Site icon Common Sense and Ramblings In America

How We Sold Our Soul–Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Articles in the Category cover a vast range of history not only in our country but in the world as well. The category is entitled “How We Sold Our Soul”. In many cases our history has hinged on compromises being made by the powers at be. They say hind-sight is 20/20, which is why I am discussing these land mark decisions in this manner. The people that made these decisions in many cases thought they were doing the right thing. However in some instances they were made for expediency and little thought was given to the moral ramifications and the fallout that would result from them. I hope you enjoy these articles. The initial plan is to discuss 10 compromises, but as time progresses I am sure that number will increase.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) was a territorial organic act that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It was drafted by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, passed by the 33rd United States Congress, and signed into law by President Franklin Pierce. Douglas introduced the bill intending to open up new lands to develop and facilitate the construction of a transcontinental railroad, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, stoking national tensions over slavery, and contributing to a series of armed conflicts known as “Bleeding Kansas“.

The United States had acquired vast amounts of land in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, and since the 1840s Douglas had sought to establish a territorial government in a portion of the Louisiana Purchase that was still unorganized. Douglas’s efforts were stymied by Senator David Rice Atchison and other Southern leaders who refused to allow the creation of territories that banned slavery; slavery would have been banned because the Missouri Compromise outlawed slavery in the territory north of latitude 36°30′ north (except for Missouri). To win the support of Southerners like Atchison, Pierce and Douglas agreed to back the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, with the status of slavery instead decided based on “popular sovereignty“. Under popular sovereignty, the citizens of each territory, rather than Congress, would determine whether slavery would be allowed.

Douglas’s bill to repeal the Missouri Compromise and organize Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory won approval by a wide margin in the Senate, but faced stronger opposition in the House of Representatives. Though Northern Whigs strongly opposed the bill, the bill passed the House with the support of almost all Southerners and some Northern Democrats. After the passage of the act, pro- and anti-slavery elements flooded into Kansas to establish a population that would vote for or against slavery, resulting in a series of armed conflicts known as “Bleeding Kansas“. Douglas and Pierce hoped that popular sovereignty would help bring an end to the national debate over slavery, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act outraged Northerners. The division between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces caused by the Act was the death knell for the ailing Whig Party, which broke apart after the Act. Its Northern remnants would give rise to the anti-slavery Republican Party. The Act, and the tensions over slavery it inflamed, were key events leading to the American Civil War.


In his 1853 inaugural address, President Franklin Pierce expressed hope that the Compromise of 1850 had settled the debate over the issue of slavery in the territories. The compromise had allowed slavery in Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory, which had been acquired in the Mexican–American War. The Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery in territories north of the 36°30′ parallel, remained in place for the other U.S. territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, including a vast unorganized territory often referred to as “Nebraska”. As settlers poured into the unorganized territory, and commercial and political interests called for a transcontinental railroad through the region, pressure mounted for the organization of the eastern parts of the unorganized territory. Though the organization of the territory was required to develop the region, an organization bill threatened to re-open the contentious debates over slavery in the territories that had taken place during and after the Mexican–American War. Missouri Compromise line (36°30′ parallel) in dark blue, 1820. Territory above this line would be reserved for free states, and below, slave states

The topic of a transcontinental railroad had been discussed since the 1840s. While there were debates over the specifics, especially the route to be taken, there was a public consensus that such a railroad should be built by private interests, financed by public land grants. In 1845, Stephen A. Douglas, then serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, had submitted an unsuccessful plan to organize the Nebraska Territory formally, as the first step in building a railroad with its eastern terminus in Chicago. Railroad proposals were debated in all subsequent sessions of Congress with cities such as Chicago, St. LouisQuincyMemphis, and New Orleans competing to be the jumping-off point for the construction.

Several proposals in late 1852 and early 1853 had strong support, but they failed because of disputes over whether the railroad would follow a northern or a southern route. In early 1853, the House of Representatives passed a bill 107 to 49 to organize the Nebraska Territory in the land west of Iowa and Missouri. In March, the bill moved to the Senate Committee on Territories, which was headed by Douglas. Missouri Senator David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slavery were to be permitted. While the bill was silent on this issue, slavery would have been prohibited under the Missouri Compromise in the territory north of 36°30′ latitude and west of the Mississippi River. Other Southern senators were as inflexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the Senate voted to table the motion, with every senator from the states south of Missouri voting to table.

During the Senate adjournment, the issues of the railroad and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise became entangled in Missouri politics, as Atchison campaigned for re-election against the forces of Thomas Hart Benton. Atchison was maneuvered into choosing between antagonizing the state’s railroad interests or its slaveholders. Finally, he took the position that he would rather see Nebraska “sink in hell” before he would allow it to be overrun by free soilers.

Representatives then generally found lodging in boarding houses when they were in the nation’s capital to perform their legislative duties. Atchison shared lodgings in an F Street house shared by the leading Southerners in Congress. He himself was the Senate’s President pro tempore. His housemates included Robert T. Hunter (from Virginia, chairman of the Finance Committee), James Mason (from Virginia, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee) and Andrew P. Butler (from South Carolina, chairman of the Judiciary Committee). When Congress reconvened on December 5, 1853, the group, termed the F Street Mess, along with Virginian William O. Goode, formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Douglas was aware of the group’s opinions and power and knew that he needed to address its concerns. Douglas was also a fervent believer in popular sovereignty – the policy of letting the voters, almost exclusively white males, of a territory decide whether or not slavery should exist in it.

Iowa Senator Augustus C. Dodge immediately reintroduced the same legislation to organize Nebraska that had stalled in the previous session; it was referred to Douglas’s committee on December 14. Douglas, hoping to achieve the support of the Southerners, publicly announced that the same principle that had been established in the Compromise of 1850 should apply in Nebraska. The United States after the Compromise of 1850 and the Gadsden Purchase. Douglas sought to organize parts of the area labeled as “Unorganized territory.”

In the Compromise of 1850, Utah and New Mexico Territories had been organized without any restrictions on slavery, and many supporters of Douglas argued that the compromise had already superseded the Missouri Compromise. The territories were, however, given the authority to decide for themselves whether they would apply for statehood as either free or slaves states whenever they chose to apply. The two territories, however, unlike Nebraska, had not been part of the Louisiana Purchase and had arguably never been subject to the Missouri Compromise.

Congressional action

Introduction of Nebraska bill

The bill was reported to the main body of the Senate on January 4, 1854. It had been modified by Douglas, who had also authored the New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory Acts, to mirror the language from the Compromise of 1850. In the bill, a vast new Nebraska Territory was created to extend from Kansas north all the way to the 49th parallel, the US–Canada border. A large portion of Nebraska Territory would soon be split off into Dakota Territory (1861), and smaller portions transferred to Colorado Territory (1861) and Idaho Territory (1863) before the balance of the land became the State of Nebraska in 1867.

Furthermore, any decisions on slavery in the new lands were to be made “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.”[14] In a report accompanying the bill, Douglas’s committee wrote that the Utah and New Mexico Acts:

… were intended to have a far more comprehensive and enduring effect than the mere adjustment of the difficulties arising out of the recent acquisition of Mexican territory. They were designed to establish certain great principles, which would not only furnish adequate remedies for existing evils, but, in all time to come, avoid the perils of a similar agitation, by withdrawing the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, and committing it to the arbitrament of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for its consequences.

The report compared the situation in New Mexico and Utah with the situation in Nebraska. In the first instance, many had argued that slavery had previously been prohibited under Mexican law, just as it was prohibited in Nebraska under the Missouri Compromise. Just as the creation of New Mexico and Utah territories had not ruled on the validity of Mexican law on the acquired territory, the Nebraska bill was neither “affirming nor repealing … the Missouri act.” In other words, popular sovereignty was being established by ignoring, rather than addressing, the problem presented by the Missouri Compromise. Stephen A. Douglas – “The great principle of self-government is at stake, and surely the people of this country are never going to decide that the principle upon which our whole republican system rests is vicious and wrong.”

Douglas’s attempt to finesse his way around the Missouri Compromise did not work. Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon believed that unless the Missouri Compromise was explicitly repealed, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, who would most likely oppose slavery. On January 16 Dixon surprised Douglas by introducing an amendment that would repeal the section of the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel. Douglas met privately with Dixon and in the end, despite his misgivings on Northern reaction, agreed to accept Dixon’s arguments.

