Missouri, a slave state since , was populated by many settlers with Southern sympathies and pro-slavery attitudes, many of whom tried to influence the decision in Kansas. The conflict was fought politically as well as between civilians, where it eventually degenerated into brutal gang violence and paramilitary guerrilla warfare.
Bleeding Kansas was demonstrative of the gravity of the era's most pressing social issues, from the matter of slavery to states' rights to the class conflicts emerging on the American frontier. Its severity made national headlines which suggested to the American people that the sectional disputes were unlikely to reach compromise without bloodshed, and it therefore directly presaged the American Civil War.
The episode is commemorated with numerous memorials and historic sites. As abolitionism became increasingly popular in the United States and tensions between its supporters and detractors grew, the U. Congress maintained a tenuous balance of political power between Northern and Southern representatives. At the same time, the increasing emigration of Americans to the country's western frontier and the desire to build a transcontinental railroad that would connect the eastern states with California urged incorporation of the western territories into the Union.
The inevitable question was how these territories would treat the issue of slavery when eventually promoted to statehood. This question had already plagued Congress during political debates following the Mexican—American War. The Compromise of had at least temporarily solved the problem by permitting residents of the Utah and New Mexico Territories to decide their own laws with respect to slavery by popular vote , an act which set a new precedent in the ongoing debate over slavery.
The Act was proposed by Senator Stephen A.
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Douglas of Illinois as a way to appease Southern representatives in Congress, who had resisted earlier proposals to organize the Nebraska Territory because they knew it must be admitted to the Union according to the Missouri Compromise of , which had explicitly forbidden the practice of slavery in all U. Southerners feared the incorporation of Nebraska would upset the balance between slave and free states and thereby give abolitionist Northerners an advantage in Congress. Douglas' proposal attempted to allay these fears with the organization of two territories instead of one, as well as the inclusion of a "popular sovereignty" clause that would, like the condition previously prescribed for Utah and New Mexico, permit settlers of Kansas and Nebraska to vote on the legality of slavery in their own territories — a notion which directly contradicted and effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise.
Like many others in Congress, Douglas assumed that settlers of Nebraska would ultimately vote to prohibit slavery and that settlers of Kansas, further south and closer to the slave state of Missouri, would vote to allow it, and thereby the balance of slave and free states would not change. Regarding Nebraska this assumption was correct; the idea of slavery had little appeal for Nebraska's residents and its fate as a free state was already solidly in place.
In Kansas, however, the assumption of legal slavery underestimated abolitionist resistance to the repeal of the long-standing Missouri Compromise. Southerners saw the passage of the Kansas—Nebraska Act as an emboldening victory; Northerners considered it an outrageous defeat. Each side of the slavery question saw a chance to assert itself in Kansas, and it quickly became the nation's prevailing ideological battleground.
Immediately, immigrants supporting both sides of the slavery question arrived in the Kansas Territory to establish residency and gain the right to vote. Among the first settlers of Kansas were citizens of slave states, especially Missouri, many of whom strongly supported Southern ideologies and emigrated specifically to secure the expansion of slavery.
Pro-slavery immigrants settled towns including Leavenworth and Atchison. The administration of President Franklin Pierce appointed territorial officials in Kansas aligned with its own pro-slavery views and, heeding rumors that the frontier was being overwhelmed by Northerners, thousands of non-resident slavery proponents soon entered Kansas with the goal of influencing local politics.
Pro-slavery factions thereby captured many early territorial elections, often by fraud and intimidation. In November , thousands of armed pro-slavery men known as " Border Ruffians " or "Southern Yankees", mostly from Missouri, poured into the Kansas Territory and swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro-slavery Democratic candidate John Wilkins Whitfield.
In one location, only 20 of the voters were residents of the Kansas Territory; in another, 35 were residents and non-residents. At the same time, Northern abolitionists encouraged their own supporters to move to Kansas in the effort to secure the territory as a free state, flooding Kansas with so-called " free-soilers " or " Free-Staters ".
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Many citizens of Northern states arrived with assistance from benevolent societies such as the Boston -based New England Emigrant Aid Company , which was founded shortly before passage of the Kansas—Nebraska Act with the specific intention of transporting immigrants to the frontier.
The abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher allegedly armed many of them with Sharps rifles , which became known as " Beecher's Bibles "  for their shipment in wooden crates so labeled. Despite boasts that 20, New England Yankees would be sent to the Kansas Territory, only about 1, settlers had emigrated there by the end of On March 30, , the Kansas Territory held the election for its first territorial legislature.
Conway and Samuel D. Houston from Riley County were the only Free-Staters elected. In response to the disputed votes and rising tension, Congress sent a three-man special committee to the Kansas Territory in The legislature immediately invalidated the results from the special election in May and seated the pro-slavery delegates elected in March. After only one week in Pawnee, the legislature moved the territorial capital to the Shawnee Mission on the Missouri border, where it reconvened, adopted a slave code for Kansas modeled largely on Missouri's own, and began passing laws favorable to slaveholders.
