In last year’s post for April 13, I gave a brief overview of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas crisis.
The Compromise of 1850 was an important turning point for Northern opinion. This undated PBS summary (The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act) talks about the impression that the Fugitive Slave Act in particular made on the North.
Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made abolitionists all the more resolved to put an end to slavery. The Underground Railroad became more active, reaching its peak between 1850 and 1860. The act also brought the subject of slavery before the nation. Many who had previously been ambivalent about slavery now took a definitive stance against the institution.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier years’ posts, the Fugitive Slave Act included strong federal regulations that overrode any consideration of “states rights”. It’s a key fact about the prewar period that in the 1850s, Northerners felt themselves increasingly pressured by the Slave Power, while the Southern slaveowners and their supporters became increasingly hysterical about real and imagined threats from the North. And also that, as in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the slaveowners were always ready to override states rights in defense of slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act made Kansas Territory into a literal battleground between pro- and antislavery forces.
Kansas was not finally admitted to the Union as a free state until 1861. But the most intense period of conflict, the period of “Bleeding Kansas”, was 1854-6. In 1854, the New England Emigrant Aid Company sponsored the migration of antislavery settlers to Kansas. While the Southern slaveowners encouraged proslavery immigration.
In particular, groups of proslavery partisans from the neighboring slave state of Missouri were ready to intervene with force and violence in the Kansas Territory. Known as “Border Ruffians” and also as “Pukes”, in November of 1854 and again in March of 1855, they poured across the border to vote illegally in Kansas elections and also to prevent Free State voters from going to the polls.
The illegitimate proslavery government was initially known as the Topeka government because of where it was seated, and in 1856 it moved to the city of Lecompton and became known as the Lecompton government.
Thanks to the Internet, we can quickly see an important contemporary document about the events in Kansas. Formally known as the Report of the special committee appointed to investigate the troubles in Kansas,: with the views of the minority of said committee (July 1856), it is usually referred to as the Howard Committee report, after Congressman William Alanson Howard who chaired the Committee.
The majority report describes the immediate result of Stephen Douglas’ misbegotten Kansas-Nebraska Act:
The testimony clearly shows that before the proposition to repeal the Missouri compromise was introduced into Congress, the people of western Missouri appeared indifferent to the prohibition of slavery in the Territory, and neither asked nor desired its repeal.
In other words, despite Douglas’ claims that his “popular sovereignty” notion was democratic rather than proslavery, its practical effect was a great encouragement to advocates of the extension of slavery.
When, however, the prohibition was removed by the Action of Congress, the aspect of affairs entirely changed. The whole country was agitated by the reopening of a controversy which conservative men in different sections believed had been settled in every State and Territory by some law beyond the danger of repeal. The excitement which has always accompanied the discussion of the slavery question was greatly increased by the hope, on the one hand of extending slavery into a region from which it had been excluded by law; and, on the other, by a sense of wrong done by what was regarded as a dishonor of a national compact. This excitement was naturally transferred into the border counties of Missouri and the Territory, as settler favoring fee or slave institutions moved into it. …
Within a few days alter the organic law passed, and as soon as its passage could be known on the border, leading citizens of Missouri crossed into the Territory, held squatter meetings and then returned to their homes. Among their resolutions are the following:
"That we will afford protection to no abolitionist as a settler of this Territory."
"That we recognise the institution of slavery as already existing in this Territory, and advise slaveholders to introduce their property as early as possible."
Similar resolutions were passed in various parts of the Territory and by meetings in several counties of Missouri. Thus the first effect of the repeal of the restriction against slavery [pursuant to Douglas’ “popular sovereignty” slogan] was to substitute the resolves of squatter meetings, composed almost exclusively of citizens of a single State [Missouri], for the deliberate action of Congress acquiesced in for thirty-five years. (my emphasis)
An Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month 2006 postings is available.