THE STRUGGLE FOR KANSAS

No other state in the Union, not even those bathed in the blood of the Indian wars of colonial days, can surpass this state in the fierce contests of its early years. While this book makes no pretense of giving state history, the early history of Kansas must be narrated, as the subject belongs to national history. The territory of Kansas comprised the vast undulating prairie, covered with Indian reservations, extending westward from Missouri to the base of the Rocky Mountains.¹ Scarcely had the Kansas-Nebraska bill become a law, in 1854, when the people of western Missouri began pouring into the territory and taking up claims with the avowed purpose of making it a slave state. Kansas was a prize of unmeasured value to the South. The balance in the Senate had been broken by the admission of California. If now the slave power could regain its equal representation by making Kansas a slave state, if the balance could be thus restored, never again would a free state be suffered to enter the Union without its being offset by the admission of a slave state. So reasoned the slaveholders. They believed further that Kansas was the key to the whole Southwest. "If Kansas is abolitionized," wrote Senator Atchison, "Missouri ceases to be a slave state, New Mexico becomes a free state, California remains a free state; but if we secure Kansas as a slave state, Missouri is secure; New Mexico and southern California, if not all of it, becomes a slave state; in a word, the prosperity or ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle."² Hence we see the vital importance to the South of securing Kansas to slavery, whatever the cost. This explains the early rush of the Missourians into the territory.

Meantime the people of New England, hearing of this action of the Missouri people, determined to make a bold, extensive movement toward claiming Kansas for freedom. Eli Thayer of Massachusetts, a shrewd, practical Yankee, had in the early spring organized the Emigrant Aid Company for the purpose of planting free labor in Kansas. He soon enlisted the interest and aid of such public-spirited men as Charles Francis Adams, Amos A. Lawrence, Edward Everett Hale, and Horace Greeley, raised a large sum of money, and by July he had a company of emigrants moving toward Kansas. This company, led by Charles Robinson, who had become inured to frontier life in California, was augmented along the way, and by December, 1854, several thousand settlers from the free states had pitched their tents on the rich bottom lands of the Kansas River. They founded Lawrence, Topeka, and other towns, and gave every indication that they had come to stay. The Missourians, who had founded Atchison, Lecompton, and Leavenworth along the Missouri, determined to drive the free-soilers from the territory.

Footnotes

¹Since cut down to 81,700 square miles. It then comprised 126,000.
²New York Tribune, November 7, 1855.

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The Struggle for Kansas
ALHN-Kansas
Created May 20, 2000
©Kathy Leigh 2000

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