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Bleeding Kansas
Part of the prelude to the American Civil War
Reynolds's Political Map of the United States 1856.jpg
1856 map showing slave states (gray), free states (pink), and territories (green) in the United States, with the Kansas Territory in center (white)
Date 1854–1861
Location
Result Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state
Belligerents
Anti-slavery settlers
(Free-Staters)
Pro-slavery settlers (Border Ruffians)
Casualties and losses
Disputed - 100+ 80 or fewer; 20–30 killed

Bleeding Kansas was a border war on the Kansas-Missouri border. It started with the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854. It continued into the American Civil War (1854–1861).

It was an ugly war between groups of people who had strong beliefs about slavery. The term was first coined by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune. He used it to describe the violence happening in the Kansas territory during the mid to late 1850s.

Three different groups were fighting for power in Kansas at the time. These were those who were pro-slavery, abolitionists and free-staters.

Bleeding Kansas, fought over the issue of slavery, was a precursor of events to come in the American Civil War.

Overview

At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas, upon gaining statehood, would allow slavery, like neighboring Missouri, or prohibit it; that is, whether it would join the Union as a slave state or a free state. The question was of national importance because Kansas' two new senators would affect the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, which was already bitterly divided over the issue of slavery.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 called for popular sovereignty: the decision about slavery would be made by popular vote of the territory's settlers, rather than by legislators in Washington.

Those in favor of slavery argued that every settler had the right to bring his own property, slaves in particular, into the Kansas. In contrast, while some opposed slavery on religious, ethical, or humanitarian grounds, at the time the most persuasive argument against introducing slavery in Kansas was that it would allow rich slave owners to control the land to the exclusion of poor non-slaveholders who did not have the means to acquire either slaves or sizable land holdings for themselves.

Missouri, a slave state since 1821, was populated by many settlers with Southern pro-slavery views, some of whom tried to influence the decision by entering Kansas and claiming to be residents.

The conflict was fought politically as well as between civilians, where it eventually degenerated into brutal gang violence and paramilitary guerrilla warfare.

The term "Bleeding Kansas" was popularized by Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.

In Kansas there was a state-level civil war that would soon be replicated on a national basis. There were two different capitals (Lecompton and Lawrence/Topeka), two different constitutions (the anti-slavery Topeka Constitution and the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution), and two different legislatures, the so-called "bogus legislature" in Lecompton and the anti-slavery body in Lawrence. Both sides sought and received help from outside, the pro-slavery side from the federal government. Both claimed to reflect the will of the people of Kansas.

The pro-slavery partisans used violence and threats of violence, and free-soilers, led by John Brown, felt they had to respond with violence. After much commotion it became clear that a majority of Kansans wanted Kansas to be a free state. However, this required Congressional approval, and was blocked there by Southerners.

Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state the same day (effective January 29, 1861) that enough Southern Senators had departed, during the secession crisis that led to the Civil War, to allow it to pass.

Partisan violence continued along the Kansas–Missouri border for most of the war, though Union control of Kansas was never seriously threatened.

Bleeding Kansas demonstrated that armed conflict over slavery was unavoidable. Its severity made national headlines, which suggested to the American people that the sectional disputes were unlikely to be resolved without bloodshed, and it therefore directly anticipated the American Civil War.

Historic site

In 2006, federal legislation defined a new Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA) and was approved by Congress. A task of the heritage area is to interpret Bleeding Kansas stories, which are also called stories of the Kansas–Missouri border war. A theme of the heritage area is the enduring struggle for freedom. FFNHA includes 41 counties, 29 of which are in eastern Kansas and 12 in western Missouri.

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