Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era

Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era

by Nicole Etcheson

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Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era by Nicole Etcheson

Few people would have expected bloodshed in Kansas Territory. After all, it had few slaves and showed few signs that slavery would even flourish. But civil war tore this territory apart in the 1850s and 60s, and "Bleeding Kansas" became a forbidding symbol for the nationwide clash over slavery that followed. 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. While other writers have cited slavery or economics as the cause of unrest, 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. Covering the period from the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to the 1879 Exoduster Migration, it traces the complex interactions among groups inside and outside the territory, creating a comprehensive political, social, and intellectual history of this tumultuous period in the state's history. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780700614929
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Publication date: 01/29/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 828,506
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations Preface Introduction: Slaves Ourselves 1. The Triumph of Squatter Sovereignty: The Kansas-Nebraska Act 2. Freedom in the Scale: The Migration to Kansas Territory 3. All Right on the Hump: The Territorial Legislature 4. We Are But Slaves: The Free-State Movement 5. The War Commences in Earnest: Bleeding Kansas 6. We Fight to Free White Men: The Guerrilla War of 1856 7. Imposing a Constitution against Their Will: The Lecompton Constitution 8. The Language of a Freeman: The English Compromise 9. A Fruit of the Kansas Tree: The Harpers Ferry Raid 10. I Am Here for Revenge: The National Civil War Conclusion: The Sacredness of Her Soil in the Cause for Freedom Notes Bibliography Index

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Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Etcheson has provided readers academic level research couched in a pleasant, narrative-style writing, offering both scholars and the general public an enjoyable and strong study of the struggle over Kansas territory. Her work is not exhaustive, nor does it fully appreciate the personalities and work of some of the most important figures of the era. It cannot stand as the end-all publication on the Kansas conflict. Some may complain that certain details were omitted or downplayed, and this reviewer may agree with that critique on a few points. However, any excessive criticism on this point is due to one's own interests or bias rather than any legitimate weakness, or 'left-wing, academic propaganda,' within the book. Given that her intention is to provide a look at the ideologies and interests of the people involved, her treatment of most individuals and events appears solid. The real strength of the book lies within her discussion of what the conflict was all about. The book's introduction is a masterful summary of the ideological divide in the territorial conflict, and that section alone could serve as a fine article for an undergraduate class---or for any person interested in reviewing some important issues regarding sectionalism and the impending civil war. As Etcheson points out, 'Bleeding Kansas would seem to be an absurdity. Why was blood shed over slavery in a place where few thought the institution could go and where so few slaves actually went?' (p. 6) Another seeming irony includes the common anti-black sentiments among northern, antislavery settlers. This attitude, particularly among settlers from the midwest, led to the push for the 'black law' in Kansas, which prohibited any black person from entering the territory. The reasons behind these issues are carefully explained and developed by Etcheson -- it comes down to what slavery in the territories meant to white northerners and what it meant to white southerners, socially, politically and ideologically. Overall, I highly recommend this book to people interested in the Civil War and specifically the Kansas conflict. Her work has generally been well-received by experts in the field and actual academic reviewers (particularly those professional enough to spell her name correctly).
James_Durney More than 1 year ago
"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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a long-time book reviewer in an academic journal, I found Etchison¿s book about as superficial as it is possible to be. In her account, the abolitionists of Kansas Territory are as meek as lambs, not the people who worked shoulder to shoulder with John Brown, the maniac. Etchison lies by omission in her book by bragging that she is comprehensive in her treatment of the era and failing to mention the attempt by twenty-two treasonous Kansas abolitionists to break John Brown out of prison after Harpers Ferry. She never mentions that the Missouri guerrillas were from elite, middle-class to upper-class backgrounds. As usual, it wasn¿t worth mentioning. She never emphasizes that the fanatical abolitionists refused to obey the law of the land, but were guided by a ¿higher law¿ that allowed for murder, arson, theft, and a variety of other evils. Etchison fails to mention that a number of the worst scoundrels of the Border War period held high political offices after the Civil War: for instance, George Hoyt, who was the field leader of the Red Legs, as brutal a group of men ever to trod the state of Kansas, and Charles Jennison, the man who destroyed western Missouri early in the Civil War, including Osceola, Morristown, Dayton, Columbus, Papinsville, Westpoint, and Butler, Missouri, also not worth mentioning by Etchison. She also recognizes nothing wrong with the brutal extermination policy conducted in Missouri by the Union Army during the Civil War that drove some of the guerrillas insane through the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder. Etchison is ¿puddle deep¿ on the Border War and the reason most thinking people believe the current Border War histories seldom rise above left-wing, academic propaganda. This is a thoroughly worthless, biased, unbalanced book in my estimation.