Kansas-Nebraska Act

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Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
What was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854?

Kansas-Nebraska Act
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

Kansas Nebraska Act Map
Kansas Nebraska Act Map.gif
(Kansas Nebraska Act Map)

What was the Kansas-Nebraska Act?*
 
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed slavery in the territory north of the 36 30 latitude.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, commonly referred to as Bleeding Kansas, erupted in Kansas Territory between proslavery and anti-slavery settlers. It was a prelude to the American Civil War.
 
On May 22, 1854, the House of Representatives passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act by a vote of 113 to 100. The Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act by a vote 35 to 13 on May 25, 1854. The Act went into effect on May 30, 1854. The appendix of the Congressional Globe, 33rd Congress, 1st Session, contains the final Senate debate on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. See also: Missouri Civil War History and Kansas Civil War History.

Results
 

The Kansas–Nebraska Act divided the nation and pointed it toward civil war. The act itself virtually nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. The turmoil over the act split both the Democratic and Whig parties and gave rise to the Republican Party, which split the United States into two major political camps, North (Republican) and South (Democratic).

Eventually, a new anti-slavery state constitution was drawn up. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. Nebraska was admitted to the Union as a (free) state after the Civil War in 1867.

Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Birth of the Republican Party

 

Opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were also the founders of the Republican Party, which had opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. The Republican Party is the second oldest currently existing political party in the United States after its great rival, the Democratic Party.

 

Why was the Republican Party created?

The main cause was opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Northern Republicans saw the expansion of slavery as a great evil. The first public meeting where the name "Republican" was suggested for a new anti-slavery party was held in 1854 in Wisconsin.

"With the successful introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, an act that dissolved the terms of the Missouri Compromise and allowed slave or free status to be decided in the territories by popular sovereignty, the Whigs disintegrated." By February 1854, anti-slavery Whigs had begun meeting in the upper Midwestern states to discuss the formation of a new party. One such meeting, in Ripon, Wisconsin, on March 20, 1854, is generally remembered as the founding meeting of the Republican Party. (See also Free-Soilers and the Free Soil Party.)
 
Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party
 

Abraham Lincoln, drawing on remnants of the old Whig party, and on disenchanted Free Soil, Liberty, and Democratic Party members, was instrumental in forging the shape of the new Republican Party. At the 1856 Republican National Convention, Lincoln placed second in the contest to become the party's candidate for vice president.

The Republicans rapidly gained supporters in the North, and in 1856 their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, won 11 of the 16 Northern states. By 1860, the majority of the Southern slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans won the presidency. In November 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president over a divided Democratic Party, and, six weeks later, South Carolina formally seceded from the Union. Within six more weeks, five additional Southern states had followed South Carolina's lead--and in April 1861 the Civil War began.
 
The Civil War firmly identified the Republican Party as the party of the victorious North, and after the war the Republican-dominated Congress forced a "Radical Reconstruction" policy on the South, which saw the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens. By 1876, the Republican Party had lost control of the South, but it continued to dominate the presidency until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
 
*Officially titled "An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas," the Kansas Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had outlawed slavery above the 36 30' latitude in the Louisiana territories and reopened the national struggle over slavery in the western territories.

(Sources and related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854 (Law in the American West). Description: The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854 turns upside down the traditional way of thinking about one of the most important laws ever passed in American history. The act that created Nebraska and Kansas also, in effect, abolished the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in the region since 1820. This bow to local control outraged the nation and led to vicious confrontations, including Kansas’s subsequent mini-civil war. The essays in this volume shift the focus from the violent and influential reaction of “Bleeding Kansas” to the role that Nebraska played in this decisive moment. Essays from both established and new scholars examine the historical context and significance of this statute. Continued below...

They treat American political culture of the 1850s; American territorial history; the roles of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and Frederick Douglass in the creation and implementation of the law; the reactions of African Americans to the act; and the comparative impact on Nebraskans and Kansans. At the 150th anniversary of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, these scholars reexamine the political, social, and personal contexts of this act and its effect on the course of American history. About the Author: John R. Wunder is a professor of history and journalism at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of numerous books, including “Retained by the People”: A History of American Indians and the Bill of Rights, and the coauthor of Americans View Their Dust Bowl Experience. Joann M. Ross has a JD from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is currently a history instructor at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts and is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Contributors include: Nicole Etcheson, Tekla Ali Johnson, Mark E. Neely Jr., Phillip S. Paludan, James A. Rawley, Brenden Rensink, Joann M. Ross, Walter C. Rucker, and John R. Wunder.

