Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858

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Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Kansas Territory was a national issue that dominated America's press, not to mention three sessions of Congress. Hundreds of thousands of articles and editorials—4,500 in the New York Herald alone—were published about Bleeding Kansas during those four tumultuous years leading up to the Lecompton Constitution. Craig Miner now offers the first in-depth study of national media coverage devoted to the beleaguered territory, unearthing new examples of what Americans were saying about Kansas and showing how those words affected the course of national events.

Miner draws on dozens of newspapers and magazines from all parts of the country and of all political persuasions: a trove of rich quotations and unvarnished epithets, nearly all of them published here for the first time. He reveals how the heated, polarizing rhetoric widened the sectional rift, weakened chances of accommodation, and contributed more to the onset of civil war than has been previously recognized.

Miner shows what a tremendous obsession Kansas was for the nation-a whipping boy for sectional and political emotions-and how thoroughly it dominated the press in cities large and small, North and South. He argues convincingly that the endless, seemingly fruitless debate was important more because of the way events were discussed than because of the significance of the events themselves and that it contributed to the cynicism that made war inevitable-for some, even desirable. Along the way, he addresses such topics as the vagaries of voting as a democratic solution to moral divisions, the Kansas issue as a religious debate, the media creation of martyrs, and Kansas governors as examples of leadership, for good or ill.

After reading Seeding Civil War, Kansans will never be able to regard Lawrence and Lecompton the same way again, while national readers will gain surprising insights about their own towns during this critical time—and experience firsthand the unfolding of a national disaster.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616121
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/14/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Craig Miner, the "dean of Kansas history," is Willard Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University and author of West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas; Kansas: The History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000; and, most recently, Next Year Country: Dust to Dust in Western Kansas.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: This Far-Famed Land

1. Manufacturing Opinion

2. The All-Absorbing Question

3. Vox Populi

4. First Pure, Then Peaceable

5. Martyrology

6. A Serpent at Heart

7. The Graveyard of Governors

8. Lecompton

Conclusion: The Fires Go Out




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  • Posted December 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Did you see the paper?

    "Bleeding Kansas" stirs the blood and invokes images from our national memory over 150 years after the event. One of the first violent national confrontations on the road to war, Kansas occupies a special and unique place in the history of Nineteenth Century America. It was here that the theory of popular sovereignty received a field test. Kansas galvanized America, occupying its' attention for many years, creating heroes and villains a plenty. How an area remote from population centers came to be the center of attention is the subject of this book.
    This is not a history of "the troubles". This is not an agenda heavy tome where the howling orcs set upon the peaceful hobbits. The reader will find an excellent history with orcs and hobbits depicted complete to blood dripping from claws and fangs. Just which side is the orcs and which is the hobbits depends on the newspaper we are reading.
    This book looks at "Bleeding Kansas" in the words of the time. We look at what America "saw" in terms of coverage on Kansas. The story is not so much the event as the reporting of the event. The author couples this reporting with a solid narration of events and reference to our historical understanding of these events. What is in the papers, our understanding of the event and what history shows to be true make for fascinating reading. What is in the papers varies depending on location and politics. This is the age of partisan newspapers with no suggestion of balance. People bought your newspaper expecting to agree with your editorials and wanted the news to agree with their positions. Editors did not disappoint their readers. Strongly worded is an understatement. North or South, Wig, Democrat or Republican newspapers take the proper position and report events accordingly. The author skillfully moves from one position to another providing as balanced look at an event as possible. The book reflects the Northeast newspaper's domination of the news and reporting. However, the author avoids taking their positions and is careful to provide coverage from Southern papers.
    In addition to the newspaper accounts, the author provides a historical perspective from his knowledge and the ideas of others. The result is a readable, thought provoking book. We watch the developing positions, the hardening of attitudes and the demonizing of the other side as it occurs. This is not a pretty picture but provides food for thought about what happens when all accommodation and restraint is lost.
    This is an invaluable book for students of event leading to the Civil War, students of Bleeding Kansas and anyone interested in the role of the press in national events. The author writes well demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the subject. While reporting of the events is the major focus, the book is an excellent history of events large and small during this time. Many of the author's observations will surprise and amuse readers. Who is important and who is obscure in the 1850s and today is not what you might expect. This is not an exciting read but it is a rewarding one.

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