An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the third and last of the series of compromises enacted before the u.s. civil war in an attempt to resolve the question of whether slavery should be permitted in the western territories. Senator stephen a. douglas of Illinois, drafted the legislation that revoked the missouri compromise of 1820, which had banned slavery north of 36°30' latitude. Douglas applied the doctrine of popular sovereignty to the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, as he had successfully urged Congress to do in the compromise of 1850. The 1850 law left to New Mexico and Utah the decision of whether to enter the Union as free or slave states.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act failed to end the national conflict over slavery. Antislavery forces viewed the statute as a capitulation to the South, and many abandoned the Whig and Democratic parties to form the republican party. Kansas soon became a battleground over slavery. On May 25, 1856, the militant abolitionist john brown led a raid against proslavery supporters at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, killing five persons. The violence between the abolitionists and those who were proslavery soon gave the territory the name "Bleeding Kansas."
Source: Statutes at Large, vol. 10 (1855), pp. 277–290.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that all that part of the territory of the United States included within the following limits, except such portions thereof as are hereinafter expressly exempted from the operations of this act, to wit: beginning at a point in the Missouri River where the fortieth parallel of north latitude crosses the same; thence west on said parallel to the east boundary of the territory of Utah, on the summit of the Rocky Mountains; thence on said summit northward to the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude; thence east on said summit northward to the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude; thence east on said parallel to the western boundary of the territory of Minnesota; thence southward on said boundary to the Missouri River; thence down the main channel of said river to the place of beginning, be, and the same is hereby, created into a temporary government by the name of the territory of Nebraska; and 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. Provided, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said territory into two or more territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, or from attaching any portion of said territory to any other state or territory of the United States. Provided further, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory, so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians, or to include any territory which, by treaty with any Indian tribe, is not, without the consent of said tribe, to be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any state or territory; but all such territory shall be excepted out of the boundaries, and constitute no part of the territory of Nebraska, until said tribe shall signify their assent to the president of the United States to be included within the said territory of Nebraska, or to affect the authority of the government of the United States to make any regulations respecting such Indians, their lands, property, or other rights by treaty, law, or otherwise, which it would have been competent to the government to make if this act had never passed.
And be it further enacted, that the executive power and authority in and over said territory of Nebraska shall be vested in a governor, who shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president of the United States. The governor shall reside within said territory and shall be commander in chief of the militia thereof. He may grant pardons and respites for offenses against the laws of said territory and reprieves for offenses against the laws of the United States, until the decision of the president can be made known thereon; he shall commission all officers who shall be appointed to office under the laws of the said territory and shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
And be it further enacted, that there shall be a secretary of said territory, who shall reside therein and hold his office for five years, unless sooner removed by the president of the United States; he shall record and preserve all the laws and proceedings of the legislative assembly hereinafter constituted and all the acts and proceedings of the governor in his executive department; he shall transmit one copy of the laws and journals of the legislative assembly within thirty days after the end of each session and one copy of the executive proceedings and official correspondence semiannually, on the first days of January and July in each year, to the president of the United States and two copies of the laws to the president of the Senate and to the speaker of the House of Representatives, to be deposited in the libraries of Congress; and in case of the death, removal, resignation, or absence of the governor from the territory, the secretary shall be, and he is hereby, authorized and required to execute and perform all the powers and duties of the governor during such vacancy or absence, or until another governor shall be duly appointed and qualified to fill such vacancy.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative power and authority of said territory shall be vested in the governor and a legislative assembly. The legislative assembly shall consist of a council and house of representatives. The council shall consist of thirteen members having the qualifications of voters, as hereinafter prescribed, whose term of service shall continue two years. The house of representatives shall, at its first session, consist of twenty-six members, possessing the same qualifications as prescribed for members of the council, and whose term of service shall continue one year. The number of representatives may be increased by the legislative assembly, from time to time, in proportion to the increase of qualified voters; provided, that the whole number shall never exceed thirty-nine. An apportionment shall be made, as nearly equal as practicable, among the several counties or districts, for the election of the council and representatives, giving to each section of the territory representation in the ratio of its qualified voters as nearly as may be. And the members of the council and of the house of representatives shall reside in, and be inhabitants of, the district or county or counties for which they may be elected, respectively. Previous to the first election, the governor shall cause a census, or enumeration of the inhabitants and qualified voters of the several counties and districts of the territory, to be taken by such persons and in such mode as the governor shall designate and appoint; and the persons so appointed shall receive a reasonable compensation therefore. And the first election shall be held at such time and places and be conducted in such manner, both as to the persons who shall superintend such election and the returns thereof, as the governor shall appoint and direct; and he shall at the same time declare the number of members of the council and house of representatives to which each of the counties or districts shall be entitled under this act. The persons having the highest number of legal votes in each of said council districts for members of the council shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected to the council; and the persons having the highest number of legal votes for the house of representatives shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected members of said house. Provided, that in case two or more persons voted for shall have an equal number of votes, and in case a vacancy shall otherwise occur in either branch of the legislative assembly, the governor shall order a new election; and the persons thus elected to the legislative assembly shall meet at such place and on such day as the governor shall appoint; but thereafter, the time, place, and manner of holding and conducting all elections by the people and the apportioning the representation in the several counties or districts to the council and house of representatives, according to the number of qualified voters, shall be prescribed by law, as well as the day of the commencement of the regular sessions of the legislative assembly; provided, that no session in any one year shall exceed the term of forty days, except the first session, which may continue sixty days.
