Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bleeding Kansas -- Part 2

By the end of 1855, Kansas was beginning to bleed in earnest. People were being murdered, and the murderers were either escaping arrest due to their political views, or being rescued from jail by their political supporters. The new governor of Kansas might have been able to control the escalating situation but for the fact that the pro-slavery sheriffs were using mobs of people from Missouri to enforce the law. Finally, for no apparent reason, tempers calmed down toward the end of 1855. I have read a variety of explanations as to how this happened, but the one I believe most is that it simply got too cold outside to fight.

As the weather heated up again, passions did as well. The pro-slavery sheriff had some problems making arrests in Lawrence, Kansas, which was the center of the “free-soil” movement in Kansas. Again, he amassed a posse consisting of “border ruffians” from Missouri, and in May, 1856 they “sacked” Lawrence, destroying a lot of property, burning the homes of free-soil leaders, but killing no one, except on slave-supporter who died when a piece of falling debris hit him. How much damage really occurred in Lawrence, and how much was a result of the “Black Republican” media is a matter of some dispute.

During the same week in May 1856, three other famous events occurred. On the floor of the Senate, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered a speech called “The Crime Against Kansas,” incendiary even for those incendiary times. The speech took the time to call out the elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, in a highly personal and, to modern ears, highly inappropriate, manner.

Butler’s nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks, felt likewise, and went to the Senate floor to beat Sumner with a cane. Brooks was acting under the Southern code of honor that insisted that Sumner be called into account for his words. However, that code provided for a duel. In resorting to a caning, Brooks gave yet another meaning to the newly formed construction “Black Republican,” (i.e. black dog) and further polarized Northern and Southern statesmen. Sumner wouldn’t return to the Senate for two and a half-years. Massachusetts left the seat empty, in silent protest, the entire time. Sumner would have his revenge in the years immediately following the Civil War.

That same week in May 1856, John Brown slaughtered 5 men in Kansas in the Pottawatomie Massacre. John Brown would never be arrested for this act, although it was clear to everyone that he spearheaded the Massacre. Brown traveled openly in a vague netherland between fugitive and celebrity until his raid on Harpers Ferry, three years later lead to his hanging and his lying a-mouldering-in-the-grave.

The sacking of Lawrence and John Brown’s massacre actually calmed everyone in Kanas down. Just as things were getting truly out of hand, everyone had the good sense to take a step back. From this point, the politicians would do the fighting.

[More to follow]