Kansas-Nebraska Act


A law passed by Congress in 1854 that divided the territory west of the states of Missouri and Iowa and the territory of Minnesota into two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The law was extremely controversial because it did not exclude slavery from either territory, despite the fact that the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in these territories. By effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, the law outraged many northerners, led to the collapse of the Whig party and the rise of the Republican party, and moved the nation closer to civil war.

History Nebraska Headquarters

Monday – Friday: 8 am – 5 pm

Phone Number
Currently Being Updated

1500 "R" Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508-1651
view map

Reference Room

Friday 9 am – 4 pm

Phone Number
(402) 471-4751

1500 "R" Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508-1651
view map

Chimney Rock

Daily: 9 am - 4 pm

Phone Number
(308) 586-2581

PO Box F
Bayard, NE 69334
view map

Fort Robinson

Monday - Saturday: 9 am - 4 pm

Phone Number
(308) 665-2919

3200 West Highway 20
Crawford, NE 69339
view map

Nebraska History Museum

Tuesday - Friday: 10 am - 4 pm
Saturday: 10 am - 2 pm

Phone Number
(402) 471-4782

131 Centennial Mall North
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
view map

John G. Neihardt

Tuesday - Saturday: 10 am - 4 pm

Phone Number
(402) 648-3388

306 E Elm St
Bancroft, NE 68004
view map

Neligh Mill

Tuesday - Saturday: 10 am - 4 pm

Phone Number
(402) 887-4303

N Street at Wylie Dr
Neligh, NE 68756
view map

Senator George Norris

By Appointment Only

Phone Number
(308) 345-8484

706 Norris Ave
McCook, NE 69001
view map

Thomas P. Kennard

By Appointment Only

Phone Number
(402) 471-4764

1627 H Street
Lincoln, NE
view map

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

In 1854 Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois presented a bill destined to be one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in our national history. Ostensibly a bill &ldquoto organize the Territory of Nebraska,&rdquo an area covering the present-day states of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and the Dakotas, contemporaries called it &ldquothe Nebraska bill.&rdquo Today, we know it as the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

By the 1850s there were urgent demands to organize the western territories. Land acquired from Mexico in 1848, the California gold rush of 1849, and the relentless trend toward westward expansion pushed farmers, ranchers, and prospectors toward the Pacific. The Mississippi River had long served as a highway to north-south traffic, but western lands needed a river of steel, not of water&mdasha transcontinental railroad to link the eastern states to the Pacific. But what route would that railroad take?

Stephen Douglas, one of the railway&rsquos chief promoters, wanted a northern route via Chicago, but that would take the rail lines through the unorganized Nebraska territory, which lay north of the 1820 Missouri Compromise line where slavery was prohibited. Others, particularly slaveholders and their allies, preferred a southern route, perhaps through the new state of Texas. To pass his &ldquoNebraska bill,&rdquo Douglas needed a compromise.

On January 4, 1854, Douglas introduced a bill designed to tread middle ground. He proposed organizing the vast territory &ldquowith or without slavery, as their constitutions may prescribe.&rdquo Known as &ldquopopular sovereignty,&rdquo this policy contradicted the Missouri Compromise and left open the question of slavery, but that was not enough to satisfy a group of powerful southern senators led by Missouri&rsquos David Atchison. They wanted to explicitly repeal the 1820 line. Douglas viewed the railroad as the &ldquoonward march of civilization,&rdquo and so he agreed to their demands. &ldquoI will incorporate it into my bill,&rdquo he told Atchison, &ldquothough I know it will raise a hell of a storm.&rdquo From that moment on, the debate over the Nebraska bill was no longer a discussion of railway lines. It was all about slavery.

Douglas introduced his revised bill&mdashand the storm began. Ohio senator Salmon Chase denounced the bill as &ldquoa gross violation of a sacred pledge.&rdquo In a published broadside, Charles Sumner&rsquos antislavery coalition attacked Douglas, arguing that his bill would make the new territories &ldquoa dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.&rdquo The fierce drama climaxed in the early morning hours of March 4. &ldquoYou must provide for continuous lines of settlement from the Mississippi Valley to the Pacific Ocean,&rdquo Douglas pleaded in a final address. Do not &ldquofetter the limbs of [this] young giant.&rdquo At 5:00 in the morning, the Senate voted 37-14 to pass the Nebraska bill. It became law on May 30, 1854.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, created two new territories, and allowed for popular sovereignty. It also produced a violent uprising known as &ldquoBleeding Kansas,&rdquo as proslavery and antislavery activists flooded into the territories to sway the vote. Political turmoil followed, destroying the remnants of the old Whig coalition and leading to the creation of the new Republican Party. Stephen Douglas had touted his bill as a peaceful settlement of national issues, but what it produced was a prelude to civil war.

Where is the Nebraska Territory?

The Kansas-Nebraska Act created a territory that stretched all the way north from the southern boundary of present-day Nebraska to include all of the remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Over the years, changes were made that left the territory in roughly the same shape and with roughly the same boundaries as Nebraska has today.

But even this final territory was almost torn into two parts as a conflict developed between the settlers living north of the Platte and those living south of the Platte. The issue that angered the people was the location of the territorial capital and the political power that would go with it. The area south of the Platte River, which had more people, wanted the capital to be located south of the river. They bitterly complained about the choice of Omaha City (north of the Platte) as the first capital. A South Platte convention was held at Brownville in 1859, and a formal request was sent to Congress asking them to allow the South Platte area to be annexed by Kansas. They argued that the soil and climate in Kansas and the South Platte area of Nebraska were similar, and that the Platte River was impassable and formed a natural boundary between Nebraska and Kansas. Eventually a compromise made Lincoln the new capital and reunited the state.

Discussion Questions:

Did Native Americans live in Nebraska during this time period?

How were their lives influenced by the Kansas-Nebraska Act?

How did the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Acts affect the settlement of the Nebraska area?


In his 1853 inaugural address, President Franklin Pierce expressed hope that the Compromise of 1850 had settled the debate over the issue of slavery in the territories. The compromise had allowed slavery in Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory, which had been acquired in the Mexican–American War. The Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery in territories north of the 36°30′ parallel, remained in place for the other U.S. territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, including a vast unorganized territory often referred to as "Nebraska". As settlers poured into the unorganized territory, and commercial and political interests called for a transcontinental railroad through the region, pressure mounted for the organization of the eastern parts of the unorganized territory. Though the organization of the territory was required to develop the region, an organization bill threatened to re-open the contentious debates over slavery in the territories that had taken place during and after the Mexican–American War. [3]

The topic of a transcontinental railroad had been discussed since the 1840s. While there were debates over the specifics, especially the route to be taken, there was a public consensus that such a railroad should be built by private interests, financed by public land grants. In 1845, Stephen A. Douglas, then serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, had submitted an unsuccessful plan to organize the Nebraska Territory formally, as the first step in building a railroad with its eastern terminus in Chicago. Railroad proposals were debated in all subsequent sessions of Congress with cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Quincy, Memphis, and New Orleans competing to be the jumping-off point for the construction. [4]

Several proposals in late 1852 and early 1853 had strong support, but they failed because of disputes over whether the railroad would follow a northern or a southern route. In early 1853, the House of Representatives passed a bill 107 to 49 to organize the Nebraska Territory in the land west of Iowa and Missouri. In March, the bill moved to the Senate Committee on Territories, which was headed by Douglas. Missouri Senator David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slavery were to be permitted. While the bill was silent on this issue, slavery would have been prohibited under the Missouri Compromise in the territory north of 36°30' latitude and west of the Mississippi River. Other Southern senators were as inflexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the Senate voted to table the motion, with every senator from the states south of Missouri voting to table. [5]

During the Senate adjournment, the issues of the railroad and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise became entangled in Missouri politics, as Atchison campaigned for re-election against the forces of Thomas Hart Benton. Atchison was maneuvered into choosing between antagonizing the state's railroad interests or its slaveholders. Finally, he took the position that he would rather see Nebraska "sink in hell" before he would allow it to be overrun by free soilers. [6]

Representatives then generally found lodging in boarding houses when they were in the nation's capital to perform their legislative duties. Atchison shared lodgings in an F Street house shared by the leading Southerners in Congress. He himself was the Senate's President pro tempore. His housemates included Robert T. Hunter (from Virginia, chairman of the Finance Committee), James Mason (from Virginia, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee) and Andrew P. Butler (from South Carolina, chairman of the Judiciary Committee). When Congress reconvened on December 5, 1853, the group, termed the F Street Mess, [7] along with Virginian William O. Goode, formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Douglas was aware of the group's opinions and power and knew that he needed to address its concerns. [8] Douglas was also a fervent believer in popular sovereignty – the policy of letting the voters, almost exclusively white males, of a territory decide whether or not slavery should exist in it. [9]

Iowa Senator Augustus C. Dodge immediately reintroduced the same legislation to organize Nebraska that had stalled in the previous session it was referred to Douglas's committee on December 14. Douglas, hoping to achieve the support of the Southerners, publicly announced that the same principle that had been established in the Compromise of 1850 should apply in Nebraska. [10]

In the Compromise of 1850, Utah and New Mexico Territories had been organized without any restrictions on slavery, and many supporters of Douglas argued that the compromise had already superseded the Missouri Compromise. [11] The territories were, however, given the authority to decide for themselves whether they would apply for statehood as either free or slaves states whenever they chose to apply. [12] The two territories, however, unlike Nebraska, had not been part of the Louisiana Purchase and had arguably never been subject to the Missouri Compromise. [13]

Introduction of Nebraska bill Edit

The bill was reported to the main body of the Senate on January 4, 1854. It had been modified by Douglas, who had also authored the New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory Acts, to mirror the language from the Compromise of 1850. In the bill, a vast new Nebraska Territory was created to extend from Kansas north all the way to the 49th parallel, the US–Canada border. A large portion of Nebraska Territory would soon be split off into Dakota Territory (1861), and smaller portions transferred to Colorado Territory (1861) and Idaho Territory (1863) before the balance of the land became the State of Nebraska in 1867.

Furthermore, any decisions on slavery in the new lands were to be made "when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission." [14] In a report accompanying the bill, Douglas's committee wrote that the Utah and New Mexico Acts:

. were intended to have a far more comprehensive and enduring effect than the mere adjustment of the difficulties arising out of the recent acquisition of Mexican territory. They were designed to establish certain great principles, which would not only furnish adequate remedies for existing evils, but, in all time to come, avoid the perils of a similar agitation, by withdrawing the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, and committing it to the arbitrament of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for its consequences. [15]

The report compared the situation in New Mexico and Utah with the situation in Nebraska. In the first instance, many had argued that slavery had previously been prohibited under Mexican law, just as it was prohibited in Nebraska under the Missouri Compromise. Just as the creation of New Mexico and Utah territories had not ruled on the validity of Mexican law on the acquired territory, the Nebraska bill was neither "affirming nor repealing . the Missouri act." In other words, popular sovereignty was being established by ignoring, rather than addressing, the problem presented by the Missouri Compromise. [15]

Douglas's attempt to finesse his way around the Missouri Compromise did not work. Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon believed that unless the Missouri Compromise was explicitly repealed, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, who would most likely oppose slavery. On January 16 Dixon surprised Douglas by introducing an amendment that would repeal the section of the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of the 36°30' parallel. Douglas met privately with Dixon and in the end, despite his misgivings on Northern reaction, agreed to accept Dixon's arguments. [17]

A similar amendment was offered in the House by Philip Phillips of Alabama. With the encouragement of the "F Street Mess", Douglas met with them and Phillips to ensure that the momentum for passing the bill remained with the Democratic Party. They arranged to meet with President Franklin Pierce to ensure that the issue would be declared a test of party loyalty within the Democratic Party. [18]

Meeting with Pierce Edit

Pierce was not enthusiastic about the implications of repealing the Missouri Compromise and had barely referred to Nebraska in his State of the Union message delivered December 5, 1853, just a month before. Close advisors Senator Lewis Cass, a proponent of popular sovereignty as far back as 1848 as an alternative to the Wilmot Proviso, and Secretary of State William L. Marcy both told Pierce that repeal would create serious political problems. The full cabinet met and only Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of Navy James C. Dobbin supported repeal. Instead, the president and cabinet submitted to Douglas an alternative plan that would have sought out a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise. Both Pierce and Attorney General Caleb Cushing believed that the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional. [19]