And be it further enacted, that every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years who shall be an actual resident of said territory and shall possess the qualifications hereinafter prescribed shall be entitled to vote at the first election and shall be eligible to any office within the said territory; but the qualifications of voters, and of holding office, at all subsequent elections, shall be such as shall be prescribed by the legislative assembly. Provided, that the right of suffrage and of holding office shall be exercised only by citizens of the United States and those who shall have declared on oath their intention to become such and shall have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act; and provided further, that no officer, soldier, seaman, or marine, or other person in the army or navy of the United States, or attached to troops in the service of the United States, shall be allowed to vote or hold office in said territory by reason of being on service therein.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative power of the territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act; but no law shall be passed interfering with the primary disposal of the soil; no tax shall be imposed upon the property of the United States; nor shall the lands or other property of nonresidents be taxed higher than the lands or other property of residents. Every bill which shall have passed the council and house of representatives of the said territory shall, before it become a law, be presented to the governor of the territory; if he approve, he shall sign it; but if not, he shall return it with his objections to the house in which it originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such reconsideration, two-thirds of that house shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other house, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of that house, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, to be entered on the journal of each house respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the governor within three days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the assembly, by adjournment, prevents its return, in which case it shall not be a law.
And be it further enacted, that all township, district, and county officers, not herein otherwise provided for, shall be appointed or elected, as the case may be, in such manner as shall be provided by the governor and legislative assembly of the territory of Nebraska. The governor shall nominate and, by and with the advice and consent of the legislative council, appoint all officers not herein otherwise provided for; and in the first instance the governor alone may appoint all said officers, who shall hold their offices until the end of the first session of the legislative assembly, and shall lay off the necessary districts for members of the council and house of representatives and all other officers.
And be it further enacted, that no member of the legislative assembly shall hold, or be appointed to, any office which shall have been created, or the salary or emoluments of which shall have been increased, while he was a member, during the term for which he was elected, and for one year after the expiration of such term; but this restriction shall not be applicable to members of the first legislative assembly; and no person holding a commission or appointment under the United States, except postmasters, shall be a member of the legislative assembly, or hold any office under the government of said territory.
