great work is to be done, and Kansas is the great battlefield where a
mighty conflict is to be waged with the monster slavery, and he will be
routed and slain. Amen and Amen.
In the spring of 1855, the Reverend Charles H. Lovejoy of Croydon, New Hampshire, his 43-year-old wife, Julia Louisa, and their children crossed the Missouri River into the newly created Kansas Territory.
There were thousands of settlers pouring in that year to stake claims in what had recently been Indian lands. But the Lovejoys -- and others like them from New England -- were a different kind of American pioneer, not interested in gold, land or adventure.
They were abolitionists, part of a grass-roots movement sweeping the North. They were outraged that in a nation founded on the ideal of freedom, nearly four million Americans were still owned by other Americans. The Lovejoys had come west, determined to keep the soil of Kansas free from slavery.
For more than half a century, as the United States expanded westward, Congress had quarreled again and again over whether the new territories would be slave or free, each time working out a fragile compromise.
time that they thought that they had hodge-podged something together,
some new land in the West would become available that Americans were settling,
and wanting to bring in to the Union, and it kept bringing it right back
to/ Congress. Well, will it be free, or slave, and will that upset this
delicate balance that was constructed ten years ago or twenty years ago,
or thirty years ago?"
In 1854, Congress had created two new territories -- Kansas and Nebraska -- and proposed to hold a special election which would leave the issue of slavery up to the settlers who lived there. Many in Congress believed this new compromise would hold the nation together. Instead, it would tear it apart -- and the West would become a battleground for the soul of the country.
We are playing for a mighty stake. The game must be played boldly... We are organizing. We will be compelled to shoot, burn and hang, but the thing will soon be over.... If we win we can carry slavery to the Pacific ocean.
Come on then, Gentlemen of the Slave States. Since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in the right.
hand the issue to Kansas is to ask for the most explosive conditions possible.
To take the most unsettled kind of society and throw into that the issue
that made congressmen want to kill each other -- if you wanted to design
the worst possible conditions to dramatize how bitter these fights were
you couldn't do better than what they designed for Kansas."
The greatest trouble in this part of the Territory now is about our Missourian neighbors, whose hearts are set on mischief. We are apprehending trouble if not 'hard fighting' in our quiet community.
a man standing in a pair of long boots... the handle of a large bowie-knife
projecting from one or both boot-tops; a leather belt buckled around his
waist, on each side of which is fastened a large revolver... Imagine such
a picture of humanity, who can swear any given number of oaths in any
specified time, drink any quantity of bad whiskey without getting drunk,
and boast of having stolen a half dozen horses and killed one or more
abolitionists -- and you will have a pretty fair conception of a Border
Ruffian, as he appears in Missouri and in Kansas.
On election day, nearly five thousand armed pro-slavery men, led by Senator David Atchison, flooded in from Missouri, trying to influence the vote -- and the fate of Kansas. They seized polling places, cast four times as many ballots as there were voters in the territory, and installed a legislature that made it a crime to even criticize slavery.
Their opponents, called Free Soilers, countered with their own election. They drew up a constitution that outlawed slavery -- though it also barred black settlement -- and then applied for admission to the Union as a free state. Kansas now had two governments -- and its people were about to go to war with one another.
sides were supplied from the outside. It was almost as if a civil war
were taking place in a foreign country, with the South providing the arms,
the money, and the men on one side, and the New England, ideologically-committed
abolitionists on the other."
In the spring of 1856, someone wounded a pro-slavery sheriff, and 800 armed men bent on revenge, stormed into Lawrence, got drunk, destroyed two newspaper offices, burned down the hotel and the home of the free-soil governor. The border ruffians swept by Julia Lovejoy's home, as well.
I caught my darling babe... from the bed... moaning as he went... I rushed to a place of safety out of town as fast as my feeble limbs could carry me... The scene that met our gaze beggars description -- women and children fleeing on every hand... cattle as though aware that danger was near, huddling together... It will never fade from memory's vision.
When Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner denounced what he called this "Crime against Kansas," a South Carolina Congressman strode onto the Senate floor and beat him senseless with a cane.
Three days later, on the night of May 24th, a strange, driven man called five unarmed settlers whom he believed favored slavery out of their cabins on Pottawotamie Creek. With the help of his sons, John Brown hacked them to death with broadswords. It was a war to the death between good and evil, he said. "We must fight fire with fire."
During the next three months, some two hundred more men would die in what would come to be known as "Bleeding Kansas."
Program | People | Places
| Events | Resources | Lesson
Plans | Quiz|
© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA