Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
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The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 not only created the territories
of Kansas and
Nebraska, but also repealed the
Missouri Compromise of 1820 and
allowed the territory settlers to determine if they would allow slavery within
Though the initial purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to
create opportunities for a transcontinental railroad, the act would
instead, spawn the
Civil War and it would be years before a transcontinental
railroad would be completed.
For more than thirty
years prior to the organization of Kansas
as a territories, the slavery question had been a "bone of contention" in the
halls of Congress. The first petition of
for admission into the Union in March, 1818, started the agitation that
culminated in the passage of the Missouri Compromise on March 6, 1820.
Section eight of the Missouri
Compromise provided "That in all
that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of
Louisiana, which lies north of 36° 30' north latitude, not included within the
limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude,
otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly
convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited."
1856 map shows slave states in gray, free states in red,
territories in green, and
in center with
Of the original thirteen states, seven were free and six were
slave states. From the adoption of the constitution to 1819 five slave states --
Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- had been admitted
into the Union, while during the same period, four free states -- Vermont,
Ohio, Indiana and
Illinois -- had been added, so that in 1819, immediately after
the admission of Alabama, there were eleven of each. The admission of Maine in
1820 gave the free states a majority of one, but the equilibrium was again
restored by the admission of Missouri in 1821. With the exception of short
intervals, this policy of equality was maintained during the next twenty years.
Arkansas, a slave state, was admitted in 1836, but was followed by the free
state of Michigan in 1837. The admission of
Texas and Florida in 1845 gave the
slave power a slight advantage, which was regained by the free-states with the
admission of Iowa in 1846 and Wisconsin in 1848.
By that time practically all the available territory south of
the line of the Missouri Compromise had been divided into states and the
slaveholders were compelled to look for a new field if the institution was to be
extended. After an heated debate that lasted eight weeks in the first session
of the 31st Congress, over the admission of
California, Henry Clay, on January
29, 1850, introduced the resolution which formed the basis of the celebrated
"Omnibus Bill," or compromise measures of 1850. These resolutions, and the bill
which followed, provided for the admission of California "without the imposition
by Congress of any restrictions in respect to the exclusion or introduction of
slavery within those boundaries." With the admission of
as a free state, which made sixteen free to fifteen slave states, the slave
power was driven to desperation. Soon the region west of the Missouri River
began to be organized into territories, and as all this section lay north of
line of the Missouri Compromise, the cry went up for its repeal.
Petitions were received in the first session of the 32nd
Congress (1851-52) for the erection of a territory west of the Missouri River,
but no action was taken. The first real effort in Congress to organize a
territory including the state of Kansas was made on December 13, 1852, when
Willard P. Hall, a member from Missouri, introduced a bill providing for the
organization of the "Territory of Platte," to include both the present states of
The Union, a symbolic group portrait eulogizing legislative efforts, including
Compromise of 1850, to
Painted by Tompkins H. Matteson and
engraved by Henry S. Sadd, 1852.
Image available for
photographic prints and downloads
However, nothing came of this bill and on February 2, 1853,
William A. Richardson, of Illinois, submitted another bill, which provided for
the establishment of the Territory of
embracing the same region as the Hall Bill. This second bill passed the house on
February 10, by a vote of 98 to 43, and was sent to the senate, where on the
February 17th it was favorably reported by Stephen A. Douglas, senator from
and chairman of the committee on territories.
But, on March 3rd it was ordered laid on the table by a vote
of 23 to 17. Thus ended the second attempt to organize a territory which would
embrace the present state of
Kansas. No reference to the subject of
slavery was made in either the Hall or the Richardson bill, and had either
become a law,
Kansas would have been organized as a free territory under the
provisions of the
Missouri Compromise, and admitted as a free state without
question or dispute.
third, and what proved to be the successful, effort to organize a territory west
of the Missouri had
its beginning on December 14, 1853, when Augustus C. Dodge of Iowa, introduced a
bill in the United States Senate providing for the erection of the Territory of
covering the same section of the country as the Hall and Richardson bills of the
previous Congress. The bill was referred to the committee on territories, of
which Mr. Douglas was still chairman, and was reported back to the senate on
January 4, 1854, with several important amendments. In his report, Mr. Douglas
called attention to the doctrine of "Popular Sovereignty" and the compromise
measures of 1850, in "That all questions pertaining to slavery in the
territories, and the new states to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the
decision of the people residing therein by their appropriate representatives, to
be chosen by them for that purpose."
On January 16, while the bill was still pending, Archibald
Dixon, one of the senators from Kentucky, gave notice that when the proper time
came he intended to offer an amendment to the bill declaring the provisions of
Missouri Compromise excluding slavery north of the line 36° 30' should "not
be construed as to apply to the territory contemplated in this act, or to any
other territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several
states and territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves in the
territory as if the Missouri Compromise act had never been passed."
To avoid the open
rupture between the North and South, which would be certain to follow the
introduction of such an amendment, Mr. Douglas secured the re-committal of
the bill to his committee, ostensibly for further consideration, but really
that the features suggested by Senator Dixon might be incorporated in such a
way as to accomplish the repeal of the Missouri Compromise without arousing
23, 1854, Senator Douglas reported a substitute bill, providing for two
territories instead of one -- the northern territory to be called "Nebraska" and the southern one "Kansas"
-- the parallel of 40° north latitude to form the boundary line between them.
This was the origin of the term "Kansas-Nebraska Bill," which in a short time
became a familiar expression all over the country.
A long and bitter discussion followed, but, near the close of
an all-night session, the bill passed the senate on Saturday morning, March 4,
by a vote of 37 to 14. It was then sent to the house, where it was several times
called up for debate, and finally passed just before midnight on May 22, by a
vote of 113 to 100. It was signed by President Pierce on May 30, 1854 and thus
became the organic law of the Territory of
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