Kansas Collection books

Bleeding Kansas

Two soldiers on horseback

    Anyone who has studied Kansas history will remember that the Civil War started in 1861 and was over in 1865.  It was a bloody carnage in which thousands of soldiers lost their lives, to settle the question of bigotry and slavery in the U.S.

    Actually, the war started in Kansas much earlier, in 1854, when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This opened up these territories for settlement.

 The U.S. Congress was deadlocked over the slavery question.  The question would be settled by the representatives of the newest state to enter the Union.  Kansas was the probable tie-breaker.

    Thus the territory of Kansas became the focal point for the warfare between the pro-slavery and free-state forces.  Pro-slavery supporters came across the wide Missouri to settle in Atchison and Leavenworth.  Many abolitionists from New England came to support the free-state cause.  They settled in the Lawrence and Topeka area.  On several occasions forces from both sides raided these towns.  In 1856, Lawrence was sacked and burned by Quantrill, resulting in the deaths of nearly all men and boys in the city.  The territory was described by Eastern newspapers as "Bleeding Kansas."

    For the most part, the new settlers were peace-loving people who came for new land and homes.  They yearned for statehood, but without the bonds of slavery.  Several territorial legislatures were held and finally, in 1858, a constitution was submitted to the U.S. Congress that would have permitted slavery in the new state.  Because there was disagreement, Congress sent the new constitution back for a vote of the people.  A majority of 'yes' votes would allow slavery.  A 'no' vote would continue the bloody struggle against slavery.  A majority of the Kansas people voted 'no.'  The looting, burning and bleeding continued.

    Three years later, in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.  Just a few months later, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumpter and the Civil War officially began.  For Kansans, it was just a continuation of a war that began seven years before, but would not end until 1865.

    As that official four year Civil War began, Kansas sent the highest percentage of her men and boys into war to defend her free-state status.  She also suffered the highest per-capita loss.  Kansas citizens proved to the nation that freedom from slavery was more important than mere statehood.  That standard still holds today.

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