Start Your Visit WithHistorical Timelines
General Interest Maps
The Great Plains area west of Missouri and Iowa was a refuge for thousands of Indians, but white settlers learned that these vast expanses offered opportunities for farming and ranching. The natives had no effective champions and would again be forced to give way to the whites' encroachment.
Under the provisions of the Missouri Compromise (1820), the lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30' north latitude were to be free of slavery (except for Missouri itself). While this compromise created a solution to the problem in 1820, it was not a template for dealing with such problems forever. As the nation expanded, the new territories tended to attract rugged individuals who opposed slavery. Their opposition was generally not the abstract opposition of the abolitionists but an economic opposition to competition from slave labor.
Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic senator from Illinois and chairman of the Committee on Territories, introduced a bill in early 1854, dealing with the unorganized lands. Douglas was anxious to see the region developed. Part of his motivation was personal gain — he was a heavy speculator in western lands and also, as a resident of Chicago, supportive of the development of the central route for a transcontinental railroad. Further, an exposure on the national stage might be helpful to his considerable presidential ambitions.
Douglas’ bill succeeded in luring Southern politicians with the following provisions:
While some northern Democrats joined Douglas in support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, others were appalled. Senator Salmon P. Chase wrote an appeal to independent-minded Democrats, urging them to oppose passage:
Nothing is more certain in history than the fact that Missouri could not have been admitted as a slave State had not certain members from the free States been reconciled to the measure by the incorporation of this prohibition into the act of admission. Nothing is more certain than that this prohibition has been regarded and accepted by the whole country as a solemn compact against the extension of slavery into any part of the territory acquired from France lying north of 36° 30', and not included in the new State of Missouri.
Douglas was no more conciliatory in his attitude towards Salmon and others that he felt were willing to risk the union by holding rigidly to a position of principle. He particularly resented the implication that the disturbed attitude of the South was of their own making:
Now, sir, let us pause and consider for a moment. The first time that the principles of the Missouri Compromise were ever abandoned, the first time they were ever rejected by Congress, was by the defeat of that provision in the House of Representatives in 1848. By whom was that defeat effected? By northern votes with free soil proclivities. It was the defeat of that Missouri Compromise that reopened the slavery agitation with all its fury. It was the defeat of that Missouri Compromise that created the tremendous struggle of 1850. It was the defeat of that Missouri Compromise that created the necessity for making a new compromise in 1850. Had we been faithful to the principles of the Missouri Compromise in 1848, this question would not have arisen. Who was it that was faithless? I undertake to say it was the very men who now insist that the Missouri Compromise was a solemn compact, and should never be violated or departed from.
A bitter debate culminated in May 1854 in a narrow victory for Douglas and the South. President Franklin Pierce signed the measure immediately.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act exerted a tremendous impact, which included:
- - - Books You May Like Include: ----
The Civil War in Kansas, Ten Years of Turmoil by Debra Goodrich Bisel.
No other state’s history is so entwined with the American Civil War as that of the Sunflower State. By the time the war officially began in 1861, Kans...
The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War by Michael F. Holt.
The political home of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, and the young Abraham Lincoln, the American Whig Party was involved at every level o...
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner.
In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery in America...
The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 by William W. Freehling.
Far from a monolithic block of diehard slave states, the antebellum South was, in William Freehling's words, "a world so lushly various as to be a sto...
The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards.
It has always been understood that the 1848 discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada influenced the battle over the admission of Califo...