And be it further enacted, that the judicial power of said territory shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and in justices of the peace. The supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom shall constitute a quorum, and who shall hold a term at the seat of government of said territory annually, and they shall hold their offices during the period of four years, and until their successor shall be appointed and qualified. The said territory shall be divided into three judicial districts, and a district court shall be held in each of said districts by one of the justices of the supreme court at such times and places as may be prescribed by law; and the said judges shall, after their appointments, respectively, reside in the districts which shall be assigned them. The jurisdiction of the several courts herein provided for, both appellate and original, and that of the probate courts and of justices of the peace, shall be as limited by law: provided, that justices of the peace shall not have jurisdiction of any matter in controversy when the title or boundaries of land may be in dispute, or where the debt or sum claimed shall exceed one hundred dollars; and the said supreme and districts courts, respectively, shall possess chancery as well as commonlaw jurisdiction. Each district court, or the judge thereof, shall appoint its clerk, who shall also be the register in chancery, and shall keep his office at the place where the court may be held. Writs of error, bills of exception, and appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final decisions of said district courts to the supreme court, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law; but in no case removed to the supreme court shall trial by jury be allowed in said court. The supreme court, or the justices thereof, shall appoint its own clerk, and every clerk shall hold his office at the pleasure of the court for which he shall have been appointed. Writs of error and appeals from the final decisions of said supreme court shall be allowed, and may be taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, in the same manner and under the same regulations as from the circuit courts of the United States, where the value of the property, or the amount in controversy, to be ascertained by the oath or affirmation of either party or other competent witness, shall exceed one thousand dollars; except only that in all cases involving title to slaves, the said writs of error or appeals shall be allowed and decided by the said supreme court, without regard to the value of the matter, property, or title in controversy; and except also that a writ of error or appeal shall also be allowed to the Supreme Court of the United States, from the decision of the said supreme court created by this act, or of any judge thereof, or of the district courts created by this act, or of any judge thereof, upon any writ of habeas corpus, involving the question of personal freedom. Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to apply to or affect the provisions to the "Act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters," approved February twelfth, seventeen hundred and ninety-three, and the "Act to amend and supplementary to the aforesaid act," approved September eighteen, eighteen hundred and fifty; and each of the said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States; and the said supreme and district courts of the said territory, and the respective judges thereof, shall and may grant writs of habeas corpus in all cases in which the same are granted by the judges of the United States in the District of Columbia; and the first six days of every term of said courts, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, shall be appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the said constitution and laws and writs of error and appeal in all such cases shall be made to the supreme court of said territory, the same as in other cases. The said clerk shall receive in all such cases the same fees which the clerks of the district courts of Utah Territory now receive for similar services.
And be it further enacted, that the provisions of an act entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters," approved February twelve, seventeen hundred and ninety-three, and the provisions of the act entitled "An act to amend, and supplementary to, the aforesaid act," approved September eighteen, eighteen hundred and fifty, be, and the same are hereby, declared to extend to and be in full force within the limits of said territory of Nebraska.
And be it further enacted, that there shall be appointed an attorney for said territory, who shall continue in office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall receive the same fees and salary as the attorney of the United States for the present territory of Utah. There shall also be a marshal for the territory appointed, who shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall execute all processes issuing from the said courts when exercising their jurisdiction as circuit and district courts of the United States; he shall perform the duties, be subject to the same regulation and penalties, and be entitled to the same fees, as the marshal of the district court of the United States for the present territory of Utah, and shall, in addition, be paid two hundred dollars annually as a compensation for extra services.
And be it further enacted, that the governor, secretary, chief justice and associate justices, attorney, and marshal shall be nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed by the president of the United States. The governor and secretary to be appointed as aforesaid shall, before they act as such, respectively take an oath or affirmation before the district judge or some justice of the peace in the limits of said territory, duly authorized to administer oaths and affirmations by the laws now in force therein, or before the chief justice, or some associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, to support the Constitution of the United States and faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices, which said oaths, when so taken, shall be certified by the person by whom the same shall have been taken; and such certificates shall be received and recorded by the said secretary among the executive proceedings; and the chief justice and associate justices, and all other civil officers in said territory, before they act as such, shall take a like oath or affirmation before the said governor or secretary, or some judge or justice of the peace of the territory, who may be duly commissioned and qualified, which said oath or affirmation shall be certified and transmitted by the person taking the same to the secretary, to be by him recorded as aforesaid; and afterwards, the like oath or affirmation shall be taken, certified, and recorded, in such manner and form as may be prescribed by law. The governor shall receive an annual salary of two thousand five hundred dollars. The chief justice and associate justices shall each receive an annual salary of two thousand dollars. The secretary shall receive an annual salary of two thousand dollars. The said salaries shall be paid quarter-yearly, from the dates of the respective appointments, at the treasury of the United States; but no such payment shall be made until said officers shall have entered upon the duties of their respective appointments. The members of the legislative assembly shall be entitled to receive three dollars each per day during their attendance at the sessions thereof and three dollars each for every twenty miles' travel in going to and returning from the said sessions, estimated according to the nearest usually travelled route; and an additional allowance of three dollars shall be paid to the presiding officer of each house for each day he shall so preside. And a chief clerk, one assistant clerk, a sergeant-atarms, and doorkeeper may be chosen for each house; and the chief clerk shall receive four dollars per day, and the said other officers three dollars per day during the session of the legislative assembly; but no other officers shall be paid by the United States; provided, that there shall be but one session of the legislature annually, unless, on an extraordinary occasion, the governor shall think proper to call the legislature together. There shall be appropriated annually the usual sum, to be expended by the governor, to defray the contingent expenses of the territory, including the salary of a clerk of the executive department; and there shall also be appropriated annually a sufficient sum, to be expended by the secretary of the territory, and upon an estimate to be made by the secretary of the treasury of the United States, to defray the expenses of the legislative assembly, the printing of the laws, and other incidental expenses; and the governor and secretary of the territory shall, in the disbursement of all moneys entrusted to them, be governed solely by the instructions of the secretary of the treasury of the United States and shall, semiannually, account to the said secretary for the manner in which the aforesaid moneys shall have been expended; and no expenditure shall be made by said legislative assembly for objects not specially authorized by the acts of Congress, making the appropriations, nor beyond the sums thus appropriated for such objects.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative assembly of the territory of Nebraska shall hold its first session at such time and place in said territory as the governor thereof shall appoint and direct; and at said first session, or as soon thereafter as they shall deem expedient, the governor and legislative assembly shall proceed to locate and establish the seat of government for said territory at such place as they may deem eligible; which place, however, shall thereafter be subject to be changed by the said governor and legislative assembly.
