Abolishing the Norm – Episode 3: No Place Like Home

Listen to Episode  Duration 1:56:56

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John Brown was freakishly tall. Tragic Prelude, John Steuart Curry, 1938-1940. Source: Spencer Museum of Art

The passing of the Kansas-Nebraska act in 1854 opened up a new battlefront in the United States between those for and against the institution of slavery. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who sponsored the bill, supported the notion of popular sovereignty; that the people who lived in a certain territory could decide by themselves whether or not to allow slavery. In so doing, he began a race between rebellious free-staters and resistant pro-slavery partisans to claim Kansas as their own, which lead to an outburst of violence that history remembers as the Bleeding of Kansas.

Far in the West rolls the thunder—
The tumult of battle is raging
Where bleeding Kansas is waging
War against Slavery!

– Charles S. Weyman, published the Tribune, September 13, 1856

Reynolds's_Political_Map_of_the_United_States_1856
“Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States” (1856) from the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

Caught in the middle, between Free states, Slave states and so-called Indian Territory, Kansas was well-placed to be the hot-spot of a conflict that, in hindsight, seemed inevitable. The line of the ‘sacred pledge’, the 36″30 parallel, is shown running east-west from the southern border of Kansas Territory. This was determined in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, that admitted Missouri as a slave-state provided that no slave-state shall ever thereafter exist north of the line. When California became ready for state-hood, almost overnight due to the gold-rush of 1849, the sacredness of the pledge meant nought to the slave-societies, who would push for means to violate it. Those means arrived with the Compromise of 1850, with the introduction of popular sovereignty as the process by which to determine whether new states would or would not be slave states, regardless of how north they may be. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was enacted in 1854, so was it to be – whichever side could get the most voters there, would either protect or condemn the expansion of slavery.

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Map showing the passages of movement for settlers
hotspot map
On the Kansas River, the frontier towns of Lawrence, Lecompton and Topeka would all come to represent different things in the battle for Kansas
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Illustration of Lawrence prior to its sacking. Source

Primary Sources used:

With the Border Ruffians – R. H. Williams
In this text, R. H. Williams, an Englishman who had become a sailor at 17, visited India, hauled guano from Scotland and then moved to Virginia at the ripe old age of 24 to begin a new life, recounts his time in Kansas during the 1850s. He was a ‘border ruffian’, who provides an interesting insight into the mindset of those who were pro-slavery. He supported slavery, yet he was disgusted when he saw a slave man be shot by his master after attempting to escape.

Diary of Timothy Lewis Litchfield

Timothy Lewis Litchfield was an abolitionist who travelled in one of the first groups of people sent to Kansas by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, and provides a first-hand account of the initial setting up of Lawrence, as well as encounters the early settlement had with Missourians.

Recollections of 1854 by Joseph Savage

Sort of like the above, but with more details, and better written. We probably should have listed this first but… stuff you.

Copy of David R. Atchison speech to proslavery forces

This is the vile, racist, hate-filled speech we quoted at length from just before the sack of Lawrence. It is disgusting, yet also riveting. We found it amusing how the speech was punctuated with (yells) and (cheers) and (waving of hats). Was this scripted into the speech, much like the person who holds the (applause) sign at the front of television studio audience? Or did whoever was transcribing the speech sit there judging whether or not there were sufficient numbers of people waving their hats in order to note it down? History is full of such interesting and hard to answer questions. Either way: David R. Atchison, not a good bloke. In fact, he could easily be described as a vile, racist “church-bell”; a “pillock” whose speech, when read today, makes one want to “shit out of their teeth” (#C19insults).

There is still a city and county named after him in Kansas today. Hooray for remembering the past in all its gory glory.

S. C. Pomeroy and the New England Emigrant Aid Company, 1 Kansas Historical Society

In this fascinating article, we are treated to the fabulous quote by Pomeroy where he talks about the “blighting-withering-deadning-damning-influence of American Slavery!!” (#C19Insults). Also, the Kansas Historical Society has a great website with so much fascinating material, definitely browse through it if you’ve got time.

Report of the special committee appointed to investigate the troubles in Kansas,: with the views of the minority of said committee

The full text of the congressional investigation into the voting fraud in both the election for a territorial delegate to Congress, in November 1854, and the election of the territorial legislature in March 1855. This text provides interesting insight into how easy elections used to be to defraud and certainly puts our 21st century problems into perspective.

Secondary Resources:

Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America

A must read, especially if you want to spoil our next episode.

Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border

The best in-depth overview we could find about Bleeding Kansas.

 

 

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