October 23

This Day in History

General Interest

Oct 23, 1855:

Rival governments in bleeding Kansas

In opposition to the fraudulently elected pro-slavery legislature of Kansas, the Kansas Free State forces set up a governor and legislature under their Topeka Constitution, a document that outlaws slavery in the territory.

Trouble in territorial Kansas began with the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act by President Franklin Pierce in 1854. The act stipulated that settlers in the newly created territories of Nebraska and Kansas would decide by popular vote whether their territory would be free or slave. In early 1855, Kansas' first election proved a violent affair, as more than 5,000 so-called Border Ruffians invaded the territory from western Missouri and forced the election of a pro-slavery legislature. To prevent further bloodshed, Andrew H. Reeder, the territorial governor appointed by President Pierce, reluctantly approved the election. A few months later, the Kansas Free State forces were formed, armed by supporters in the North and featuring the leadership of militant abolitionist John Brown.

In May 1856, Border Ruffians sacked the abolitionist town of Lawrence, and in retaliation a small Free State force under John Brown massacred five pro-slavery Kansans along the Pottawatomie Creek. During the next four years, raids, skirmishes, and massacres continued in "Bleeding Kansas," as it became popularly known. In 1861, the irrepressible differences in Kansas were swallowed up by the outbreak of full-scale civil war in America.

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