Review: Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858

Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858
by Craig Miner

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 305 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (September 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700616128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700616121

“Bleeding Kansas” stirs the blood and invokes images from our national memory over 150 years after the event.  One of the first violent national confrontations on the road to war, Kansas occupies a special and unique place in the history of Nineteenth Century America.  It was here that the theory of popular sovereignty received a field test.  Kansas galvanized America, occupying its’ attention for many years, creating heroes and villains a plenty.  How an area remote from population centers came to be the center of attention is the subject of this book.

This is not a history of “the troubles”.  This is not an agenda heavy tome where the howling orcs set upon the peaceful hobbits.  The reader will find an excellent history with orcs and hobbits depicted complete to blood dripping from claws and fangs.  Just which side is the orcs and which is the hobbits depends on the newspaper we are reading.

This book looks at “Bleeding Kansas” in the words of the time.  We look at what America “saw” in terms of coverage on Kansas.  The story is not so much the event as the reporting of the event.  The author couples this reporting with a solid narration of events and reference to our historical understanding of these events.  What is in the papers, our understanding of the event and what history shows to be true make for fascinating reading.  What is in the papers varies depending on location and politics.  This is the age of partisan newspapers with no suggestion of balance.  People bought your newspaper expecting to agree with your editorials and wanted the news to agree with their positions.  Editors did not disappoint their readers.  Strongly worded is an understatement.  North or South, Wig, Democrat or Republican newspapers take the proper position and report events accordingly.  The author skillfully moves from one position to another providing as balanced look at an event as possible.  The book reflects the Northeast newspaper’s domination of the news and reporting.  However, the author avoids taking their positions and is careful to provide coverage from Southern papers.

In addition to the newspaper accounts, the author provides a historical perspective from his knowledge and the ideas of others.  The result is a readable, thought provoking book.  We watch the developing positions, the hardening of attitudes and the demonizing of the other side as it occurs.  This is not a pretty picture but provides food for thought about what happens when all accommodation and restraint is lost.

This is an invaluable book for students of event leading to the Civil War, students of Bleeding Kansas and anyone interested in the role of the press in national events.  The author writes well demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the subject.  While reporting of the events is the major focus, the book is an excellent history of events large and small during this time.  Many of the author’s observations will surprise and amuse readers.  Who is important and who is obscure in the 1850s and today is not what you might expect.  This is not an exciting read but it is a rewarding one.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 reviewer.

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One response to “Review: Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858

  1. elektratig Avatar

    Thanks. I hadn’t heard of this book. Looks promising.

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