Bleeding Kansas – Part 1: Historical Timeline – Events Leading to “Bleeding Kansas”

The following article by my good friend, William Dollarhide:

“Bleeding Kansas” is a reference to the bloody battles that took place in Kansas Territory from its founding in 1854 to statehood in 1861. Kansas Territory was a pre-Civil War battlefield between the Pro-Slavery and Free-Stater forces. The significant events leading up to Bleeding Kansas start with an American Congress dealing with the issue of slavery. From the initial founding of the United States until the first shots of the Civil War in 1861, the slavery issue was a huge dividing force in America. Extracted partially from Dollarhide’s book, Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era, here is a timeline of the Pro-Slave vs Free-Stater votes in Congress beginning in 1790:

1790. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 recognized the original thirteen states as the United States of America. There were six southern states where slavery was officially recognized as legal. Seven states north of the Mason-Dixon Line had very few slaves but de facto slavery still existed. The 1790 census included the 14th state of Vermont (with a census day of 1 April 1791). Vermont was the first state with a constitution that forbid slavery. In the US Senate (with two senators from each state), there were now six slave states south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and eight states north of there. In the US House, the representation was based on population, and the larger slave populations in the southern states offset the advantage of the northern states, and the votes in the House remained very near equal. (The House vote was to remain equal or closely divided until well after 1850).

1800. After admitting the two Pro-Slave states of Kentucky (1792) and Tennessee (1796), the Senate was equally balanced with eight states south of the Mason-Dixon Line and eight states north of there.

1810. The states north of the Mason-Dixon Line now all had laws officially forbidding slavery. Ohio entered the Union in 1803 as a free state, tipping the balance to eight slave states vs nine free states.

1820. Indiana (1816) and Illinois (1818) joined the Union as free states; while Louisiana (1812) , Mississippi (1817), and Alabama (1819) were admitted as slave states, and the Senate was balanced again, with eleven free states vs eleven slave states.

1830. The “Missouri Compromise of 1820” in Congress allowed Missouri (1821) to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine (1820) as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress at twelve free and twelve slave states. Although Missouri became a slave state, the remainder of the old Missouri Territory areas north of Latitude 36° 30,’ including present Kansas, were supposed to be forever free of slavery.

1840. The admission of the free state of Michigan (1836) and the slave state of Arkansas (1837), continued the balance, with thirteen free states and thirteen slave states.

1850. With the admission of the slave states of Florida and Texas in 1845, and the free states of Iowa (1846), Wisconsin (1848), and California (1850), the new total came to sixteen free states and fifteen slave states. As it turned out, Texas was the last slave state to enter the Union, and the balance of power began to shift towards the North even more. One of the last ditch stands by the southern states in Congress was the “Compromise of 1850,” which specified that any new territories formed thereafter were to choose whether they would be free states or slave states. Previously, that decision had always been made by a vote in Congress.

1854-1859. On May 30, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed Congress and the territories of Kansas and Nebraska were organized. As first specified in the “Compromise of 1850,” this 1854 Organic Act provided that after a vote of its people, any proposed state constitution submitted to Congress should have a provision permitting or forbidding slavery. As such, the Act served to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had prohibited slavery north of Latitude 36°30.´ Nebraska Territory was seen as a free-state shoo-in, with many of its first settlers coming from the existing free state of Iowa and other northern free states. Kansas Territory, however, was just west of the slave state of Missouri, and was seen by many southerners as a potential slave state. When Kansas Territory was officially opened to settlement in 1854, pro-slavery settlers from neighboring Missouri rushed to the new territory. But, abolitionist Free-Staters from New England marshalled their forces and sent settlers to Kansas Territory as well. The area was to become the scene of violence and chaos in its early days as the Pro-Slave and Anti-Slave forces battled, and became known as Bleeding Kansas. Annual censuses taken by Kansas Territory, 1855-1859, asked questions about a voter’s preference on the slavery issue: whether for, against, or without an opinion. The early census results were challenged for their accuracy, since thousands of non-residents invaded the territory just to be included in a census tally. In the territory’s first year, pro-slavery voters dominated the towns. During that time, there were three territorial capitals: Pawnee, Shawnee Mission, and Fort Leavenworth. From 1855 to 1861, the final territorial capital was the town of Lecompton.

✓ NOTE: Territorial Kansas Timeline, 1854-1861, is a webpage sponsored by the Kansas Historical Society. The Timeline gives a year-by-year look at the events and battles of Bleeding Kansas, when the fight for statehood was between Free-Staters and Pro-Slavery advocates. See

1857-1859. Under the provisions of the 1854 Organic Act, Kansas Territory submitted four proposed state constitutions to Congress. The second, and most controversial constitution is referred to historically as the “Lecompton Constitution of 1857” and would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. The proposed Lecompton Constitution was submitted to Congress for approval in 1858 and became part of the intense national debate on the slavery issue. The Lecompton Constitution was a main subject of the famous Abraham Lincoln vs Stephen Douglas debates held in Illinois in 1858. Congress rejected the Lecompton Constitution, and Kansas Territory did not become a state until a new territorial legislature was elected; and after the fourth (Wyandotte Constitution) was submitted to Congress in 1859.

1860. With the addition of the free states of Minnesota (1858) and Oregon (1859), the imbalance increased to eighteen free states vs fifteen slave states. In November 1860, the new Republican Party elected its first President in Abraham Lincoln, along with a slim majority in Congress. By the end of 1860, the first successions of southern states from the Union began, and the Confederate States of America was founded soon after.

1861. Jan 29th. Kansas entered the Union as the 34th state with the same boundaries as today. Between 1854 and 1861, Kansas Territory had seen several proposed state constitutions and several territorial censuses, as well as an official congressional investigation into voting frauds and the accuracy of the censuses. But, after considerable effort, the free-state advocates won out. Kansas entered the Union as a free state, and its votes opposed to slavery now contributed to a new majority in Congress. Soon after statehood, Topeka become the capital of the state of Kansas. Less than four months after Kansas statehood, the first shots of the Civil War were fired April 12, 1861.

Coming soon: Bleeding Kansas-Part 2: Genealogical Resources from the Era of Kansas Territory, 1854-1861.

Further reading:
Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era, by William Dollarhide
Kansas Name Lists: Online and Published Censuses and Substitutes, 1854-2012, by William Dollarhide

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