America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Popular Sovereignty, Kansas Style

The early emigrants to all western territories found life hard and rough, and often violent. Among their shared experiences were Indian wars resulting from white encroachments on lands that were part of Indian reserves; lawlessness and the eccentricities of frontier justice; corruption at the government land offices; bitter conflicts over land claims and the planting of town sites; and political battles over the location of territorial capitals, transportation lines, and banking facilities. Those who settled Kansas Territory after its creation in 1854 experienced all of these trials, but much that they suffered was unique. No other territory became the object of such intense sectional rivalry, or endured the ordeal of civil war, or forced its people to choose between two rival governments, neither of which could establish its legitimacy beyond dispute. Except for the Mormon migration to Utah, no territory received as many settlers who were in some degree motivated by commitment to a cause as well as by the usual anticipation of economic opportunities. Kansas, obseed the Richmond Enquirer, was "the battleground on which the South and the enemies of the South have met and struggled for the mastery."

Radical proslavery partisans viewed the Kansas conflict almost in apocalyptic terms. " Kansas must come in as a slave state or the cause of southern rights is dead," wrote a Georgian. If the administration supported the free-state cause, he believed that Buchanan would "richly deserve death," and he hoped "some patriotic hand" would inflict it. The loss of Kansas, warned the Charleston Mercury, would soon mean the loss of Missouri as well, for it would then be nearly surrounded by free states. "Kentucky stands next, then Virginia." Antislavery Northerners agreed. "Momentous consequences for weal or for woe, hang upon the result," one of them asserted. If Kansas were won for freedom, "the honor of

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