And be it further enacted, that a delegate to the House of Representatives of the United States, to serve for the term of two years, who shall be a citizen of the United States, may be elected by the voters qualified to elect members of the legislative assembly, who shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as are exercised and enjoyed by the delegates from the several other territories of the United States to the said House of Representatives, but the delegate first elected shall hold his seat only during the term of the Congress to which he shall be elected. The first election shall be held at such time and places and be conducted in such manner as the governor shall appoint and direct; and at all subsequent elections the times, places, and manner of holding the elections shall be prescribed by law. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected; and a certificate thereof shall be given accordingly. That the Constitution, and all laws of the United States which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said territory of Nebraska as elsewhere within the United States, except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March sixth, eighteen hundred and twenty, which, being inconsistent with the principle of nonintervention by Congress with slavery in the states and territories, as recognized by the legislation of eighteen hundred and fifty, commonly called the Compromise Measures, is hereby declared inoperative and void; it being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any territory or state, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States: provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to revive or put in force any law or regulation which may have existed prior to the act of March sixth, eighteen hundred and twenty, either protecting, establishing, prohibiting, or abolishing slavery.
And be it further enacted, that there shall hereafter be appropriated, as has been customary for the territorial governments, a sufficient amount, to be expended under the direction of the said governor of the territory of Nebraska, not exceeding the sums heretofore appropriated for similar objects, for the erection of suitable public buildings at the seat of government, and for the purchase of a library, to be kept at the seat of government for the use of the governor, legislative assembly, judges of the supreme court, secretary, marshal, and attorney of said territory, and such other persons, and under such regulations, as shall be prescribed by law.
And be it further enacted, that when the lands in the said territory shall be surveyed under the direction of the government of the United States, preparatory to bringing the same into market, sections numbered sixteen and thirty-six in each township in said territory shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the purpose of being applied to schools in said territory and in the states and territories hereafter to be erected out of the same.
And be it further enacted, that, until otherwise provided by law, the governor of said territory may define the judicial districts of said territory and assign the judges who may be appointed for said territory to the several districts; and also appoint the times and places for holding courts in the several counties or subdivisions in each of said judicial districts by proclamation, to be issued by him; but the legislative assembly, at their first or any subsequent session, may organize, alter, or modify such judicial districts and assign the judges and alter the times and places of holding the courts, as to them shall seem proper and convenient.
And be it further enacted, that all officers to be appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for the territory of Nebraska, who, by virtue of the provisions of any law now existing, or which may be enacted during the present Congress, are required to give security for moneys that may be entrusted with them for disbursement, shall give such security at such time and place and in such manner as the secretary of the treasury may prescribe.
And be it further enacted, that all that part of the territory of the United States included within the following limits, except such portions thereof as are hereinafter expressly exempted from the operations of this act, to wit, beginning at a point on the western boundary of the state of Missouri, where the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude crosses the same; thence west on said parallel to the eastern boundary of New Mexico; thence north on said boundary to latitude thirty-eight; thence following said boundary westward to the east boundary of the territory of Utah, on the summit of the Rocky Mountains; thence northward on said summit to the fortieth parallel of latitude; thence east on said parallel to the western boundary of the state of Missouri; thence south with the western boundary of said state to the place of beginning, be, and the same is hereby, created into a temporary government by the name of the territory of Kansas; and 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: provided, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said territory into two or more territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, or from attaching any portion of said territory to any other state or territory of the United States. Provided further, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory, so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians, or to include any territory which, by treaty with any Indian tribe, is not, without the consent of said tribe, to be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any state or territory; but all such territory shall be excepted out of the boundaries and constitute no part of the territory of Kansas, until said tribe shall signify their assent to the president of the United States to be included within the said territory of Kansas, or to affect the authority of the government of the United States to make any regulation respecting such Indians, their lands, property, or other rights by treaty, law, or otherwise, which it would have been competent to the government to make if this act had never passed.
[Sections 20–30 and 32–36 are identical to the sections establishing a territorial government for Nebraska and have therefore been omitted.]
And be it further enacted, that the seat of government of said territory is hereby located temporarily at Fort Leavenworth; and that such portions of the public buildings as may not be actually used and needed for military purposes may be occupied and used, under the direction of the governor and legislative assembly, for such public purposes as may be required under the provisions of this act.
And be it further enacted, that all treaties, laws, and other engagements made by the government of the United States with the Indian tribes inhabiting the territories embraced within this act, shall be faithfully and rigidly observed, notwithstanding anything contained in this act; and that the existing agencies and superintendencies of said Indians be continued with the same powers and duties which are now prescribed by law, except that the president of the United States may, at his discretion, change the location of the office of superintendent.
Approved, May 30, 1854.
KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT of 1854 organized the northern Great Plains into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It also repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery's expansion into the territories northwest of the border between the states of Arkansas and Missouri. Under the terms of the act, the residents of the Kansas and Nebraska territories would decide for themselves whether they would enter the Union as free or slave soil states. By repealing the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act reopened the divisive issue of slavery's expansion and brought the United States closer to civil war.
After the passing of the Compromise of 1850, which settled the slavery issue in New Mexico and Utah, many Americans hoped that further controversy over slavery would be avoided. But it soon arose again, largely because of plans for building a transcontinental railroad to the Pacific coast. Because the settlement of the western territories depended upon the construction of a transcontinental railroad, the railroad's location took on tremendous importance. Naturally, northern congressmen advocated a northern route, while southern congressmen supported a southern route. The sectional debate over the railroad's path threatened to block its construction, until Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois entered the fray. An ardent supporter of western expansion and a tireless promoter of the Midwest's development, Douglas understood that a transcontinental railroad was indispensable for that region's political and economic future. Douglas also realized that if the transcontinental railroad took a northern route, Chicago would most likely serve as its eastern terminus. The resulting political and economic benefits that would accrue to Douglas's home state of Illinois were obvious. But Douglas also had national interests in mind. He genuinely believed that a populous and prosperous Midwest would be able to mediate sectional conflicts between North and South, and thus would promote sectional harmony and national unity.
Douglas recognized, however, that a transcontinental railroad running from Chicago to San Francisco would be possible only after the settlement of the vast midwestern lands between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River. Douglas thus introduced a bill to organize the land into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, a move he believed would encourage settlers to migrate into the northern Great Plains.
In his effort to secure support for the Kansas-Nebraska bill, Douglas found an important ally in Missouri's influential senator, David R. Atchison, who was seeking reelection in 1854. Atchison's reelection campaign pitted him against Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a prominent opponent of slavery's westward expansion. Unlike Benton, Atchison was a staunch supporter of slavery's expansion, and he saw in the Kansas-Nebraska bill an opportunity to expand slavery's domain. Atchison promised Douglas that he would support the creation and settlement of the Kansas and Nebraska territories, but with one critical condition. He insisted that the Missouri Compromise be repealed so that his slaveholding constituents would be allowed to move into the new Kansas and Nebraska territories with their human property.
In an effort to mollify Atchison's concerns, Douglas introduced a bill for the territorial organization of Kansas and Nebraska, a bill that included a provision that effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise. The bill asserted that the Compromise of 1850 had superseded the 1820 principle that slavery would not be extended north and west of the Arkansas-Missouri state border. The bill also stated that the question of slavery in the territories should be settled by the people living in them, an idea known as popular sovereignty.
This language conveniently favored Atchison in his senatorial campaign, for it confronted his opponent, Thomas Hart Benton, with a difficult dilemma. If Benton voted for the bill, he would betray his antislavery sympathies; but if he voted against it, he would be defaulting on his promise to work for expansion into Kansas and Nebraska. He voted against the bill and suffered defeat in the race with Atchison. The final bill explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise, and the possibility of slavery in the new territories was made real.
