The True Point of No Return
So, what was "Bleeding Kansas"?
Alright, now for the main event...
Why would Bleeding Kansas be the Point of No Return???
Fifth Symphony - Beethoven by Garritan
Main Reason #1: The Start of Violence
In addition, this violence was not brief. It persisted sporadically from initial violence in 1856 until 1859, just two years before the Civil War began.
Here is a brief timeline of several notable battles from Bleeding Kansas:
- May 21, 1856: A proslavery force invades and lays waste to the abolitionist town of Lawrence, burning printing presses and murdering the free-state leader, Charles Robinson.
- June 2, 1856: John Brown defeats a small force of proslavery soldiers at Pottawatomie Creek.
- Man 19, 1858: Nine abolitionist soldiers are massacred on the Marais des Cygne.
- Latter half of 1858: James Henry Lane, a leader of abolitionists forces, wins numerous battles at Franklin, Fort Saunders, Hickory Point, and Slough creek.
Note at the extended range of time in which proslavery and abolitionists forces engaged in conflict, heightening tensions all around the country. The violence demonstrated how much each side would sacrifice for the sake of their ideological beliefs, and thus should be deemed the PONR.
Main Reason #2: Suspicion Confirmed
While many accused Polk and other Democrats of waging the Mexican-American War in order to expand the institutions of slavery, they had no definitive guarantee. The Democrats could justify their actions under the guise of Mexican aggression and Manifest Destiny.
However, Bleeding Kansas directly validated the concerns of northern abolitionists about southern Slave Power. In 1855, when Kansas called for a popular vote over the issue of slavery, roughly 4-5,000 armed proslavery forces from Missouri crossed into Kansas territory and voted in the election illegally. These border ruffians event demonstrated the willingness of proslavery citizens to commit illegal action to extend slavery into new states. At the moment that northern suspicions were confirmed, the Civil War became inevitable.
Main Reason #3: John Brown, the Role Model
Brown’s actions at Pottawatomie Creek engendered a sense of unity and pride throughout the north against the common enemy of slavery. Since he was the first major abolitionist general, Brown served as an archetype and role model for future Civil War generals. His actions in Bleeding Kansas garnered large support from radical abolitionists. Furthermore, Brown’s fame granted him financial backing to conduct further antislavery raids in Virginia, demonstrating the north’s willingness to continue violence against the south for the sake of abolition. Along with a small band of followers, Brown instigated a takeover of a federal arsenal known as Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1859. He attempted to incite multiple slave insurrections, none of which took place, and thus was soon surrounded and outnumbered by federal militia. Brown was later hanged for the crime of treason on December 2. Brown’s actions were viewed with contempt from the southerners, however he died a martyr in the eyes of anti slavery groups. This led to increase tension on an already deepening divide between the north and the south and placing it beyond repair.
Noted abolitionist Lydia Maria Child remarked: "I and thousands of others feel a natural impulse of sympathy for the brave and suffering man" (referring to Brown).
Furthermore, she went on to justify Brown's attempts to incite a slave revolt:
"I will... say that if I believed our religion justified men in fighting for freedom, I should consider the enslaved everywhere as best entitled to that right. Such an avowal is a simple, frank expression of my sense of natural justice."
These accounts clearly demonstrate the strong abolitionist sentiment which Brown's actions inspired in the north.
And the moment you've been waiting for...
The Counter-Argument; or, Why the Kansas-Nebraska Act Was NOT the PONR
The Idea of Popular Sovereignty
Alright, let's remove Bleeding Kansas from the equation.
If Bleeding Kansas had not occurred, then the popular decisions outlined in both the Compromise in 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act would have been an entirely peaceful process. In short, popular sovereignty would have worked. Such peacefulness would have dissipated tensions between the north and the south, and it would have provided a template for the decision of slavery in all future US territories. Therefore, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was by no means the Point of No Return for the Civil War.
Primary/Secondary Source Citations
“The Bleeding Kansas Crisis Begins: 1854.” U.S. History in Context. Last modified 2014. Accessed November 18, 2015. http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=UHIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&u=tlc209178764&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&source=&search_within_results=&p=UHIC%3AWHIC&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CYBKCHG220633562
“John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry.” U.S. History in Context. Last modified 2007. Accessed November 18, 2015. http://www.historystudycenter.com/search/displayMultiResultHistoricalDocItem.do?Multi=yes&ResultsID=15080CDF02D&fromPage=search&ItemNumber=2&QueryName=historicalDoc
Child, Lydia M. “Letter to Governor Wise.” in Inside American History. Abingdon/Cambridge: Helicon. Last modified 2007. Accessed November 18, 2015. http://www.historystudycenter.com/search/displayMultiResultHistoricalDocItem.do?Multi=yes&ResultsID=15080CDF02D&fromPage=search&ItemNumber=2&QueryName=historicalDoc