Secession Crisis

    Bleeding Kansas  "Competition For Virgin Territory"  1854-1861

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854, the stage was set for murderous mob rule in the territory of Kansas. The act pitted Northern abolitionists against proslavery Southerners and undermined any chance of compromise.

Repealing the demarcation line between slave and free territory established by the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act declared that the question of whether slavery would be allowed in a new state would be determined by popular sovereignty- the vote of the settlers of the territory. The contest for control of the territorial legislature and thus the state would be determined by which side of the slavery issue could rush the most settlers into the territory. Northern abolitionists and Emigrant Aid Societies encouraged and sponsored Free-Soil settlers, while proslavery factions flooded the territory with slave owners. The neighboring slave state of Missouri was a funnel into Kansas for the proslavery faction, which quickly gained the upper hand in population.

Kansas was a powder keg that exploded into a bloody civil war, characterized by lynching, bushwhacking, and burning- a continuous stream of violence that could not be contained by federal or territorial authorities. The area around the town of Lawrence, Kans., was settled by Free-Soilers who harbored fugitive abolitionists, slaves, and newspaper editors indicted for treason by the proslavery territorial government.

In May 1856, an 800-man "posse" made up of border ruffians from Missouri sacked Lawrence, wrecking the newspaper offices and burning the hotel and the home of the Free-Soil governor. Four days later, fanatic abolitionist John Brown and four of his sons seized five proslavery settlers from their homes along Pottawatomie Creek and, in front of the settler's families, hacked them to death with broadswords. More than 200 men would be killed in the era known as "Bleeding Kansas".

Fascinating Fact:  Brown and his sons evaded capture and were never indicted or punished for the Pottawatomie massacre.


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