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Bleeding Kansas

Bleeding Kansas

Dear Reader —

The territory that is now the state of Maine was officially recognized as part of Massachusetts following the Treaty of Paris, although many of its residents disliked the arrangement. This led Maine — which was not contiguous with the Bay State — to petition the Massachusetts Assembly for secession in 1807. It was unsuccessful. 

Before too long, the United States was at war with Great Britain again. And the perception among Mainers that Massachusetts was unwilling to provide them sufficient protection against British attacks reignited the desire for separation. A few years after the war’s end, in 1819, Massachusetts granted permission to secede, and Maine petitioned the federal government for statehood. The timing was fortuitous.

A debate was then raging in Congress over another territory’s request for statehood. Missouri had become part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and had applied for statehood in 1817. Rep. James Tallmadge Jr., a Democratic-Republican from New York, had proposed amendments to Missouri’s request that included restrictions on slavery, stoking the ire of Southerners.

At issue was the balance of power in Congress between free and slave states. To admit a new slave state would tip that balance toward the South. Maine offered an opportunity to even the score. And so a compromise was struck to grant statehood to both territories, one slave, the other free, while outlawing slavery in western territories north of the 36°30′ parallel. Maine became a state on March 15, 1820, Missouri on August 10, 1821.

The precarious truce on slavery held for about 34 years until the Kansas–Nebraska Act. The act undermined the Missouri Compromise by allowing the question of slavery in these new territories to be decided by the settlers — so-called “popular sovereignty.” This spurred pro- and anti-slavery factions hoping to influence the outcome to pour into the territories, resulting in violent conflict. 

“Bleeding Kansas” was not the only event of historical moment to follow the Kansas–Nebraska Act, however. The bill had been sponsored by Stephen A. Douglas, and it roused back into national politics a particular lawyer from Illinois, who argued vociferously against both the legality of the act and the morality of slavery in a famous speech at Peoria in 1854. 

These are some of the many issues lately taken up in our pages. Below you will find just a few highlights. 

— M. Anthony Mills, Managing Editor | RealClear Media Group


“Anti-Pluralism” by William A. Galston. In this week’s RealClear Book of the Week, I highlight a new work arguing that the populist wave sweeping the West threatens liberal democracy. 

Renewing Localism for the 21st Century. In the latest installment of our American Project series, Ryan Streeter contends that localism offers the solution to our divided politics.

To Reorganize Government Agencies, Trump Should Channel Truman. James C. Capretta argues that the president’s effort to reorganize federal agencies would benefit from a glance at history.

To Learn How to Govern, Go Home Again. Andy Smarick urges those aspiring to influence public life to seek governing experience at state and local levels.

America’s Factory Towns Aren’t All Republican. Leo Hindery Jr. rejects a narrative that says Democrats have lost the blue-collar vote.

There Are More Jobs Than Workers. Licensing Reform Can Help. Anil Niraula contends that excessive licensing requirements are hindering both worker mobility and labor force participation rates.

Pope Francis & the Death Penalty. In RealClearReligion, W. David Montgomery takes issue with the theological reasoning behind the Vatican’s revised teaching on capital punishment.

Kavanaugh’s Hero and Climate Science. In RealClearEnergy, historian Jay Hakes assesses the potential impact of Trump’s Supreme Court pick on the environment.

Parenting, Marijuana, and Federalism. Donna Sage makes a personal case for medical marijuana in RealClearHealth. 

The Right Way Forward on College Completion. In RealClearEducation, Frederick M. Hess and R.J. Martin explore new ideas for improving college graduation rates. 

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