Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

How Important Is What Happened In Kansas and Missouri to the Coming Civil War?
Nancy Witt
American History
Time Frame:
One class period but there are opportunities for further research and extension activities.
Civil War

Grade Levels:
6, 7, 8

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Students will work in groups creating posters and then participating in a gallery walk where students will explain the Kansas-Nebraska Act, election of March 3, 1855, Pottawatomie Creek, Sacking of Lawrence & other violent acts, and the Lecompton Compromise.


To show students that the Kansas-Nebraska Act and

"Bleeding Kansas" was more than John Brown and a few border raids.



District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


d. Expansion and Reform (1801-1861) 

California State Standards

8.9-Students analyze the early and steady attempts to abolish slavery and to realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

8.9.5- Analyze the significance of the States


’ Rights Doctrine, the Missouri Compromise (1820), the Wilmot Proviso (1846), the Compromise of 1850, Henry Clay’s role in the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision (1857), and the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858).


8.10-Students analyze the multiple causes, key events, and complex consequences of the Civil War.


8.10.2-Trace the boundaries constituting the North and the South, the geographical differences between the two regions, and the differences between agrarians and industrialists.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

All topics and materials can be found on the internet via a basic search. 

Kansas-Nebraska Act

Accounts of March election

Pottawatomie Creek

Lawrence, Kansas



Timeline of events in Kansas & Missouri since the Act was passed

Necessary vocabulary

Territorial Maps of Missouri & Nebraska


Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Letter from  C.K. Halliday to his wife

Topeka K. T.

April 1, 1855


My Dear Wife –

Dont you begin to think I am a very punctual and constant husband? Just reflect! It is now about five months (and Oh how long they have been) since I have been in this Territory and of all that time I have scarcely once failed to regularly every Sabbath indite you an epistle – besides a number that I wrote you on other days than the Sabbath.

I have been this constant at many times when I felt little like writing disposition; and at others when the cold or inconvenience made it almost impossible for me to write – Today even I ought to be giving my attention to the care and comfort of some one hundred emigrants who have just arrived from the East; but I could not let the day pass without scribbling you a line and letting you know that I am still living and in the enjoyment of good health and spirits –

Enclosed you will find a circular by which you will learn that my name was used as a candidate for Representative for the Third District - When we went to the polls the Missourians had charge of the grounds – had driven off the Judges of Election and taken the matter into their own hands. We therefore, did not vote at all but left the grounds peaceably and have protested against the legality of the whole election. Had the citizens alone been permitted to vote I would have been elected by a respectable majority - Our District numbers, by the Census, one hundred and one votes - There could not have been less than 400 or 500 Missourians on the grounds: hence we took the course we did - What the final result of all this will be I know not - I was very fearful that there would be much violence and blood shed on the day of election at Lawrence and other points: but so far as I have heard every thing went off peaceably - This one thing, however. I do know that Kansas will be a free state The friends in the East may fully rely upon this -

Our City is looking up considerably since the warm and pleasant weather has set in, and I am also satisfied that we must become one of the most considerable points in the Territory. Buildings are going up rapidly and every day adds some new improvement to the place –

I am now fearful that I cannot leave here as soon as I wrote you in my last - I will, perhaps, know this week – but being president of the Association my attention and time are very much required at this place - So that if I do not come as soon as you might wish you must attribute to the fact that necessity will oblige me to remain here and not to any neglect of my dear wife. As I often wrote before to you I want you to keep a good and cheerful heart – relying upon it that I am near you often in mind if not in person and that my delay here is the result of a belief that duty calls me here.

I am very anxious to hear from you concerning a certain matter in which we are both interested - I trust my dear wife that you have been well sustained in the severe pains & trials to which you have been subjected. It is a couple of weeks since I have had any word from you and Oh! how long the time does seem - I know not why my letters do not come more regular - You ought to just see how ragged I am - My clothes are all worn and they dont even stick together any more and what is worst I have no money even to buy more with but I will try and raise some at Lawrence this week. Give my love to all the family & tell everybody that I like Kansas better & better every day.