The political ramifications of the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska bill reached deeply into the general political climate in which it was passed. Support for it from southern members of Congress was nearly unanimous. Northern Democrats were seriously split, half of their votes in the House going for the measure and half against it. Nearly all northern Whigs opposed the bill.
This severe political division fractured the structure of the political party system. The Whig Party was essentially destroyed in the South. The Democrats were so seriously divided that their tenuous congressional majority became highly vulnerable. A coalition of anti-Nebraska Democrats, northern Whigs, Know-Nothings, and nativist groups joined the newly organized Republican Party, making it a viable political force. By 1856 the Whigs had all but disappeared, and the Republican Party was able to confront the weakened Democrats with strong opposition.
In addition to these basic political changes, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had direct ramifications. Kansas and Nebraska were promptly opened for settlement in 1854. Although Nebraska remained relatively quiet, Kansas, the destination of most of the new settlers, became a political hotbed. Settlers came to Kansas not only to develop the frontier but also—and perhaps more importantly—to lend their weight in the determination of whether Kansas would be free or slave.
Almost from the outset, political stability was lacking in Kansas. From the South, proslavery Missourians traveled into Kansas to vote in favor of slavery, often arriving in armed bands. Groups in the North and East, such as the Emigrant Aid Company, helped so large a number of antislavery settlers move into the territory that it was generally thought that an honest referendum of actual settlers would not permit slavery in Kansas. But Missouri raiders entering the territory in great numbers made an honest count impossible. In 1855 a proslavery territorial legislature was established in the town of Lecompton, Kansas, while at the same time an antislavery legislature was established in Topeka. Almost inevitably, civil war erupted in Kansas as proslavery and antislavery forces clashed for control of the territory. Although bloody, the conflict remained inconclusive until the 1860s, when Kansas was finally admitted to the Union as a free soil state.
The violence and political chaos in Kansas not only presaged the Civil War but also helped to trigger it. In 1857 the proslavery territorial government in Lecompton presented to Congress a constitution that would have incorporated Kansas into the Union as a slave state. Chastened by the disastrous failure of his Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stephen Douglas led congressional opposition to the Lecompton constitution. Douglas and a diverse coalition of northern political factions in Congress narrowly managed to defeat Kansas's proposed admission to the Union as a slave state. The divisive battle over Lecompton, however, shattered the unity of the national Democratic Party, which in 1860 would divide into northern and southern wings. The collapse of the Democratic Party, the one remaining national party, set the stage for southern secession in 1860.
Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s. New York: Wiley, 1978.
Malin, James C. The Nebraska Question, 1852–1854. Lawrence, Kans.: The author, 1953.
Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
Rawley, James A. Race and Politics: "Bleeding Kansas" and the Coming of the Civil War. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969.
Jeannette P.Nichols/s. k.
See alsoDemocratic Party ; Emigrant Aid Movement ; Free Soil Party ; Lecompton Constitution ; Know-Nothing Party ; Republican Party ; Slavery ; States' Rights ; Transcontinental Railroad, Building of ; Whig Party ; andvol. 9:The Crime Against Kansas .
Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)
KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT (1854)
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the one piece of legislation most responsible for bringing about the American Civil War (1861–1865). Within a year of the passage of the act, free-soil settlers and pro-slavery advocates were at war in Kansas—a confrontation known in the press as "Bleeding Kansas". That conflict continued throughout the Civil War, resulting in the death of hundreds of settlers and the destruction of thousands of dollars of property.
The federal government had been looking for a general solution to the conflict between those who wanted to see an expansion of slavery and those who wanted to see the abolition of slavery. The first serious attempt to resolve the issue was the Compromise of 1820, or the Missouri Compromise. This solution would have Missouri join the union as a slave state, while Maine would come in as a wage-labor state. Finally, no more slave states could be created north of Missouri's southern boundary (36 degrees; 30 minutes latitude). The slavery issue reemerged after the Mexican War (1846–1848), in which the United States won California, Arizona, and New Mexico—territory south of the Missouri Compromise line, but not specifically covered under the Compromise. The Compromise of 1850 tried to patch together a solution by admitting slave states and free states to the Union in pairs and passing a stronger federal fugitive slave law, among other items. By 1854, however, the flood of settlers heading west to the Nebraska territory exposed the failure of the Compromise and brought the slavery issue before Congress once again.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the brainchild of Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861), a Democrat from Illinois. Douglas proposed to split the Nebraska Territory into two states, Kansas and Nebraska, and to repeal the Missouri Compromise (which would have kept slavery out of both states). Douglas believed that sectional conflict between the North and the South over slavery could be avoided by adopting a policy he called "popular sovereignty." Popular Sovereignty had been suggested by Michigan Senator Lewis Cass. It allowed the citizens of each territory to decide by referendum whether slavery could exist in their areas. Although the concept was fair in principle, it was very easy to abuse. Of the first three elections for congressional representatives in Kansas (each of which resulted in a pro-slavery victory) congressional examinations later found all of them to be fraudulent.
