A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 80." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 80
PIERCE–THE STORY OF "BLEEDING KANSAS"

IN 1853 Fillmore's term of office came to an end and Franklin Pierce became President. He was only forty-eight, and was the youngest President who had been elected so far.

 

He was the son of a soldier who had fought in the Mexican War. But by profession he was a lawyer and not a soldier.

 

During the administration of Pierce another territory was added to the United States. This was a strip of land which now forms the south of New Mexico and Arizona. It was bought from Mexico in 1854 and, as James Gadsden arranged the treaty with the President of Mexico, it was called the Gadsden Purchase. With this purchase the territory of the United States as we know it to-day was completed. Only seventy years had passed since the Peace of Paris. But in these seventy years the country had made mighty strides and had been doubled and trebled. Instead of being merely a strip of land east of the Mississippi it now stretched from ocean to ocean.

The Gadsden Purchase, 1854

The chief interest in this administration was still the slavery question. It had not been settled as some people thought it had been. But it slept, at least, until suddenly a senator names Douglas awoke it again by bringing in a bill to do away with the Missouri Compromise Line.

Stephen A. Douglas, 1813-61

There was still a great deal of territory of the Louisiana Purchase waiting to be carved into states. Now said Douglas, "why make all this fuss about slavery or no slavery every time a new state wants to be admitted? Do away with this Missouri Compromise, and when there are enough people in a territory to allow of its being admitted as a state, let these people themselves decide whether they wish it to be a free state or a slave state."

 

The bill which Douglas brought in thus to do away with the Missouri Compromise was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, as Douglas suggested calling the great unorganised territory Nebraska in the north and Kansas in the South.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, 1854

Douglas was a Northern man, but he wanted to please the Southerners, and get them to vote for him as President. So he brought in this bill. It met with fierce opposition from the North, but it passed. The President alone had power to stop it. But he did not use his power.

 

Douglas had brought in the bill to make himself popular. But he made a great mistake. All over the North he was hated and cursed because of it. In town after town he was hanged in effigy, and then burned with every mark of scorn. He was reviled as a Judas, and some women living in a little Northern village sent him thirty pieces of silver.

 

In spite of this bill the Northerners were determined that slavery should not be extended. So even before the President had signed it men were hurring westward into Kansas. Claims were staked out, trees were felled, and huts built as if by magic. Settlers streamed in by hundreds every day. Some came of themselves, others were sent by societies got up to help settlers, and by the end of the year, two or three towns were founded.

The struggle for Kansas

But the slave holders were just as determined to make Kansas a slave state. So from Missouri, which was a slave state and bordered upon the Kansas Territory, thousands of slave owners came over the border and settled in Kansas.

 

They too founded several towns, and there began a fierce struggle for the upper hand.

 

March 30th, 1855 was appointed by the Governor for the election of a council and House of Representatives for the Territory.

 

The "Free Staters" were ready to vote in force. But the election was a farce. For when the day came, five thousand Missourians marched across the border. They were a wild, sunburned, picturesque mob. They had guns on their shoulders, revolvers stuck in their belts and bowie knives in their big top boots.

Election Day

They took possession of the polling booths, and if the judges would not do as they wished, they were turned out.

 

"Do you live in Kansas?" asked a judge

 

"Yes, I do," replied the Missourian, without a moment's hesitation.

 

"Does your family live in Kansas?" asked the judge, who knew the man was not speaking the truth.

 

"It is none of your business," replied the Missourian. "If you don't keep your impertinence to yourself, I'll knock your head from your shoulders."

 

So the judge gave it up, and every one who liked voted.

 

There were not three thousand voters in the Territory, but over six thousand votes were recorded, three-quarters of them being those unlawful votes of the Missourians. Thus said a learned gentleman, "It has been maintained by the sharp logic of the revolver and the bowie knife, that the people of Missouri are the people of Kansas!"

 

The Governor of Kansas was named Reeder. His sympathy was with the South. But he was an honest man, and when he saw the lawless way in which the Missourians were behaving, he resolved to see justice done. And although they threatened to hang him, he ordered new elections in the seven districts which dared to make a protest. But the new elections made little difference. Owing to the fact that so many of the people were disputing its result, this election did not settle the question whether Kansas were to be admitted as a slave or a free state, and it still remained a Territory. And as soon as the legislature met, the "Free State" members were promptly unseated, and the others had things all their own way.

Andrew H. Reeder;

The laws which this legislature drew up with regard to slaves were quite out of keeping with the needs and desires of free America.

 

If any person were to entice a slave away from his master they were to suffer death. If they hid and protected a slave, they might be imprisoned with hard labour for five years or more. And if any person declared that Kansas was not a slave territory, they were to be imprisoned with hard labour for at least two years.

 

These were only a few of the laws. But the Governor vetoed them all. That is, he refused to pass them, veto coming from a Latin word meaning "I forbid." This made the slave party angry and they asked the President to remove Reeder and send a new Governor. This the President had power to do, as Kansas was still only a Territory and not a state.

he vetoes the new Kansas laws

The President was now quite on the side of the slave owners. So a new Governor was sent, but the struggle went on just as before. Both sides began to arm, and at length it came to bloodshed.

 

The town of Lawrence, which was a Free State town, was sacked by a mob of ruffians, and civil war in Kansas was begun.

Civil War in Kansas

In Kansas there was an old man named John Brown. He was a fierce old Puritan, and he believed that God had called him to fight slavery. And the only way of fighting it that he thought possible was to slay the slave-holders.

John Brown

A few days after the sacking of Lawrence he set off with his sons and one or two others to teach the slave-holders a lesson. Blood had been spilled by them, and he was determined that for every free state man who had been murdered he would have the life of a slave-holder in revenge.

 

So in the dead of night he and his band attacked the farms of sleeping men, and, dragging them from their beds, slew them in cold blood. Before day dawned six or seven men had been thus slain.

 

When the Free Staters heard of this deed they were shocked. But it roused the Border Ruffians to fury. Armed companies of both sides marched through the country, and when they met, there was bloodshed. For three years Kansas was in a state of disorder and riot. Governor after governor came with friendly feelings to the South. But when they saw the actions of the slave party they resigned rather than support such injustice.

 

At length the slave party nearly gained their end, but they were defeated. They were defeated by Douglas, that same man who had caused the Missouri Compromise to be done away with. Then he had blackened his name, now he redeemed it.

Douglas redeems his name

The President was ready to use all his power to force the admission of Kansas as a slave state. Douglas warned him to beware, and when the President persisted, he rose in his place, and made such a wonderful speech that the bill introduced by the slave-holders was defeated. And when at length Kansas was admitted to the Union, it was admitted as a free state.

Kansas admitted to the Union, 1861

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom