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Do you think Kansas’ role in the Civil War is overlooked?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on May 29, 2005

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Photo of John Russell

“I guess it is, because I didn’t read about it. I went to school in Texas and I don’t remember hearing anything about Kansas and the Civil War.”

Photo of Lisa Shipman

“Yes. I didn’t learn anything about Kansas when I studied the Civil War in school, but I picked up a bit of the history visiting historical sites.”

Photo of Elsie Wickliffe

“Probably, because Kansas was at the center of the conflict and could have gone either way, but managed to remain a free state.”

Photo of Michael Lawrence

“Yes, because we are looked upon as a neutral state, and I think the fact that Mass. Street burned to the ground proves otherwise. I think historians focus too much on what was happening on the coast.”


penguin 12 years, 8 months ago

this must be a east Kansas problem. I know that in school we learned a lot about bleeding Kansas. However I am from Western Kansas. So I can say that in my school experience we did have a good deal of Kansas history during the Civil War. There used to be Kansas History classes taught at most of the high schools (at least out west) until the mid-1990s.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

If we'd actually had a "Civil War", Kansas may have had a role. But the Confederates were not fighting for control of the northern territory during the War Between the States, so it was not a civil war. It might properly be called the War for Southern Independence, or, for the more provocative, the War of Northern Aggression, but not by the title the history writers of the winning side have convinced us to call it.

Regarding Kansas' role in the intracontinental conflict of the 1860s (whatever one chooses to call it), I do think it is overlooked. Most history teaching (that I've seen at least) tends to focus on military conflict in the east or along the border between the two sides. "Bleeding Kansas" was a pre-game warm-up, as it were, to the main conflict. I think it should be an integral part of any study of that war.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 8 months ago

Fangorn: You put WAY too much thought into this stuff. Please tell me you didn't actually sit around and think about the inappropriate use of the term "civil war". That's kind of like the person yesterday who got so wound-up because somebody said they longed for the days of Mayberry. Whoever that was - they weren't referring to Jim Crow laws, etc. They were talking about traffic! Geez...lighten up.

I didn't even know Kansas really played a role in the Civil War until I moved to Lawrence. So, yeah, I think it's overlooked.

lunacydetector 12 years, 8 months ago

in a 500 page 'history of the civil war' book, quantrill & kansas gets a paragraph. perhaps locally, kansas' involvement in the civil war is WAY overblown. how many kansans died in the civil war anyway?

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps the Kansas involvement is a bit underappreciated. I'm not sure about the rest of the K-12 schools out there, but in eighth grade we had a "Kansas History" class that was teeming with every possible historical distinguishment that the teachers and text authors could come up with. Needless to say, the book wasn't that thick - about half of the Lawrence Yellow Pages.

As long as we celebrate our mark on That Event, who cares if it's in the big fatty textbooks?

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

Fangorn, you are right on. It really was a war over obeying the Constitution. The north didn't want to obey the Constitution, and the south did. The north looked at it as a 'living, breathing, changable document'. The north also wanted to say how those changes would be interpreted in order to favor the unconstitutional changes that they wanted. Remember, the original Constitution is the "authority" of and over the United States government. Therefore the north and the federal government was in rebellion against God and the Constitution. (Just what we have today). It was a war of the north invading the south which also was an economic issue. The south was not the rebel here, the north exercising unconstitutional laws was really in rebellion against it's authority which is the Constitution and God, while the south legally established a legal separation from the Union. (Technically, a divorce when a relationship goes bad or until the other party shapes up). Kansas just had a small involvement back then because it was barely settled.

Mari Aubuchon 12 years, 8 months ago

Of the 30,000 Kansans eligible to serve in the U.S. Army, over 20,000 joined. This was one of the highest percentages among Union states, and Kansas suffered the highest mortality rate of all the states in the Civil War. Most Kansans serving were whites, but Kansas was the first state to raise a black regiment and also had regiments composed mostly of Native Americans.

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if those that supported the union's rebellion against the Constitution, would still do it today if they truly understood what they were fighting for? Had they known that the 14th amendment would not truly free them and elevate the status of black slaves but rather lower the status of their fellow whites and other minorities to the slave status of the blacks to the federal government. Then the 16th amendment would enslave all people to a rebellious federal government financially. Geroge Washington said that if you don't have the ability to withhold payment from a government, you have become a slave of the same. We know that paying your taxes is voluntary, but you will go to jail if you try to exercise that choice to withhold payment, black, white or otherwise. So we can now conclude all are under financial and physical slavery today, while they tell us that we are free.

Huckleberry 12 years, 8 months ago

wasn't the first battle of the civil war somewhere between Baldwin and Lawrence?

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 8 months ago've just been drooling for a question like this, haven't you? You know, every day you come on and say something about how we are not free, etc. Funny thing is - I feel free. I can pretty much do as I please. Yes, I have to pay taxes in order to contribute to the society that we all benefit from but I don't see that as financial slavery. Yes, the police enforce the laws that have been set forth but, without that, we'd have nutballs running all over the place doing things they shouldn't, because they think the Constitution tells them they can. Personally, I like living in America but it doesn't seem like you do.

