Minnesota, Voting Rights and the Civil War

Bill Green discusses one of the most tempestuous eras in Minnesota history, when battles over freedom, race and the vote raged through the state, echoing the national fight that would lead to the U.S. Civil War.

As Minnesota pushed toward statehood in the late 1850s, the national debate about slavery, free soil and the rights of free blacks spilled over into Minnesota Territory. Slaves, including Dred and Harriet Scott, had been held at Fort Snelling since 1820. Vacationing slaveholders had long traveled to Minnesota with their slaves in tow. At the same time, free blacks like Jim Thompson worked to shape the territorial economy and helped build the capital city. But with statehood at stake, Democrats and Republicans waged a vicious philosophical battle over who would have the right to vote, who would be truly free, in Minnesota. At the same time, citizens both black and white feared the state's clashes over race would turn the region into a northern "Bleeding Kansas," and stop the North Star state from ever forming.

Dr. Bill Green is Associate Professor of History and Sabo Senior Fellow at Augsburg College. A noted expert on the history of race and the law, he is the author of "A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Early Minnesota," and is just now completing its sequal. He has also finished a new manuscript entitled "We Have Done Our Part: White Patrons of Black Opportunity."