As the United States continued its westward expansion, the land in Kansas became more valuable as a route to the West and as a place for settlement. The United States Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This act gave settlers the right to decide if their territory would become a free or slave state.
Most of the white settlers who came to Kansas following the Kansas -Nebraska act were looking for better economic opportunities. Many came from Missouri, as well as the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio River Valley and upper South regions. They found a land with extreme weather conditions and many left after suffering through the hot summers, harsh winters and a drought in 1859-60. Those who remained found themselves involved in the controversy over whether Kansas would become a free or slave state.
The decision by Congress to let the settlers of the territory decide whether Kansas would be a free or slave state created hard feelings between antislavery and proslavery groups in Kansas. There were many bloody clashes between these groups, and the phrase "Bleeding Kansas" was coined for this time in Kansas' history. Antislavery proponents became known as Free Staters. Because Missouri was a slave state, it became a base for raids into Kansas, and proslavery proponents acquired the name Border Ruffians. One of these raids was on the town of Lawrence in 1856, during which part of the town was burned.
As a result of the attack on Lawrence, John Brown led an antislavery group and attacked the town of Pottawatomie Creek, killing five proslavery men. Brown advocated the complete elimination of slavery in the United States. He had moved to Kansas in 1855 to be near his sons who lived there. He led many raids into Missouri, attacking proslavery homesteads and freeing slaves. He was eventually hanged for murder in Virginia in 1859, after attacking the armory at Harper's Ferry.
Over the next three years, skirmishes escalated between proslavery and antislavery groups. These included an attack on the town of Osawatomie, the home of John Brown and his sons' and daughters' families. The town was ransacked and burned, and Brown and his men were forced to flee.
In 1859, the Free Staters gained a majority at the state Constitutional Convention and passed the Wyandotte Constitution, which forbade slavery in Kansas. Clarina Nichols was the only woman allowed to be part of the convention. Although she was not allowed to vote, she was influential in obtaining some provisions for women's rights in the new state. On January 19, 1861, Kansas became the 34th state in the union. Charles Robinson of Lawrence was the state's first governor.
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