Douglas's committee met later that night. Douglas was agreeable to the proposal, but the Atchison group was not. Determined to offer the repeal to Congress on January 23 but reluctant to act without Pierce's commitment, Douglas arranged through Davis to meet with Pierce on January 22 even though it was a Sunday when Pierce generally refrained from conducting any business. Douglas was accompanied at the meeting by Atchison, Hunter, Phillips, and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. [20]

Douglas and Atchison first met alone with Pierce before the whole group convened. Pierce was persuaded to support repeal, and at Douglas' insistence, Pierce provided a written draft, asserting that the Missouri Compromise had been made inoperative by the principles of the Compromise of 1850. Pierce later informed his cabinet, which concurred in the change of direction. [21] The Washington Union, the communications organ for the administration, wrote on January 24 that support for the bill would be "a test of Democratic orthodoxy." [22]

Debate in Senate Edit

On January 23, a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and split the unorganized land into two new territories: Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa, who were concerned with the location of the territory's seat of government if such a large territory were created. Existing language to affirm the application of all other laws of the United States in the new territory was supplemented by the language agreed on with Pierce: "except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820 [the Missouri Compromise], which was superseded by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures [the Compromise of 1850], and is declared inoperative." Identical legislation was soon introduced in the House. [23]

Historian Allan Nevins wrote that the country then became convulsed with two interconnected battles over slavery. A political battle was being fought in Congress over the question of slavery in the new states that were clearly coming. At the same time, there was a moral debate. Southerners claimed that slavery was beneficent, endorsed by the Bible, and generally good policy, whose expansion must be supported. The publications and speeches of abolitionists, some of them former slaves themselves, were telling Northerners that the supposed beneficence of slavery was a Southern lie, and that enslaving another person was un-Christian, a horrible sin that must be fought. Both battles were "fought with a pertinacity, bitterness, and rancor unknown even in Wilmot Proviso days." In Congress, the freesoilers were at a distinct disadvantage. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Douglas, "a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known", led a tightly disciplined party. It was in the nation at large that the opponents of Nebraska hoped to achieve a moral victory. The New York Times, which had earlier supported Pierce, predicted that this would be the last straw for Northern supporters of the slavery forces and would "create a deep-seated, intense, and ineradicable hatred of the institution which will crush its political power, at all hazards, and at any cost." [24]

The day after the bill was reintroduced, two Ohioans, Representative Joshua Giddings and Senator Salmon P. Chase, published a free-soil response, "Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States":

We arraign this bill as a gross violation of a sacred pledge as a criminal betrayal of precious rights as part and parcel of an atrocious plot to exclude from vast unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers from our own States, and convert it into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves. [25]

Douglas took the appeal personally and responded in Congress, when the debate was opened on January 30 before a full House and packed gallery. Douglas biographer Robert W. Johanssen described part of the speech:

Douglas charged the authors of the "Appeal", whom he referred to throughout as the "Abolitionist confederates", with having perpetrated a "base falsehood" in their protest. He expressed his own sense of betrayal, recalling that Chase, "with a smiling face and the appearance of friendship", had appealed for a postponement of debate on the ground that he had not yet familiarized himself with the bill. "Little did I suppose at the time that I granted that act of courtesy," Douglas remarked, that Chase and his compatriots had published a document "in which they arraigned me as having been guilty of a criminal betrayal of my trust," of bad faith, and of plotting against the cause of free government. While other Senators were attending divine worship, they had been "assembled in a secret conclave", devoting the Sabbath to their own conspiratorial and deceitful purposes. [26]

The debate would continue for four months, as many Anti-Nebraska political rallies were held across the north. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Chase, William Seward, of New York, and Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, led the opposition. The New-York Tribune wrote on March 2:

The unanimous sentiment of the North is indignant resistance. . The whole population is full of it. The feeling in 1848 was far inferior to this in strength and universality. [27]

The debate in the Senate concluded on March 4, 1854, when Douglas, beginning near midnight on March 3, made a five-and-a-half-hour speech. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. [30] Free-state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor, and slave-state senators supported the bill 23 to 2. [31]

Debate in House of Representatives Edit

On March 21, 1854, as a delaying tactic in the House of Representatives, the legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled. Davis and Cushing, from Massachusetts, along with Douglas, spearheaded the partisan efforts. [32] By the end of April, Douglas believed that there were enough votes to pass the bill. The House leadership then began a series of roll call votes in which legislation ahead of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was called to the floor and tabled without debate. [33]