A similar amendment was offered in the House by Philip Phillips of Alabama. With the encouragement of the “F Street Mess”, Douglas met with them and Phillips to ensure that the momentum for passing the bill remained with the Democratic Party. They arranged to meet with President Franklin Pierce to ensure that the issue would be declared a test of party loyalty within the Democratic Party.

Meeting with Pierce

Pierce was not enthusiastic about the implications of repealing the Missouri Compromise and had barely referred to Nebraska in his State of the Union message delivered December 5, 1853, just a month before. Close advisors Senator Lewis Cass, a proponent of popular sovereignty as far back as 1848 as an alternative to the Wilmot Proviso, and Secretary of State William L. Marcy both told Pierce that repeal would create serious political problems. The full cabinet met and only Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of Navy James C. Dobbin supported repeal. Instead, the president and cabinet submitted to Douglas an alternative plan that would have sought out a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise. Both Pierce and Attorney General Caleb Cushing believed that the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional.

Douglas’s committee met later that night. Douglas was agreeable to the proposal, but the Atchison group was not. Determined to offer the repeal to Congress on January 23 but reluctant to act without Pierce’s commitment, Douglas arranged through Davis to meet with Pierce on January 22 even though it was a Sunday when Pierce generally refrained from conducting any business. Douglas was accompanied at the meeting by Atchison, Hunter, Phillips, and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.

Douglas and Atchison first met alone with Pierce before the whole group convened. Pierce was persuaded to support repeal, and at Douglas’ insistence, Pierce provided a written draft, asserting that the Missouri Compromise had been made inoperative by the principles of the Compromise of 1850. Pierce later informed his cabinet, which concurred in the change of direction. The Washington Union, the communications organ for the administration, wrote on January 24 that support for the bill would be “a test of Democratic orthodoxy.”

Debate in Senate

On January 23, a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and split the unorganized land into two new territories: Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa, who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory were created. Existing language to affirm the application of all other laws of the United States in the new territory was supplemented by the language agreed on with Pierce: “except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820 , which was superseded by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures, and is declared inoperative.” Identical legislation was soon introduced in the House. Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler. An 1854 cartoon depicts a giant free soiler being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass, standing on the Democratic platform of making slave states out of “Kansas,” “Cuba,” and “Central America“. Franklin Pierce also holds down the giant’s beard, as Stephen A. Douglas shoves a black man down his throat.

Historian Allan Nevins wrote that the country then became convulsed with two interconnected battles over slavery. A political battle was being fought in Congress over the question of slavery in the new states that were clearly coming. At the same time, there was a moral debate. Southerners claimed that slavery was beneficent, endorsed by the Bible, and generally good policy, whose expansion must be supported. The publications and speeches of abolitionists, some of them former slaves themselves, were telling Northerners that the supposed beneficence of slavery was a Southern lie, and that enslaving another person was un-Christian, a horrible sin that must be fought. Both battles were “fought with a pertinacity, bitterness, and rancor unknown even in Wilmot Proviso days.” In Congress, the free soilers were at a distinct disadvantage. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known”, led a tightly disciplined party. It was in the nation at large that the opponents of Nebraska hoped to achieve a moral victory. The New York Times, which had earlier supported Pierce, predicted that this would be the last straw for Northern supporters of the slavery forces and would “create a deep-seated, intense, and ineradicable hatred of the institution which will crush its political power, at all hazards, and at any cost.”

The day after the bill was reintroduced, two Ohioans, Representative Joshua Giddings and Senator Salmon P. Chase, published a free-soil response, “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States”:

We arraign this bill as a gross violation of a sacred pledge; as a criminal betrayal of precious rights; as part and parcel of an atrocious plot to exclude from vast unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers from our own States, and convert it into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.

Douglas took the appeal personally and responded in Congress, when the debate was opened on January 30 before a full House and packed gallery. Douglas biographer Robert W. Johanssen described part of the speech:

Douglas charged the authors of the “Appeal”, whom he referred to throughout as the “Abolitionist confederates”, with having perpetrated a “base falsehood” in their protest. He expressed his own sense of betrayal, recalling that Chase, “with a smiling face and the appearance of friendship”, had appealed for a postponement of debate on the ground that he had not yet familiarized himself with the bill. “Little did I suppose at the time that I granted that act of courtesy,” Douglas remarked, that Chase and his compatriots had published a document “in which they arraigned me as having been guilty of a criminal betrayal of my trust,” of bad faith, and of plotting against the cause of free government. While other Senators were attending divine worship, they had been “assembled in a secret conclave”, devoting the Sabbath to their own conspiratorial and deceitful purposes.

The debate would continue for four months, as many Anti-Nebraska political rallies were held across the north. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Chase, William Seward, of New York, and Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, led the opposition. The New-York Tribune wrote on March 2:

The unanimous sentiment of the North is indignant resistance. … The whole population is full of it. The feeling in 1848 was far inferior to this in strength and universality.

Sam Houston from Texas was one of the few southern opponents of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In the debate, he urged, “Maintain the Missouri Compromise! Stir not up agitation! Give us peace!” Alexander Stephens from Georgia – “Nebraska is through the House. I took the reins in my hand, applied the whip and spur, and brought the ‘wagon’ out at eleven o’clock P.M. Glory enough for one day.”

The debate in the Senate concluded on March 4, 1854, when Douglas, beginning near midnight on March 3, made a five-and-a-half-hour speech. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free-state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor, and slave-state senators supported the bill 23 to 2.

Debate in House of Representatives

On March 21, 1854, as a delaying tactic in the House of Representatives, the legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled. Davis and Cushing, from Massachusetts, along with Douglas, spearheaded the partisan efforts. By the end of April, Douglas believed that there were enough votes to pass the bill. The House leadership then began a series of roll call votes in which legislation ahead of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was called to the floor and tabled without debate.

Thomas Hart Benton was among those speaking forcefully against the measure. On April 25, in a House speech that biographer William Nisbet Chambers called “long, passionate, historical, and polemical”, Benton attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which he “had stood upon … above thirty years, and intended to stand upon it to the end—solitary and alone, if need be; but preferring company.” The speech was distributed afterward as a pamphlet when opposition to the action moved outside the walls of Congress.

It was not until May 8 that the debate began in the House. The debate was even more intense than in the Senate. While it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the bill would pass, the opponents went all out to fight it. Historian Michael Morrison wrote: Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri – “What is the excuse for all this turmoil and mischief? We are told it is to keep the question of slavery out of Congress! Great God! It was out of Congress, completely, entirely, and forever out of Congress, unless Congress dragged it in by breaking down the sacred laws which settled it!”

A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, nearly provoked the House into a war of more than words. Campbell, joined by other antislavery northerners, exchanged insults and invectives with southerners, neither side giving quarter. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Finally, bumptiousness gave way to violence. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democratwell oiled and well-armed, had to be restrained from making a violent attack on Campbell. Only after the sergeant at arms arrested him, the debate was cut off, and the House adjourned did the melee subside.

The floor debate was handled by Alexander Stephens, of Georgia, who insisted that the Missouri Compromise had never been a true compromise but had been imposed on the South. He argued that the issue was whether republican principles, “that the citizens of every distinct community or State should have the right to govern themselves in their domestic matters as they please”, would be honored.

The final House vote in favor of the bill was 113 to 100. Northern Democrats supported the bill 44 to 42, but all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. Southern Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2, and southern Whigs supported it by 12 to 7.


President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas–Nebraska Act into law on May 30, 1854.


Charles Sumner on Douglas – “Alas! too often those principles which give consistency, individuality, and form to the Northern character, which renders it staunch, strong, and seaworthy, which bind it together as with iron, are drawn out, one by one, like the bolts of the ill-fitted vessel, and from the miserable, loosened fragments is formed that human anomaly—a Northern man with Southern principles. Sir, no such man can speak for the North.”

Immediate responses to the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act fell into two classes. The less common response was held by Douglas’s supporters, who believed that the bill would withdraw “the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, committing it to the arbitration of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for, its consequences.” In other words, they believed that the Act would leave decisions about whether slavery would be permitted in the hands of the people rather than the Federal government. The far more common response was one of outrage, interpreting Douglas’s actions as part of “an atrocious plot to exclude from a vast unoccupied region immigrant from the old world, and free laborers from their own states, and convert it into a dreary despotism.” Especially in the eyes of northerners, the Kansas–Nebraska Act was aggression and an attack on the power and beliefs of free states. The response led to calls for public action against the South, as seen in broadsides that advertised gatherings in northern states to discuss publicly what to do about the presumption of the Act.

