Monday, July 2, 2012

Pottawatomie Massacre


The fifth victim floated nearby as John Brown and his men washed blood from their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. Brown said that the killings had been committed in accordance to "God’s will," and that he wanted to "strike terror in the hearts of the proslavery people." His killings would provoke fear and reprisals -- pushing America one step closer to an all-out civil war.

 In the mid-1850’s, "Kansas Fever" swept the country. 126,000 square miles of wilderness lying west of Missouri had just been opened for settlement. Five of John Brown’s sons responded to the call, joining thousands of settlers heading west in search of a better future. But the Brown boys also went to stake a claim for liberty; they went to ensure that the new territories would be kept free of slavery.

The Missouri Compromise, which restricted the expansion of slavery, was swept aside by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. With a nod to Southern power, the federal government decided to place the volatile issue of slavery into the hands of those settling the new territories. The people would decide, by popular vote, whether to be "free" or "slave."

Free soil and pro-slavery forces poured into Kansas, and the territory erupted in violence. On March 30th, 1855, a horde of 5000 heavily armed Missourians -- known as "Border Ruffians" -- rode into the territory. They seized the polling places and voted in their own legislature. Severe penalties were leveled against anyone who spoke or wrote against slave-holding; those who assisted fugitives would be put to death or sentenced to ten years hard labor.

John Brown was initially reluctant to join his sons in Kansas. He was 55, an old man by the actuarial tables of his day. He seemed worn down, broken by a lifetime of failures and disappointments. But a letter from Kansas changed his mind. The free-soldiers needed arms "more than bread," his son John Jr. wrote. "Now we want you to get for us these arms."

Read more about the Pottawatomie Massacre here.

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