Oh, I almost forgot. The Constitution IS a changeable document. That's what the forefather's wanted because, in their infinite wisdom, they knew that they didn't know everything. They knew that things would come up that they couldn't foresee and they wanted to leave ways to deal with those things.

ms_canada 12 years, 8 months ago

lunacy - Lawrence ought to have a commemorative service of some sort at your War Memorial (if you have one) on Aug. 21 to remember the 182 men and boys butchered in the raid by Quantrill and his 450 pro-slavery followers on that day in 1863. You think?

ms_canada 12 years, 8 months ago

Now I am confused. I always thought that a civil war was one fought "between geographical sections or political factions of the same nation" (Websters New World dict.) Pres. Abraham Lincoln, in his address at Getysburg in the second paragraph, said, "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure." Can anyone enlighten us (me)with an example of a true civil war, if the war of 1861 - 1865 be not one.

1derer 12 years, 8 months ago

Liberty: Have you ever traveled outside the US for any period of time? Ever really studied the governments and cultures around the world? If so, what did you find more to your liking than the US? If not, try it. We may not be the perfect system, but I haven't found another government with a perfect system either. But we are better off than a large number of countries, and we are striving to make improvements.

One thing we are truly free to do, and that is to leave if we choose, not all world citizens can make the same claim. Constantly tearing down the government does not improve the system. I am not a person who says love it or leave it, I do say help fix it or quit complaining.

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes, other governments are worse, but that is not a valid excuse to not point out that the people in our country are asleep and are on a rapid trip down the toilet and most don't know it and are sound asleep firmly on the plantation. The purpose is not to tear down our country, but to confront what is wrong and approve what is right and then build back up our country but in a righteous way. We shouldn't keep making excuses why we are doing evil, by the cover that other countries are doing worse, we should come clean and confess what we are doing that is wrong and fix it. Not ignore it by comparing to other countries that are practicing more evil to excuse our own. If our country is to be great, it will have to follow this process or end up like all the others. Read the Declaration of Independence. You will find it refreshing and know that this is your duty.

1derer 12 years, 8 months ago

So, Massa Liberty, we are all to acknowledge that the south was good, the north was evil, and those who do not believe that are asleep on the plantation? (smells more than a little CSA to me) and I still have not heard what governmental actions you approve of as right, just what you are confronting as wrong.

That was a lame excuse for a quote attributed to George Washington, you gotta give us more than that. When, where and in what context was that said?

Ceallach 12 years, 8 months ago

I do think the role Kansas played in the (here I'm going with Abe Lincoln and ms_canada :) Civil War has been overlooked in the sense that it is usually depicted as one or two incidents that happened on the "fringe" of the real battles. However, I have been in Kansas a long time and I find that this part of the country is often overlooked or considered a vast waste land both geographically and culturally, so I don't really get upset about it.

Kansas history is emphasized in the Lawrence school system, at least it was when I last had a child there. I'm sure many other areas of the country have also been overlooked as well. Americans like epic movies and epic battles.

Remember when KC was playing St. Louis for the World Series? Seemed to me that sports casters and national television stations took a very ho-hum approach to coverage and commentaries. If it isn't on one of the coasts, how important can it be?

Chris Bohling 12 years, 8 months ago

To the question: Though Kansas's role in the civil war may be overlooked in some history courses, my AP history book covered it in depth (like 10 pages of material about it).

To the debate: Firstly, the constitution itself is an example of how government can and must change over time. The Constitutional Convention of 1887 convened specifically because the articles of the confederation - written by many of the same people that later wrote the constitution - didn't work in the post-revolution era.

Secondly, the reluctance with which many leaders signed the constitution shows that they happily would have seen it change. Franklin himself said that he only signed the document despite its flaws because it was the best they could come up with at the time, and American leaders needed something to agree upon, or the convention would fall apart. Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and many others opposed it entirely. Therefore, taking it as immutable law is foolish and against the founder's intent.

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

Yes Chell, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and many others opposed it not entirely, but mainly due to the issue of slavery. They could have taken it out but some of the south AND north would not allow it. The north was making a lot of money off of slave trade since most slaves were brought in through New York harbor and taken south. So change was taken a step at a time because of the financial impact. Freedom from slavery is a good and worthy change, worthy of amending since it was considered in the beginning and freedom is what it is all about since that is why government exists (to protect our freedoms and defend our nation).

The kind of change that is not good is what they did after the 'civil war'. They made it look like to the people that they have fixed the problem of slavery, when all polititians did was take them off of one plantation and place them on another along with everyone else, making all under slavery this time. This was the 14th amendment. It makes you the property of the US government being a US Citizen instead of a State Citizen of say Kansas. Instead of Constitutional Rights, they have tried to replace them with "civil liberties" under the 14th amendment so you won't get too upset too soon. Those are privileges granted by Congress to you that they say they can control because the government grants them (they are your god now). Go ahead and take a look at Senator Brownback's web site. It only speaks of "civil liberties". Never Constitutional Rights. They also swapped the 13th amendment to say something else during the civil war. The 13th amendment that exists today is not the one that was being considered during the civil war. Do an internet search on the 'missing 13th amendment'.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

OK, I stirred the pot then got too busy to check to see how the soup was boiling. Fortunately it's Sunday and there aren't 120 posts to read through, so I'll try to respond to a few of the remarks/questions.

