Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War

Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War

Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War

Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War

Synopsis

Despite the immense body of literature about the American Civil War and its causes, the nation's western involvement in the approaching conflict often gets short shrift. Slavery was the catalyst for fiery rhetoric on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and fiery conflicts on the western edges of the nation. Driven by questions regarding the place of slavery in westward expansion and by the increasing influence of evangelical Protestant faiths that viewed the institution as inherently sinful, political debates about slavery took on a radicalized, uncompromising fervor in states and territories west of the Mississippi River.

Busy in the Cause explores the role of the Midwest in shaping national politics concerning slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. In 1856 Iowa aided parties of abolitionists desperate to reach Kansas Territory to vote against the expansion of slavery, and evangelical Iowans assisted runaway slaves through Underground Railroad routes in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. Lowell J. Soike's detailed and entertaining narrative illuminates Iowa's role in the stirring western events that formed the prelude to the Civil War.

Excerpt

Antislavery events west of the Mississippi River commonly get short shrift in histories, leaving the impression that almost everything consequential happened farther east. Bleeding Kansas and John Brown may receive nods as precursors to the Civil War but mainly as brief introductions to congressional developments associated with creating the Kansas-Nebraska Act or in connection with the Harpers Ferry raid and its consequences. I have embarked on this book with an eye to helping readers ponder certain western circumstances that have fallen into the cracks of history but have shaped antislavery life and political struggles in Iowa and Kansas.

Other states invariably are a part of the story. Missouri, the closest slave state that was most involved in deciding slavery’s fate in Kansas, receives particular consideration. Others that were instrumental in sending Free-State settlers to Kansas, such as Ohio, the New England states, and, of course, the Nebraska Territory through which they traveled, enter the discussion as well. So while the theme of this book is the relationship of Iowa to the Kansas Territory, in a larger sense it covers Iowa’s relationship to the western Midwest.

Iowa, as the closest Free State to the territorial struggle, became a refuge, a source of arms and supplies, and a northern land route for the Kansas Free-State settlers who helped check slav-

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