Douglas and former Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln aired their disagreement over the Kansas–Nebraska Act in seven public speeches during September and October 1854. Lincoln gave his most comprehensive argument against slavery and the provisions of the act in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, in the Peoria Speech. He and Douglas both spoke to the large audience, Douglas first and Lincoln in response, two hours later. Lincoln’s three-hour speech presented thorough moral, legal, and economic arguments against slavery and raised Lincoln’s political profile for the first time. The speeches set the stage for the Lincoln-Douglas debates four years later, when Lincoln sought Douglas’s Senate seat.

Bleeding Kansas

Main article: Bleeding KansasThis 1856 map shows slave states (gray), free states (pink), U.S. territories (green), and Kansas (white)

Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas, or the Border War was a series of violent political confrontations in the United States between 1854 and 1861 involving anti-slavery “Free-Staters” and pro-slavery “Border Ruffian“, or “Southern” elements in Kansas. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would allow or outlaw slavery, and thus enter the Union as a slave state or a free state.

Pro-slavery settlers came to Kansas mainly from neighboring Missouri. Their influence in territorial elections was often bolstered by resident Missourians who crossed into Kansas solely for voting in such ballots. They formed groups such as the Blue Lodges and were dubbed border ruffians, a term coined by the opponent and abolitionist Horace Greeley. Abolitionist settlers, known as “jayhawkers“, moved from the East expressly to make Kansas a free state. A clash between the opposing sides was inevitable.

Successive territorial governors, usually sympathetic to slavery, attempted to maintain the peace. The territorial capital of Lecompton, the target of much agitation, became such a hostile environment for Free-Staters that they set up their own, unofficial legislature at Topeka.

John Brown and his sons gained notoriety in the fight against slavery by murdering five pro-slavery farmers with a broadsword in the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown also helped defend a few dozen Free-State supporters from several hundred angry pro-slavery supporters at Osawatomie.

Effect on Native American tribes

Prior to the organization of the Kansas–Nebraska territory in 1854, the Kansas and Nebraska Territories were consolidated as part of the Indian Territory. Throughout the 1830s, large-scale relocations of Native American tribes to the Indian Territory took place, with many Southeastern nations removed to present-day Oklahoma, a process ordered by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and known as the Trail of Tears, and many Midwestern nations removed by way of treaty to present-day Kansas. Among the latter were the ShawneeDelawareKickapooKaskaskia and PeoriaIoway, and Miami. The passing of the Kansas–Nebraska Act came into direct conflict with the relocations. White American settlers from both the free-soil North and pro-slavery South flooded the Northern Indian Territory, hoping to influence the vote on slavery that would come following the admittance of Kansas and, to a lesser extent, Nebraska to the United States.

In order to avoid and/or alleviate the reservation-settlement problem, further treaty negotiations were attempted with the tribes of Kansas and Nebraska. In 1854 alone, the U.S. agreed to acquire lands in Kansas or Nebraska from several tribes including the Kickapoo, Delaware, Omaha, Shawnee, Otoe and Missouri, Miami, and Kaskaskia and Peoria. In exchange for their land cessions, the tribes largely received small reservations in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma or Kansas in some cases.

For the nations that remained in Kansas beyond 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act introduced a host of other problems. In 1855, white “squatters” built the city of Leavenworth on the Delaware reservation without the consent of either Delaware or the US government. When Commissioner of Indian Affairs George Manypenny ordered for military support in removing the squatters, both the military and the squatters refused to comply, undermining both Federal authority and the treaties in place with Delaware. In addition to the violations of treaty agreements, other promises made were not being kept. Construction and infrastructure improvement projects dedicated in nearly every treaty, for example, took a great deal longer than expected. Beyond that, however, the most damaging violation by white American settlers was the mistreatment of Native Americans and their properties. Personal maltreatment, stolen property, and deforestation have all been cited. Furthermore, the squatters’ premature and illegal settlement of the Kansas Territory jeopardized the value of the land, and with it the future of the Indian tribes living on them. Because treaties were land cessions and purchases, the value of the land handed over to the Federal government was critical to the payment received by a given Native nation. Deforestation, destruction of property, and other general injuries to the land lowered the value of the territories that were ceded by the Kansas Territory tribes.

Manypenny’s 1856 “Report on Indian Affairs” explained the devastating effect on Indian populations of diseases that white settlers brought to Kansas. Without providing statistics, Indian Affairs Superintendent to the area Colonel Alfred Cumming reported at least more deaths than births in most tribes in the area. While noting intemperance, or alcoholism, as a leading cause of death, Cumming specifically cited cholerasmallpox, and measles, none of which the Native Americans were able to treat. The disastrous epidemics exemplified the Osage people, who lost an estimated 1300 lives to scurvy, measles, smallpox, and scrofula between 1852 and 1856, contributing, in part, to the massive decline in population, from 8000 in 1850 to just 3500 in 1860. The Osage had already encountered epidemics associated with relocation and white settlement. The initial removal acts in the 1830s brought both White American settlers and foreign Native American tribes to the Great Plains and into contact with the Osage people. Between 1829 and 1843, influenza, cholera, and smallpox killed an estimated 1242 Osage Indians, resulting in a population recession of roughly 20 percent between 1830 and 1850.

Destruction of the Whig party

From a political standpoint, the Whig Party had been in decline in the South because of the effectiveness with which it had been hammered by the Democratic Party over slavery. The Southern Whigs hoped that by seizing the initiative on this issue, they would be identified as strong defenders of slavery. Many Northern Whigs broke with them in the Act.

The American party system had been dominated by Whigs and Democrats for decades leading up to the Civil War. But the Whig party’s increasing internal divisions had made it a party of strange bedfellows by the 1850s. An ascendant anti-slavery wing clashed with a traditionalist and increasingly pro-slavery southern wing. These divisions came to a head in the 1852 election, where Whig candidate Winfield Scott was trounced by Franklin Pierce. Southern Whigs, who had supported the prior Whig president Zachary Taylor, had been burned by Taylor and were unwilling to support another Whig. Taylor, who despite being a slaveowner, had proved notably anti-slave despite campaigning neutrally on the issue. With the loss of Southern Whig support, and the loss of votes in the North to the Free Soil Party, Whigs seemed doomed. So they were, as they would never again contest a presidential election.

The final nail in the Whig coffin was the Kansas–Nebraska Act. It was also the spark that began the Republican Party, which would take in both Whigs and Free Soilers and create an anti-slavery party that the Whigs had always resisted becoming. The changes of the act were viewed by anti-slavery Northerners as an aggressive, expansionist maneuver by the slave-owning South. Opponents of the Act were intensely motivated and began forming a new party. The Party began as a coalition of anti-slavery Conscience Whigs such as Zachariah Chandler and Free Soilers such as Salmon P. Chase.

The first anti-Nebraska local meeting where “Republican” was suggested as a name for a new anti-slavery party was held in a Ripon, Wisconsin schoolhouse on March 20, 1854. The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the Republican name was held near Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, 1854. At that convention, the party opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates. The Midwest took the lead in forming state Republican Party tickets; apart from St. Louis and a few areas adjacent to free states, there were no efforts to organize the Party in the southern states. So was born the Republican Party—campaigning on the popular, emotional issue of “free soil” in the frontier—which would capture the White House just six years later.

Later developments

The Kansas–Nebraska Act divided the nation and pointed it toward civil war. Congressional Democrats suffered huge losses in the mid-term elections of 1854, as voters provided support to a wide array of new parties opposed to the Democrats and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Pierce declared his full opposition to the Republican Party, decrying what he saw as its anti-southern stance, but his perceived pro-Southern actions in Kansas continued to inflame Northern anger.

Partly due to the unpopularity of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Pierce lost his bid for re-nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention to James Buchanan. Pierce remains the only elected president who actively sought reelection but was denied his party’s nomination for a second term. Republicans nominated John C. Frémont in the 1856 presidential election and campaigned on “Bleeding Kansas” and the unpopularity of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Buchanan won the election, but Frémont carried a majority of the free states. Two days after Buchanan’s inauguration, Chief Justice Roger Taney delivered the Dred Scott decision, which asserted that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. Douglas continued to support the doctrine of popular sovereignty, but Buchanan insisted that Democrats respect the Dred Scott decision and its repudiation of federal interference with slavery in the territories.

