On this day in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as Free State. It was the 34th state to join the Union.
Except that South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana had just seceded from the Union. So it was the 28th state. Texas and Virginia would soon leave as well, and Kansas would shortly be only the 26th state in the dwindling Union.
Exactly 11 years before, on January 29, 1850, Henry Clay had introduced the Compromise of 1850. It was meant to be a grand bargain that would address the sectional conflict of the increasingly fragile United States: California would become a free state, slavery in the Utah and New Mexico Territories would be decided by popular sovereignty, the slave trade would be abolished in Washington, D.C. (but not slavery itself); and the Fugitive Slave Act would be strengthened.
It didn’t work for long. In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were organized as territories. Again a popular vote would decide the issue of slavery.
There was little debate in Nebraska as the territory was filled with settlers from the Midwest. But in Kansas, where many settlers were anti-slave or abolitionists, many pro-slave Missourians lurked just over the border. When residents in the territory cast their votes on the issue, many fraudulent votes were cast from Missouri.
Blood started to flow. On May 21 1856 Border Ruffians from Missouri burned down the “Free State Hotel”, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores in the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas.
The following day Senator Charles Sumner made his “Crime Against Kansas” speech from the floor of the Senate. He mocked and vilified pro-slavery senators and accused them of attempting to “rape a virgin territory”. Two day later Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner with a gutta-percha cane and very nearly beat him to death on the floor of the Senate.
Two nights later on May 24, 1856, John Brown and his company of Free State volunteers raided pro-slavery settlements along the Pottawatomie Creek in southeastern Kansas and murdered James Doyle and two of his sons, William and Drury.
Three years later, after John Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Doyle’s widow wrote him a personal letter:
20th November 1859.
Altho vengence is not mine, I confess, that I do feel gratified to hear that you ware stopt in your fiendish career at Harper’s Ferry, with the loss of your two sons, you can now appreciate my distress, in Kansas, when you then and there entered my house at midnight and arrested my husband and two boys and took them out of the yard and in cold blood shot them dead in my hearing, you cant say you done it to free our slaves, we had none and never expected to own one, but has only made me a poor disconsolate widow with helpless children while I feel for your folly. I do hope & trust that you will meet your just reward. O how it pained my Heart to hear the dying groans of my Husband and children if this scrawl give you any consolation you are welcome to it
NB my son John Doyle whose life I begged of you is now grown up and is very desirous to be at Charleston on the day of your execution would certainly be there if his means would permit it, that he might adjust the rope around your neck if gov: wise would permit it