Kansas Statehood Marked by Violence
Perhaps no state has had a more violent entry into the Union than Kansas. Caught up in the struggle over slavery that would soon explode into the American Civil War, Kansas was the battleground between pro- and anti-slavery forces for seven deadly years before the North and South took up arms against each other, earning Kansas Territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”
Kansas was opened to settlement when Kansas Territory was formed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. To appease Southern interests, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas inserted into the Kansas-Nebraska Act a provision for “popular sovereignty” which repealed the 1820 ban on slavery in the territories above 36 degrees, 30 minutes, and instead let the territories’ settlers decide the issue of slavery. This brought on a rush of zealous immigrants determined to settle the question of Kansas slavery according to their own interests and beliefs.
Many of the pro-slavery immigrants came from neighboring Missouri, a slave state. To counter their influence, abolitionist organizations in the North supported anti-slavery immigrants, especially those coming from New England. Henry Ward Beecher, a popular preacher and leading abolitionist, raised funds to help the Kansas immigrants (his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852). Beecher supplied the immigrants with Bibles, but he also furnished a second item he considered essential: advanced Sharps rifles. As he explained, “There are times when self-defence is a religious duty.” In fact, these precision rifles came to be called “Beecher’s Bibles.”
Conflict between the competing interests in Kansas grew heated, and violence broke out and escalated. The bloodshed increased the sharp divide over slavery threatening to tear the country apart, as Congress, the press, and public opinion raged over the issue. John Brown, whose raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, (West) Virginia, startled the nation in 1859, came from the turmoil of Bleeding Kansas.
The abolitionists won the bloody struggle, and Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on Jan. 29, 1861, as a free state. By that time six states had already seceded from the Union. The seventh, Texas, seceded three days after Kansas gained statehood. One week later those states formed the original Confederate States of America, and after the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, started the Civil War, four more states joined the Confederacy.
The nation plunged into a civil war. For Kansas, however, the war had already been going on for seven long years.
After the turmoil of Bleeding Kansas, you would think the news of Kansas finally being admitted into the Union would be big news. However, as the following two newspaper articles put into context, Kansas statehood was merely one factor in the rushing stream of events in the dizzying, confusing days of early 1861.
This first article was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on Jan. 29, 1861—just ten days after Georgia had seceded from the Union:
Washington, Jan. 28.—Senate.—The Hon. Mr. Iverson’s, from Georgia, withdrawal was read.
The President enclosed to the Senate peace propositions from Virginia, and urged Congress to carry out their recommendations.
The Hon. Mr. Hemphill defended the right of secession.
House.—The Virginia resolutions with the President’s recommendation was received, and they will be considered tomorrow.
Mr. Pryor made an eloquent speech in behalf of the South.
The rules were suspended and the Senate’s amendments to the Kansas bill were adopted. The bill only awaits the President’s signature to become law.
Washington Affairs—Abraham Lincoln on the Crisis
Washington, Jan. 28.—Mr. Lincoln has written private letters here, urging conciliation and compromise. He indicates that the border State resolutions afford a reasonable basis of adjustment. Immediately after the Electoral vote is counted by Congress, he will announce his view fully on [the] crisis.
The friends of the Union are greatly encouraged by the responses to Virginia’s propositions.
In the Senate today Mr. Douglas introduced amendments to the fugitive slave law, which, it is considered, will thoroughly and effectually obviate all objections to the statute.
Secretary Dix has instructed the commanders of U.S. revenue cutters, if their vessels are attacked, to make the best possible defence, but if overpowered, they must run their vessels ashore and blow them up.
He has also applied to the Governor of Louisiana in behalf of the patients, asking him to revoke the act of seizing the Government Hospital at New Orleans, and demonstrating the act as barbarous and disgraceful.
Richmond, Jan. 28.—The Senate adopted a resolution looking to increased taxation.
Resignation of a United States Judge
New Orleans, Jan. 28.—Judge McCaleb, of the United States District Court, for the district of Louisiana, has resigned, in consequence of the secession of his State.
This second article was published by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on Jan. 29, 1861:
The proceedings of yesterday were important. The Kansas bill, as amended by the Senate, passed the House by 117 yeas to 42 nays, and only awaits the signature of the president to become a law. In the Senate, Mr. Iverson presented the Georgia secession ordinance, which he read, and proceeded to justify the course of his state. He said, if government made war, the South would seize all the fortifications and not pay a dollar of the public debt. (Laughter.) If coercion was attempted the South would fight, and never submit to subjection until every white man was exterminated. Cotton is king. If the government blockaded the ports, other nations would interfere. If no war ensued, the South might consider the subject of a reconstruction, but he was opposed to it. He acknowledged many courtesies, and bade the Senate farewell.
The president sent in the resolutions of Virginia, with a message commending the project of a convention of commissioners of all the states, to meet in Washington on the 4th of February. The president pleads want of power to enter into any agreement as to hostile action against seceding states, but adds—
“It is my duty at all times to defend and protect the public property within the seceding states so far as may be practicable, and especially to employ constitutional means to protect the property of the United States and preserve the public peace at this the seat of the federal government. If the seceding states abstain from any and all acts calculated to produce collision of arms, then the danger so much deprecated will no longer exist. Defense and not aggression has been the policy of the administration from the beginning.”
Some papers reported the admission of Kansas in a straightforward way, such as this article published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) on the front page of its Jan. 31, 1861, issue:
The New State of Kansas
Washington, Jan. 30, 1861.
At ten minutes past two o’clock this afternoon the Private Secretary of the President announced to the United States House of Representatives that the name of James Buchanan had been appended to the bill admitting Kansas into the federal Union as a State. At twenty minutes of three Martin F. Conway, representative-elect from the new state, received the oath of office and took his seat. He was immediately congratulated by Mr. Parrott, delegate from the Territory, whose power ceased where Mr. Conway’s commenced, and by other members. The news was at once telegraphed by Mr. Parrott to Kansas, and the State government will go into immediate operation.
Other papers could not resist editorializing as they announced the new state of Kansas. This article was published by the Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio) on Jan. 29, 1861:
Justice at Last!
Though long delayed and wickedly delayed, Kansas has at last been admitted into the Union. Every man who loves justice and honors right will rejoice at this, even if it be the first fruits of the most inexcusable and treasonable rebellion that the sun ever shone upon. The absence of the Senators from the seceding States rendered it possible that this act of tardy justice should be done at last.
Other papers saw in Kansas statehood the settling of a simmering issue and hope for the nation to resolve its differences. This article was published by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on Jan. 30, 1861:
Admission of Kansas
The reader of the Congressional proceedings reported in our paper yesterday will not have failed to remark that the House of Representatives has concurred in the Senate amendments made to the bill providing for the admission of Kansas into the Union. A new State has thus been added to the States of the federal Union; and, a long and angry controversy being thereby closed, let us hope that its termination may be the harbinger of a general pacification. The Republicans in Congress who have heretofore excused themselves from taking any step forward in the way of conciliation while Kansas stood excluded have now no longer that excuse to plead.
Here is another hopeful article, this one published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Jan. 31, 1861:
The Thirty-fourth Star
The President signed the Kansas bill yesterday, and the Territory so long the source and the subject of political troubles, has come forth as a State. Her career since the Territorial organization in 1854, has been a “seven-years’ war”; now let us anticipate for her a long reign of peace and prosperity. An act of Congress provides that on the fourth day of July succeeding the admission of a new State, an additional star shall be added to the national flag. On this occasion, however, when stars are falling from the blue field of the standard, it appears that the authorities intend to observe the law regulating the stars in the flag before the specified day arrives, for our dispatches inform us that the flags on the public buildings in that city will bear today a thirty-fourth star, for Kansas.
For more information, visit the official Kansas website.
Click here for more articles about Slavery: Precursor to the Civil War.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.