Kansas-Nebraska Act 10 Stat 277 (1854)

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KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT 10 Stat 277 (1854)

The Kansas-Nebraska Act declared the missouri compromise of 1820 void and in its place enacted the policy of " popular sovereignty, " thereby potentially opening all American territories to slavery.

Democrats had extolled the finality of the compromise of 1850 as a permanent resolution of the slavery controversy. Its constitutional elements included the stringent Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; the organization of New Mexico and Utah Territories without a prohibition of slavery; abolition of the slave trade in the district of columbia; and the "Clayton Compromise," which made all questions arising in the territorial courts involving blacks' personal freedom or title to slaves directly appealable to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Illinois Democrat stephen a. douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Territories, disrupted this settlement in 1854, however, by introducing a bill to organize the remainder of the louisana purchase territory in order to facilitate construction of a transcontinental railroad that would have Chicago as its midcontinent terminus.

Douglas's original bill contained minor concessions to slavery, including reenactment of the Clayton Compromise provisions for Kansas Territory. But dissatisfied proslavery senators wrested further concessions. These included the declaration that the Missori Compromise of 1820 (which prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory north of latitude 36°30', except in Missouri) had been superseded by the Compromise of 1850 and was void. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill enacted the principle of popular sovereignty, declaring that "all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories … are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein." It included a vague suggestion that the federal Constitution might in some unspecified way inhibit the power of a territorial legislature to exclude slaves. The bill explicitly endorsed "nonintervention," a code word for an indefinite congeries of proslavery constitutional principles that hinted at an absence of power in any government to inhibit the intrusion of slavery into the territories prior to statehood.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, together with the Compromise of 1850, surrounded the free states and the free territory of Minnesota with a cordon of territories open to slavery, thus threatening to make the Great Plains a vast proslavery chasm between the free states of the northeast and the free states and territories of the Pacific coast. The Whig party distintegrated, and its place in the North was taken by the new Republican party, which combined Whig economic objectives (free homesteads, federal aid to internal improvements) with elements of the Free Soil platform of 1848. These Free Soil principles included the idea that Congress could not establish or permit slavery in a territory and that it could not constitutionally support slavery anywhere outside the extant slave states. Thus the proslavery concessions of 1854 paradoxically resulted in no immediate practical gain for slavery but rather in a widespread dissemination of antislavery constitutional beliefs.

Kansas Territory, organized by the Act, became a theater of struggle for sectional advantage between proslavery Missourians and free-state settlers. The ensuing violence disrupted the Democratic party, especially after President james buchanan tried to force the proslavery lecompton constitution on the free-soil majority of Kansas settlers. The Kansas-Nebraska Act thus contributed substantially to the disruption of the Union.

William M. Wiecek


Russel, Robert R. 1963 The Issues in the Congressional Struggle over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, 1854. Journal of Southern History 29:187–210.

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Kansas-Nebraska Act 10 Stat 277 (1854)

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