May Stories Behind the Stamps: Freedom’s Frontier

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area in Kansas (and Missouri) has received its first Passport cancellation this month. This picture is of Fort Scott National Historic Site, located within the Heritage Area. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.

Eastern National has released their list of new stamps for the month of May:

    • Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument | Washington, DC
    • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail | Woodlawn, VA
    • Valles Caldera National Preserve | Jemez Springs, NM
    • Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area | Lawrence, KS

The stamp for the brand new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument simply replaces the previous stamp for its old designation as the Sewall-Belmont House Affiliated Area.  The story behind this new National Monument is well worth reading, you can check it out in this Parkasaurus post.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is also a relatively new unit of the National Park System.  Ever since it was transferred to the National Park Service by legislation in December 2014, it has been using an unofficial stamp reading “New Mexico” as the location.  The “Jemez Springs, NM” stamp is its first official stamp from Eastern National, and will presumably replace the existing stamp.

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs from the mouth of the Potomac in the Chesapeake Bay all the way up to Cumberland, Maryland and from there, into the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania.  The newest stamp is for a National Trust for Historic Preservation property adjacent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Woodlawn Plantation was given as a gift by George Washington in 1799 to his nephew,  Lawrence Lewis, upon his marriage to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, of all people, Eleanor Custis.  By 1799, George Washington was two years removed from the Presidency, from which he retired from in 1797. The gift was made with some intent of keeping the new family close to home, as it were.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he was just a few months away from his sudden death due to some sort of upper respiratory ailment in December 1799.  Woodlawn Plantation first became a historical house museum in 1949, and it would actually become the very first property acquired and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1957.  In 1961, the property would add the Pope-Leighey House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, that had to be relocated from nearby Falls Church, Virginia due to the construction of Interstate 66.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation now owns or operates nearly two dozen historic buildings, and partners with the administration of a half-dozen others through cooperative agreements.  Of the 20 properties owner or operated the Trust, this is the 5th to be included in the Passport Program.

Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of "Bleeding Kansas," but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces - events commemorated by the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.
Fort Scott in Kansas was decommissioned by the time of the events of “Bleeding Kansas,” but the repurposed buildings were the site of several conflicts between pro- and anti- slavery forces – events commemorated by the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.  Photo from 2006.

The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area includes 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri, and principally commemorates the events of the Bleeding Kansas years of 1854 to 1861 leading up to the Civil War.  This stamp is their first Passport cancellation, and will be located at the partnership organization’s headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas.  For more on National Heritage Areas, check out this Parkasaurus post.

The term “Bleeding Kansas” refers to the years of extensive civil conflict between pro-slavery and pro-abolition settlers spurred by the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and culminating in the start of the Civil War in 1861.

The history of the antebellum United States is largely a history of tensions over slavery, divided between the southern states whose economies were largely dependent on slavery, and northern states who became increasingly in favor of abolition of slavery during this time. Following independence from Great Britain, the semi-independent state of Vermont, and the just-across-the-Appalachians states of Kentucky and Tennessee were added to the Union relatively quickly, all during the Presidency of George Washington.  The fertile land of Ohio was added in March 1803, just months before the Louisiana Purchase would be completed.   That would lead to the addition of the state of Louisiana, and its valuable port of New Orleans, in the spring of 1812 – just 49 days before the US would declare war in the War of 1812.

Thus, the initial wave of expansion left the United States with 18 stars on its flag, and a rough parity of 9 southern states (counting Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) where slavery was legal and 9 northern states where slavery had been abolished since at least 1804 (when New Jersey became the last of them to abolish slavery).  Following the War of 1812, the question of how to handle the expansion of the United States into the western territories, and in particular, how that might alter the parity between “slave” and “free” states became arguably the preoccupying political issue of the era.  Indiana and Mississippi would join the Union almost exactly a year apart in December of 1816 and 1817 respectively.  Illinois and Alabama would follow them in the Decembers of 1818 and 1819.  Then the Missouri compromise of 1820 would allow Maine to split off from the rest of Massachusetts in March 1820, followed by Missouri joining as a “slave state” in August of 1821.