Guerrilla warfare in Kansas continued throughout Buchanan’s presidency and extended into the 1860s. Buchanan attempted to admit Kansas as a state under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, but Kansas voters rejected that constitution in an August 1858 referendum. Anti-slavery delegates won a majority of the elections to the 1859 Kansas constitutional convention, and Kansas won admission as a free state under the anti-slavery Wyandotte Constitution in the final months of Buchanan’s presidency. 

The Law that Ripped America in Two

One hundred fifty years ago, the Kansas-Nebraska Act set the stage for America’s civil war

bolitionist John Brown—failed businessman, sometime farmer and fulltime agent, he believed, of a God more disposed to retribution than mercy— rode into the PottawatomieValley in the new territory of Kansas on May 24, 1856, intent on imposing “a restraining fear” on his proslavery neighbors. With him were seven men, including four of his sons. An hour before midnight, Brown came to the cabin of a Tennessee emigrant named James Doyle, took him prisoner despite the pleadings of Doyle’s desperate wife, and shot him dead. After butchering Doyle and two of his sons with broadswords, the party moved on to kill two other men, leaving one with his skull crushed, a hand severed and his body in Pottawatomie Creek.

In a sense, the five proslavery settlers were casualties not merely of Brown’s bloody-mindedness but also of a law described by historians William and Bruce Catton as possibly “the most fateful single piece of legislation in American history.” Ironically, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by Congress 150 years ago this month (100 years to the week before the landmark Supreme Court decision—Brown v. Board of Education—barring school segregation), was meant to quiet the furious national argument over slavery by letting the new Western territories decide whether to accept the practice, without the intrusion of the federal government. Yet by repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had outlawed slavery everywhere in the Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri’s southern border (except for Missouri itself), the new law inflamed the emotions it was intended to calm and wrenched the country apart.

As a result of the legislation’s passage, resentments became bloody hostilities, the Democratic Party lay shattered, a new Republican Party was created and an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln embarked on the road to the presidency. Had the law made civil war unavoidable? “I’d put it this way,” says historian George B. Forgie of the University of Texas. “Whatever the chances of avoiding disunion before Kansas-Nebraska, they fell dramatically as a result of it.”

The author of the bill—officially called “An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas”—was Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, eclipsed in history by his rival Lincoln, but for most of his lifetime a figure of far greater national consequence. Short-legged and barrelchested, with a head disproportionately large for his body, the 5-foot-4 Democrat, known to admirers as the Little Giant, was a gifted, dynamic, rough-mannered man who seemed destined to be president. Ferocious in debate (the author Harriet Beecher Stowe likened his forensic style to “a bomb . . . [that] bursts and sends red-hot nails in every direction”), he first ran for Congress at age 25 against Lincoln’s law partner, John T. Stuart. (Douglas lost by 36 votes.) Douglas biographer Robert W. Johannsen reports that Stuart once became so incensed at Douglas’ language that he “tucked him under his arm, and carried him around the Springfield markethouse. Douglas, in return, gave Stuart’s thumb such a bite that Stuart carried the scar for many years afterward.”

Douglas was equally combative in Congress. An avid backer of the Mexican War of 1846-48, he looked forward, if not to an American empire, at least to a republic spanning the continent. But his ambitions could hardly be realized by a nation at war with itself. The problem, as always, was slavery. As the boundaries of the nation moved westward, threatening the tenuous balance of power between slaveholding states and free states, Congress had struck the bargains needed to keep the Union intact without confronting the issue of slavery head-on. One accommodation had followed another, but time was not on the side of evasion. Observes historian Paul Finkelman of the University of Tulsa: “As Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, ‘all knew that this interest’—slavery— ‘was somehow the cause of the war.’ That ‘interest’ was not likely to go away peacefully. Sooner or later the American people had to come to terms with it.”

Mildly opposed to slavery in principle, Douglas regarded the issue as more a dangerous distraction than a fundamental obstacle to the Republic’s survival. White America’s destiny, in his view, was to extend its domain from the Atlantic to the Pacific, not to agonize over the dubious rights of those he considered his racial inferiors. With that perspective in mind, he had helped arrange the historic Compromise of 1850, which admitted California to the Union as a free state while placing no restrictions on slavery in the new territories of Utah and New Mexico. Voters there would decide for themselves whether or not to permit slavery, and the principle would be known as popular sovereignty. But four years later Douglas had a different agenda. Early in 1854, hoping to open the way for a railroad linking California with Illinois and the East, he wanted Congress to approve the establishment of the NebraskaTerritory in the vast wilderness west of Missouri and Iowa. Douglas had sought such approval before, but lacked the Southern votes to get it. Further bargaining would now be necessary, and the stakes this time would include the Missouri Compromise, for more than 30 years the foundation of federal policy regarding the expansion of slavery. If Nebraska were organized with the compromise in place, it would be slave-free and slave-state Missouri would be bordered on three sides by free states and territories. Missouri’s influential—and rabidly proslavery—senator, David Atchison, had a problem with that; he wanted Nebraska opened to slavery, and vowed to see it “sink in hell” if it were not.

Thus began a delicate negotiation in which Douglas, who had once described the Missouri Compromise as “a sacred thing, which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb,” searched for a politic way of disturbing it—something short of outright repeal. But his would-be Southern allies, fearing that any ambiguity about the compromise’s survival would discourage slaveholders from moving to Nebraska, wanted it struck down unequivocally. Douglas was reluctant, but finally agreed. “By God, sir,” he is said to have exclaimed to Kentucky senator Archibald Dixon, “you are right. I will incorporate it into my bill, though I know it will raise a hell of a storm.”

He was right about that. Even as he saw his bill through the Senate (it now called for the division of Nebraska into two territories, one of them Kansas) and an uneasy House of Representatives, vilification rained from the pulpit, the press and a Congressional vanguard of outraged Free-Soilers, as those who opposed slavery’s extension were known. At one point the Senate received a petition 250 feet long and signed by more than 3,000 New England clergymen urging the bill’s defeat “in the name of Almighty God.” Douglas detested abolitionists and sought in vain to cast the protests as the work of extremists.

There was, in fact, a growing antipathy in the North toward slavery. Moreover, observes Forgie, “the upending of a permanent deal naturally antagonizes people disadvantaged by it, and [Kansas-Nebraska] fed existing worries that the slaveholding class was bent on extending its power nationally, with the goal of ultimately destroying republican institutions. Also, the law seemed to promise the movement of blacks into areas Northern whites had assumed were to be reserved for them.”

Though Douglas later observed that he could have made his way from Boston to Chicago “by the light of my own effigy,” he was not about to be intimidated. He was, after all, a practical man, and he saw Kansas-Nebraska as a practical bill. By transferring authority over slavery from Congress to the territories themselves, he believed he was removing a threat to the Union. Nor did he think it likely that slavery would spread from the 15 states where it existed to the areas being opened for settlement. But when it came to judging public feeling on the issue, the senator was, unhappily, tone-deaf.

“He was a Northern man who was Southern in his views on race,” explains Finkelman. “He said he didn’t care whether slavery was voted up or down, but most Northerners did care. He may have been the only person in America who didn’t. Many Northerners, and Lincoln is a great example, thought the Missouri Compromise was just a notch below the Constitution as a fundamental part of the American political framework. They saw it as putting slavery on the road to extinction, and that was for them a sacred goal. Kansas-Nebraska betrayed this.” And so, the battle lines were drawn.

Douglas seemed unfazed at first, confident he could undo the damage. He soon discovered otherwise. Speaking in Chicago on behalf of his party to kick off the 1854 Congressional election campaign in Illinois—though he wasn’t on the ballot himself—Douglas was interrupted by “an uproar of shouts, groans and hisses,” reports Johannsen. “Missiles” were thrown, and “to the delight of the crowd, Douglas lost his temper, denouncing the assemblage as a mob and replying to their taunts by shaking his fist, which only intensified the din. . . . ” Douglas put up with the heckling for more than two hours, then angrily strode from the platform. “It is now Sunday morning,” he was said to have shouted back at his tormentors (though some historians doubt that he did). “I’ll go to church, and you may go to hell!”

