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Border War


BORDER WAR (1854–1859). The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed local voters to decide whether Kansas would be a slave state or a free state, prompted emigration from the Northeast of antislavery groups, the arrival of squatters and speculators, and the presence of an adventurous element recruited from both North and South. Ideological differences over slavery and recurring personal altercations led proslavery and free-state groups to organize regulating associations and guerrilla bands. Lynching, horse stealing, pillaging, and pitched battles marked the years from 1854 to 1859 and inspired the name "Bleeding Kansas" for the territory. The first eighteen months of settlement witnessed sporadic shootings, killings, and robberies, including the Wakarusa War (December 1855), which brought over one thousand border ruffians into the territory. The sack of Lawrence (21 May 1856) by a posse of border ruffians and John Brown's massacre of five proslavery men at Pottawatomie three days later started a four-month reign of terror. Free-state men won victories at Black Jack, Franklin, Fort Saunders, Fort Titus, Slough Creek, and Hickory Point; their opponents pillaged and later burned Osawatomie (30 August 1856), but official intervention prevented them from further destroying Lawrence. A semblance of order restored by Governor John W. Geary in the fall was of brief duration. The Marais des Cygnes massacre of nine free-state men on 19 May 1858 was the last wholesale slaughter. Major conflict terminated in 1859, albeit sporadic disorders continued until the Civil War. Anticipating a congressional appropriation that did not materialize, territorial commissioners approved claims for losses resulting from border trouble totaling over $400,000, which, though exaggerated, give some notion of the extent of property damage.


Johannsen, Robert W. The Frontier, the Union, and Stephen A. Douglas. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Morrison, Michael A. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Rawley, James A. Race & Politics: "Bleeding Kansas" and the Coming of the Civil War. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969.

Wendell H.Stephenson

See alsoEmigrant Aid Movement ; Harpers Ferry Raid ; Jayhawkers ; Lawrence, Sack of .

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