The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had created the Territory of Kansas and allowed its settlers to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. This was highly controversial because it could have not only expanded slavery westward but also introduced it north of the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees, 30 minutes. This notion of “popular sovereignty” sparked a rush of pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans into Kansas to influence (and sometimes rig) elections.
At one time, Kansas had competing pro-slavery and anti-slavery governments in Lecompton and Topeka. Elections were corrupted by fraud, intimidation, and violence. Radical abolitionist John Brown had become notorious for murdering pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek, and the warring factions terrorized various towns. This earned the territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”
President James Buchanan had offered Kansans 23 million acres of Federal land to accept the pro-slavery Lecompton government, but voters rejected this offer by a margin of nearly seven-to-one. In the vote for statehood this month, Kansans voted overwhelmingly in favor of making Kansas a state under the Wyandotte Constitution, which prohibited slavery, granted property rights to women, and granted voting rights to white men only.
When the bill for Kansas statehood reached Capitol Hill, senators from southern states that had not yet seceded tried to delay its passage to avoid adding further insult to the South. But Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois disagreed, declaring, “I do think we ought to admit Kansas promptly, without further delay, or further obstacles. We have had enough controversies about Kansas.”
Republicans hurried the vote in hopes that Kansas would send Republican representation to Washington before the congressional session ended on March 4. By this time, Republicans had become the dominant voice in Congress due to the withdrawal of congressmen from South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana. On the 29th, after nearly seven years of turmoil, chaos, and anguish, President Buchanan signed the Kansas Statehood Act into law, finally making Kansas a part of the Union as the 34th state.
- Castel, Albert (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.