Soon after the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed, the Massachusetts (New England) Emigrant Aid Society sent 200 “Free-Staters” (anti-slavery) to counteract the influences of southern states and neighboring Missouri who were strongly pro-slavery. The Massachusetts group was joined by similar organizations and responsible for the creation of the towns of Lawrence and Manhattan, Kansas. Lawrence would eventually become the center of the anti-slavery movement.
Missouri counties bordering Kansas were strongly in favor of slavery – so strong was the pro-slavery sentiment that Senator David Atchison sent 1,700 men from Missouri to Kansas to vote in the Kansas 1854 election. These were the so-called “Border Ruffians” who helped (illegally) elect a pro-slavery Kansas territorial delegate to Congress. Their votes were later ruled invalid, but that didn’t stop them from sending up 5,000 for the next election in 1855 which would elect the Kansas Territorial Legislature.
By this time Kansas had an anti-slavery majority, but because of voter fraud and intimidation a pro-slavery legislature was elected. Not surprising, one of the first pieces of legislation to pass was one that levied a fine or imprisonment for anyone who spoke against slavery. The so-called “Border Ruffian” vote that had earlier been invalidated was reinstated – now it was okay for people outside the territory to vote in Kansas elections because they made it retroactive to the last election!
More abolitionists came to Kansas, far outnumbering the pro-slavery faction, and they were in no mood to abide by the laws coming out of the “Bogus Legislature”. In order to counteract, anti-slavery proponents gave themselves the name “Free Soilers” and drew up a new free state constitution with a new governor. The Free Soiler seat of government was Topeka. Now the fuse had been lit.
Lawrence had become the hub of the anti-slavery movement in Kansas – named for one of the members of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. Not only was the group providing financial aid it was shipping rifles, called “Beecher’s Bibles”, to arm the anti-slavery faction. Henry Ward Beecher, an anti-slavery preacher, had made the remark that in the case of Kansas, a rifle would do more good than the Bible.
Meanwhile, President Franklin Pierce and his administration refused to settle the voting dispute. Instead, a judge demanded the Free Soilers be indicted for treason. Emboldened, a posse of over 800 rushed to Kansas to arrest the Free Soilers. Even though residents of Lawrence decided against putting up a fight, the posse ravaged the town – the attack becoming known as “The Sack of Lawrence”.
News of the attack aroused anger on both sides of the slavery issue. Republicans in Congress put forth bills to immediately bring Kansas into the Union as a free state, while Democrats proposed bills to bring Kansas in as a slave state. In the press, it was Republican vs. Democrat-leaning newspapers, inflaming passions even more.
John Brown was adamantly opposed to slavery and after the Sack of Lawrence he wanted revenge. As a father of twenty children and a devout Christian, he and his wife had settled in Kansas to fight against slavery. He was angry because the residents of Lawrence had declined to fight, he being a believer in “an eye for an eye”. On May 24, 1856, just three days after the attack on Lawrence, Brown and seven others slipped into the pro-slavery town of Pottawatomie Creek. They went through the town pillaging, maiming and killing – five people were killed in the attack, some having their heads hacked at by broadswords.
Now the South was outraged – the attack at Lawrence had not resulted in any deaths, and now John Brown became a hunted man. Even though two of Brown’s sons (who weren’t even present in Pottawatomie Creek) were arrested and his homestead burned to the ground, John Brown evaded capture. He would later draw national attention in 1859 at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
By the end of 1856, over 200 people had been killed and thousands of dollars of property damage inflicted in Kansas. Federal troops were sent to marshal the conflict but had little effect on the situation. Five years later, the entire nation would erupt into a full-scale civil war.
Members of Congress also lashed out at one another. On May 21, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a staunch abolitionist, gave a rousing speech – “The Crime Against Kansas”. He railed against the Missouri pro-slavery faction, calling them “hirelings, picked from the drunken spew and vomit of an uneasy civilization.” At one point Sumner chose to attack Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, calling Butler an “imbecile”. He continued, “Senator Butler has chosen a mistress. I mean the harlot, slavery.” Sumner’s speech continued for two days.
Two days after the speech ended, one of Senator Butler’s distant cousins, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, decided to confront Sumner about his attack on Butler. Brooks approached Sumner who was sitting at his desk on the Senate floor, saying “You’ve libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I’ve come to punish you for it.” Then Brooks began beating Sumner over the head with a gold-tipped cane! The cane shattered but Brooks continued pummeling Sumner until others physically restrained him. It took years for Charles Sumner to recover from the attack.
Now Northerners were outraged – expel Brooks from the House of Representatives! Without the votes to do so, they were only able to fine him $300 for the assault on the Senator. But, Brooks resigned, returned home to South Carolina to be celebrated – and was subsequently returned to office by voters! The nation was edging closer to conflict – violence had now spread to Washington.
National leaders were searching for answers to resolve the slavery issue. It was thought that perhaps the Supreme Court could decide the issue once and for all. The Dred Scott case involved the question of whether a freed slave living in free territory could return to a slave state and still be free. The Court decided “No” he would not be free if returning to a slave state – the Court went further and ruled that Congress and state governments didn’t have the right to outlaw slavery either. There seemed to be no way to resolve the issue – the country was hopelessly divided, so passionate were the views of each side.
John Brown returned to action by inciting a riot of slaves at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He had hoped to create a slave uprising, but failed. It did, however, give both sides something to think about. The North became more entrenched in anti-slavery sentiment, while the South began to think about whether they should remain in the Union. The election of 1860 was divisive, pitting anti- and pro-slavery factions against one another. Abraham Lincoln was elected in November and a short time later, seven states seceded to form the Confederate States of America. Now THE Civil War would indeed tear the entire nation apart.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!