Thomas Hart Benton was among those speaking forcefully against the measure. On April 25, in a House speech that biographer William Nisbet Chambers called "long, passionate, historical, [and] polemical", Benton attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which he "had stood upon . above thirty years, and intended to stand upon it to the end—solitary and alone, if need be but preferring company." The speech was distributed afterward as a pamphlet when opposition to the action moved outside the walls of Congress. [34]

It was not until May 8 that the debate began in the House. The debate was even more intense than in the Senate. While it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the bill would pass, the opponents went all out to fight it. [35] Historian Michael Morrison wrote:

A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, nearly provoked the House into a war of more than words. Campbell, joined by other antislavery northerners, exchanged insults and invectives with southerners, neither side giving quarter. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Finally, bumptiousness gave way to violence. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democrat, well oiled and well-armed, had to be restrained from making a violent attack on Campbell. Only after the sergeant at arms arrested him, the debate was cut off, and the House adjourned did the melee subside. [36]

The floor debate was handled by Alexander Stephens, of Georgia, who insisted that the Missouri Compromise had never been a true compromise but had been imposed on the South. He argued that the issue was whether republican principles, "that the citizens of every distinct community or State should have the right to govern themselves in their domestic matters as they please", would be honored. [37]

The final House vote in favor of the bill was 113 to 100. [38] Northern Democrats supported the bill 44 to 42, but all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. Southern Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2, and southern Whigs supported it by 12 to 7. [39]

Enactment Edit

President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas–Nebraska Act into law on May 30, 1854. [40] [41] [42]

Immediate responses to the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act fell into two classes. The less common response was held by Douglas's supporters, who believed that the bill would withdraw "the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, committing it to the arbitration of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for, its consequences." [44] In other words, they believed that the Act would leave decisions about whether slavery would be permitted in the hands of the people rather than the Federal government. The far more common response was one of outrage, interpreting Douglas's actions as part of "an atrocious plot to exclude from a vast unoccupied region immigrant from the old world, and free laborers from their own states, and convert it into a dreary despotism." [45] Especially in the eyes of northerners, the Kansas–Nebraska Act was aggression and an attack on the power and beliefs of free states. [46] The response led to calls for public action against the South, as seen in broadsides that advertised gatherings in northern states to discuss publicly what to do about the presumption of the Act. [47]

Douglas and former Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln aired their disagreement over the Kansas–Nebraska Act in seven public speeches during September and October 1854. [48] Lincoln gave his most comprehensive argument against slavery and the provisions of the act in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, in the Peoria Speech. [49] He and Douglas both spoke to the large audience, Douglas first and Lincoln in response, two hours later. Lincoln's three-hour speech presented thorough moral, legal, and economic arguments against slavery and raised Lincoln's political profile for the first time. The speeches set the stage for the Lincoln-Douglas debates four years later, when Lincoln sought Douglas's Senate seat. [50]

Bleeding Kansas Edit

Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas, or the Border War was a series of violent political confrontations in the United States between 1854 and 1861 involving anti-slavery "Free-Staters" and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian", or "Southern" elements in Kansas. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would allow or outlaw slavery, and thus enter the Union as a slave state or a free state.

Pro-slavery settlers came to Kansas mainly from neighboring Missouri. Their influence in territorial elections was often bolstered by resident Missourians who crossed into Kansas solely for voting in such ballots. They formed groups such as the Blue Lodges and were dubbed border ruffians, a term coined by the opponent and abolitionist Horace Greeley. Abolitionist settlers, known as "jayhawkers", moved from the East expressly to make Kansas a free state. A clash between the opposing sides was inevitable. [51]

Successive territorial governors, usually sympathetic to slavery, attempted to maintain the peace. The territorial capital of Lecompton, the target of much agitation, became such a hostile environment for Free-Staters that they set up their own, unofficial legislature at Topeka. [52]

John Brown and his sons gained notoriety in the fight against slavery by murdering five pro-slavery farmers with a broadsword in the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown also helped defend a few dozen Free-State supporters from several hundred angry pro-slavery supporters at Osawatomie. [53]

