Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Territorial Kansas
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The Year 1854 an Important Date

The year 1854 is an important one in the history of Kansas, for it brings to a close the period during which this region was used as a hunting ground by the Indians and marks the beginning of its use as a home for white people. The white settlers did not come in peace and quiet; the first dozen years following 1854 were filled with hatred, struggle, and bloodshed. This was brought about by conditions outside of Kansas. As we have seen, twenty-five years earlier Kansas was made an Indian territory because people in the states wanted the lands of the eastern Indians. In 1854 a terrible conflict began here because there was a division between the North and the South on the question of slavery.


Attitude of the North and the South Toward Slavery

Slavery had existed in the United States since very early colonial days. It had not been profitable in the northern states, but in the cotton fields of the southern plantations slave labor was in demand, and its use after the invention of the cotton gin had increased steadily with the passing years. The Northerners had long been opposed to slavery and made every effort to keep it from spreading into northern and western territory, while the Southerners were just as determined that it should flourish and that it should be extended into new territory. This difference between the North and the South developed great bitterness. Neither side lost any opportunity to take advantage of the other, and each was anxious to secure a majority in the Senate in order to obtain favorable legislation. This matter was so carefully watched that it had long been the custom to keep the "balance of power" between the states; that is, to admit free and slave states alternately so as to keep the number of proslavery and free-state senators balanced. The North, because of its more rapid growth in population, had long had a majority in the House.

The Missouri Compromise, 1820

Missouri was along the dividing line between the North and the South, and when it asked to be admitted to the Union there followed a long debate in Congress as to whether it should come in slave or free. The question was finally settled by the Missouri Compromise, which provided that Missouri might come in as a slave state but that all the rest of the territory included in the Louisiana Purchase and lying north of 36° 30', the line forming the southern boundary of Missouri, should be forever free. In other words, slavery was to be forever excluded from Kansas and the territory lying north of it.

Slavery Trouble Brings on the Civil War 

This was in 1820, about the time of the beginning of the Santa Fe trade. During the years when Kansas was an Indian country and was traversed by countless caravans the country remained bound by the terms of this compromise. But all this time the feeling of animosity between the North and the South was growing more intense; northern churches and newspapers denounced the evils of slavery, free-state and abolition parties developed, thousands of slaves were assisted in making their escape through the North to Canada in spite of the strict fugitive slave law, and there was bitter strife in Congress between the free-state and the slave-state members. The relations between the North and the South were becoming more and more strained. The time was rapidly approaching when the differences between the two sections were to be settled by a great war.

The Conflict Brought into Kansas in 1854

The Civil War began in 1861, the same year in which Kansas became a state; but seven years earlier, in 1854, Congress had passed a measure that brought the slavery trouble into Kansas and made this state the battle ground in the great national struggle over the slavery question.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, 1854 

The measure passed by Congress that played such an important part in the history of Kansas and of the Nation was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and was the work of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois. It provided that the two territories, Kansas and Nebraska, should be organized, and that the question of slavery should be left for the people of each territory to decide for themselves. This method of settling the question was known as "popular sovereignty." Because the settlers were often called squatters it was frequently called "squatter sovereignty."

Reception of the Bill

Kansas and Nebraska were part of the territory which, according to the terms of the Missouri Compromise, was to be forever free, but under the Douglas bill they were to become either slave or free as the people who settled the territories might decide. When this bill was introduced into Congress it raised a storm of indignation among those opposed to slavery, and the debate which ensued lasted for months. The whole North was aroused and poured forth objection and protest, but to no avail. The bill was passed May 30, 1854.

Result of the Bill 

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill meant that the Missouri Compromise had been repealed and that there was no longer any boundary line against slavery. It meant that Kansas and Nebraska were offered as prizes to be contended for by the free and the slave states. The South said, "You may have Nebraska; Kansas is ours." The North refused to recognize such a division of spoils, and insisted that both territories had been carved from free soil and should both come into the Union free. Both North and South desired to secure Kansas, and each side urged that as many as possible of its own people should emigrate to the new Territory. It could scarcely be expected that, under such circumstances, Kansas would be left for gradual and peaceful settlement. The result was that the scene of strife was transferred from Congress to these western prairies, and from that time until the admission of the Territory as a state the conflict between the forces of freedom and slavery was waged here.

Indians Removed from Kansas Lands 

It must be remembered that at this time Kansas was an Indian country; that many of the eastern tribes had given up their lands in exchange for lands here which had been promised to them forever. Nevertheless, the Indians were removed from Kansas, many of them at once and others more leisurely. They were taken to what has since become Oklahoma, where many of them still live. In this way room was made for the white settlers to enter Kansas.


For many years there had been bitter feeling between the North and the South on the slavery question. In 1820 the Missouri Compromise was passed. This measure provided that all the Louisiana Purchase lying north of the southern boundary of Missouri, except Missouri itself, should be forever free. This agreement was observed until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854. This bill provided that the settlers of each of these territories should decide whether it was to be made slave or free. Each side was determined to win Kansas, and as a result the slavery struggle was brought here. In order to make room for settlers the Indians were moved to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma.


Prentis, History of Kansas, pp. 63-73, Spring, Kansas, pp. 2-16. Andreas, History of Kansas, pp. 81-82. Holloway, History of Kansas, chap. VI. Tuttle, History of Kansas. Larned, History for Ready Reference. Gihon, Geary and Kansas, chap. iii. Historical Collections, vol. ix, p. 115; vol. viii, p. 86. Foster, A History of the United States, pp. 325-329. Muzzey, American History, 379-412. Hodder, Genesis of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, in Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1912, pp. 69-86.


1. Why is 1854 an important date in Kansas history? 

2. What great national question affected Kansas at that time? Explain. 

3. Explain the attitude of the North and the South toward slavery. 

4. What was meant by the "balance of power"? 

5. Give the provisions and the date of the Missouri Compromise. How did this Compromise affect Kansas? 

6. What did the Kansas-Nebraska Bill provide? Give the attitude of the North and the South toward it. 

7. How did this Bill affect the Missouri Compromise? What was the result in Kansas? 

8. What was done with the Indians in Kansas?



Source: A History of Kansas / Anna E. Arnold. pp.55-60


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