Your lov’g Husband

C. K. Holliday


Diary Account of  Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas

Lawrence K T

May 23rd [1856 ]

Dear Friends;

Tired and worn I can only write you briefly, to assure you of my safety after the fearful disaster to which this unfortunate town has been subjected, rumors of which will undoubtedly reach you in advance of this.

I cannot enter into a detailed account, but will give you a sketch of the scene which unparalleled as it is in the history of this country, I am well aware will excite much feeling and indignation. Since the shooting of Jones, which proved to be no serious affair, as he has again

assumed the duties of the responsible post of “Sheriff of Douglas County”; and the attempt at arrest Gov Reeder, the U S Marshal and Shannon have been diligently engaged in assembling a posse of recent emigrants from the south also Missouri "for the enforcement of the laws." For days they were encamped (several hundred in number) in this vicinity engaged in robbery of every degree. Attended with some sacrifice of life.

After renewed threats on their part and every possible effort on ours to avert the impending catastrophe (not that we feared them but that we were anxious to save a colession & further to show the world that we had no disposition to thwart the action of the U. S. Authorities).


Day before yesterday May the 21st; let the day be remembered in years to come, as the scene of the grossest outrage ever perpetrated under the cover of war. At daybreak a large force were in possession of a height that commands the town, which during the forenoon was augmented to some six or eight hundred in number armed with U S army furnished by Shannon, with banners upon which were inscribed “Slavery for Kansas” and such like [xxx]. Our citizens, for we had no others in town, having refused to accept the assistance of nearly 1000 men proffered us from different parts of the Territory determined to make no show of resistance to the U S authorities, and thus give the lie to the base slanders of our disloyalty. About noon the Marshal came into town and made some arrests without disturbance, returning to camp the M___ informed the mob that his business was done And Sheriff Jones was in command, whereupon said Jones marched into town and demanded a surrender of all the arms public and private in town. Not waiting for a reply he ordered all the forces marched into town. D R Atchison made a speech. Four cannons were planted in the principal street and the “sack” commenced. The Free State Hotel and the printing presses having been “indicted as nuisances” by Judge Lecompte were made the first subject of their vengeance. The former was first battered with the guns, that failing an attempt to “Blow it up” with like success. It was then fired. It cost twenty thousand dollars and was just finished. Both presses were thrown into the Kansas river. Every house in town was plundered and the women and children driven off.


I cannot enlarge further as I am entirely exhausted. We do not dispair of success indeed we are more confident than ever. We are making arrangements to redress our own wrongs.


 I have been this day commissioned to an important work which when performed I think of paying a hasty visit to the States, perhaps to Vermont.


You need have no concern for me as I am safe.�O. E. L



Full description of activity or assignment.


Assign textbook reading on Kansas-Nebraska Act for homework.

Copies of KWL chart for each student.

Poster paper, tape, markers fro each group.

Copies of timeline, vocabulary, and maps for each group.

Copies of necessary primary source documents.


After students have read the section in their text (for homework the previous night) on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Pottawatomie Creek, and Bleeding Kansas.

Students should complete a KWL Chart at the beginning of class.

Students are divided into five groups of 5-6 students.

Each group has access to a timeline, maps of Missouri & Kansas, and necessary vocabulary. They also have poster paper and markers available.

One group will have a summary sheet of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

One group will have accounts of the March 3, 1855 election.

One group will have accounts of the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre.

One group will have accounts of events at Lawrence Kansas.

One group will have copies of the Lecompton Compromise.

Students in each group will read through the documents available to them and illustrate or write on the poster a summary of the major points/events. 20 minutes.

Gallery Walk-Students will post their posters around the classroom and have one student who remains with their groups


’ poster to explain and answer questions as students move around the room until they have been to each poster. 5 minutes each poster =25 minutes.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Students will return to their KWL charts and complete their charts.

Writing assignment: How do the events in Kansas and Missouri impact the start of the Civil War or are these events actually the beginning of the war?

KWL Chart                                                    Name ________________________

Kansas-Nebraska Act                                      Date__________________________

                                                                   Period ________________________


What Do You Know?

What Do You Want To Know?

What Did You Learn?