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Law, Popular Legal Culture, and the Case of Kansas, 1854-1856

21 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2013 Last revised: 5 Sep 2015

Chad G. Marzen

Florida State University

Date Written: February 16, 2013


In the wake of the movie Lincoln and the 150th anniversary of events such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg, more attention and discussion in 2013 is likely to be directed to the causes, effects, and legacy of the Civil War, in law and social impact. This article contends that there is one historical time and moment which should not be overlooked – the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and period of time with events relating to Kansas from approximately 1854-1856 which preceded the onset of the Civil War.

This Article applies Professor Friedman’s framework of popular legal culture to appeals for emigration to Kansas made by abolitionists and Northeasterners in response to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Instruments of popular culture, including circulars, handbooks, music, poetry, speeches, and especially newspaper heavily influenced migration to Kansas from 1854 to 1856 as a direct response to the notion of popular sovereignty embraced by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

This article concludes that by engaging in a close reading of Kansas rhetoric from 1854-1856 in the instruments of popular culture which responded to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the significant change in tone helps to explain how popular culture and the response to the legislation led to the growing polarization between North and South prior to the onset of the Civil War.

Suggested Citation

Marzen, Chad G., Law, Popular Legal Culture, and the Case of Kansas, 1854-1856 (February 16, 2013). Wyoming Law Review, Volume 14, Issue 1 (2014). Available at SSRN: or

Chad G. Marzen (Contact Author)

Florida State University ( email )

College of Business
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

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