Democracy Cannot Thrive Amid Violence: A Lesson from Kansas

bleeding-kansasMichael Woods, a history professor at Marshall University and the author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border, reminds us that Americans must “reaffirm our dedication to democracy as a process” in the midst of this current election campaign.

Here is a taste of his Journal of the Civil War Era piece on “Bleeding Kansas.”

In our own superheated political climate, Bleeding Kansas might seem disturbingly familiar. Born out of disillusionment and desperation, the struggle in Kansas Territory bred a self-righteous refusal to accept the legitimacy of political rivals – and ultimately released a wave of violence. Whether they fought to protect property, preserve racial privilege, or promote an ideology, participants justified fraud, intimidation, and murder by demonizing their foes. History offers few clear-cut lessons, but it is apparent that democracy cannot thrive amid violence, hectoring, and intolerance. It is precisely when our confidence in “politics as usual” has been shaken that we must shun the temptation to take shortcuts to victory. It is precisely in the high-stakes elections, the ones we are most loath to lose, that we must reaffirm our dedication to democracy as a process. When the process breaks down, everyone loses.

Read the entire post here.

And see our Author’s Corner interview with Woods on his earlier book Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States.