The ensuing election confirmed the devastating impact of Douglas’ bill on his Democratic party. Opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act carried both houses of the Illinois legislature, which at that time still elected U.S. senators, and free-state Democrats lost 66 of their 91 seats in the House of Representatives. Suddenly, the Democrats found themselves a Southern party, one that would be able after 1856 to elect only one president in the remainder of the century.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln, a former one-term congressman nearly five years out of office, had joined the fray. Stumping for Richard Yates, a candidate for Congress in the 1854 election, Lincoln tore into Kansas-Nebraska, calling it “covert real zeal for the spread of slavery.” In so doing, he was directly challenging Douglas, setting the stage for the crucial debates between them four years later that would make Lincoln a national figure. “I was losing interest in politics,” he wrote in a letter in 1859, “when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again.” Lincoln was capable of raising the slavery debate to a level at which Douglas seems profoundly disadvantaged, in retrospect (as he wasn’t then), by his obvious disdain for blacks, slave or free. “I care more for the great principle of self-government,” Douglas would one day declare, “. . . than I do for all the negroes in Christendom.” According to his biographer William Lee Miller, Lincoln quoted Douglas as saying that in all contests between the Negro and the crocodile, Douglas was for the Negro, but that in all questions between the Negro and the white man, he was for the white man.

While Douglas viewed popular sovereignty as a bedrock democratic value, Lincoln saw its application to slavery as a callous statement of moral indifference. And he equated revoking the Missouri Compromise with repudiating the Declaration of Independence itself. “Near eighty years ago,” he observed, “we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now . . . we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a ‘sacred right of self-government.’”

Though Lincoln’s feelings about what he called “the monstrous injustice of slavery” were sincere, he was no abolitionist, and he felt bound to accept slavery where it existed. He was, like Douglas, a practical man, with whom the Union always came first. He endorsed the spirit of compromise on which it depended, and which he believed Kansas-Nebraska subverted. “And what shall we have in lieu of [this spirit]?” he asked. “The South flushed with triumph and tempted to excesses; the North, betrayed, as they believe, brooding on wrong and burning for revenge. One side will provoke; the other resent. The one will taunt, the other defy; one aggresses, the other retaliates.”

That is precisely what happened. “Any plausible explanation of the failure to find another sectional compromise in 1860-61 would have to include the fact that [trust in such agreements] took a deadly hit with Kansas-Nebraska,” says Forgie. “Why would anyone sign on to a compromise again?” And once awakened, the South’s hope that Kansas might become the 16th slave state took on a tenacious life of its own. When the North proved equally determined to keep Kansas free, the territory turned into a battlefield.

Events quickly took an ominous turn. When New England abolitionists formed the Emigrant Aid Company to seed Kansas with antislavery settlers, proslavery Missourians sensed an invasion. “We are threatened,” an acquaintance complained in a letter to Senator Atchison, “with being made the unwilling receptacle of the filth, scum and offscourings of the East . . . to preach abolition and dig underground Railroads.”

In fact, most emigrants did not go to Kansas to preach anything, much less to dig. As likely to be antiblack as they were antislavery, they went for land, not a cause. Likewise, most proslavery settlers had neither slaves nor the prospect of having any. Yet these distinctions didn’t much matter. Kansas became part of the larger American drama, and the few thousand settlers who made their home in the territory found themselves surrogates, reluctant or not, of the inexorable issues that threatened the Union. “Kansas,” says Forgie, “much like Korea or Berlin in the Cold War, readily took form as the arena in which a battle was being waged for much larger stakes. Which section’s institutions would shape the future of the continent?”

What happened in Kansas has been called a bushwhackers’ war, and it began with a bushwhacked election. Defending themselves against what they saw as Yankee fanatics and slave stealers, thousands of Missourians, led by Senator Atchison himself, crossed the border into Kansas in March 1855 to elect, illegally, a proslavery territorial legislature. “There are eleven hundred coming over from PlatteCounty to vote,” Atchison shouted at one point, “and if that ain’t enough we can send five thousand—enough to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the territory!” When the new legislature promptly expelled its few antislavery members, the disenfranchised Free-Soilers set up their own shadow government.

The territory was soon awash with secret societies and informal militias, formed ostensibly for self-defense, but capable of deadly mischief on both sides. Kansas was a powder keg awaiting a match, and it found one in the shooting of DouglasCounty sheriff Samuel Jones, an unrestrained proslavery man, by an unknown assailant, as he sat in his tent outside the Free- Soil stronghold of Lawrence. Soon afterward, the Douglas County grand jury, instructed by a judge angered by what he regarded as Free-Soilers’ treasonous resistance to the territorial government, returned sedition indictments against the Free- Soil “governor,” Charles Robinson, two Lawrence newspapers and the town’s Free State Hotel, supposedly being used as a fortress. Soon a posse descended on Lawrence, led by a federal marshal who made several arrests before dismissing the troops. It was then that Sheriff Jones, recovered from his wound (but not, in the view of historian Allan Nevins, from being “a vindictive, blundering fool”), took over the posse, which looted the town, wrecked the newspapers’ presses, set fire to Robinson’s house and burned the hotel after failing to destroy it with cannon fire.

It was a bad day for Lawrence, but a better one for the nation’s antislavery press, which made the sack of Lawrence, as it was called, sound like the reduction of Carthage. “Lawrence in Ruins,” announced Horace Greeley’s New YorkTribune. “Several Persons Slaughtered—Freedom Bloodily Subdued.” (In fact, the only fatality in Lawrence was a slave-stater struck by falling masonry.)

As exaggerated as the “sack” may have been, in the climate of the day it was bound to have consequences. John Brown quickly set them in motion. He had been on his way to help defend Lawrence with a group called the Pottawatomie Rifles when he learned he was too late and turned his attention to the unfortunate Doyles and their neighbors. (Three years later, on October 16, 1859, Brown and his followers would stage a bloody attack on a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Cornered by U.S. Marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee, a wounded Brown would be taken prisoner, convicted and hanged.)

Reaction in Kansas to Brown’s Pottawatomie killing spree was swift. Proslavery settlers were furious, fearful and primed for revenge, and many Free-Soilers were horrified— as well they might have been, since the incident was followed by an outbreak of shootings, burnings and general mayhem. Yet the larger Eastern audience hardly knew what had happened. Like the sack of Lawrence, the Pottawatomie murders were transformed in the telling. Either they hadn’t happened at all, had been committed by Indians or had occurred in the heat of battle. In the great propaganda war being waged in the Northern press, slave-state Kansans were invariably cast as the villains, and it was a role they were not to escape.

Sometimes they seemed not to be trying, as when the tainted proslavery legislature made even questioning the right to hold slaves in Kansas a felony and made aiding a fugitive slave a capital offense. Neither law was enforced, but that was probably not the point. Unable to match the flood of Free- Soil emigrants pouring in from the OhioValley and elsewhere, slave-staters seemed more determined than ever to make the territory inhospitable to those opposed to slavery.

And they did not lack for allies. “The admission of Kansas into the Union as a slave state is now a point of honor with the South,” wrote South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks in March 1856. “It is my deliberate conviction that the fate of the South is to be decided with the Kansas issue.” Thus freighted with national consequence, resolution of the Kansas question would hardly be left to Kansans alone. Under the circumstances, it seems unsurprising that presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, Northern men of pronounced Southern sympathies, both endorsed the legitimacy of the illegitimate legislature over the objections of a succession of territorial governors.

Among them was Robert J. Walker, a former Treasury secretary and a Douglas ally. Meeting with President Buchanan before leaving Washington in the spring of 1857, he spelled out his understanding, with which Buchanan agreed, that Kansas would be admitted to statehood only after residents were able to vote freely and fairly on a state constitution.

It sounded simple enough. But the difficulty of its execution was made clear when, at a welcoming banquet in Kansas, the diminutive Walker was upbraided by one of his proslavery hosts: “And do you come here to rule us? You, a miserable pigmy like you?. . . Walker, we have unmade governors before; and by God, I tell you, sir, we can unmake them again!” Certainly they were ready to try. After Free-Soilers refused to participate in what they believed, with reason, would be a rigged election for constitutional convention delegates, the proslavery convention, meeting in the town of Lecompton, made a crucial decision.

Rather than being allowed to vote up or down on a proposed constitution, Kansans would be given a choice between a constitution with slavery and a constitution without it. But the constitution without it contained a clause allowing slaveholders already in the territory to retain not only their slaves but the slaves’ offspring. Free-Soilers, naturally, saw their choice as being not between slavery and its absence, but between a little bit of slavery and a lot of it—or, as one Kansan put it, between taking arsenic with bread and butter and taking it straight. When the options were put to a vote, Free-Soilers once again declined to take part.

By this time, the battle had been joined in Washington. Over the objections of Governor Walker, Buchanan had decided to accept the verdict of the Lecompton convention and the inevitable approval of its slave-state constitution. The president’s decision led him to an angry confrontation with Douglas, who saw it as a betrayal of the very popular sovereignty on which the senator had staked his career.

