Best Defense

Mulling Kansas 1856 and America 2016

The more I read about Kansas in the 1850s, the more I see some unhappy parallels to today.



I’ve been reading Bleeding Kansas, another lender from my historical daughter. And the more I read about Kansas in the 1850s, the more I see some unhappy parallels to today.

— Each side undercutting the legitimacy of the other. Refusing to recognize election results when other side wins.

— Federal government paralyzed by parallel disagreements. House would make a move, Senate would block it.

— Allegations of voter fraud, some of them quite accurate. In a March 1855 election, some 5,427 votes were cast — even though there were only 2,905 voters residing in the Kansas territory.

— Violence becoming part of politics. South Carolina congressmen beats the hell of a Massachusetts senator on the floor of the Senate.

What happens when these trends accelerate:

— Militia activity becoming more widespread.

— Political parties edging into becoming militias.

— General radicalization with the passage of time. Today’s extremism is tomorrow’s norm.

— When people are charged with treason, juries say it was self-defense.

— John Brown commits acts of terror to respond to the attack on Lawrence, Kansas.

— Eventually, the presence of U.S. troops are polling places is needed, but even so doesn’t happen.

Photo credit: John L. Magee (c.1820 – c.1870)/Boston Athenaeum Digital Collections/Wikimedia Commons


Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola