This 1854 bill to organize western territories became part of the political whirlwind of sectionalism and railroad building, splitting two major political parties and helping to create another, as well as worsening North-South relations.
Did You Know?
Kansas was admitted as a free state in January 1861 only weeks after eight Southern states seceded from the union.
On January 4, 1854, Stephen A. Douglas, wanting to ensure a northern transcontinental railroad route that would benefit his Illinois constituents, introduced a bill to organize the territory of Nebraska in order to bring the area under civil control. But southern senators objected; the region lay north of latitude 36°30′ and so under the terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 would become a free state. To gain the southerners’ support, Douglas proposed creating two territories in the area–Kansas and Nebraska–and repealing the Missouri Compromise line. The question of whether the territories would be slave or free would be left to the settlers under Douglas’s principle of popular sovereignty. Presumably, the more northern territory would oppose slavery while the more southern one would permit it.
Although initially concerned about the political fallout, President Franklin Pierce gave Douglas and his southern allies his support. The “Appeal of the Independent Democrats,” signed by such Free-Soilers as Salmon P. Chase and Charles Sumner and published in many northern newspapers, attacked Pierce, Douglas, and their supporters for breaking a sacred compact by repealing the Missouri Compromise.
The act passed Congress, but it failed in its purposes. By the time Kansas was admitted to statehood in 1861 after an internal civil war, southern states had begun to secede from the Union. The Independent Democrats and many northern Whigs abandoned their affiliations for the new antislavery Republican party, leaving southern Whigs without party links and creating an issue over which the already deeply divided Democrats would split even more. The railroad was eventually built but not along the route Douglas wanted and with funds voted by a Republican Congress during a Republican Civil War administration.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, allowing slavery in the territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude. Introduced by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the Kansas-Nebraska Act stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory, a concept known as popular sovereignty. After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.
Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875
This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.
Senate and House debate related to the Kansas-Nebraska Act can be found in the Congressional Globe at:
- January 23, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- January 24, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- January 31, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- February 6, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- February 7, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- February 15, 1854 - Debated in the Senate.
- March. 3, 1854 -Debated and passed Senate
- May 8, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 9, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 16, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 17, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 18, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 19, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 20, 1854 - Debated in House.
- May 22, 1854 - Debated, amended, and passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 113 to 100.
- May 25, 1854 - The final Senate debate on the Kansas-Nebraska Act can be found in the appendix of the Congressional Globe, 33rd Congress, 1st Session.
- May 25, 1854 - The Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act by a vote 35 to 13.
- May 30, 1854 - President Franklin Pierce signed into law "An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas" (Kansas-Nebraska Act).
Search in the 33rd Congress using the phrase "Kansas Nebraska" to find more documents related to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 20,000 documents
Search Lincoln's Papers using the phrase "Kansas Nebraska" to find additional documents related to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana
This collection documents the life of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) both through writings by and about Lincoln as well as a large body of publications concerning the issues of the times including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics. It contains eleven items related to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, including newspaper articles and political cartoons.
From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909
This collection presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics.
Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present, including a broadside from Massachusetts printed in 1854 soliciting support for the anti-slavery settlers in Kansas.
Search this collection to locate additional broadsides and printed ephemera related to Kansas in the 1850s.
Salmon P. Chase Papers
The papers of Ohio governor, Lincoln cabinet official, and Supreme Court justice Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) span the years 1755-1898, with the bulk of the material originating between 1824 and 1872.
Chase's papers contain two speeches concerning the Kansas-Nebraska Act:
Jump Back in Time: Kansas Entered the Union as a Free State, January 29, 1861.
This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages from 1789 to 1924. Search this collection to find newspaper articles about the Kansas Nebraska Act.
A selection of articles on the Kansas Nebraska Act includes:
- "Mr. Douglas' Nebraska Bill," Weekly North Carolina Standard (Raleigh, N.C.), January 18, 1854.
- "The Nebraska Bill Passed," Nashville Union and American. (Nashville, Tenn.), May 30 1854.
- "The Press on Nebraska," Burlington Free Press. (Burlington, Vt.), June 2, 1854.
April 23, 1813
U.S. congressman, senator, and presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas was born in Brandon, Vermont, on April 23, 1813. Douglas sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
January 29, 1861
Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, ushistory.org
The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Rise of the Republican party, 1854-1856, Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University
Kansas Statehood, January 29, 1861, National Archives and Records Administration
Our Documents, The Kansas-Nebraska Act, National Archives and Records Administration
Territorial Kansas Online, 1854-1861, Kansas State Historical Society and University of Kansas
Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. [Catalog Record]
Goodrich, Thomas. War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1998. [Catalog Record]
Malin, James C. The Nebraska Question, 1852-1854. Lawrence, Kans., 1953. [Catalog Record]
Wolff, Gerald W. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill: Party, Section, and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Revisionist Press, 1977. [Catalog Record]
Wunder, John R. and Joann M. Ross. The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. [Catalog Record]
McArthur, Debra. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and "Bleeding Kansas" in American History. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2003. [Catalog Record]