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02.06.01 Nichols, Alice, Bleeding Kansas, published in 1954, Oxford University Press.

Notes Concerning the Author:

Alice Nichols is a terrific example of an excellent historian who did not make history her life’s career, did not get a PhD in history, did not teach history in a college or university.  The brief biography on the dust cover of her book (as of 1954) follows. 

“Alice Nichols, a New York magazine editor, was born in Liberal, Kansas, in 1905 and received her B. S. degree from Kansas State College.   She started her own newspaper, The Nichols Journal, when she was nine years old and has been in journalism ever since — on newspapers in Kansas, magazines in New York, and with the War Food Administration during the war.  She was manager of the National Nutrition and Food Conservation Campaign, had a special service to magazine food editors, and learned the terrible power of propaganda when she cleaned the country out of cheese and dried beans.  For more than ten years she has devoted her leisure time to writing this book.  She likes horseback riding, going to horse races, sailing, wandering around New York, and ‘going home to Kansas to give my eyes a good stretch on the high plains.’”

Several books, titled “Bleeding Kansas” have been published since 2,000, but none compare to Nichol’s masterpiece of historical research and narrative writing.


No American living today can understand the sectional politics of the 1850’s that gave rise to the Republican Party in the northern States, produced State Secession and then the Republican military campaign to subjugate Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri and to conquer the eleven seceded States of the Confederacy.  Understanding Bleeding Kansas is essential.  And no history tells the story as completely and factually as the 1954 book by Alice Nichols.

Kansas Territory became a bleeding sectional battlefield almost immediately after Senator Stephen A. Douglas pushed through the Kansas-Nebraska Bill on May 30, 1854, which established the two new National Territories.  The expectation was that most settlers coming into Kansas Territory, located due west of Missouri, would allow African-American slaves to live in that future State, and, likewise, most settlers coming into Nebraska Territory, located due west of Iowa, would vote to prohibit African-American slaves from living in that future State.  But a peaceful migration was not to be.  Organizations quickly rose up to support settlement in Kansas by northern States men who violently opposed allowing slaves to live there and saw themselves as part of a crusade to prevent it.  The result was Bleeding Kansas, a 6-year period of unprecedented territorial violence, deceit and well-financed political propaganda, directed toward justifying hatred toward the people of the southern States and the Democratic Party, making possible the rapid rise of the Republican Party in the northern States.  From the jacket on Nichol’s book we read.

“In a moving and lively narrative, Miss Nichols thoroughly examines this crucial chapter in American history.  Her entirely new approach, not without a touch of iconoclasm, gives the South its due and shows the excesses of the heretofore blameless North.  This approach required the most diligent research and weighing, since no other period in history has been so deliberately lied about.  Miss Nichols has drawn her material from original sources — from books written by the propagandists of the day, from the diarists, from such territorial papers as are still available.  Her frequent use of direct quotations and dialogue taken from contemporary sources gives color, spirit, and vivid reality to a picturesque and exciting story.  One of her most important contributions is the thorough checking of how Eastern papers, which had sent correspondents to cover the troubles in Kansas Territory, handled the Northern excesses of the time.  Her interpretation of the whole period is completely fresh.”

“Certainly no State ever chose a more fitting motto than did young Kansas.  Ad Astra per Aspera.  It had been and would always be ‘To the starts by hard ways’.”

There are three books that represent a closely related set and all three ought to be read as a directed study.  Alice Nichols “Bleeding Kansas”, William E. Gienapp’s “The Origins of the Republican Party . . .” and Otto Scott’s “The Secret Six . . .” together tell the story.  Perhaps add Robert W. Johannsen’s “Stephen A. Douglas” to the list.  All are among the Society’s Recommended Reading List.

Availability of this Book

If you can get a used copy of this book, that is recommended.  Few exist on the market.  There is a Google e-book version.  One would hope for a paperback reprint to become available soon.  You might try to get the book on interlibrary loan, then take it to a copy machine and copy it (legally, you may copy a book for your personal scholarly pursuit, but not for sale to others).  Do not be tempted to purchase a more recent book by a different author.  Do not settle for less than the 1954 book by Miss Alice Nichols.  (check