During the period 1855-1865, Kansas was torn by violence and dissension over the issue of slavery, violence so bitter that the territory and state became known as "Bleeding Kansas" and "Bloody Kansas."
The stage was set when the Missouri Compromise altered the original agreement that the portion of the Louisiana territory north of 36° 30' would be free of slavery. This bit of tinkering endangered the fragile balance between North and South, slave-states and free-states. Then Stephen Douglas introduced another bit of tinkering in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, when this large tract of land was proposed for territorial status. As Dr. John Gihon explains in "Governor Geary's Administration in Kansas," on paper the Kansas-Nebraska act provided for citizens of the territories to determine for themselves whether their area should be slave or free. But there was an understanding in the Nation's capital that one half would be free of slavery, and one half would permit it.
The stage was set, and the players were all too eager to play their parts. The Emigrant Aid Society in New England organized waves of Northern emigrants to quickly settle Kansas and make it a free state. Missourians, with support from Southern states such as South Carolina, moved just as quickly to claim Kansas for the proponents of slavery. The free-state settlers believed fervently in their cause; the pro-slavery partisans regarded Kansas as their own and the Northerners as interlopers. When these two groups inevitably came into conflict, violence and bloodshed were the result.
Some parts of the territory were relatively unaffected by the violence, but particularly in the eastern sections near the Missouri border, life was cheap and armed conflicts escalated. The politicians in power, who advocated Kansas being admitted as a slave state, relied on the United States Army to control the increasing numbers of free-state settlers, who promptly organized their own militia. Lawrence was sacked more than once, as described in Sara Robinson's book "Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life" and in Rev. Richard Cordley's accounts of the later "Lawrence Massacre." William Smith was angrily writing in a letter by 1859, "To rob and murder in Kansas is no crime."
It would be years before peace came to Kansas, and, as Harold C. Place observed in his 1936 article, "The Civil War Began in Kansas 80 Years Ago," that peace would only come after the entire nation had been engulfed in a wider war.