What Event Started “Bleeding Kansas?”

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the event that started “Bleeding Kansas.” This act allowed for the people of each state to decide for themselves whether or not slavery would be allowed.

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The Kansas-Nebraska Act

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, which allowed for the organization of Kansas and Nebraska territories and opened new lands for settlement. The act also repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had previously forbidden slavery in those territories. This act quickly led to violence in “Bleeding Kansas,” as pro- and anti-slavery groups fought over whether or not slavery would be allowed within its borders.

The Missouri Compromise

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was reached in order to admission of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, keeping the balance of power between slave and free states. The compromise also prohibited slavery in the rest of the northern Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36° 30′ parallel. The agitation for the admission of Kansas as a slave state began almost immediately after the Compromise of 1850 had been reached.

The Compromise of 1850

In January 1849, President James Polk (1795-1849) ordered General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) to lead American troops into the contested area between the Rio Grande and Nueces rivers in Texas. Mexico considered this territory part of its province of Coahuila y Tejas, while Polk insisted it was part of the U.S. state of Texas. In May 1846, Mexico had broken diplomatic relations with the United States after American troops occupied the Mexican city of Vera Cruz (see Mexican-American War). In March 1848, the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded to the United States more than 500,000 square miles of land, including present-day California, Arizona and New Mexico.

The Compromise of 1850 was an effort by Congress to stave off sectionalism and civil war. The heart of the bill was a proposal by Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852) of Kentucky that called for allowing California to enter the Union as a free state while simultaneously enacting a stricter fugitive slave law in order to placate southern interests. The individual components of Clay’s bill--which also included admitting New Mexico and Utah as territories without first determining their slavery status--were passed by Congress and signed by President Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) in September 1850.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was an American law that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and was designed to open up new lands west of the Mississippi River to American settlement. The act was passed by the 33rd Congress on May 30, 1854 and became law on July 1, 1854.

The bill was introduced by Ohio senator Thomas Hart Benton in January 1854 as a bill to organize the Nebraska Territory. It was later amended by Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas to include language that would organizing the Kansas Territory. The bill passed in the Senate with little opposition, but was more controversial in the House of Representatives where members from Slave States objected to the possibility that Kansas might become a Free State.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for “popular sovereignty,” or the right of voters in each territory to decide for themselves whether or not slavery would be allowed. This doctrine had been first proposed by Democratic Party politician Lewis Cass in 1848 as a way to settlethe issue of slavery in the newly acquired Mexican Cession territories without Explicitly prohibiting or endorsing it.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the earlier Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery north of 36° 30′ N latitude (the southern border of Missouri), and stirred up considerable opposition from Anti-Slavery factions in both the North and South. In addition, the Act opened up 4000 miles (6400 km) of land west of Missouri and Iowa to possible American settlement, adding fuel to tense relations between North and South over expansion of slavery into new territory.

Soon after it became law, pro-slavery settlers from Missouri crossed into Kansas with the intention of voting in favor of slavery in the upcoming territorial elections. This led to violent confrontations between these settlers, known as “Border Ruffians,” and anti-slavery settlers, known as “Free Soilers.” The violence escalated into what came to be known as “Bleeding Kansas,” with heavy casualties on both sides.

Despite this violence, on January 29, 1861, following a landslide victory in a referendum vote, Kansas entered the Union as a Free State.

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