Effect on Native American tribes Edit

Prior to the organization of the Kansas–Nebraska territory in 1854, the Kansas and Nebraska Territories were consolidated as part of the Indian Territory. Throughout the 1830s, large-scale relocations of Native American tribes to the Indian Territory took place, with many Southeastern nations removed to present-day Oklahoma, a process ordered by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and known as the Trail of Tears, and many Midwestern nations removed by way of treaty to present-day Kansas. Among the latter were the Shawnee, [54] Delaware, [55] Kickapoo, [56] Kaskaskia and Peoria, [57] Ioway, [58] and Miami. [59] The passing of the Kansas–Nebraska Act came into direct conflict with the relocations. White American settlers from both the free-soil North and pro-slavery South flooded the Northern Indian Territory, hoping to influence the vote on slavery that would come following the admittance of Kansas and, to a lesser extent, Nebraska to the United States.

In order to avoid and/or alleviate the reservation-settlement problem, further treaty negotiations were attempted with the tribes of Kansas and Nebraska. In 1854 alone, the U.S. agreed to acquire lands in Kansas or Nebraska from several tribes including the Kickapoo, [60] Delaware, [61] Omaha, [62] Shawnee, [63] Otoe and Missouri, [64] Miami, [65] and Kaskaskia and Peoria. [66] In exchange for their land cessions, the tribes largely received small reservations in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma or Kansas in some cases.

For the nations that remained in Kansas beyond 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act introduced a host of other problems. In 1855, white "squatters" built the city of Leavenworth on the Delaware reservation without the consent of either Delaware or the US government. When Commissioner of Indian Affairs George Manypenny ordered for military support in removing the squatters, both the military and the squatters refused to comply, undermining both Federal authority and the treaties in place with Delaware. [67] In addition to the violations of treaty agreements, other promises made were not being kept. Construction and infrastructure improvement projects dedicated in nearly every treaty, for example, took a great deal longer than expected. Beyond that, however, the most damaging violation by white American settlers was the mistreatment of Native Americans and their properties. Personal maltreatment, stolen property, and deforestation have all been cited. [68] Furthermore, the squatters' premature and illegal settlement of the Kansas Territory jeopardized the value of the land, and with it the future of the Indian tribes living on them. Because treaties were land cessions and purchases, the value of the land handed over to the Federal government was critical to the payment received by a given Native nation. Deforestation, destruction of property, and other general injuries to the land lowered the value of the territories that were ceded by the Kansas Territory tribes. [69]

Manypenny's 1856 "Report on Indian Affairs" explained the devastating effect on Indian populations of diseases that white settlers brought to Kansas. Without providing statistics, Indian Affairs Superintendent to the area Colonel Alfred Cumming reported at least more deaths than births in most tribes in the area. While noting intemperance, or alcoholism, as a leading cause of death, Cumming specifically cited cholera, smallpox, and measles, none of which the Native Americans were able to treat. [70] The disastrous epidemics exemplified the Osage people, who lost an estimated 1300 lives to scurvy, measles, smallpox, and scrofula between 1852 and 1856, [71] contributing, in part, to the massive decline in population, from 8000 in 1850 to just 3500 in 1860. [72] The Osage had already encountered epidemics associated with relocation and white settlement. The initial removal acts in the 1830s brought both White American settlers and foreign Native American tribes to the Great Plains and into contact with the Osage people. Between 1829 and 1843, influenza, cholera, and smallpox killed an estimated 1242 Osage Indians, [71] resulting in a population recession of roughly 20 percent between 1830 and 1850. [72]

Destruction of the Whig party Edit

From a political standpoint, the Whig Party had been in decline in the South because of the effectiveness with which it had been hammered by the Democratic Party over slavery. The Southern Whigs hoped that by seizing the initiative on this issue, they would be identified as strong defenders of slavery. Many Northern Whigs broke with them in the Act. [73]

The American party system had been dominated by Whigs and Democrats for decades leading up to the Civil War. But the Whig party's increasing internal divisions had made it a party of strange bedfellows by the 1850s. An ascendant anti-slavery wing clashed with a traditionalist and increasingly pro-slavery southern wing. These divisions came to a head in the 1852 election, where Whig candidate Winfield Scott was trounced by Franklin Pierce. Southern Whigs, who had supported the prior Whig president Zachary Taylor, had been burned by Taylor and were unwilling to support another Whig. Taylor, who despite being a slaveowner, had proved notably anti-slave despite campaigning neutrally on the issue. With the loss of Southern Whig support, and the loss of votes in the North to the Free Soil Party, Whigs seemed doomed. So they were, as they would never again contest a presidential election. [74]

