to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
most difficult national problem facing the administration of President Franklin
Pierce was the situation in Kansas. The territory struggled with the issue of
settlers elected a representative to Congress. Then they won a majority of
seats in the territorial legislature. An investigation found that people from
the neighboring state of Missouri had voted in the elections illegally. Yet the
results were accepted.
new Kansas lawmakers did not like the territorial governor. They demanded that
President Pierce dismiss him. Pierce agreed.
week on our series, Ray Freeman and Steve Ember continue the story of the
presidency of Franklin Pierce. And they talk about the presidential election of
settlers in Kansas felt they could not get fair treatment from either the
president or the new governor. So they took an extreme step. They formed their
own government in opposition to the elected government of the territory.
political group was known as the Free State Party. Party members
wrote their own constitution and chose their own governor.
Pierce said the actions of the Free State Party seemed revolutionary. He warned
against violence. He said if party members attacked any officials or property
of the territory or the federal government, party leaders should be charged
president gave the pro-slavery governor of Kansas control of troops at two army
bases in the territory. Many people feared that the governor would use the
troops to arrest the leaders of the Free State government.
between the two sides almost began when a Free State man was killed by a
pro-slavery man. Free State settlers gathered in the town of Lawrence and
organized a defense force. At the same time, hundreds of pro-slavery men
crossed the border from Missouri. They planned to go to Lawrence and burn it to
pro-slavery governor and the Free State governor agreed to hold an emergency
meeting. They negotiated a settlement, and the men on both sides went home. The
truce did not last long.
weeks that followed, a number of attempts were made to stop or arrest the
leaders of the Free State government. Pro-slavery officials urged private
citizens to help. Once again, hundreds of men -- including many from Missouri
-- gathered in Kansas. Once again, their target was the town of Lawrence. This
time, however, there was no truce.
pro-slavery mob attacked and burned several buildings. A number of people were
killed. The violence might have ended quickly. But one of the men defending the
town believed that the battle against the forces of slavery must continue. And
he believed that God had chosen him to lead it. The man was John Brown.
heard that five Free State men had died in the attack on Lawrence. So he said
five pro-slavery men must die in return. He led a group that seized and killed
disorder in Kansas continued. Settlers were forced off their land. Houses were
burned. More people were killed. The territory became known as "Bleeding
clear that there were deep differences between the northern and southern
American states. The differences involved their economies, their systems of
labor, and their way of life.
disorder caused by these differences was the chief issue in the presidential
election of eighteen fifty-six. Three political parties offered candidates: the
Democrats, the Republicans and the Know-Nothings.
Party did not offer a candidate. The party had gone out of existence by then.
Its members had split over the question of slavery in the western territories.
The split could not be healed. Most southern Whigs joined the Democratic Party.
Most northern Whigs joined the Know-Nothing Party.
Know-Nothing Party began as a secret anti-immigrant organization. It feared
that too many people from other countries were coming to live in the United
did not want to admit that they belonged to the group. When asked, they said,
"I know nothing."
is how the organization got its name.
Democratic Party was led by President Franklin Pierce. Pierce wanted to run for
re-election. Many northern Democrats, however, objected to his support of the
pro-slavery legislature in Kansas. Other Democrats did not think he was the
strongest candidate. As a result, Pierce faced competition for the party's nomination.
opponent was Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois. Douglas had great political
ability. He also had many political enemies. He was the man most responsible
for gaining congressional approval of the bill that opened Kansas to slavery.
other opponent for the Democratic nomination was James Buchanan of
Pennsylvania. Buchanan was a northerner who would probably leave the South
not friendly to the idea of slavery," he said. "but the rights of the
South -- under our constitution -- should have as much protection as the rights
of any other part of our Union. "
Democratic Party met in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the first time a
national political convention was held that far west.
needed two-thirds of the votes to win the nomination. After several days of
voting, no candidate had received enough. So, in an effort to unite the party,
Stephen Douglas offered to withdraw. James Buchanan got his votes and the
Republican Party was a new political party. Its members opposed slavery for
either moral or economic reasons.
Republicans were Abolitionists. They wanted to ban slavery everywhere in the
United States. The majority of Republicans, however, were not Abolitionists.
They had no interest in ending slave labor in the South. They simply did not
want slavery to spread to other areas.
Republican Party held its presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia.
For months, party members had spoken of just one man. He was John Fremont.
Fremont had explored the American west. He had been a senator from California.
He was young and exciting. Republicans thought he was the right man to lead
their young and exciting party.
Know-Nothing Party had a divided nominating convention. Northern and southern
members agreed on policies that denounced immigrants. But they split on the
issue of slavery. Northern members opposed it. Southern members supported it.
to the convention chose a candidate who seemed to support the party's policies.
Yet he was not even a member of the party. He was a Whig, former president
members refused to support Fillmore. They broke away from the Know-Nothing
Party and supported the Republican candidate, John Fremont.
could not expect to win any votes in the slave states of the South. He would
have to get all of his support in the North. He would have to win the votes of
the big states, including Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania was the home of the
Democratic candidate, James Buchanan.
had said that the constitutional rights of the southern states should be
protected. So he could expect to win some votes there. When all the votes were
counted, Buchanan was elected. Now he would have to deal with the problems that
presidents before him had not been able to solve.
Buchanan was sixty-five years old. He had served in the House of
Representatives and in the Senate. He had served as secretary of state and as
ambassador. He was a good diplomat. But he was not considered a strong
usually supported the southern position in the dispute about slavery. He said
the North should stop interfering with the South. He even said the South had
good reason to leave the Union, if northern Abolitionists continued their
president, Buchanan believed he could solve the slavery question by keeping the
Abolitionists quiet. He wanted a cabinet that shared and supported this idea.
tell about James Buchanan's administration in our next program.
Our program was written by Christine Johnson. The narrators were Ray
Freeman and Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be
found along with historical images at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next
week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special
This is program #83 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION