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The Sacking of Lawrence, May 21, 1856 – 2

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The events leading up to 1856 raid on Lawrence began with the opening of the Kansas Territory to settlement with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. David Potter in his book The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 posits that William H. Seward, in a speech to the Senate on May 25, 1854, issued a challenge to pro-slavery supporters effectively sparking a competition to see which side, pro-slavery or free-state, could populate Kansas the fastest and thus gain its control.

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William H. Seward, Source: Alaska State Library

“’Come on then, Gentlemen of the Slave States,’ he said, ‘since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it on behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right.’ This act transplanted the controversy from the halls of Congress to the plains of Kansas.”

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David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 199.

This post continues the series, The Sacking of Lawrence – May 21, 1856 – 1

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The Sacking of Lawrence, May 21, 1856 – 1

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Ruins of the Free State Hotel, Lawrence, Kansas. From a Daguerreotype. (The Kansas State Historical Society)

One of the most surprising things I learned from reading Michael F. Holt’s exceptional book, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, was that the “Sacking of Lawrence” was not the murderous affair I had always thought it was. It led to further research on my part and the realization that I was guilty of combining the stories surrounding the raid on Lawrence with other violent events occurring in the region, an area in which I am a resident. As is often the case with history, I had developed a mythical sense of the day, one that went well beyond the simple destruction of property. This new post series summarizes the findings of my search for the truth about the events of May 21, 1856. Its writing helped to crystallize my understanding of why the Kansas and Missouri borderland became such a focal point for politics in the 1850s. It also revealed that there has been much liberty with the facts and that even today, historians do not agree on all of the specifics.

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