Skip Redundent Navigation
Territorial Kansas Online 1854-1861 Explore Topics Territorial A-Z Map Lesson Plans  

Territorial Kansas Online - Explore Topics

Browse full topical outline

Territorial Kansas: An Introduction

The six-year struggle for control of the territory of Kansas, often called Bleeding Kansas, was a prelude to the American Civil War. It was by no means the sole cause of that conflict, but the political turmoil that emerged from the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 caused a sometimes-violent confrontation between pro- and antislavery factions in Kansas and increased sectional tensions nationwide. The story of territorial Kansas is, therefore, a tragedy of national significance. But it is also a piece of America's larger story of continous westward expansion (Manifest Destiny), of settlement and development, of fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.

Territorial Politics and Government

Unrest was a fact of life in Kansas Territory. Elections fraud was common. Efforts to approve or reject specific constitutions were also disputed. The site of the capital was changed several times. One town, Pawnee, was the capital but the territorial legislature met there for only six days before moving to Shawnee Indian Mission. Four different constitutions were written before Kansas became a state. The Lecompton constitution included a provision to allow slavery. At one point, two governments operated in Kansas. Supporters of slavery established a government according to federal guidelines in Lecompton. Those opposed to slavery claimed control in Topeka. Kansas had ten governors or acting governors in just six years. Kansas settlers had to deal with these disputes as they built homes, farms, and businesses.

Border Disputes and Warfare

The U.S. Congress established Kansas Territory in 1854. Many people who settled in Kansas had strong opinions about slavery. Some supported the use of slaves in the new territory. Others opposed the idea. Some were abolitionists who wanted to end slavery wherever it existed. These differences of opinion led to heated debates and even battles in Kansas Territory. The conflicts in Kansas and how they were reported in eastern newspapers contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Immigration and Early Settlement

Many of the people who settled in Kansas Territory came for land and business opportunities. These settlers were not involved in the debate about whether or not Kansas should enter the Union as a free or slave state. All settlers in Kansas Territory endured the hardships found on any frontier. They raised crops to feed themselves and their livestock. They built houses and stores and established schools and churches. The weather was often a factor, and a large number of settlers left the territory after the bitter winter of 1856.


Brief biographical sketches of some of the influential individuals who impacted the events of Kansas Territory.

National Debate About Kansas

Kansas Territory was officially established in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Congressional debate on the act continued discussion of the question of whether or not slavery would be allowed to expand into newly opened territories. The act provided that each territory would decide the issue through the constitution under which it would enter the union. Kansas Territory, because of its proximity to Missouri, a slave state, became a political and literal battleground for pro- and antislavery forces. Contested elections, armed conflict, and recruitment of and support for settlers from both the North and the South contributed to the label of “Bleeding Kansas.” But just as importantly, the battle for Kansas was waged in the halls of Congress, the national press, and just about anywhere in the country where people gathered to discuss or debate the issues of the day. All of this increased the tensions between the North and the South, which eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War.


The current URL is