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Busy in the Cause

Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War

Lowell J. Soike

Publication Year: 2014

Despite the immense body of literature about the American Civil War and its causes, the nation’s western involvement in the approaching conflict often gets short shrift. Slavery was the catalyst for fiery rhetoric on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and fiery conflicts on the western edges of the nation. Driven by questions regarding the place of slavery in westward expansion and by the increasing influence of evangelical Protestant faiths that viewed the institution as inherently sinful, political debates about slavery took on a radicalized, uncompromising fervor in states and territories west of the Mississippi River.

Busy in the Cause explores the role of the Midwest in shaping national politics concerning slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. In 1856 Iowa aided parties of abolitionists desperate to reach Kansas Territory to vote against the expansion of slavery, and evangelical Iowans assisted runaway slaves through Underground Railroad routes in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. Lowell J. Soike’s detailed and entertaining narrative illuminates Iowa’s role in the stirring western events that formed the prelude to the Civil War.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Antislavery events west of the Mississippi River commonly get short shrift in histories, leaving the impression that almost everything consequential happened farther east. Bleeding Kansas and John Brown may receive nods as precursors to the Civil War but...

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pp. xv-xviii

I became interested in antislavery and Underground Railroad activities several years ago when, working at the State Historical Society of Iowa, I prepared a proposal to draw more attention to the state’s story of antislavery. For the next twelve years as time...

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1. Uncertainty Rising

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pp. 1-9

Political compromise on the national level was becoming impossible by the late 1840s. Though holding onto its national power, the South felt its slavery system increasingly threatened by rising antislavery sentiments in the North. Conversely, the North saw the levers of national government firmly in the hands of the...

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2. The Morning Star

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pp. 10-25

The meaning of the new Kansas- Nebraska Act was not lost on James W. Grimes. The direct- talking Burlington, Iowa, lawyer and active Whig jumped into the 1854 race for governor and became the nominee for the joint Whig– Free- Soil coalition. Winning would not be easy because Iowa’s Democratic Party, with its...

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3. Prairie, Dust, and Wind

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pp. 26-44

If proslavery leaders worried about controlling Kansas in the early months of 1856, Free- State settlers constantly worried that border raiders might appear any day. Moreover, until their numbers grew, Free- State leaders counseled that they keep a defensive posture and avoid any aggressive contact with U.S. troops that...

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4. “Do Come and Help Us. Come On through Iowa”

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pp. 45-69

The growing dread among proslavery Missourians that northern arrivals might soon outnumber southern emigrants in the Kansas Territory reached a tipping point in the spring of 1856. Facing these doubts about the months ahead, the moment— for slavery’s sake— seemed to call for greater force. Proslavery leaders...

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5. Ho! For Kansas

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pp. 70-90

One man especially came to signify the northern land route, both in publicity surrounding its creation and in proslavery portrayals of it as an invasion. The Free- State answer to the Missouri River blockade came in a man of western spirit and with a compelling...

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6. Scramble to Freedom

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pp. 91-104

As the hold of proslavery men over the Kansas Territory loosened and Free- State settlement grew, Lawrence and other Free- State communities became home or temporary refuge to escapees from Missouri slavery. Odds of continuing north to Free States were yet slim, however; runaways had to cross vast empty stretches...

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7. Raising the Stakes

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pp. 105-124

As numerous Free- State parties moved across Iowa toward Kansas in 1856, two young men from Springdale, Iowa, had joined the emigrants. George B. Gill and seventeen- year- old Barclay Coppoc climbed aboard the first major Kansas- bound wagon train from Iowa City led by Shalor Eldridge, trail coordinator for Free...

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8. Heaven Sent

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pp. 125-175

Back in Kansas, John Brown and a few of the men— George Gill, Aaron Stevens, John Kagi, and Charles Tidd— briefly stayed around Lawrence and in early July moved on to southeast Kansas, where they hung about into the fall. These southeastern counties lay below the big bend in the Missouri River where no...

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9. North and Back: Captors and Liberators

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pp. 176-208

I The slavery conflicts in Kansas gradually quieted down but not completely for the flow of fugitive slaves from the Kansas Territory to Iowa continued up to the Civil War. The first publicized event of early 1860 came in mid- winter. Four young black men appeared on Friday, February 3, in Tabor, Iowa. These “finely built big men” in their early twenties had...

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pp. 209-216

The Kansas Territory imbroglio kindled Iowa’s involvement in the Free- State cause. The state provided settlers and arms secretly taken from the state arsenal, aided Free- State wagon trains on their way across the state, offered sanctuary to free- Kansas fighters, and its antislavery settlements enabled John Brown to train...


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pp. 217-218


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pp. 219-258

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 259-270


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pp. 271-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780803273849
E-ISBN-10: 0803273843
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803271890

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014