The final nail in the Whig coffin was the Kansas-Nebraska act. It was also the spark that began the Republican Party, which would take in both Whigs and Free Soilers and create an anti-slavery party that the Whigs had always resisted becoming. [74] The changes of the act were viewed by anti-slavery Northerners as an aggressive, expansionist maneuver by the slave-owning South. Opponents of the Act were intensely motivated and began forming a new party. The Party began as a coalition of anti-slavery Conscience Whigs such as Zachariah Chandler and Free Soilers such as Salmon P. Chase. [75] [76]

The first anti-Nebraska local meeting where "Republican" was suggested as a name for a new anti-slavery party was held in a Ripon, Wisconsin schoolhouse on March 20, 1854. [77] The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the Republican name was held near Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, 1854. At that convention, the party opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates. [78] The Midwest took the lead in forming state Republican Party tickets apart from St. Louis and a few areas adjacent to free states, there were no efforts to organize the Party in the southern states. [79] [80] So was born the Republican Party—campaigning on the popular, emotional issue of "free soil" in the frontier—which would capture the White House just six years later. [74]

Later developments Edit

The Kansas–Nebraska Act divided the nation and pointed it toward civil war. [81] Congressional Democrats suffered huge losses in the mid-term elections of 1854, as voters provided support to a wide array of new parties opposed to the Democrats and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. [82] Pierce declared his full opposition to the Republican Party, decrying what he saw as its anti-southern stance, but his perceived pro-Southern actions in Kansas continued to inflame Northern anger. [83]

Partly due to the unpopularity of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Pierce lost his bid for re-nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention to James Buchanan. Pierce remains the only elected president who actively sought reelection but was denied his party's nomination for a second term. [84] Republicans nominated John C. Frémont in the 1856 presidential election and campaigned on "Bleeding Kansas" and the unpopularity of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. [85] Buchanan won the election, but Frémont carried a majority of the free states. [86] Two days after Buchanan's inauguration, Chief Justice Roger Taney delivered the Dred Scott decision, which asserted that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. [87] Douglas continued to support the doctrine of popular sovereignty, but Buchanan insisted that Democrats respect the Dred Scott decision and its repudiation of federal interference with slavery in the territories. [88]

Guerrilla warfare in Kansas continued throughout Buchanan's presidency and extended into the 1860s. [89] Buchanan attempted to admit Kansas as a state under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, [90] but Kansas voters rejected that constitution in an August 1858 referendum. [91] Anti-slavery delegates won a majority of the elections to the 1859 Kansas constitutional convention, and Kansas won admission as a free state under the anti-slavery Wyandotte Constitution in the final months of Buchanan's presidency. [92]


Officially titled "An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas", the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, allowing slavery in the territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude. Introduced by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the Kansas-Nebraska Act stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory, a concept known as popular sovereignty. After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.

The Kansas - Nebraska Act - 1854

The Missouri Compromise had established that the 36 degree 30 minute parallel would be the dividing line for slave states and free states. The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 nullified that agreement and dictated that in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, the citizens of the state could vote and determine whether the state would be a free or slave state.

Understandably, northern abolitionists were outraged by this decision. They felt that this issue had already been settled by the Missouri Compromise.

What happened next was a large migration to Kansas of both abolitionists and pro-slavery settlers. Both groups wanted to vote for their cause. The pro-slavery settlers won out in the first votes, but there were cries of fraud in the election.

What followed was an ongoing conflict between the pro-slavery and abolitionist elements in Kansas. People were killed and homes were burned as the two sides fought each other. Eventually, the phrase "Bleeding Kansas" came to describe the vicious attacks on both sides.

Kansas finally came into the union in 1861 as a free state. The Kansas Nebraska Act was one more issue leading the country to war.


The electoral contest in 1856 took place in a transformed political landscape. A third political party appeared: the anti-immigrant American Party , a formerly secretive organization with the nickname “the Know-Nothing Party” because its members denied knowing anything about it. By 1856, the American or Know-Nothing Party had evolved into a national force committed to halting further immigration. Its members were especially opposed to the immigration of Irish Catholics, whose loyalty to the Pope, they believed, precluded their loyalty to the United States. On the West Coast, they opposed the entry of immigrant laborers from China, who were thought to be too foreign to ever assimilate into a white America.

