Kansas-Nebraska Act

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The Kansas-Nebraska Act was proposed in 1854 by Senator Stephen Douglas. The bill would divide the land west of Missouri into two
territories, Nebraska and Kansas, as a part of Western Expansion. He further declared that popular sovereignty would determine the allowance of slavery in the two areas. By decree of this act, the Missouri Compromise was repealed, thus angering many opponents of slavery. In the following years, violence would erupt between the anti-slavery and pro-slavery activists leading to the start of Bleeding Kansas. There were major political consequences as well, and the Kansas-Nebraska act was very important in creating the political parties present today. Because of the tension it caused, this act is considered one of the most significant causes of the Civil War.


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The area to the west of Missouri was originally known as a vast desert but upon further inspection, it was noted for its fertile ground. Farms were set up, but infrastructure connecting the land to the other states was necessary. Most importantly, people wanted a railroad, possibly a transcontinental railroad, that would pass through this area. Prior to 1854, several acts had been proposed, but all had failed. In 1853, a bill called the Nebraska act was passed which would help establish the area to the west of Missouri and Iowa. However, certain senators such as Sen. David Atchison from Missouri would not support the bill unless the issue of slavery was resolved. He wanted slaves to be allowed in the territory. However, the Nebraska Act made no comment on the right to own slaves in Nebraska, and under the Missouri Act, this land would be slave-free. The act was thus suspended, as all of the southern senators voted to suspend it. Douglas realized that to progress forward, he would have to take into account the slave-holding states' concerns. However, with so many anti-slavery advocates, including the influential Abraham Lincoln, debates quickly broke out.


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Since the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri compromise, an act that Lincoln supported, he and Douglas began famous debates regarding the act. Lincoln expressed his concern that turmoil would break out between anti-slavery and pro-slavery advocates once the Missouri compromise ceased to alleviate the issue. Furthermore, Lincoln believed that determining the allowance of slavery by popular sovereignty was in favor of those who supported slavery since both new territories would be occupied by Southern settlers. In three major speeches, he restated his opposition towards slavery and the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He took further action in the Senate, where Douglas would argue Lincoln's main points on a number occasions. Eventually, however, Douglas won out, and the act was passed later in 1854.


As soon as the Kansas-Nebraska act was passed, debate and conflict immediately arose, most notably the conflict of "Bleeding Kansas." However, the most significant changes occurred to the political parties at the time. Party alliances became completely shifted. The pro-slavery Democratic Party, represented by Douglas, became the major advocates for popular sovereignty. However, the democrats' power was significantly weakened in the south where they were dominant, and almost completely disappeared in the north. As the debates raged on, a new party emerged with Lincoln at its head. This party became known as the Republican Party, and they became well known for being explicitly anti-slavery and anti-popular sovereignty.

Works Cited