In August, anti-slavery residents met to formally reject the pro-slavery laws passed by what they called the "Bogus Legislature". They quickly elected their own Free-State delegates to a separate legislature based in Topeka, which stood in opposition to the pro-slavery government operating in Lecompton , and drafted the first territorial constitution, the Topeka Constitution. Charles L. Robinson , a Massachusetts native and agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, was elected territorial governor. Though the movement had a substantial backing from Northerners, and despite the findings of the Congressional committee that the pro-slavery legislature was illegally constituted, the federal government under the administration of President Franklin Pierce refused to recognize the Free-State legislature.
In a message to Congress on January 24, , Pierce declared the Topeka government insurrectionist in its stand against pro-slavery territorial officials.
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Much of the early confrontation of the Bleeding Kansas era centered on the adoption of a constitution that would govern the state of Kansas. The first of four such documents was the Topeka Constitution , written by anti-slavery forces unified under the Free-State Party in December This constitution was the basis for the Free-State territorial government that resisted the federally authorized government which had been previously elected by non-resident Missourians. In , a second constitutional convention met in Lecompton and by early November had drafted the Lecompton Constitution , a pro-slavery document endorsed by President James Buchanan.
The constitution was submitted to Kansans for a vote on a special slavery article, but Free-Staters refused to participate, knowing that the constitution would allow Kansas slaveholders to keep existing slaves even if the article in question was voted against. The Lecompton Constitution, including the slavery article, was approved by a vote of 6, to on December Congress instead ordered another election because of voting irregularities uncovered. On August 2, , Kansas voters rejected the document by 11, to 1, While the Lecompton Constitution was pending before Congress, a third document, the Leavenworth Constitution , was written and passed by Free-State delegates.
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It was more radical than other Free-State proposals in that it would have extended suffrage to "every male citizen", regardless of race. Participation in this ballot on May 18, , was a fraction of the previous and there was even some opposition by Free-State Democrats. The proposed constitution was forwarded to the U. Senate on January 6, , where it was met with a tepid reception and left to die in committee. The fourth and final Free-State proposal was the Wyandotte Constitution , drafted in , which represented the anti-slavery view of the future of Kansas. It was approved in a referendum by a vote of 10, to 5, on October 4, On November 21, , the so-called Wakarusa War began in Douglas County when a pro-slavery settler, Franklin Coleman, shot and killed a Free-Stater, Charles Dow, with whom Coleman had long been engaged in a feud that was unrelated to local or national politics.
The effect of such behavior was to eliminate forever the possibility of peaceful relations with these Indian tribes. They understood that they had become the objects of a campaign of extermination. For the next two decades, the Plains Indians would do their best to return the barbarism in kind. The books by Brown and Marshall show that the kind of barbarism that occurred at Sand Creek, Colorado, was repeated many times during the next two decades.
A report of the attack prepared for the U. This work was too slow and dangerous for the cavalrymen; they found it much more efficient and safe to kill indiscriminately. This is a powerful statement coming from a man who wrote thirty books on American military history. In addition to ordering Custer to shoot or hang all warriors, even those that surrendered, Sheridan commanded him to slaughter all ponies and to burn all tepees and their contents.
During an attack on a Kiowa village on September 26, , soldiers killed more than one thousand horses and forced Kiowas to surrender. On numerous occasions, fleeing Indians sought refuge in Canada, where they knew they would be unmolested. Canadians built their own transcontinental railroad in the late nineteenth century, but they did not commence a campaign of extermination against the Indians living in that country as the government did in the United States. No one denies that the U. There are various estimates of the number of Indians killed, the highest being that of historian Russell Thornton , who used mostly military records to estimate that about forty-five thousand Indians, including women and children, were killed during the wars on the Plains Indians.
It is reasonable to assume that thousands more were maimed and disabled for life and received little or no medical assistance. The thousands of soldiers who participated in the Indian Wars lived in a culture of violence and death that was cultivated by the U. The culture of violence in the American West of the late nineteenth century was created almost entirely by the U. As scandals go, the war on the Plains Indians makes the Credit Mobilier affair seem inconsequential.
There is such a thing as a culture of war, especially in connection with a war as gruesome and bloody as the war on the Plains Indians. It is a culture dominated by fear, blood, and sadism, by irrational actions and preposterous. Army created throughout much of the American West for the quarter century after the War Between the States. Man curbs his innate Instinct of aggression in order to cooperate with other human beings.
The more he wants to improve his material well being, the more he must expand the system of the division of labor. Concomitantly he must more and more restrict the sphere in which he resorts to military action. It is not true that all whites waged a war of extermination against the Plains Indians. As noted earlier and as noted throughout the literature of the Indian Wars, many whites preferred the continuation of the peaceful trade and relations with Indians that had been the norm during the first half of the nineteenth century.
It is telling that the Plains Indians often sought refuge in Canada when the U. Army had them on the run.
This war stemmed from the policy of the relatively small group of white men who ran the Republican Party with assistance from some Democrats , which effectively monopolized national politics for most of that time. Many of them profited handsomely, as the Credit Mobilier scandal revealed. Anderson, Terry, and P. Anderson, Terry, and Fred L. Raid or Trade? Benson, Bruce. Brown, Dee.
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