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Many free-state Kansans seemed to care little about slaves, and many proslavery Kansans owned not a single slave. But the failed promise of the Kansas-Nebraska Act--when fraud in local elections subverted the settlers' right to choose whether Kansas would be a slave or free state--fanned the flames of war. Nicole Etcheson seeks to revise our understanding of this era by focusing on whites' concerns over their political liberties. The first comprehensive account of "Bleeding Kansas" in more than thirty years, her study re-examines the debate over slavery expansion to emphasize issues of popular sovereignty rather than slavery's moral or economic dimensions.
The free-state movement was a coalition of settlers who favored black rights and others who wanted the territory only for whites, but all were united by the conviction that their political rights were violated by nonresident voting and by Democratic presidents' heavy-handed administration of the territories. Etcheson argues that participants on both sides of the Kansas conflict believed they fought to preserve the liberties secured by the American Revolution and that violence erupted because each side feared the loss of meaningful self-governance.
Bleeding Kansas is a gripping account of events and people-rabble-rousing Jim Lane, zealot John Brown, Sheriff Sam Jones, and others-that examines the social milieu of the settlers along with the political ideas they developed.
As Etcheson demonstrates, the struggle over the political liberties of whites may have heightened the turmoil but led eventually to a broadening of the definition of freedom to include blacks. Her insightful re-examination sheds new light on this era and is essential reading for anyone interested in the ideological origins of the Civil War.
|List of Illustrations|
|Introduction: Slaves Ourselves||1|
|1||The Triumph of Squatter Sovereignty: The Kansas-Nebraska Act||9|
|2||Freedom in the Scale: The Migration to Kansas Territory||28|
|3||All Right on the Hemp: The Territorial Legislature||50|
|4||We Are But Slaves: The Free-State Movement||69|
|5||The War Commences in Earnest: Bleeding Kansas||89|
|6||We Fight to Free White Men: The Guerrilla War of 1856||113|
|7||Imposing a Constitution Against Their Will: The Lecompton Constitution||139|
|8||The Language of a Freeman: The English Compromise||168|
|9||A Fruit of the Kansas Tree: The Harpers Ferry Raid||190|
|10||I Am Here for Revenge: The National Civil War||219|
|Conclusion: The Sacredness of Her Soil for the Cause of Freedom||247|
Posted November 2, 2009
"Bleeding Kansas", 150 years after the event this phrase still causes strong feelings. Very few are neutral on Kansas even now. In trying to solve the question of slavery expanding into the territories, Congress left it to the settlers allowing Congress to maintain a fragile peace on the national level. On the Kansas Missouri border, this policy caused the Civil War come early and stay late. Popular Sovereignty pictured peaceful elections decided by local voters in a spirit of good fellowship and respect. Popular Sovereignty was stuffing the ballot box, intimidation, murder and small battles between "settlers" imported by both sides. Immigrant Aid Societies, Breecher's Bibles, Red Legs and Jayhawkers all entered our vocabulary. Jim Lane and John Brown become national figures. William Quantrill, Cole Younger and Frank James all start their travels in Kansas. While we have names and strong feelings on "Bleeding Kansas" or "The Troubles" as Missourians called this time, most of us do not have a good grasp of the events.
Nicole Etcheson fills this void. She manages to keep national politics, regional responses, local politics and the fighting in perspective without overwhelming the reader. With her sure narration, we walk the halls of Congress, sit in meetings at the White House, raise money for immigrant aid, ride with John Brown or just try to get a crop in. Along the way, she refuses to take side! The author uses each side's ideas and justifications for their actions without moralizing or condemning. This gives us a real insight into the thinking of Missourians crossing the border to vote in elections. While helping us to understand the actions of the New Englanders that contributed thousands of dollars to resettle "free soil" families while buying rifles. Neither side is completely right or wrong. Anti-slavery farmers are no less raciest than slave owners nor are they more likely to aid runaway slaves. This history of several political movements, a failing national policy, a shooting war and political double-dealing upsetting even by contemporary standards. A strong story line is the change in racial attitudes of the free soil movement. They move from a standard raciest set of laws to a state that almost welcomed Black settlers.
The book is never boring and all of the threads are easy to follow. A very enjoyable read, informative and leaves us with a balanced understanding of Bleeding Kansas. While detailed, the author manages to keep moving and never bogs down on a single point. The portraits of the participants, while often unflattering, are always honest. The illustrations are well chosen and in the right place. The footnotes are informative and have a page reference making them easy to find. The bibliography is excellent with more books on the subject than I would ever wish to read.
This is a book that all students of the Civil War need to read and is a required read for those interested in the Trans-Mississippi.
Posted August 22, 2009
No text was provided for this review.