Bleeding Kansas 1853-1861 "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men"


Bleeding Kansas-1859

What was Bleeding Kansas?
During the years of 1853 to 1861, a very crucial event that led up to the Civil War, occurred. This event was called “Bleeding Kansas”. Bleeding Kansas was when pro-slavery and anti-slavery supporter debate if the Kansas territory should be free or slave. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the territory of Kansas to decide whether it would be free territory or slave territory, a practice known as popular sovereignty. Obviously, this decision was not going to be resolved peacefully. Many small and big battles occurred between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery supporters. Some settlers even said that the battles during “Bleeding Kansas” were the first shots of the Civil War. The most violent clashes occurred when “border ruffians” crossed over into Kansas Territory to try and sway the votes, so that Kansas would be pro-slavery. Soon, many people who were not part of the Kansas territory began crossing the borders to vote. Border Ruffians began a lot of violence, such as the “Raid on Lawrence”. In May 1856, Ruffians crossed the border and looted and burned multiple buildings, this act kicked open the door to more violent acts. A few days latter the anti-slavery supporters caused the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre. John Brown attacked a small pro-slavery settlement, killing five men. “Bleeding Kansas” was a fight over whether Kansas should be a free or slave state, a decision that erupted into a bloody Civil War, which consisted of lynching, bushwhacking, and burning. This controversy and violence was so large and out of control that it was impossible for federal authorities to contain it. Fifty-five men were brutally killed, defending their beliefs, but in the end Anti-slavery supporters prevailed and Kansas was accepted as a free state. In 1859 a new constitution was drafted, which was approved by a 2-to-1 electoral vote margin, Kansas was a free state. It entered the Union as free state in 1861.
The above picture shows settlers fighting in Kansas over the issue of slavery. This was such a controversal topic that bloody battles in towns occured (such as this picture depicts).

The Northern Perspective:
The Northerners were absolutely outraged by the actions taken before and during the time period known as Bleeding Kansas. The law passed by congress (made by Stephen Douglas) would repeal the Missouri Compromise that Americans worked so hard to form back in 1820. The territory known as Kansas was above the 36' 30" line and therefore was given the chance to become a slave state. This was horrible for Northerners because the Missouri Compromise stated that there was no slavery allowed above that line, this had Northerners furious. During the time of voting for proslavery or anti-slavery there were many attacks that were started by the proslavery forces. There were people being tarred and feathered, kidnapped and even killed but this violence started to turn even worse. Proslavery forces attacked Lawrence, burning printing presses and a hotel. Northerners had had enough and decided to take some of their own action. Eventually the terriotry of Kansas was given its right to be a free state and Notherners were now happy after Bleeding Kansas had taken place.
This poster was for a meeting to take place in Kansas for all people who supported Kansas to be a free state.

The Southern Perspective:
The Southerners were overjoyed by the actions before and during the two year span known as Bleeding Knasas. Stephen Douglas created a bill which stated that the slavery position in the Kansas territory would be decided by popular sovereignty. Southerners realized that this bill went agaisnt the Missouri Compromise so they saw it as a big win for them being able to have the chance of having slavery above the 36' 30" line. Once this bill was passed as a law the Southerners made their trip over to Kansas to vote for their proslavery position (because Kansas's future as a free state or slave state would be decided by popular sovereignty). The Southerners wouldn't relinquish this oppurtunity and the election would be won by the proslavery forces. The Federal Government refused to acknowledge the Free State Legislature in Kansas and continued to only recognize the Proslavery Legislature as the only legitimate form of Government in Kansas. Everything was going great for the South and they couldn't be any happeir. They were getting ready to have a slave state above the 36' 30" line and they even had the National Government on their side. All of that was gone by 1856 when John W. Geary arrived in Kansas as the new territorial Governor. Eventually many different proslavery and anti-slavery constitutions were drafted but only one could be passed, and that was an anti-slavery constitution. Kansas would now become a Free State in 1861 and this left Southerns very dissapointed after Bleeding Kansas had taken place.
Above is a popular illustration, showing Missouri raiders shooting down Kansas freeholders.

How Important was Bleeding Kansas in bringing on the Civil War?
Bleeding Kansas was extremely crucial in bringing on the Civil War, so crucial that my partner and I decided to label it as a five on a scale of 1-5. Not only did this issue argue about nothing but slavery (the reason the Civil War was fought), but it is also considered to be the first shots of the Civil War. This was the first time that anti-slavery supporters and proslavery supporters took extreme actions to express how they felt toward each other. These actions would include death, kidnappings, and the burning of some very prestigious buildings. Once blood was shed these small skirmishes escalated into even larger problems causing our nation to be completely divided and fight the Civil War. As you can see Bleeding Kansas led right to our nations Civil War and is arguably the most important reason why this war was even fought.

Work Cited:

"Bleeding Kansas." US History.Com. 16 May. 2009. <>

"Bleeding Kansas: Competition for Virgin Territory." Secession Crisis. 15 May. 2009. < /bleedingkansas.html>

"People and Events: Bleeding kansas" PBS. 13 May. 2009. <>