How Was Bleeding Kansas Resolved? The short answer is that it wasn’t. The long answer is much more complicated.
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The events of Bleeding Kansas
The events of Bleeding Kansas took place between 1854 and 1861 in the Kansas Territory and the neighboring states of Missouri and Kansas. The violence was mainly over the issue of slavery and began with the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed white settlers in Kansas Territory to determine whether Kansas would allow slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
In May 1854, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act to organize the Nebraska Territory and the future Kansas Territory. The act repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had outlawed slavery north of the 36° 30′ parallel except within the state of Missouri. His bill allowed white settlers in those territories to determine through “popular sovereignty” whether to allow slavery within their jurisdictions.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act alarmed opponents of slavery in the Northern states, who feared that it would open all of the western territories to slavery and thereby threaten the unity of the nation. Many Northerners also believed that Douglas’s real purpose was to extend slavery into the Northern states. Southern senators were generally content with the bill, since it revived their power to control national policy on slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act inflamed tensions between Northern and Southern Democrats, who had previously coexisted uneasily in a fragile coalition. The legislation split Democrats in Congress along sectional lines and led directly to the demise of the party’s national unity. In response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Northerners formed a new political party, the Republican Party, in 1854.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act also contributed to violent conflict in the Western territories. In 1855, proslavery and antislavery groups in Kansas Territory began fighting for control of the government in a conflict known as “Bleeding Kansas.” The violence eventually spread to neighboring Missouri, where pro- and antislavery forces clashed repeatedly over whether or not to allow slaveholding settlers into that state.
The election of 1854
The events of Bleeding Kansas were precipitated by the election of 1854 in which the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. This act allowed for popular sovereignty in determining whether slavery would be allowed in newly created territories. The bill’s repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel, angered many Northerners who saw it as a violation of states’ rights. The situation was further inflamed by the ease with which proslavery “Border Ruffians” from Missouri could cross into Kansas and vote illegally, as there were no residency requirements for voting. Anti-slavery settlers from New England and other Northern states also poured into Kansas in an attempt to make it a free state and prevent its admission to the Union as a slave state.
The Topeka Constitution
The Topeka Constitution was a document created in 1855 in the United States territory of Kansas. The constitutional convention was convened in response to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which had created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and opened them to settlement by proslavery and antislavery settlers, respectively. The constitution was drafted with the intent of making Kansas a slave state. It was approved by a vote of 10,421 to 138 on January 29, 1856.
The territory’s governor, John W. Geary, refused to put the constitution into effect and instead called for a special election on March 30, 1856, to vote on whether or not to accept or reject it. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the constitution by a vote of 6,242 to 579. In the aftermath of Bleeding Kansas, bothFree-Staters and proslavery forces claimed victory.
The resolution of Bleeding Kansas
The violence in Kansas hit a peak in 1856 with the sacking of Lawrence and the Pottawatomie Massacre. But, by 1857, the violence had dissipated and Kansas was admitted to the Union as a Free state. So, how was Bleeding Kansas resolved?
The Lecompton Constitution
The Lecompton Constitution was a proposed constitution for the state of Kansas that would have allowed slavery. The constitution was drafted in 1857 and was submitted to a vote in 1858. The vote was close, but the constitution was ultimately rejected by the people of Kansas.
The rejection of the Lecompton Constitution led to the end of Bleeding Kansas and the beginning of the Civil War.
The English Bill
On January 29, 1858, the English Bill was finally passed by the Kansas Territorial Legislature. The bill proposed to organize the territory into counties and create a system of popular elections. The bill also included a provision that prohibited slavery within the territory.
The Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850 that defused a four-year political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, reduced sectional conflict. Controversy arose over the Fugitive Slave provision.
The Compromise was greeted with relief internationally as well as domestically. It spurred economic growth and strengthened the Union, while settling most sectional questions until the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861–1865) ten years later. Though critics in both parties denounced it, historian Allan Nevins says: “the great success achieved by Clay and Douglas in defusing dangerous emotions proved one of their most important service to their country.”
The Compromise had five key provisions:
-1. California would be admitted as a free state with its current boundaries.
-2. New Mexico and Utah Territories would be organized without mentioning slavery; a popular sovereignty principle would apply in these territories. In practice, however, both areas had few slaves compared to the concentration in southeastern slave states, so this provision effectively left open whether slavery could expand in these areas
-3. The Texas boundary dispute would be resolved whereby Texas surrendered its claims to land north of 36°30’N accorded it under the 1845 treaty annexing it to the United States; conversely, the federal government assumed $10 million of Texas’s pre-annexation debt
4. A new Fugitive Slave Law would make it easier for runaway slaves to be captured and returned to their masters, and included criminal penalties for anyone who interfered with a rightful arrest
5. The slave trade (but not slavery itself) was abolished in Washington D.C.; a more stringent fugitive slave law was also passed