Now, as always, Douglas saw himself as the defender of the sane middle ground, where the Union might be saved from extremists. But when the House of Representatives, at Douglas’ urging, refused to accept the slave-state constitution submitted by Kansas, Southerners who had supported Douglas’ notion of popular sovereignty when it suited their purposes now abandoned both it and Douglas. And Buchanan, who had boldly proclaimed Kansas “as much a slave state as Georgia or South Carolina,” became Douglas’ implacable enemy. The South had elected Buchanan, and he was desperately afraid of secession; he couldn’t bring himself to back down on Lecompton.

Yet neither could Douglas. Whatever a compromise might have gained him in the South would have been lost in the North and the West, where the Democrats were already in disarray. And though Douglas had made his reputation as a canny politician, he was also, at bottom, a patriot. He believed a national Democratic Party was needed to hold the Union together, and he believed he was needed to lead it. Douglas had never been a man of moderate habits, and his health in recent years had been suspect. But when, in 1860, he was at last nominated for the presidency, and found the party irretrievably damaged—Southern Democrats promptly chose a candidate of their own, John C. Breckinridge, to oppose him—he turned his remaining energy into a campaign that was as much for the Union as it was for himself. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln had been nominated as the presidential candidate of the new Republican Party, created in 1854 to oppose the spread of slavery.

In October, accepting the inevitability of Lincoln’s election, and knowing that secession was no idle threat, Douglas courageously decided on a final tour of the South, hoping to rally sentiment to keep the nation whole. But though his reception was generally civil, the time for persuasion had passed. As if a symbol of the failure of his mission, the deck of an Alabama riverboat on which he and his wife were traveling collapsed, injuring them both and forcing Douglas to continue with the aid of a crutch. He received news of his defeat in Mobile, realized it augured a country divided and likely a war, and retired to his hotel “more hopeless,” reported his secretary, “than I had ever before seen him.” The following June, exhausted in body and spirit, Douglas died at age 48, just seven weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter in the opening salvo of the Civil War.

“A living, creeping lie”: Abraham Lincoln on Popular Sovereignty

Debating Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, Abraham Lincoln dismissed Bleeding Kansas’s importance: “If Kansas should sink to-day, and leave a great vacant space in the earth’s surface, this vexed question [of slavery] would still be among us.” The two men were contending for the Illinois senate seat that Douglas then occupied. Lincoln was a corporate lawyer, not very well known outside Illinois and stifled in his political career because he had been a Whig (until 1856) in a Democratic state. If elected senator, his political career would be greatly advanced. Douglas, by contrast, had long been a power in the Democratic party, a likely candidate for president, and one of the most prominent of the Young Americans—the expansionist politicians of the antebellum era. The senatorial election was crucial for both men. While Lincoln sought to resuscitate long-dormant political ambitions, Douglas sought to prevent the end of his political career and hopes for the presidency.

Both men owed much of their political circumstances to Bleeding Kansas. Douglas had lost popularity when his controversial 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act alienated Northerners. Political turmoil and violence, which earned the territory its nickname, eroded Democratic party power. Then, in 1857 and 1858, Douglas lost southern support by opposing a proslavery constitution for Kansas. The very events in Kansas that hurt Douglas’s career helped Lincoln’s.

Biographers have long recognized the importance of Bleeding Kansas in Lincoln’s rise to power.  But Lincoln dismissed the actual events in Kansas as less important than their context—specifically, the “vexed question” of slavery and Senator Douglas’s flawed solution to that question—popular sovereignty. Lincoln viewed popular sovereignty, the underpinning philosophy of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, much as Douglas did—as rooted in the principles of the republic. Douglas saw it as the great principle inherent in democracy. Lincoln, however, viewed it as a pernicious subversion of true republicanism. While Republicans such as William Seward, Charles Robinson, and Charles Sumner attacked Douglas for the results of popular sovereignty, especially the chaos of Bleeding Kansas, Lincoln struck at its meaning. By arguing over whether popular sovereignty worked, Republicans in Congress and in Kansas implicitly conceded popular sovereignty’s legitimacy as political doctrine. By striking at popular sovereignty’s meaning, Lincoln denied Douglas’s great principle that legitimacy.

In 1854 United States politics were in equilibrium. The “vexed question” of slavery, as Lincoln would call it, had been resolved by the Compromise of 1850. That congressional agreement settled the status of slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico. Along with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had divided the Louisiana Purchase between slave and free territories, the 1850 Compromise meant that all the territories were either designated as open to slavery or not. Lincoln was willing to accept the Compromise, including the Fugitive Slave Law that so angered many Northerners. He thought it his “duty” to uphold the law and constitutional obligations to slavery, including the return of fugitives. To his old friend Kentuckian Joshua F. Speed, Lincoln wrote, “I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet.” Lincoln later said that the Compromise of 1850 had silenced “‘forever‘” the slavery controversy. Politicians such as Lincoln spoke of “finality” on the slavery issue after 1850.

What became Kansas Territory lay in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase, territory closed to slavery under the Missouri Compromise. The expansionist-minded Douglas eagerly sought to organize that territory, but several attempts to do so had failed. Southern politicians simply had no interest in organizing territory that would become free states and add further votes to the free-state bloc in Congress. In return for southern votes to organize Kansas Territory, Douglas traded away the Missouri Compromise’s exclusion of slavery. Instead, Kansas and Nebraska territories would be organized with no restriction on slavery under the formula called popular sovereignty. Douglas claimed that this was simply democracy at its best: “let the people decide.” Many northerners, however, were shocked and angered by the Kansas-Nebraska bill. “The Appeal of the Independent Democrats” called the Kansas-Nebraska bill “a gross violation of a sacred pledge” that the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase would be “consecrated to freedom.” Now, that “vast unoccupied region” would be closed to immigrants from the free states and abroad and “convert[ed] into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.”

One result of the furor over Kansas-Nebraska was the emergence of the Republican party—a coalition of old Whigs, anti-immigrant Know Nothings, and Democrats disaffected from their party by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln, as a long-time Whig, was relatively slow to join the new party in Illinois. In August 1855 he wrote to his old friend Speed that his party affiliation was “a disputed point. I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist.” Reluctant to be “unwhig[ged],” Lincoln concluded, “I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.” Not until 1856 would that position make him officially a Republican.

Lincoln’s loyalty to the Whig party had left his political career in Illinois moribund. He had served in the state legislature where Whigs were a minority and in the U.S. Congress for one term where he was the only Whig from the state of Illinois. As biographer David Herbert Donald writes, “Illinois offered no future for an ambitious Whig politician. He recognized that his public career was at an end.” He had important clients such as the Illinois Central Railroad, but he was “frustrated and unhappy with a political career that seemed to be going nowhere.”

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed Congress, he emerged as a prominent voice against Douglas’s popular sovereignty. Lincoln spoke at Springfield while Douglas was appearing there for the state fair. The speech made such an impression that Lincoln repeated it at Peoria a couple weeks later. For the next six years, as a senatorial and later presidential candidate, Lincoln built an elaborate critique of popular sovereignty in numerous speeches throughout the country. 

Critics such as Lerone Bennett Jr. assert that the Kansas-Nebraska Act “made it possible for Lincoln to revive a political career that was in terminal arrest” and created the “new phenomenon” of “the antislavery Abraham Lincoln.” Whereas Lincoln’s previous political career had been as an advocate of the Whig’s economic program—the American system—Lincoln now turned his attention to the slavery issue.  Bennett’s cynicism may be a useful corrective to what William Lee Miller describes as the reluctance of many to accept Lincoln as a practicing and partisan politician. They prefer to see him as transformed from the “mere politician” to “The Greatest Man in the World.” The transformation occurred, says Miller, “when the Kansas-Nebraska Act provoked him to make opposition to slavery his central purpose, and so saw him suddenly lifted up from having been an ordinary politician, dealing with legislative committees and party calculations, with rivers and harbors and quorum calls and appeals to the German vote, to become instead a transcendent moral hero dealing with liberty, equality, and union.”

Don Fehrenbacher wisely observed that both belief and ambition motivated Lincoln: “Since a man often has more than one reason for what he does, the depth and sincerity of Lincoln’s conviction can be affirmed without the slightest discounting of his intense, sleeping ambition.” Richard Carwardine sees Lincoln as “more serious and morally engaged” after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Peoria speech was Lincoln’s first on the slavery issue, although he had dealt with the issue in and out of Congress. Lincoln, in autobiographical sketches that he composed for the 1860 presidential campaign, wrote that he “was losing interest in politics” and “his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind” “when the repeal of the Missouri compromise aroused him as he had never been before.” 