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Recommended Reading: The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Paperback), by David M. Potter. Review: Professor Potter treats an incredibly complicated and misinterpreted time period with unparalleled objectivity and insight. Potter masterfully explains the climatic events that led to Southern secession – a greatly divided nation – and the Civil War: the social, political and ideological conflicts; culture; American expansionism, sectionalism and popular sovereignty; economic and tariff systems; and slavery. In other words, Potter places under the microscope the root causes and origins of the Civil War. He conveys the subjects in easy to understand language to edify the reader's understanding (it's not like reading some dry old history book). Delving beyond surface meanings and interpretations, this book analyzes not only the history, but the historiography of the time period as well. Continued below…

Professor Potter rejects the historian's tendency to review the period with all the benefits of hindsight. He simply traces the events, allowing the reader a step-by-step walk through time, the various views, and contemplates the interpretations of contemporaries and other historians. Potter then moves forward with his analysis. The Impending Crisis is the absolute gold-standard of historical writing… This simply is the book by which, not only other antebellum era books, but all history books should be judged.

 

Recommended Reading: CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR: The Political, Cultural, Economic and Territorial Disputes Between the North and South. Description: While South Carolina's preemptive strike on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call to arms started the Civil War, South Carolina's secession and Lincoln's military actions were simply the last in a chain of events stretching as far back as 1619. Increasing moral conflicts and political debates over slavery-exacerbated by the inequities inherent between an established agricultural society and a growing industrial one-led to a fierce sectionalism which manifested itself through cultural, economic, political and territorial disputes. This historical study reduces sectionalism to its most fundamental form, examining the underlying source of this antagonistic climate. From protective tariffs to the expansionist agenda, it illustrates the ways in which the foremost issues of the time influenced relations between the North and the South.

 

Recommended Reading: A House Divided: Sectionalism and Civil War, 1848-1865 (The American Moment). Reviews: "The best short treatment of the sectional conflict and Civil War available... Sewell convincingly demonstrates that the conflict was a revolutionary experience that fundamentally transformed the Republic and its people, and left a racial heritage that still confronts America today. The result is a poignant discussion of the central tragedy of American history and its legacy for the nation." -- William E. Gienapp, Georgia Historical Quarterly. "A provocative starting point for discussion, further study, and independent assessment." -- William H. Pease, History. "Sewell's style is fast moving and very readable... An excellent volume summarizing the stormy period prior to the war as well as a look at the military and home fronts." -- Civil War Book Exchange and Collector's Newsletter. Continued below…

"A well-written, traditional, and brief narrative of the period from the end of the Mexican War to the conclusion of the Civil War... Shows the value of traditional political history which is too often ignored in our rush to reconstruct the social texture of society." -- Thomas D. Morris, Civil War History. "Tailored for adoption in college courses. Students will find that the author has a keen eye for vivid quotations, giving his prose welcome immediacy." -- Daniel W. Crofts, Journal of Southern History.

 

Recommended Reading: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States) (Hardcover: 928 pages). Review: The newest volume in the renowned Oxford History of the United States-- A brilliant portrait of an era that saw dramatic transformations in American life The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent. Continued below…

Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information. These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture. In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the true prophets of America's future. He reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion -- Manifest Destiny -- culminates in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United States. By 1848, America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative of this formative period in United States history.

Sources: National Archives; Library of Congress; Goodrich, Thomas. War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1998; Malin, James C. The Nebraska Question, 1852-1854. Lawrence, Kans., 1953; Wolff, Gerald W. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill: Party, Section, and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Revisionist Press, 1977; Chambers, William Nisbet. Old Bullion Benton: Senator From the New West (1956); Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (2006); Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. (1970) ISBN 0-19-509497-2; Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854. (1990) ISBN 0-19-505814-3; Holt, Michael. The Political Crisis of the 1850s (1978); Huston, James L. Stephen A. Douglas and the dilemmas of democratic equality (2007); Johannsen. Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas (1973) ISBN 0-19-501620-3; Morrison, Michael. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War (1997); Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: A House Dividing 1852-1857. (1947) SBN 684-10424-5; Nichols, Roy F. "The Kansas-Nebraska Act: A Century of Historiography." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 43 (September 1956); Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976).

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