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Abolitionists were people who believed that slavery was immoral and who wanted slavery in the United States to come to an end. They had influenced political debates in the United States from the late 17th century through the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.  This law, which organized these two territories for settlement, proposed that the residents would vote on whether or not to allow slavery when the territory became a state.  This approach was called popular sovereignty. 

Because of this, people with strong opinions on both sides of the slavery question became interested in Kansas.  The New England Emigrant Aid Company was one group that organized to assist abolitionists to settle in Kansas.  They organized parties and had agents in the territory to help people once they arrived.  Proslavery supporters also organized to get those supporting the expansion of slavery to settle in Kansas. 

Not all people against slavery were abolitionists.  Some did not want to see slavery expand into the territories. In Kansas, these people were called freestaters.  Other people who settled in Kansas Territory came for the opportunity to acquire cheap land and own their own homes and businesses.

Kansas, however, because the a battle ground for antislavery and pro-slavery forces.  Elections results were disputed because Missouri residents came to Kansas and voted illegally.   Likewise, a few of the abolitionists, such as John Brown, became known for their sometimes violent efforts to fight slavery.  John Brown was a deeply religious man who passionately believed in the freedom and equality of all men. He followed five of his sons to Kansas Territory. During his time in Kansas he became nationally known for attacks on pro-slavery settlers. 

Additional information on abolition efforts in Kansas:

Adair, Florella Brown

Adair, Samuel Lyle

Beecher Bibles

Brown, John

Conway, Martin Franklin

Emigrant Aid Societies

Gardner, Joseph

Horace Greeley in Kansas

Lane, James Henry

Nichols, Clarina

Reeder, Andrew Horatio

Robinson, Charles

Territorial era primary sources from the Kansas Historical Society are available online in the Bleeding Kansas portion of Kansas Memory and on a cooperative web site (Territorial Kansas Online) with the Kansas Collection, University of Kansas.


Portions from The Kansas Journey.

Entry: Abolition

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: August 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.