Miller considers it an act of “considerable moral courage” for Lincoln to challenge Douglas: “Senator Douglas was one of the most powerful and famous men in the land…. He was a practiced, powerful debater, full of energy, articulate, sarcastic, scathing, formidable.” Lincoln, however, was “Approximately nothing. A one-term former congressman, now a private citizen.” Lincoln himself noted in the mid-1850s, “Twenty-two years ago Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted. We were both young then…. Even then, we were both ambitious…. With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation….” Lincoln made the challenge because he was genuinely horrified at popular sovereignty. He wrote to Illinois politician John M. Palmer, “You know how anxious I am that this Nebraska measure shall be rebuked and condemned every where.”  The irony of Lincoln’s opposition to popular sovereignty is that his arguments against Douglas’s doctrine seemed to accept Douglas’s premise that popular sovereignty spoke to the central nature of republican self-government. In that, Lincoln’s opposition to popular sovereignty differed from the anti-popular-sovereignty arguments of other Republicans that emphasized the practical workings of popular sovereignty, specifically the events of Bleeding Kansas. By concentrating on popular sovereignty’s practical effects, however, these Republicans seemingly accepted the doctrine as legitimate republicanism. By attacking Douglas on popular sovereignty’s own ground of principle, however, Lincoln challenged Douglas’s assertion that popular sovereignty was merely self-government at work.

Douglas and Lincoln knew that the debate was about principle. They even agreed on the principle involved: the nature of republican government. Douglas believed that popular sovereignty—the ability of white men to decide whether to have slavery within their political jurisdiction—was the chief tenet of republican self-government. Lincoln agreed that the fundamental principles of a republic were at stake. But he believed that Douglas’s popular sovereignty was, in fact, dangerous because it neglected the immorality of slavery, which while it must be constitutionally tolerated, was nonetheless corrosive of republican ideals. Lincoln objected that popular sovereignty equated freedom with slavery. Douglas repeatedly said that he did not care which triumphed as long as the people got to decide. Lincoln cared. He believed that slavery was wrong and freedom right. He believed that the Founders had set a moral stigma upon slavery that popular sovereignty removed, making it easier to justify the extension of slavery. Speaking at Bloomington, Illinois, in the fall of 1854, Lincoln agreed that leaving men to govern their own affairs was “morally right and politically wise” but irrelevant to the slavery issue because slavery was “a moral, social, and political evil.” 

Lincoln’s October 1854 speech at Peoria would be, perhaps, his most ringing condemnation of popular sovereignty. Carwardine says that the speech “contained most of the essential elements of his public addresses over the next six years.” At Peoria, Lincoln deplored the Kansas-Nebraska Act for resuscitating, not calming, slavery agitation. He avowed suspicions that popular sovereignty really intended to spread slavery. He condemned slavery as both a “monstrous injustice” and a betrayal of “our republican example.” He asserted that if blacks are men, which he considered self-evident, they were entitled to equality under the Declaration of Independence. He denied that “there can be MORAL RIGHT in the enslaving of one man by another.” Douglas drew legitimacy for popular sovereignty from the supremacy of self-government in the ideology of nineteenth-century Americans. Lincoln, seeking to deny that self-government applied in this case, turned to the prestige of the Revolutionary generation. “The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms, and the former is being rapidly displaced by the latter.” 

Lincoln’s approach to popular sovereignty contrasts with that of another prominent Republican, William H. Seward, senator from New York. Seward’s speech on the Kansas-Nebraska bill—made during the congressional debates over its passage—is famous for its ringing challenge to the Slave Power. Seward is also notable because he became Lincoln’s leading rival for the 1860 Republican nomination. His views, therefore, can be seen as important to mainstream Republican thought on popular sovereignty, making them worth comparing to Lincoln’s. Seward’s speech “Freedom and Public Faith” in February 1854, as well as his remarks in late May 1854 when the bill’s passage seemed certain, constitute the senator’s important statement of opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska bill, the equivalent of Lincoln’s Peoria speech.

Both men began with historical overviews. Lincoln started with the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and continued to the passage of Kansas-Nebraska to show slavery’s territorial expansion. Seward began even earlier, in 1763. Seward used history to show how the Kansas-Nebraska Act unsettled a long-standing policy of limiting slavery’s expansion and overturned—”abrogated” was Seward’s word—the Missouri Compromise’s prohibition against slavery in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase. Seward also asserted that popular sovereignty was inferior to congressional direction of the territories. The flaw of popular sovereignty was that it equated “Free institutions and slave institutions,” a point similar to Lincoln’s. But Seward criticized the frontiersman’s fitness to make the decision. Kansas-Nebraska made “the interested cupidity of the pioneer … a wise arbiter, and his judgment an earlier safeguard, than the collective wisdom of the American people and the most solemn and time-honored statute of the American Congress.”

Seward dealt with many of the practical effects of Douglas’s legislation on Indian policy, other territories such as Oregon and Washington, and the national debate over slavery. He concluded with the conviction that “equal and universal liberty of all men” would triumph, but his larger concern was to assert the principle of congressional control over slavery in the territories that Douglas’s popular sovereignty denied. In late May 1854, with the passage of the bill inevitable, Seward once again spoke. It was in those remarks that Seward first asserted that slavery was a moral issue. While the slave states “maintain that African slavery is not erroneous, not unjust, not inconsistent with the advancing cause of human nature…. we of the free States regard slavery as erroneous, unjust, oppressive, and therefore absolutely inconsistent with the principles of the American Constitution and Government.” But Seward passed over that quickly and spent more time on the balance of political power between free and slave states that Kansas-Nebraska threatened to unsettle. Once again he reviewed the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise and warned the south that this would render future compromises impossible. The May remarks are most famous for Seward’s boast that foreign immigration would allow the north to control the territory: “Come on, then, gentlemen of the Slave States. Since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right.” But Seward’s focus was less on popular sovereignty’s principles than on “public faith”—that popular sovereignty had overturned a settled agreement about slavery.

Although Lincoln’s Peoria speech dealt with many of the themes Seward raised, he early announced to the audience that he would be dealing with principle. He promised to show that Kansas-Nebraska’s repeal of the Missouri Compromise was wrong: “wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska—and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.” Much more directly than Seward, Lincoln denounced popular sovereignty’s “declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery.” “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites.” Lincoln recognized that Douglas had set out a principle of his own with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. When Seward discussed the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise, he did so to argue that it was not legally possible to abrogate such an agreement and, when that failed, to show the dangers of undoing settled sectional agreements. Lincoln also denied that the 1850 compromise overturned that of 1820 and accused the South of bad faith, but he specifically argued that the repeal was wrong because its principle was wrong. First, the principle of popular sovereignty insisted that all members of the union ought to be able to take their property to the territories. That only made sense if there was no difference between northern livestock and southern slaves, but Lincoln refused “to deny the humanity of the negro.” He further asserted that southerners recognized that humanity, as evidenced by their dislike of the slave-dealer and the existence of a free black population. Lincoln then dealt with Kansas-Nebraska’s avowal of “the sacred right of self government.” Again, Lincoln asserted that slavery violated self government. “When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism.” Although Lincoln famously hedged by denying he believed in “political and social equality between whites and blacks,” he did assert that African Americans were “men” under the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and that Douglas’s popular sovereignty thus violated republican self-government.

Only in one passage did Lincoln deal with the mechanics of popular sovereignty. He faulted the legislation for not specifying how the voters would decide. “Some yankees, in the east, are sending emigrants to Nebraska, to exclude slavery from it; and, so far as I can judge, they expect the question to be decided by voting, in some way or other. But the Missourians are awake too. They are within a stone’s throw of the contested ground. They hold meetings, and pass resolutions, in which not the slightest allusion to voting is made. They resolve that slavery already exists in the territory; that more shall go there; that they, remaining in Missouri will protect it; and that abolitionists shall be hung, or driven away. Through all this, bowie-knives and six-shooters are seen plainly enough; but never a glimpse of the ballot-box.”