Instead of bringing the North and South closer together, Douglas's bill widened the gap between North and South. Many northern voters regarded his Kansas-Nebraska Act as a betrayal of their key principles of free soil and free labor. The Democratic Party now had very little appeal in the North. It became the party of the South and the party of slavery. The Democratic Party lost control of most free-state legislatures in the elections of 1854 while Free-Soilers, Whigs, and other opposition parties gained representation.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act drove the nation closer to secession. Organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company were formed to promote free-labor settlement in Kansas. Among the provisions that they donated to the free labor forces in Kansas were rifles. Southerners responded with their own organizations, led by public figures like Senator David Atchison of Missouri, to intimidate the anti-slave forces and to insure a pro-slavery population in the territories. The end result of this process was the outbreak of civil war and the eventual admission of Kansas to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861.
Johannsen, Robert Walter. The Frontier, the Union, and Stephen A. Douglas. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Johannsen, Robert Walter. Stephen A. Douglas. Illini Books Edition. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Wolff, Gerald W. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill: Party, Section, and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Revisionist Press, 1977.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 played a large role in bringing about the American Civil War (1861–65). Within a year of its passage, proslavery and antislavery settlers were at war in Kansas —a confrontation known as “Bleeding Kansas”—and the nation's political parties had turned from positions of compromise to outright opposition.
Long-term slavery issue
For more than thirty years prior to the act's passage, the federal government had been looking for a solution to the conflict between those who wanted slavery to expand into new U.S. territories and those who wanted to see the abolition (elimination) of, or at least a limit on, slavery. The first serious attempt to resolve the issue was the Compromise of 1820, also called the Missouri Compromise , which allowed Missouri to join the Union as a slave state and Maine to come in as a free (nonslave) state, while providing that no more slave states could be created north of Missouri's southern boundary (36 degrees; 30 minutes latitude). Under the Missouri Compromise, an uncertain peace was maintained for nearly three decades.
The peace was disrupted at the end of the Mexican-American War (1846–48) when the United States won California , Arizona , and New Mexico —territory south of the Missouri Compromise line, but not specifically covered under the compromise. Congress then enacted the Compromise of 1850 , which admitted states to the Union in slave state/ free-state pairs to maintain the balance. Most northerners wanted to keep slavery out of the western territories. With a flood of settlers in the early 1850s heading to the territory west of Missouri known as Nebraska (comprised of present-day Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota , and South Dakota ), there was an urgent need for a plan.
Stephen Douglas's proposal
Had the issue of slavery in the territories followed a strict sectional (North/South) vote, the North would have kept slavery out of the new territories. But by 1854, the Democratic Party controlled the national government, and southerners controlled the party. Northern Democrats with political ambitions, such as U.S. senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) of Illinois , tried to avoid any conflict over slavery and, when pushed, often sided with the South. In 1854, Douglas's main interest was neither slavery nor the settlement of the Nebraska Territory. Douglas wanted to get federal support for a transcontinental railroad (one that traveled across the continent) that would begin in his hometown of Chicago and end in San Francisco, California. To get congressional support, he needed strong ties with the southern branch of his party.
In the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Douglas proposed to split the Nebraska Territory into two states: Kansas, the area west of Missouri; and Nebraska, the land west of Minnesota and Iowa . His proposal pleased southerners because in its final form it repealed the Missouri Compromise (which would have kept slavery out of both states). Douglas argued that sectional conflict between the North and the South over slavery could be avoided by adopting a policy he called “popular sovereignty,” which allowed the citizens of each territory to decide whether slavery could exist in their areas. After months of fierce debate in both houses of Congress, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law on May 30, 1854.
