Territorial Kansas History

On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Nebraska Bill (Kansas-Nebraska Act) into law, creating two new territories for western expansion; Kansas and Nebraska.  The stroke of his pen produced a spark that ignited a fire which burned for seven years, growing in intensity until it engulfed our nation in the Civil War.  The passage of this legislation, crafted by Senator Stephen Douglas from Illinois, would not only make Kansas Territory the focal point of the struggle between Pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, it would lead to the division and demise of political parties, the rise of a new anti-slavery Republican Party, and resurrect the political career of another Illinois politician named Abraham Lincoln.

 

In 1853, Senator Stephen Douglas was interested in seeing the nation expand westward and most especially seeing the railroad move west with Chicago as the eastern hub.  But to expand, territories would have to form west of Missouri to allow and encourage settlement.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in new territories west of Missouri in this land that remained from the Louisiana Purchase.  To gain support for his Nebraska Bill from Southern legislators such as Senator David Rice Atchison from Missouri, Douglas agreed to revise his proposal allowing for two territories; Kansas and Nebraska. Further, he would eliminate the anti-slavery expansion prohibition of the Missouri Compromise by adding “popular sovereignty” to the proposal. The provision would allow the settlers in the territories to decide whether or not to permit slavery.

 

Douglas had hoped that the "popular sovereignty" provision would install a peaceful process toward statehood for the territories, but instead, the repeal of the anti-slavery provision of the Missouri Compromise ignited outrage in the North and led to an influx of settlers to Kansas Territory determined to see that Kansas would be Free State. Likewise, pro-slavers from Missouri and other southern states came to secure Kansas as a slave state.  Two of these anti-slavery settlers were John and Mary Jane Ritchie, abolitionists from Indiana, who came with their two children in early 1855. They settled on land that John Ritchie had purchased on a trip that he made to the Territory in 1854 near a newly formed town called Topeka. He began building the brick and stone two story home after constructing a one room dugout cabin on the property for the family to live in while construction of the home was underway.

 

John and Mary Jane fought for a Free Kansas by becoming avid supporters of rights for all,  assisted an unknown number of freedom seekers escaping slavery by making their home a haven as a “station” on the Underground Railroad, and by taking up the musket and revolver when necessary.

 

 

 

The Historic Ritchie House 

 and Cox Communications Heritage Education Center

Shawnee County Historical Society

 1116 and 1118 SE Madison Ave

P.O. Box 2201  Topeka, Kansas 66601  

785 234-6097

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