To the Stars through Difficulty
John Doyle was the first on their list. They shot him in the forehead with a revolver, late in the evening of May 24. Then, using their sharp-edged swords, they hacked Doyle's two sons to pieces. Next, the group of seven went to the home of Allen Wilkinson, ordered him outside, and then slaughtered him with a sword. They murdered William Sherman last, down by the Pottawatomie Creek, in the early hours of the following morning. The US Trek is not just about history!
John Doyle was the first on their list. They shot him in the forehead with a revolver, late in the evening of May 24. Then, using their sharp-edged swords, they hacked Doyle's two sons to pieces. Next, the group of seven went to the home of Allen Wilkinson, ordered him outside, and then slaughtered him with a sword. They murdered William Sherman last, down by the Pottawatomie Creek, in the early hours of the following morning.
The US Trek is not just about history!
His name was John Brown, and the year was 1856. He and six other men, including four of his sons, acted in the name of the abolitionist cause. They murdered five men who had declared themselves to be proslavery. Allen Wilkinson didn't own any slaves. Neither did William Sherman. In fact, none of the men killed between the late night and early morning of May 24 and 25, 1856, were slave owners. But because they had registered as proslavery voters in the territory of Kansas, they became part of a larger struggle that ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Let me explain: in 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise to settle the debate over slavery in the Louisiana Purchase area. The plan maintained the balance of power between free and slave states, at least temporarily, by admitting Maine into the Union as a free state and authorizing Missouri to form a state constitution. Later, Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and the US was made up of 24 states - 12 free states and 12 slave states. The Missouri Compromise also banned slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri, at the 36° 30,-latitude line.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 is a prime example of politicians selling out to benefit themselves. It made slavery legally possible in a vast new area, even though that area had been promised as free. It made many abolitionists, including John Brown, angry. And it led to much violence and bloodshed, years before the Civil War officially started.
So, in essence, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed settlers themselves to decide the fate of slavery in the new territories. Guess what happened next? Abolitionists and proslavery activists from all over the country moved to Kansas, so they could vote on the issue. That same year, abolitionists from Boston started the "New England Emigrant Aid Company" to assist in moving people out west. In the span of a few short months, Kansas had become a cause!
Upon final passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Congress, Senator Seward (a northerner) proclaimed, "Come on then, Gentlemen of the slave states; since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it on behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers, as it is in the right."
As Northerners moved to Kansas, they settled in Lawrence, a town less than 50 miles west of the Missouri border. Lawrence became known as "Yankee Town" because it was mainly populated by Yankees intent on making Kansas a free state. The Missourians, however, had other plans. They were as determined as the Yankees, but they wanted to make Kansas a slave state. Bands of them, known as "Ruffians," started to cross the border to intimidate the abolitionists. They rode with arms, rigged local elections and attacked Lawrence several times.
Although in my mind, no killing is ever justified, it's hard to make a clear indictment on John Brown. He and others felt betrayed by their country and its politicians. They acted out of frustration for a system that protected the very institution they worked so hard to abolish - slavery.
Every story has at least two sides. Some people may feel John Brown escalated the violence and generated as much hatred as sympathy. Others may think he was a brave man who fought - and gave his life - for a cause. Still others could point to abolitionists who worked just as hard against slavery, without having to resort to violence. Indeed, even after John Brown left Kansas, abolitionists, who had moved to Lawrence and the rest of the territory, continued to fight for the creation of a free state. They endured another siege of their city, more skirmishes with the Ruffians, and more violence, until, on January 29, 1861, the citizens of Kansas entered the Union as a free state with the motto "Ad Astra Per Aspera" - To the Stars through Difficulty.
Three months later, the Civil War began.
What role do you think the events in Kansas played in starting the war? How might things have been different if the Kansas-Nebraska Act hadn't passed Congress? As I traveled through Kansas, I kept asking myself, "What if…?" After reading this article, I hope you do too.
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