The election also featured the new Republican Party, which offered John C. Fremont as its candidate. Republicans accused the Democrats of trying to nationalize slavery through the use of popular sovereignty in the West, a view captured in the 1856 political cartoon Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Free Soiler. The cartoon features the image of a Free-Soiler settler tied to the Democratic Party platform while Senator Douglas (author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act) and President Pierce force a slave down his throat. Note that the slave cries out “Murder. Help—neighbors help, O my poor Wife and Children,” a reference to the abolitionists’ argument that slavery destroyed families.

This 1856 political cartoon, Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Free Soiler, by John Magee, shows Republican resentment of the Democratic platform—here represented as an actual platform—of expanding slavery into new western territories.

The Democrats offered James Buchanan as their candidate. Buchanan did not take a stand on either side of the issue of slavery rather, he attempted to please both sides. His qualification, in the minds of many, was that he was out of the country when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. In the above political cartoon, Buchanan, along with Democratic senator Lewis Cass, holds down the Free-Soil advocate. Buchanan won the election, but Fremont garnered more than 33 percent of the popular vote, an impressive return for a new party. The Whigs had ceased to exist and had been replaced by the Republican Party. Know-Nothings also transferred their allegiance to the Republicans because the new party also took an anti-immigrant stance, a move that further boosted the new party’s standing. (The Democrats courted the Catholic immigrant vote.) The Republican Party was a thoroughly northern party no southern delegate voted for Fremont.

The controversy over the Kansas Nebraska Act proved too much for the ramshackle Whig Party, which was torn apart by sectional antagonism. Filling the political vacuum left by the self-destruction of the Whig Party was the Republican Party, created in 1854 as a sectional party—just what so many American statesmen had tried to avoid. The Republicans attracted a variety of supporters with their free-soil position and their support for high protective tariffs.

As free-soilers, they opposed slavery in the territories, though the racialist motivation of such exclusion of slavery is clear from the party’s 1856 platform, which read, in part, that “all unoccupied territory of the United States, and such as they may hereafter acquire, shall be reserved for the white Caucasian race—a thing that cannot be except by the exclusion of slavery.” Their economic program, of which the protective tariff formed an important plank, could not have been better devised to attract Southern antipathy. Abraham Lincoln, who would be elected in 1860 as the first Republican president, had been a supporter of the protective tariff for several decades by the time he reached the White House.

Power over what?

For the more radical Republicans, the free-soil position was only the opening salvo in what they hoped would be the ultimate extinction of slavery. Conservative Republicans, no friends of slavery either, recognized that what was going on between the sections was a struggle for power, plain and simple. According to historian Eric Foner:

The idea of combating Southern political power and its economic consequences was the key to conservative support for the Republican party. Such measures as a Pacific railroad, a homestead act, a protective tariff, and government aid to internal improvements had been blocked time and again by the Democratic party, at the dictation, it seemed, of the South. The conservatives hoped to use the Republican party to wrest control of the federal government away from the slaveholders, and they viewed the sectional struggle as primarily a contest for political power.

The protective tariff was perhaps the most controversial economic issue of the antebellum period. High tariffs, intended to protect Northern industry from foreign competition, were a terrible burden to the agricultural South, which had little industry to protect. To Southerners, the tariffs meant higher prices for manufactured goods because they bought them abroad and paid the tariff or because they bought them from Northerners at the inflated prices that tariff protection made possible. Although certain sectors of the Southern economy, like Louisiana sugar growers, favored protective tariffs, in general the South opposed the tariff. (Tariff protection would have done little good for Southern products, since the South sold most of its goods on a world market.)

Likewise, federal land policy divided the sections. Northerners favored land giveaways by the federal government, while Southerners believed the federal lands should be sold. Southerners feared that without the revenue the federal government took in from land sales, there would be added pressure to raise the tariff to make up the loss. They also believed that a policy of free land, by increasing the overall amount of agricultural land in use, would tend to lower Southern land values. These were some of the economic issues that divided the sections, and they, as Foner observes, were never far from the surface in the debates of the 1840s and 1850s.

Watch the video: The Kansas Nebraska Act (January 2022).