Emigrant Aid Movement

views updated


EMIGRANT AID MOVEMENT, a plan to promote free-state migration to Kansas formed at the time of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which provided that the people of that territory should decide by popular sovereignty whether the designated territory should be free-soil or slave. The act proved a disaster, since supporters of both sides quickly moved into the territory, causing economic and political turmoil. The movement seems to have been the brainchild of Eli Thayer, who a month before the passing of the act created the Massachusetts

Emigrant Aid Company, which was later to become the New England Emigrant Aid Company. In the same year, the Kansas Emigrant Aid Society was founded to assist "antislavery men, temperance men and otherwise men of good character" to settle in Kansas. These companies sought to attract funds by offering stock options to the public, with which they founded a few new towns and provided supplies and mechanical equipment for settlers. Charles Robinson, an agent of the company, established a free-soil government in the city of Lawrence. Funding was meager until the end of 1855, when promoters of the scheme adopted a more aggressive policy. Tensions rose between proslavery advocates and free-soilers, and, as a result, violence erupted on several occasions. In 1856, Lawrence was sacked by proslavery forces. Events like this led journalists to write sensational articles about "Bleeding Kansas." Although less than half the violent deaths that occurred in this period were due to the slavery issue, the movement capitalized on the violence to gain support outside the state. The largest expedition to Kansas under the auspices of the movement was organized by Jefferson Buford of Alabama. In all, however, it is thought that only about 1,240 settlers were sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, whose activities were largely confined to the Northeast. Although the movement had little to do with making Kansas a free-soil state, it was bitterly resented in the South and is regarded by some as a potent cause of the Civil War. Even so, it is now recognized that the division between the proslavery and antislavery lobbies was secondary to contentions about land claims. It is also the case that the Emigrant Aid Company was insufficiently financed and incompetently run. By 1857, the movement was effectively defunct. It had done little but polarize opinions and fuel passions.


Barry, Louise. "The Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1854" and "The New England Aid Company Parties of 1855." Kansas Historical Quarterly 12 (1943): 115–125 and 227–268.

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. 5 vols. Chicago: Lewis, 1918.

Harlow, Ralph Volney. "The Rise and Fall of the Kansas Aid Movement." American Historical Review 41 (October 1935): 1–25.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. Completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

SenGupta, Gunja. For God and Mammon: Evangelicals and Entrepreneurs, Masters and Slaves in Territorial Kansas, 1854–1860. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996.


See alsoKansas ; Lawrence, Sack of .