The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The act also gave the territories the power to choose to be either a free state or a slave state. By doing this the Act negated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 in which any new state in the West or north of Missouri’s lower state line entered into the Union as a free state.
The country itself was balancing precariously on the cusp of a Civil War. Kansas, in furor over the Act of 1854, experienced bloody battles between anti-slavery abolitionists and those who supported Kansas as a slave state. Because of the fighting, Kansas was nicknamed “Bleeding Kansas.” Ultimately, Kansas entered as a free state in January 1861.
During Kansas’ upheaval, abolitionists across the Union sent supplies, and in some cases, fighters to help establish a free state. One of these abolitionists was New York preacher Henry Ward Beecher. He, along with his congregation, wanted to help anti-slavery agenda. The one thing he believed the new Kansas emigrants needed most was guns. His group raised around $625 and bought Sharps rifles, costing $25 each, and 25 Bibles. The crates of weapons were labeled “Beecher’s Bibles,” so it would not arouse suspicion. On February 8, 1856, the New York Tribune ran a article on Beecher in which it discusses the ideology behind the guns.
He [Henry W. Beecher] believed that the Sharps Rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles. You might just as well. . . read the Bible to Buffaloes as to those fellows who follow Atchison and Stringfellow; but they have a supreme respect for the logic that is embodied in Sharp’s rifle.
Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a powerful anti-slavery novel still popular today.
Patrick, E.J. The Civil War Reader: Facts, Trivia, Legends, and Lore. New York: MJF Books, 2008, 5-7.