This political cartoon, attacking the Democratic Party and "Bleeding Kansas," appeared during the presidential campaign of 1856. In the center stands Democratic President Franklin Pierce, dressed as a "Border Ruffian," as the violent, pro-slavery invaders of the Kansas territory from Missouri were known. The allegorical figure of Liberty kneels at his feet. Further to the right are Democratic presidential candidates Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas. On the left are Pierce's Secretary of State William Marcy and presidential candidate (and eventual winner) James Buchanan.

Illustration by John L. Magee, courtesy Library of Congress

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  • On March 30, 1855, “Border Ruffians” from Missouri illegally influenced elections in the new U.S. territory of Kansas. The Civil War had its origins in this dispute, a conflict nicknamed “Bleeding Kansas.”
    The elections were important, as they would decide if the Kansas territory allowed slavery or not. Most settlers in Kansas were anti-slavery. However, just across Kansas’ eastern border was the pro-slavery state of Missouri. “Border Ruffians” was the name embraced by hundreds of Missouri residents who violently opposed Kansas’ “Free Staters.” 
    Border Ruffians crossed the border, took control of polling places, prevented anti-slavery residents from casting votes, and stuffed ballot boxes. This was all illegal, but a pro-slavery government was elected.
    The elections did not end the conflict. In fact, Kansas became the single most important region for the slavery debate throughout the 1850s. It was also the most violent. The brutal series of conflicts in Bleeding Kansas continued until Kansas joined the U.S. as a free state in 1861—the year the Civil War began.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ballot Noun

    technology (such as a slip of paper or an electronic form) by which a voter casts their vote.

    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    Civil War Noun

    (1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    debate Verb

    to argue or disagree in a formal setting.

    dispute Noun

    debate or argument.

    election Noun

    selection of people to public office by vote.

    embrace Verb

    to support enthusiastically.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    illegal Adjective

    forbidden by law.

    influence Verb

    to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    settler Noun

    person who migrates and establishes a residence in a largely unpopulated area.

    slavery Noun

    process and condition of owning another human being or being owned by another human being.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.