Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 319-320
Recently several historians have helped us better understand the central role that Kansas Territory (1854-61) played in polarizing the North and South. Gunja SenGupta has analyzed the complex motives involved in antislavery and pro-slavery immigration to Kansas. Thomas Goodrich emphasizes the bleeding in "Bleeding Kansas" by portraying the era's violent characters and episodes. The sesquicentennial commemoration of the territory witnessed books on the doctrine of popular sovereignty by Nicole Etcheson and on the U.S. Army's peacekeeping efforts by Tony Mullis. Two essay collections have allowed these and other scholars to elaborate on the myriad issues involved, one edited by Virgil Dean on Kansas Territory, and the other by John Wunder and Joann Ross on the Kansas Nebraska Act that started it all.
Craig Miner now makes a major contribution to this literature. Seeding Civil War is by far the most thorough and careful examination of how the press covered Bleeding Kansas. He has read articles in nearly eighty newspapers published between 1854 and 1858 in cities ranging from Bangor to New Orleans to San Francisco, as well as magazines, pamphlets, and Congressional debates. His research has convinced him that Kansas Territory may have been the most important proximate cause of the Civil War "more because of how events there were talked about in the national press than because of the significance of those events themselves." For four years American political commentators were obsessed with the profoundly divisive issues that Kansas raised, but the hyperbolic and sensationalistic manner of their writing prevented any possibility of compromise.