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The history of the mason Dixon line, and its traditional role of dividing North and South of this country.

This specifically refers to Bleeding Kansas and gives a little more background on the history.

More on Bleeding Kansas this one even has some African American history in the form of early fighting units during the civil war that followed Bleeding Kansas



To the Stars through Difficulty: Kansas Bleeds During the 1850s


The Trekkers pose with John Brown
John Brown may seem like a plain name, but he was no ordinary guy. He was a vigilante, someone who takes the law into his/her own hands, who became famous for the way he fought against slavery. On the night of May 24, 1856, John Brown led a group of men on a killing spree, murdering five pro-slavery men in the middle of the night.

Usually, people who commit murder are punished. But in this case, the man behind the massacre was memorialized with a statue!

During the 1850s, a lot of fighting took place in Kansas, and it became known as "Bleeding Kansas". John Brown's Pottawatomie Massacre was one of the events that earned Kansas that name.

Let me explain: in 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery north of Missouri, at the 36-degree, 30-latitude line, and allowed Maine and Missouri into the Union.

fter the Missouri Compromise, the country was evenly split between free and slave states
But in 1854, Senator Douglas of Illinois wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This let people settle west of Missouri and said that people living in Kansas and Nebraska would vote on whether they should allow slavery.

But wait a second! Kansas and Nebraska are north of the Missouri boundary. And -- remember -- in 1820, the Missouri Compromise said that everything north of Missouri would be free. Senator Douglas conveniently ignored this, and soon the Kansas-Nebraska bill became a law.

Er... is this 1850s looking guy missing something?
NO WAY! That's like if your school announces that students can wear sneakers, but sends you to detention when you show up sporting your Nikes. It's not fair!!

It made slavery legal in land that had been promised as free, and that made abolitionists, including John Brown, angry.

So the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed settlers themselves to decide whether slavery would be allowed there. Can you guess what happened next? People from all over the country moved to Kansas, so they could vote on the issue!


The US Trek is not just about history!

Most of the Northerners moved to Lawrence, which was close to the border. People called Lawrence "Yankee Town" because there were so many Easterners there. But the Missourians had other plans. They were determined to make Kansas a slave state. Bands of them, known as "Ruffians," rigged local elections and attacked Lawrence several times to intimidate the abolitionists.

Daphne checks out present-day Lawrence
One of these attacks happened on May 21, 1856. Over 400 Ruffians invaded Lawrence, burning and looting the town. So three days later, John Brown and his gang went and killed five men to get revenge.

Although in my mind no killing is ever justified, it's hard to say John Brown was wrong. He and others felt betrayed by their country and its politicians. But there were also many abolitionists who managed to work very hard against slavery, without killing anybody.

The fighting continued, but eventually the people of Kansas voted to be a free state with the motto "To the Stars through Difficulty".

Three months later, the Civil War began.

What role do you think Kansas played in starting the war? How might things have been different if the Kansas-Nebraska Act hadn't passed? As I traveled through Kansas, I kept asking myself, "What if...?" After reading this article, I hope you do too.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Dred Scott: "a simple man who wanted to be free"
Neda - Mozart vs. Jay-Z and other reasons people go to war
Daphne - Abraham Lincoln: A log cabin boy wonder!