LEGENDS OF KANSAS

 

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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The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 not only created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, but also repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed the territory settlers to determine if they would allow slavery within their boundaries.

 

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 and Nebraska as a territories, the slavery question had been a "bone of contention" in the halls of Congress. The first petition of Missouri 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."

 

 

 

United States Map, 1856

1856 map shows slave states in gray, free states in red, US territories in green, and

undecided Kansas in center  with no color.

 

 

 

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 California 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 Kansas and Nebraska.

 

The Union

The Union, a symbolic group portrait eulogizing  legislative efforts, including the Compromise of 1850, to

preserve the Union. Painted by Tompkins H. Matteson and engraved by  Henry S. Sadd, 1852.

Image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!

 

 

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 Nebraska, 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 Illinois 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.

 

The 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 Nebraska, 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."

 

Slavery by W.J. Morgan, 1876.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 the 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 determined opposition.

 

On January 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 Kansas.

 

 

 

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