Frederick Law Olmsted was born on April 26, 1822 in Hartford, Connecticut and died at an asylum at the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1903. He is now remembered as the founding father of American landscape architecture. During his lifetime, he planned many parks, urban landscapes, and university campuses including the following: Franklin Park; Prospect Park; Central Park; the planned community of Riverside, Illinois; the U. S. Capitol; the Biltmore Estate; and Stanford University.
Before devoting his life to landscape architecture, Olmsted traveled the world and reported on his experiences in Europe and the United States. His travels to England inspired his Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852). In 1852, Olmsted began a fourteen-month tour of the Southern States as an assignment for the New York Daily Times. He penned a series of newspaper articles about his experiences and observations in the south, and these articles formed the basis of three of his books: A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), and A Journey in the Back Country (1860).
These writings were then shortened and revised for The Cotton Kingdom (1861). Engel and Peuscher note that, in his writings, Olmsted wished “to convince planters that slavery did not pay. ” Olmsted’s introduction to Gladstone’s The Englishman in Kansas can be viewed in much the same way. Analysis of Olmsted’s Introduction to The Englishman in Kansas Thomas H. Gladstone’s The Englishman in Kansas: Or, Squatter Life and Border Warfare was originally published as a series of “Letters from Kansas” in the London Times.
When the book was published in the United States in 1857, it featured an introduction by Olmsted. Like Gladstone, Olmsted had traveled extensively through the southern states and reported on his experiences. As such, Olmsted was uniquely positioned to introduce the Englishman’s work to American audiences. His introduction, however, is not so much concerned with the text that follows. Instead, Olmsted uses the introduction as a platform for disseminating his own views on the evils of slavery and the chaos that was engulfing Kansas.
He is able to accomplish this because Gladstone’s views are in-line with his own. Olmsted writes extensively about the institution of slavery and its negative effects on the Southern character. He notes that Southerners have “a special proneness to violence, and a distrust, or habitual forgetfulness of law and civilized customs” (par. 9). These traits have become “inbred” (par. 10) and more pronounced with each succeeding generation.
As evidence for his firmly-held beliefs, Olmsted provides anecdotes from his own travels throughout the South as well as excerpts from several different newspapers. From this evidence, he argues that Southerners live in a constant state of fear and react to the slightest threat with violence. These extreme reactions are common even in children as they are exposed to this constant threat from a young age. The question of slavery was of particular importance in the territory of Kansas in the 1850s.
When Kansas became a territory in 1854, the question of slavery was left to the residents. Because of this, slave-holding southerners as well as abolitionists rushed to settle the territory. The conflicts between these two groups were often bloody. Olmsted holds both groups responsible for the violence. His deeply-held disdain for Southern character has already been discussed, and he viewed abolitionists similarly: a running thread throughout this introduction is that it is not acceptable to answer violence with more violence.
For Olmsted, however, the ultimate responsibility for the chaotic situation in Kansas lay with the federal government: “Even the measurable success with which they [the Southern men] have […] maintained their conquest […] is evidently entirely dependent on what […] must be the most incredible and inexplicable circumstance in the whole sad business: […] the constant countenance, supplies, reinforcements, and patronage of the federal administration” (par. 38). Though Olmsted focuses on these two important issues (slavery and squatter’s rights), he brings up an important point about how Europeans view the United States.
At the very beginning of the introduction, Olmsted points to Gladstone’s unfamiliarity with American politics in order to demonstrate that the Englishman approached his adventure with an open mind. Gladstone’s shock at the lack of law and order in Kansas was therefore not a result of pre-formed opinions. Later on, Olmsted reminds the American reader that Gladstone’s book was targeting a European audience who might interpret the situation in Kansas as a failure of democracy when, in the author’s view, democracy was not even being properly implemented in the territory.
In conclusion, Olmsted uses this introduction to disseminate his own heavily biased views on the institution of slavery and the situation in Kansas. He makes more references to his own experiences in the south than he does to those of Gladstone. When he writes about the situation in Kansas, he writes for a reader of his own time who is already familiar with the nuances of the situation. As such, this introduction teaches the reader more about Olmsted than it does about Gladstone, the history of Kansas, or the institution of slavery.
Bibliography Engel, Jacqueline and Linda Peuscher. From Revolution to Reconstruction. 2003. http://odur. let. rug. nl/~usa/D/1851-1875/olmsted/jour01. htm. Mitchell, John G. “Frederick Law Olmsted. ” National Geographic Magazine, Online Extra. (March 2005), http://ngm. nationalgeographic. com/ngm/0503/feature2/fulltext. html. Parker, Christopher. “The Accomplishments of Frederick Law Olmsted. ” FrederickLawOlmsted. com (2009). http://www. fredericklawolmsted. com/work. html.
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