Events Leading up to the American Civil War for Kids - Bleeding Kansas Illustration

American Civil War - Bleeding Kansas


For a while, shortly before the Civil War, the territory of Kansas had two governments - one for slavery and one against it.

It all started when the Kansas territory decided to apply for statehood. At the time, the nation was divided into free states and slave states. There was a federal law in place called the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had cut the country into two parts, a top half and a bottom half, North and South. As territories applied for statehood, those above a certain geographical line established by the Missouri Compromise would come in as free states, those below that line would be slave states. That would keep the balance of power between free states and slave states even in Congress. But the people in the Kansas territory wanted to decide for themselves. They did not want the federal government to decide for them. They held an election and voted on whether to apply as a free state or a slave state.

Some six thouand (6,000) people voted. That was amazing, especially since there were less than 3,000 eligible voters in the entire Kansas territory. Something was definitely wrong. It was discovered that proslavery people from Missouri had snuck into Kansas, pretended they were residents, and had voted for Kansas to become a slave state. The government of the territory had a great many proslavery politicans in its ranks. These officials decided the vote would stand even though it was obviously a rigged election.

People in Kansas who did not want Kansas to become a slave state were very angry. They went off to Topeka and formed their own government. They elected a governor. They enacted a constitution. Their constitution outlawed slavery, and denied the right of any person of color to live in Kansas be they free or slave. Some antislavery people felt the constitution had gone too far. Why deny free men the right to live in Kansas? The proslavery people in Kansas were simply furious. Fist fights and bloody riots broke out all over Kansas. One newspaper, covering the riots, referred to the situation as "Bleeding Kansas". The name stuck. Thanks to continuing newspaper headlines, people were talking about "Bleeding Kansas" all over the country. Some people argued the question of slavery, pro and con. Some people asked what would happen if the slaves were freed? How many jobs currently held by white men would be threatened? Other debated states rights - what should the federal government control, and what decisions should be left up to the voters in individual states? As the headlines continued, so did the arguments. 

Finally, after years of fighting, Kansas obtained statehood as a free state. The situation in Kansas, and the resulting publicity given to it by various newspapers, was one of the major events leading up to the Civil War.

Kansas-Nebraska Act (Bleeding Kansas) 1854

The Missouri Compromise

John Brown

The Abolitionist Movement

Events leading up to the Civil War

See Also:

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids

Civil War Presentations in PowerPoint format

Civil War Video Clips

Civil War Clip Art for Kids and Teachers

Civil War, Free iPad & iPhone apps

American Civil War Lesson Plans for Teachers