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Lawrence, Sack of


LAWRENCE, SACK OF, occurred when tensions mounted in Kansas between free-state and proslavery forces after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. While Nebraska was to be a free state, the position of Kansas remained unclear, and the rival factions began to populate the state. Both sides began extralegal actions, fraudulent voting practices, and arms distribution. When proslavery forces won the legislature in the first Kansas election, they began to prosecute free-state organizations. They indicted several free-state leaders and their publications and began legal action against the New England Emigrant Aid Company, one of the earliest and largest free-state organizations.

On 21 May 1856 a U.S. marshal arrived in Lawrence with a posse of seven hundred to eight hundred men to serve arrest warrants. He relinquished his posse to the proslavery sheriff, S. J. Jones, who sought the destruction of this "hotbed of abolitionism." Led by Jones and former Senator David R. Atchison of Missouri, the mob entered the town, burned the Emigrant Aid Company's Free State Hotel, and wrecked the newspaper offices. A few days later, fanatical abolitionist John Brown retaliated with the Pottawatomie Massacre, a brutal attack on the proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek. At the request of Governor Wilson Shannon, troops were sent to Topeka to effect the dispersal of a free-state legislature. News of the sack aroused the entire North, led to the formation of the National Kansas Committee, and provided the Republican Party with the issue of "Bleeding Kansas."


Castel, Albert E. Civil War Kansas: Reaping the Whirlwind. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.

Goodrich, Thomas. Bloody Dawn: The Story of the Lawrence Massacre. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991.

Nichols, Alice. "Bleeding Kansas." New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.

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

Samuel A.Johnson


See alsoBorder War ; Kansas-Nebraska Act ; Pottawatomie Massacre .

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