The Missouri Compromise was supposed to settle this issue by extending the line of the Virginia-North Carolina, Kentucky-Tennessee, and Missouri-Arkansas Territory borders westward, and providing that future states located within the Louisiana Purchase and to south of that line would be “slave states,” and that future states north of that line would be “free states.”  This compromise more-or-less held as Arkansas was admitted in June 1836 and Michigan was added in January 1837.  So too, with the addition of Florida and Texas in March and December of 1845, and then Iowa and Wisconsin in December 1846 and May 1848.

The admission of Wisconsin came just a little less than three months after the Mexican-American had ended in February, after less than two years of fighting.  The results of that war would change the balance between “slave” and “free” states in ways that no way had anticipated.  Unbeknownst to both the treaty negotiators ending the war and also to those in Congress admitting Wisconsin to the Union, gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill in California, less than two weeks before the war had ended.  It would take several months for word of the discovery to reach the wider world, but by 1849 hundreds of thousands of “forty-niners” would be arriving in California, many along what is today marked by the National Park Service as the California National Historic Trail.   Just one year later the massive influx of people would begin raising the question of statehood for California sooner than anyone had previously imagined and would begin the process of unravelling the Missouri Compromise.

Technically, the Missouri Compromise  only applied to those lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, thus a new deal was technically required for how to handle the slavery question in the territories that had been newly conquered from Mexico.  That deal was the Compromise of 1850.  California would be admitted to the Union as a “free state.”  In addition, instead of extending the Missouri Compromise line through the rest of the lands acquired in the Mexican-American War, the newly-formed New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory would each be allowed to decide the slavery question for themselves through popular sovereignty.  This somewhat satisfied both sides as it opened the possibility of additional pro-slavery states in the new lands, but at the same time it was recognized in the north that the largely desert climate of these new states would likely be unsuitable for plantation-style agriculture.  The compromise would also settle the northern and western boundaries of Texas (which had been added five years earlier) and also prohibit the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia.  In exchange for what on balance seemed like a major victory for the pro-abolition forces in the northern states, the southern states gained a truly major concession, passage of a much-stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

The Fugitive Slave Act established severe penalties for aiding an escaped slave, and imposed requirements for helping to return escaped slaves.  The Fugitive Slave Act quickly became resented in the northern states, as in their view it essentially forced northerners to become complicit in the practice of slavery itself.  Thus things simmered for four years until the question of future statehood for Kansas rose to the top of the agenda, especially as Kansas was located to the north of the Missouri Compromise line, and thus should have been a “free” state.  On the other hand, with the admission of new states from the desert lands acquired in the Mexican-American war still many years away, there were no longer any obvious pairings of future “slave” and “free” states for admission to the Union.  Thus, Senators from southern states began holding up legislation applying to the new territories, which not only would hold up their future admission to the Union, but also blocked the legal frameworks necessary for the extension westward of the future trans-continental railroad to California.

A solution to this impasse was struck in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively repealing the Missouri compromise and extending the notion of “popular sovereignty” from the former Mexican territories to the future states of Kansas Nebraska.  In exchange for this victory of southern states, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for construction of the trans-continental railroad to proceed.  Still, the “popular sovereignty” provisions would soon prove disastrous, creating an immediate free-for-all as pro-slavery settlers from the south and pro-abolition settlers from the north flooded into Kansas in the hopes of  altering Kansas’ final orientation as a “slave” or “free” state upon statehood.  Tensions between the two sides were palpable, and violence would regularly erupt between the two sides off and on for the next several years. Even as Minnesota and Oregon would be added to the Union as “free states” in 1858 and 1859 (in part due to Oregon electing two pro-slavery Democrats as Senators, despite being a “free” state), the “Bleeding Kansas” era would only come to an end once the secession of the first six southern states allowed the Senate to ratify Kansas as the 34th (or the 28th, depending on your perspective) state of the Union in January 1861. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area was established to tell the stories from the front lines of the conflict over slavery in the years leading up the Civil War.

With these additions, there are now 2,008 total active cancellations in the Passport to Your National Parks program.   Excluding the cancellations for anniversaries and special events, there 1,912 active cancellations available.

A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
A visually stunning candlelight tour at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo courtesy NPS.gov.
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