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Bleeding Kansas

AP.USH:
KC‑5.2.II.B.ii (KC)
,
PCE (Theme)
,
Unit 5: Learning Objective G
The Kansas-Nebraska Act incited a violent struggle between pro- and anti-slavery advocates in Kansas, on the Senate floor, and eventually throughout the country.

Overview

  • After the Kansas-Nebraska Act reopened the possibility of slavery extending into new territories, tensions between pro- and anti-slavery advocates erupted into violence.
  • Radical abolitionists, like John Brown, attacked and murdered white southerners in protest. A pro-slavery US Senator, Preston Brooks, viciously beat abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate.
  • Bleeding Kansas foreshadowed the violence that would ensue over the future of slavery during the Civil War.

Border ruffians

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act reopened the question of extending slavery to new states north of the Missouri Compromise line established in 1820. The Act stipulated that the settlers of the Kansas territory would vote on whether to permit slavery.
Pro- and antislavery activists quickly flooded Kansas with the intention of influencing the vote on slavery. Proslavery Missourians who crossed the border to vote in Kansas became known as border ruffians. Border ruffians helped to secure a proslavery legislature in Kansas, which drafted a proslavery constitution known as the Lecompton Constitution. Meanwhile, anti-slavery activists established an extralegal regime of their own based in Topeka.
john brown
John Brown, c. 1856. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

John Brown in Kansas

In 1856, clashes between antislavery Free-Soilers, or people that opposed the expansion of slavery, and border ruffians came to a head. A man named John Brown, along with his four sons and a small group of followers, heard the news that an antislavery activist had been attacked in Lawrence, Kansas.
Brown, a strict Calvinist and staunch abolitionist, once remarked that “God had raised him up on purpose to break the jaws of the wicked.”start superscript, 1, end superscript Brown and his posse went to the homes of proslavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek, announcing they were the “Northern Army.” They burst into the cabin of proslavery Tennessean James Doyle and abducted him and two of his sons. Brown and his sons then brutally executed the Doyles and two other nearby proslavery settlers. None of the people Brown and his followers executed owned slaves or were involved in the incident at Lawrence.
Brown’s actions precipitated a new wave of violence; Kansas soon became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

The caning of Charles Sumner

The controversy over Kansas also prompted the caning of Senator Charles Sumner in Congress in 1856. Sumner gave an infamous speech on Bleeding Kansas, entitled “Crime against Kansas." In the speech, Sumner insulted proslavery legislators, namely Senator Andrew Butler, by comparing slavery to prostitution: “Of course [Butler] has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot Slavery.”squared
Because Butler was aged, it was his second cousin, Senator Preston Brooks, who sought vengeance for Sumner’s insult to his family. He cornered Sumner on the Senate floor and beat him viciously with a cane, which left Sumner physically and mentally incapacitated for a long period of time. Many pro-slavery advocates in the South rejoiced over Brooks’s defense of slavery, southern society, and family honor, and sent him hundreds of canes to replace the one he had broken assaulting Sumner.
Print depicting Preston Brooks attacking Charles Sumner, 1856. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

John Brown at Harper's Ferry

In 1859, John Brown led another attack. He planned to raid the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, where he aimed to steal weapons and arm enslaved people for an insurrection. The raid was put down by proslavery militiamen and US Marines commanded by General Robert E. Lee, who would go on to become the commander of the Confederate Army. Brown was captured, convicted of treason, and hanged.
Two years later, the country erupted into Civil War. A famous marching song from the early 1850s called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” incorporated Brown’s legacy into new lyrics to the army tune. The Union soldiers declared: “"John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave. His soul is marching on!" During the war, soldiers added new verses, with lyrics that even promised to hang the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.cubed

What do you think?

How did increasing radicalism and violence in Kansas foreshadow future conflict?
Was John Brown justified in his violence in the name of abolition? Why or why not?
Take a look at the illustration of Preston Brooks attacking Charles Sumner. Whose side do you think the artist was on? Why?

Want to join the conversation?

  • duskpin tree style avatar for user Joseph Kim
    how could Preston Brooks beat up Sumner so badly when they were in the Senate? Did no one try to stop him from using violence?
    (11 votes)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user racemicTornado
    When the southern states seceded and created the Confederacy, did they not try to create some peace treaty with the Union or were they all eager for war?Did Lincoln try to have peace with the Confederacy?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user FrozenPhoenix45
      Not many were actually eager for war. On the contrary, the Confederacy simply wanted to fade away from the U.S. because they were afraid that their way of life (primarily slavery) was being threatened. With the inauguration of Lincoln, who was anti-slavery, South Carolina seceded. Followed by the others.

      However, Lincoln was not looking for war. In fact, he did everything he could to prevent it. In his inaugural address he stated, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the United States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Several compromises, including the Crittenden Compromise (which said that no more slavery would be allowed into American territories, but it would be unconstitutional to abolish slavery in already existing slave states), were proposed to keep the Union together. Even after the South seceded, no one wanted a war.

      However, Lincoln did keep Union forts in the South manned, a clear act of defiance. After a while, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, sparking outrage in the North and kicking off the war.

      So, no, the ultimate goal was not war. Both sides did a lot to avoid it, but in the end, war won out.

      Anyway, I hope this helped!
      (12 votes)
  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Vivanco, Kelsye
    what where some effects witht he south or waht effects did the south have
    (0 votes)
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  • stelly yellow style avatar for user Kirstin Crump
    So Bleeding Kansas just describes the violence that took place in the Kansas and Nebraska area during this time?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Anagha Tiwari
      Mostly. Bleeding Kansas describes the violent events in Kansas and Nebraska (Border Ruffians, the raids led by John Brown, and other minor attacks), and even the violence in the Senate when Brooks beat Sumner with a cane. So, Bleeding Kansas describes the violent atmosphere and events all over the country during that time that eventually foreshadowed the violence in the Civil War.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Reynaldo412
    Was president of the confederacy Jefferson Davis actually hanged?
    (2 votes)
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  • stelly yellow style avatar for user zzallenick2022
    What were some of the effects of Bleeding Kansas on the futures of Kansas and Missouri in 150 years?
    (2 votes)
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    • starky tree style avatar for user southside joji
      As historian Alice Nichols wrote, “Kansas had a twin and its twin was the Civil War.” In 1859, a final constitution was adopted. However, the fierce animosity that had fed violence in Kansas and Missouri continued and impacted how the Civil War was fought on the Missouri-Kansas border.
      (1 vote)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user david.clark
    How did increasing radicalism and violence in Kansas foreshadow future conflict?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Lara Cetinel
      Increasing radicalism and violin in Kansas foreshadowed future conflict with it's similarities to the nearing Civil War. The two sides, free-soilers and proslavery, clashed in multiple hit and runs, battles, and killings, which foreshadowed the same concepts in the Civil War.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user FarihaK
    why is this the key event that led to the start of the American civil war
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user jb268536
    What is the diffrent in the states.
    (1 vote)
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  • duskpin seed style avatar for user Noah Dale
    why was there so much violence in the senate?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his "Crime Against Kansas" speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a "noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator." Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

      Representative Preston Brooks was Butler's South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech.

      Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner's head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

      Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

      https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/The_Caning_of_Senator_Charles_Sumner.htm
      (5 votes)