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Coming of the Civil War, Bleeding Kansas

Pottawatomie Massacre, Charles Sumner, popular sovereignty, White Southerners, Northerners

With the territory organized under popular sovereignty, voters would decide the question of slavery in Kansas. Antislavery settlers flooded the territory, and in response, proslavery Missourians moved in. When elections were held for the territorial legislature in 1854, about 5,000 Missourians crossed the border to vote illegally for proslavery candidates. The resulting legislature legalized slavery in Kansas. Antislavery forces refused to accept these results. They organized a convention that wrote an antislavery constitution and they elected their own legislature.

While this controversy raged in Kansas, Charles Sumner, an antislavery senator from Massachusetts, gave an impassioned antislavery speech in which he insulted a number of Southern senators. He said that one of them, Andrew Butler, “had chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows … the harlot, Slavery.” Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina was Butler’s nephew. He was determined to punish Sumner’s attack upon his family’s honor. He walked onto the floor of the Senate, found Sumner at his desk, and beat him unconscious with a cane. White Southerners almost unanimously applauded Brooks, while Northerners ranted against Southern savagery. At almost the same time as the attack on Sumner, in May 1856, proslavery Kansans attacked an antislavery stronghold at Lawrence. In retribution, an antislavery fanatic named John Brown murdered five proslavery settlers in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. A small–scale civil war was being fought in Kansas.

Article key phrases:

Pottawatomie Massacre, Charles Sumner, popular sovereignty, White Southerners, Northerners, harlot, John Brown, retribution, cane, Lawrence, elections, vows, convention, Senate, Kansas, Massachusetts, mistress, territory, border, voters, controversy, desk, response, results, floor, time, Andrew Butler


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