Willing to Die for Freedom - Part 1
"I am willing to die for the cause of freedom in Kansas."
--David Buffum, Lawrence, 1856
All eyes were on Kansas in the 1850s.
Kansas was the flashpoint for two events that changed our nation forever--the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
Just after Kansas Territory was formed in 1854, it quickly became the center of attention. The whole nation knew that when Kansas became a state it would alter the balance of power between North and South. The territory became known as Bleeding Kansas because of violent clashes between anti- and proslavery supporters.
It was a very tense time in our nation's history.
Why was Kansas Territory the center of attention?
Because of timing and location:
Timing: A series of compromises over the extension of slavery had failed, and the nation was greatly divided. Congress agreed to let the people in Kansas Territory decide whether to be a slave or free state.
Location: Kansas Territory bordered a slave state (Missouri), and it seemed logical that slavery should extend to the new territory.
The conflict that exploded in Kansas during the 1850s was decades in the making. Over 35 years earlier, Missouri set off a firestorm of controversy when it applied to Congress to be admitted as a slave state. To resolve the debate, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise in 1820. It preserved the existing balance between slave and free states by allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine to become a free state. It also prohibited slavery above Missouri's southern boundary.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (pictured at center, left) reopened old wounds because it repealed the Missouri Compromise. It permitted the possibility of slavery in Kansas by allowing the people of the territory to decide if their new state would enter the Union as slave or free (this is known as popular sovereignty). Because Kansas bordered Missouri, a slave state, it seemed likely that slavery would extend into Kansas. People from all over the United States came to Kansas to cast their votes, and the battle began anew.
What is a territory?
It is a geographic area that is not part of any state but has its own boundaries and government. When a territory has sufficient population, it can petition to become a state.
Why create a territory?
The U.S. government creates territories to open up land for settlement and to bring legal control to those areas.
Meet the Players in Kansas Territory
Kansas Territory was created on May 30, 1854. People seeking new opportunities immediately began immigrating here. Some came for land, some came to fight for a cause, and some came for both reasons.
Farmers, land speculators, and railroad promoters looked westward for opportunity in the 1850s. The Indian country, though, lay in the way of their view of progress.
Click on the images below to discover why these people were living in Kansas in the 1850s. Continue to look for their comments throughout this online exhibit.
Willing to Die for Freedom is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Kansas Territory.
- Flashpoint - Kansas was the flashpoint for the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
- Politics - Many Americans believed Kansas would determine the future of slavery.
- Violence - The territory quickly became known as Bleeding Kansas.
- Survival - Making a home in Kansas often was difficult.
- Freedom - The name "Kansas" meant freedom to many African Americans.
- Legacy - The territorial era set the stage for both good and bad in Kansas history.
- Timeline - Outline of important events in Kansas history, with links to learn more.
- Constitutions - Kansas had four constitutions, more than any other territory.
- Voting game - Test your knowledge about who could vote legally in Kansas Territory.