Northerners were so greatly angered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act that most left the Democratic Party and formed the new Republican Party . In creating this party, “free” Democrats and former members of the Whig Party and Free Soil Party buried their differences, uniting around their opposition to the expansion of slavery in the West. In the state, local, and congressional elections of 1854 and 1855, the new party swept Democrats out of office throughout the North. Although compromise had been central to the political parties for decades, after 1854 the two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, were nearly totally opposed to one another over the issue of slavery.
As a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, armed settlers rushed into Kansas Territory from the North and South, hoping to influence the territorial votes on slavery. By 1855, Kansas was in a state of violent chaos as southerners and northerners competed for land and resources. In 1856, violence erupted in response to massive vote fraud by southerners entering the territory to vote for a proslavery government. In May 1856, proslavery ruffians attacked the Free-Soil town of Lawrence, Kansas, destroying much of it. In retaliation, men under the command of John Brown (1800–1859), an Ohio abolitionist, killed a group of proslavery settlers. By the summer of 1856, the territory was caught in a small civil war.
A new territorial governor restored order in late 1856, but the conflict continued to smolder in the territory. In 1858, President James Buchanan (1791–1868; served 1857–61) tried to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state, to the outrage of most northerners. The attempt failed, and in January 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Kansas entered the Union as a free state.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act failed to accomplish the goals of its author and its supporters: Douglas's transcontinental railroad had to wait until after the Civil War, and southerners did not get a new slave state in Kansas. Instead, the act prompted massive violence in the territory and helped create a new political party wholly dedicated to preventing slavery from spreading to the new territories. Though it was not the intention of its authors, the Kansas-Nebraska Act helped push the nation into civil war.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) was a significant piece of legislation because it dealt with several controversial issues, including slavery, western expansion, and the construction of a transcontinental railroad.
Slavery was a widely debated divisive issue for many years preceding the Civil War and there were several attempts at conciliation. The first of these was the missouri compromise of 1820 (3 Stat. 545), which decided the slavery question in regard to the creation of two new states, Missouri and Maine. The compromise declared that Maine was to be admitted as a free state, while Missouri was allowed to enter the Union with no restrictions regarding slavery. Subsequently, however, Missouri entered as a slave state. The compromise also prohibited the extension of slavery north of the 36°30′ latitude which established the southern border of Missouri.
The compromise of 1850 (9 Stat. 452) settled another controversy concerning slavery and instituted the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which permitted the residents of the area to decide the question. When Texas and other new territories were acquired as a result of the Mexican War in 1848, and California sought admission to the Union in 1849, the question again arose concerning the slave status of the new areas. The Compromise of 1850 provided that California be admitted as a free state and that the citizens of the new territories of New Mexico and Utah decide whether their states favored or opposed slavery, pursuant to the doctrine of popular sovereignty.
In 1854, the Kansas and Nebraska territories were the next areas subjected to a dispute over slavery. Senator stephen a. douglas of Illinois drafted a bill calling for the creation of two states, Kansas and Nebraska, areas he felt were vital to the construction of a railroad to the Pacific coast. The question of slavery in these states would be decided by popular sovereignty. The reasons for Douglas's excessive concern are speculative but include his support of western expansion and his belief that the popular sovereignty doctrine would cause the least dispute; his hope that his business interests would profit by the construction of a transcontinental railroad with a Chicago terminus and a route through the new territories; and his desire to gain favor in the South to garner support for his future presidential aspirations.
In order for the Kansas-Nebraska Act to be effective, it was necessary to repeal the Missouri Compromise and its boundary restrictions on the territorial extension of slavery. The new act was opposed by antislavery forces and subject to bitter dispute in Congress. President franklin pierce and a faction of Southern congressmen supported the bill and influenced its passage.
The provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act did not lead to the peaceful settlement of the issue as intended. In Kansas, the antislavery and proslavery proponents disagreed violently, undermining the effectiveness of the popular sovereignty doctrine. Two opposing governments were established, and acts of destruction and violence ensued, including an assault on the antislavery town of Lawrence. In retaliation, abolitionist john brown and his followers killed five settlers who advocated slavery. The phrase Bleeding Kansas was derived from this violence.
The Lecompton Constitution of 1857 was drafted based upon the results of a Kansas election
that offered the voters the choice of limited or unlimited slavery. This angered the abolitionists, who refused to vote. President james buchanan approved the Lecompton Constitution and encouraged its acceptance by Congress, but Douglas and his supporters vehemently opposed the admission of Kansas as a slave state. Another election was held in 1858, and the people of Kansas voted against the Lecompton document; three years later, Kansas entered the Union as a free state.