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Free-State Kansas

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"If the outrageous fraud by which the Missourians pretended to elect representatives for Kansas astonished the world, the proceedings of the conclave of vagabonds, assembled under this mob authority, were still more astonishing. Never did a less responsible body of men assemble under the pretence of making laws."  

 

-- William Addison Phillips, The Conquest of Kansas, by Missouri and her Allies, 1856.

 

 

Thousands of pro-slavery men from Missouri crossed the

 border into Kansas to stuff the ballot boxes.

 

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 not only created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, but also repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed the territory settlers to determine if they would allow slavery within their boundaries. Though the initial purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to create opportunities for a transcontinental railroad, that changed with the struggles between the north and south for dominance on the issue of slavery.

 

Numerous debates were held before the act was passed in Congress, during which time the northern states determined that the only way to rescue the new territory of Kansas from pro-slavery advocates was to send numerous northern emigrants into the territory to establish as a free state. Before the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was even passed, several Emigrant Aid Societies were formed, primarily in New England, to populate the state with anti-slavery proponents.

 

Leading the charge was a Massachusetts House of Representatives politician named Eli Thayer, who formed the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, which provided for plan to raise capital to offer inducements to anti-slavery emigrants sufficient to offset the hardships of frontier life. Thayer's plan worked and before long a number of other Emigrant Aid societies were formed, sending thousands of emigrants from free states, including New England, Iowa, Ohio, and other Midwestern states into Kansas Territory.

 

These emigrants were known as Free-Staters, who quickly established a number of new settlements such as Lawrence, Topeka, and Manhattan. By the time they arrived, there were already a number of settlements that had been formed by pro-slavery “squatters,” including Atchison, Lecompton, and others.

 

To protect themselves against the pro-slavery advocates, the Free-Staters formed several organizations including the "Actual Settlers' Association of Kansas Territory," which held its first meeting on August 12, 1854 to adopt regulations that would protect them from the pro-slavery squatters.  

 

In January, 1855, a small group of men in the politically charged town of Lawrence organized the "Free State Society" with the objective of “using all its influence for the prohibition of slavery in Kansas."

 

On May 30, 1855, an election was held to establish the Kansas Legislature, which was won and organized by pro-slavery advocates, primarily due to hundreds of non-residents flooding over the Missouri state line and “stuffing” the ballot boxes. The “Free-Staters” were obviously incensed, but the U.S. Federal Government recognized the new territorial government, which the Free-Staters referred to as the “Bogus Legislature.” 

 

Kansas Territorial Capitol

The first session of the Bogus Legislature was held at the Territorial Capitol building at  Pawnee, Kansas, now on  the Fort Riley reservation.

This image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!

 

 

Soon afterwards, the Kansas Free-State Party was formed to reject the Bogus Legislature. The Free State Party then formed a “second” legislature that began at a meeting at Big Springs, Kansas in September, 1855. The new party encouraged Republicans in Congress to block pro-slavery efforts to control Kansas and formed a number of new constitutions over the next several years, which would repeatedly be rejected.

 

During these early days of the Free-Staters, the turmoil between the two factions dramatically increased, leading to the Kansas-Missouri Border War and brutal attacks by Jayhawkers upon the slavery men and raids upon anti-slavery settlers by Missouri Bushwhackers.

 

The battles between the opposing parties continued until a referendum was finally authorized by the English Bill of 1858, which dashed all pro-slavery hopes of Kansas Territory becoming part of the “South.” However, continued struggles would delay the admission of Kansas as a free state until January 1861. In the meantime, the bitterness between the factions continued on into the Civil War.

 

The Free-State Party formally merged with the Republican Party in 1859 at a meeting in  Osawatomie, Kansas.

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated February, 2012.

 

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