HKP: Yes, I do put a lot of thought into these questions and many other issues as well, some of which intersect the topics discussed here. You're probably right that sometimes it's "too much" thought, but what a conflict is called can have a lasting effect on how it is viewed.

Calling this war a "civil war" fundamentally distorts the nature of the war and what it was about. If we insist on calling this the Civil War, then we should be consistent and call it the Second American Civil War. The war that "dissolved the political bands which connected" us to England in the late-eighteenth century should then be called the First American Civil War, since it was fought for the same reasons as the conflict four score and seven years later: the political independence of one group of people from another.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

Ms_canada: Regarding how Webster defines "civil war", I reiterate the point above that what is usually called the American Revolutionary War would fit that same definition. Since we were English colonies, it was fought between "political factions of the same nation". But the real point was, we were fighting to establish ourselves as a separate nation, just as the Confederate States were fighting to become a separate nation.

I read a really interesting article by Joseph Sobran recently on the topic of this war, slavery, and limited constitutional government. Several states ratified the Constitution with the express condition that they could withdraw from the Union if it was in their interest to so do (i.e. they retained the rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence). He makes a fascinating point about the first secessionists (hint: they weren't from the South). It's worth the time to read.

ms_canada 12 years, 8 months ago

fangorn - I see your point. I think I understand what you are saying. You, I think, are saying that all wars are different. I may be wrong but when we here in north America talk about "The Civil War", we think immediately of the 1861-65 war, and we tend to lump wars together in the same category, to some extent. Which we should not really do. Each war is distinct and has it's own characteristics, if war can be said to have characteristics. And never cease to put 'too much thought' into anything. Too many people put no thought at all into serious matters of life. I was thinking about the question I asked earlier about an example of a civil war. I thought of the Russian Revolution and the conflict between the Red and The White factions. I think that can truly be called a civil war. What do you think?

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

HKP: Sorry about the split post, I'm trying to avoid making "mega-posts" by addressing points individually.

You are correct that the Constitution is a changeable document. However, the process for such change is spelled out in some detail in Article V. The problem is, we are not following this process. The "changes" that have taken place have been due to drift in, or sometimes outright corruption of, our language. The purpose or intention of an article or amendment in our Constitution doesn't change simply because some of the words used therein have taken on new shades of meaning over the years. Another way illegitimate change in our Constitution has taken place is through judges who ignore or pervert the clear original meaning of clauses and amendments and instead find new meanings (hidden for centuries!) in Blackmun's "emanations and penumbras". I guess only they have the special magic glasses or "Justice Friends" decoder rings needed to see these hidden rights and meanings.

Fangorn 12 years, 8 months ago

Ms_Canada: Yes, the Russian Revolution was a civil war. As were the Spanish intramural conflict in the late-1930s and the conflict between Mao Tse-tung's communists and Chiang Kai-sheck's Kuomintang a decade later.

Liberty: We share many views, especially on what are the truly substantive issues of our time. You also hold a number of views that I do not share about the nature and direction of our global circumstances. However, my best friend is very much in line with the vast majority of what you write. The next time he is able to visit me here in Lawrence, I think the three of us should enjoy a meal at Free State Brewing together. :) Seriously, you two would really hit it off!

sunflower_sue 12 years, 8 months ago

Simply addressing the question of the day...I think that we are only taught "local history" for the most part. Being raised in St. Jo, MO, we got a heafty dose of the Pony Express and Jesse James. Kids here get the same heavy dose of John Brown and Quantrills Raid. Concerning the Civil War, we only got the "East Coast Version". I was not aware (as a child) that more states were even involved in the war! I guess there is only so much you can cover in a school year but I think that way too much is left out entirely. (Growing up only 70 miles from Lawrence. you'd think we would have been taught something of the KS/MO battles.)

Liberty 12 years, 8 months ago

Fangorn, I enjoy your posts also. I was once in your camp globally, but have come to a different conclusion after having aquired the information and discovered the pattern that I see developing over the years. You have shown yourself knowledgeable and sensible and would seem to be a kindred spirit in that you don't mind taking a stand (stirring the pot if you will) even if it is not popular, or even if it is dangerous to do so. That takes courage. I admire that in people instead of just going with what is politically correct. It is very American. The founding fathers would find a good home in our camp and others are most welcome that share their zeal for love of country, not just love of government.

Perhaps a few will become more alert and see the light that love freedom and understand their duty under the Declaration of Independence to light a fire in the hearts and minds of the people with the truth, so that we can occupy till He comes.

ArleenMannHoward 12 years, 8 months ago

My gggrandfather, Rev. Levi Owen Mann built a fort around his house, Fort Mann, and with his sons fought off Quantrill and his raiders and won. I'm proud of him.

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