resident was killed. John Brown, a staunch abolitionist, responded by attacking a pro-slavery settlement at a place called Pottawatomie Creek; he killed five men. Brown later moved east and led the fatal attack at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859. In all, by December of 1856, Kansans had killed 200 of their own and damaged or destroyed $2 million worth of property.

At this point the civil war could have commenced, but two things prevented that from occurring. First, people considered the Bleeding of Kansas to be an isolated series of incidents. They probably could have imagined that kind of behavior taking place elsewhere, but chose to pretend that it could not happen where they lived. Secondly, newly elected President James Buchanan was told of an upcoming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. He suggested that this decision would offer a final resolution to the issue of slavery. He was wrong.