Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861

Article excerpt

War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861. By Thomas Goodrich. (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, c. 1998. Pp. [viii], 296. $29.95, ISBN 0-8117-1921-9.)

John Ritchie moved his family to the fledgling town of Topeka, Kansas Territory, in 1855. He knew John Brown and vigorously participated in many of the tragic events labeled "Bleeding Kansas." From the moment Ritchie arrived in Topeka, he conducted in the "underground railroad," encouraged integrated housing and schooling, and hired African-Americans to work in his stone quarry. He believed in the equality of all people and lived his life based upon this principle. What makes John Ritchie's story important? Simply this: in War to the Knife, his ostensibly "tell-it-like-it-was" history of Bleeding Kansas, Thomas Goodrich makes no room for Ritchie's story or for the labors of other reformers who had a sense of human decency and equality.

Many of the Jayhawkers who raided the western region of Missouri were thugs and opportunists, not abolitionists. James Lane, Kansas's eccentric (and perhaps psychopathic) first United States Senator, was a "free-soiler" who wanted both slavery and African-Americans kept out of Kansas, and Goodrich correctly identifies him as a racist. Lane bore little resemblance to people like Ritchie. Yet Goodrich frequently, indiscriminately, and arbitrarily lumps all opponents to the extension of slavery to Kansas under the epithets abolitionists and free-soilers. When he depicts some prominent abolitionist like Samuel Wood, Goodrich relates only violent vignettes and not the humanitarian undertakings for which Wood was renowned.

Why does Goodrich do this? Although he does not provide an interpretative introduction or conclusion, Goodrich makes a tacit point throughout his work. By stringing together block quote after block quote drawn from contemporary accounts, he paints a picture of malevolent abolitionists making war on slaveholders endeavoring simply to protect their property. …

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