Archive for Sunday, September 5, 2004

Kansas-Nebraska Act turned Indian lands into slavery battleground

September 5, 2004


The boldest legislative stroke leading to "Bleeding Kansas" and the Civil War occurred on May 30, 1854, when President Pierce signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

It "came about at a very tense and pivotal point in American history, where time and time again Congress and the president had tried to compromise over the issue of slavery, the biggest issue dividing the country in the mid-19th century," according to Kansas University assistant professor of history Jonathan Earle.

Beyond the issue of slavery, the act would have far reaching effects on the native peoples of Kansas.

"The impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was that that was the invitation to the abolitionists and to the pro-slavery contingents to say 'we need to move in,'" said Dan Wildcat, professor of American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Thus, with the act's passage, a foot race to eastern Kansas began between anti-slavery and pro-slavery advocates.

"People on the anti-slavery and abolitionist side are going to say, 'We have to get out there to Kansas and Nebraska and settle there,'" Earle said. "People from the pro-slavery side are going to say, 'We have to get there and carve this new land out for slavery.'"

"By politicizing migration between ideological enemies," he continued, "the Kansas-Nebraska Act started this whole process of what we call Bleeding Kansas."

Largely the work of Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska Act sought to organize the vast swath of land from north of the Indian territories all the way up to the Canadian border for American settlement.

But the act nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820-21 in which Maine was admitted into the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. It also had banned slavery in territories north of Missouri's southern border. In place of the compromise, popular sovereignty was instituted.

According to Earle, popular sovereignty meant, "Let's just let the people who got to the territory decide to vote slavery up or down. It's up to them. It's local, it's democratic, it's fair."

Both sides sought to populate the area with sympathizers to their respective causes.

"So you have Lawrence, Kansas, founded by Massachusetts abolitionists," Wildcat said, but that "there were (native) people living here before."

Wildcat said that even though it was unintended, the effects of the Kansas-Nebraska Act "may be the most devastating event for native people in Kansas."

The problem was that the act transformed lands that were promised to natives into the first battleground that led to the war over slavery in the United States, Wildcat said.

As their homelands were turned into war zones, the tragic events of the first half of the 19th century were about to culminate with the near-total removal of native peoples from eastern Kansas.

Next week in "River City Chronicles," Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War change the face of Kansas forever.

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