More importantly, however, Lincoln emphasized slavery’s immorality and the incompatibility between slavery and republicanism. “I particularly object to the NEW position which the avowed principle of this Nebraska law gives to slavery in the body politic. I object to it because it assumes that there can be MORAL RIGHT in the enslaving of one man by another.” That contradicted the “fathers of the republic” who marked slavery as wrong and only tolerated it out of “Necessity.” The Founders “began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a ‘sacred right of self-government.'” Lincoln considered these principles not just contradictory but incompatible. “In our greedy chase to make profit of the negro,” he warned, “let us beware, lest we ‘cancel and tear to pieces’ even the white man’s charter of freedom.” Lincoln called on Americans to “turn slavery from its claims of ‘moral right,’ back upon its existing legal rights, and its arguments of ‘necessity.'” Doing so would repurify the nation’s republican principles. Like Seward, Lincoln pointed out the danger of renewing sectional agitation, but less for political reasons than for moral ones. He reiterated that legislation could not convince people that slavery was right. 

Despite Lincoln’s emphasis on principle, Seward’s challenge set the stage for Republicans to concentrate on events in Kansas. Those events were indeed tempestuous. Missourians crossed the border and voted in territorial elections. The territorial legislature thus elected passed a slave code. When free-state settlers protested by forming an extra-legal government of their own, and when territorial and federal forces attempted to suppress that free-state movement, Republicans found material with which to indict the Democratic party and popular sovereignty. In so doing, however, free-staters in Kansas Territory and national Republican politicians sometimes lost sight of popular sovereignty’s principles. They became so intent on reciting what had gone wrong in the territory that their critique of popular sovereignty turned on its workings rather than on its flawed interpretation of republican government.

On July 4, 1855, Charles Robinson, a New England settler and a leader of the free-state movement, gave the holiday oration at a grove outside Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence was the leading New England settlement in the territory, although the free-state movement consisted not just of New Englanders, but of midwestern settlers and even some Missourians who wished to see Kansas become a free state. One of Robinson’s rivals for leadership in the free-state movement was James H. Lane, a former Indiana Democratic politician who had voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The fraudulent voting in territorial elections, however, convinced Lane that popular sovereignty was a fraud. Lane appealed to the racism of many settlers. Although he would later work for black rights during the Civil War, he had famously declared upon settling in Kansas that “he would as soon buy a negro as a mule.”  It was within this context that Robinson spoke. Kansas settlers were being radicalized by what they saw as infringements of their rights at the polls, but they were not abolitionists.

Robinson began his speech with the obligatory historical overview. But his point was to contrast the colonial development of Massachusetts and Virginia. Modern historians might not give Robinson high marks for accuracy, for he maintained that colonial Virginia had been settled easily with little suffering while the Puritan settlers had endured greater hardships. He then launched into an argument about the superiority of free labor to slave labor. He declared that the population, value of property, amount of manufacturing, and productivity of agriculture was greater in free states than in slave. Robinson made a point of drawing his information from southern, rather than northern or abolition, sources. In fact, his entire argument against slavery was practical and economic rather than moral. Throughout the oration, Robinson was careful to show more concern for slavery’s effects on whites than on blacks. He justified this by saying that since slavery was being imposed on Kansas settlers, it was necessary to judge what its effects were. Two-thirds of the way through the oration, Robinson assessed the plight of those Kansas settlers. “Who are we? Are we not free-born? Were not our mothers, as well as fathers, of Anglo-Saxon blood?” By emphasizing the settlers’ racial heritage, with mothers of Anglo-Saxon blood, Robinson distinguished his audience from black slaves whose servile status derived from their mothers. He went on to ask, “What are we? Subjects, slaves of Missouri. We come to the celebration of this anniversary with our chains clanking about our limbs…. We must not only see black slavery, the blight and curse of any people, planted in our midst, and against our wishes, but we must become slaves ourselves.” Robinson then quoted at length from southern publications asserting that dissent against slavery would not be tolerated in Kansas. Only after he had established the link between advocating slavery and its effects—economic, moral, and political—on whites, did Robinson inveigh against slavery’s consequences for the black slave: its break up of the slave family, its denial of the equality of blacks, its theft of black labor, its “tyranny and oppression a thousand fold more severe than that which our ancestors rose in rebellion against.” Yet when he did so, Robinson carefully avoided mentioning the race of the victims, and his examples of the cruelties of racial slavery were closely followed by examples of how white Kansans were enslaved by Missourians, thereby eliding the distinction between the two groups. Robinson made his hearers just as much the victims of race slavery as were the black slaves. Robinson hinted at abolitionism in his suggestion that, if self-rule for Kansas settlers required slavery to be abolished in Missouri, “then let that be the issue.” 

While Robinson cleverly shaped a free-labor argument into one with subversive abolitionist potential, he never attacked popular sovereignty. Robinson and his followers had been, in fact, the ones to take up Seward’s challenge to populate the territory. They did not object to the principle of popular sovereignty—letting the settlers decide. Instead, they objected that the Missourians had not followed that principle. Instead, Missouri “border ruffians” had trampled the rights of white settlers at the ballot box and were imposing slavery against the settlers’ will in violation of Kansas-Nebraska’s promise.

A year later, the situation in the territory had deteriorated even further. President Franklin Pierce had called Robinson and the free-staters “traitors.” Clashes between proslavery and free-state settlers had led to an armed stand-off at Lawrence in the winter of 1855. Violence would indeed break out during the following summer of Bleeding Kansas. One of the events that helped to stimulate that violence was Representative Preston Brooks’s attack on Senator Charles Sumner. In a Senate speech on Kansas, Sumner made insulting reference to the congressman’s uncle, South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler, thus angering Brooks. Sumner’s speech laid out the “Crime” that Democrats and the proslavery party had committed against Kansas Territory. More powerfully than any other speaker, Sumner condemned slavery and defended abolitionists as fanatics for liberty. Sumner divided his speech into three parts: the crime, the apologies for it, and the remedy. The crime began with the Missouri Compromise and its repeal by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sumner called popular sovereignty a “swindle” because it gave settlers no power to select their territorial officials, only power to choose slavery. Popular sovereignty was a mere conspiracy to introduce slavery, but the conspiracy went awry when an unexpected number of northern settlers moved to Kansas. Proslavery men thus turned to invading Kansas at election time to secure their will. Sumner detailed the history of Kansas elections, of attacks on antislavery men on the Kansas/Missouri border, of the threat against Lawrence the previous winter, and of the “usurpation” and draconian rule imposed by the fraudulently elected proslavery territorial legislature. Echoing Robinson’s rhetoric, Sumner said, “Slavery now stands erect, clanking its chains on the Territory of Kansas.” 

Sumner found that four apologies were made to excuse events in Kansas. The “Apology Tyrannical” held that since the first territorial governor had certified the election of the territorial legislature, the proceedings were legal and the complaints invalid. Sumner rejected that apology as despotism acting under the guise of law. Just as the British had once denied colonial freedoms by arguing that the Americans were technically represented in Parliament, so Congress denied Kansans redress against fraud by pointing to the governor’s acceptance of the returns. The “Apology Imbecile” maintained that the president lacked power to act. Sumner believed that when the interests of the Slave Power were served, no one saw problems with presidential action. The “Apology Absurd” excused the actions of the proslavery men by pointing to those of alleged secret free-state societies. Finally, the “Apology Infamous” blamed the New England Emigrant Aid Company for violence in the territory. Sumner’s defense of the Emigrant Aid Company invoked rhetoric similar to Robinson’s. Like Robinson, Sumner warned about the danger of white enslavement and upheld the superiority of free labor over slave. If northerners failed to migrate, as they had a right to do, “they would be fit only for slaves themselves.” Later in his speech, Sumner expanded the free-labor comparison by contrasting Lawrence, Kansas, with Butler’s South Carolina. Sumner’s remedy was to admit Kansas as a free state under the constitution that Robinson, Lane, and their followers had drafted. In order to show a precedent for the free staters’ request for statehood, Sumner discussed the case of Michigan, which he maintained exactly modeled the process that Kansas free-staters were following. Congress did not admit Kansas in 1856. Instead, it adhered to a policy closer to what Sumner called the remedies of “Tyranny” and “Injustice.” The former meant forcing Kansas free-staters to obey territorial law. The latter, offered by Stephen Douglas, was to call for a constitutional convention when the population reached the level that entitled a state to one representative in Congress.

Like Robinson, Sumner obscured the line between black slavery, which he eloquently condemned, and white. He appealed to “Christian sympathy with the slave,” but included it with the need to defend free labor, the principles of the American Revolution, and “fellow-citizens, now subjugated to a tyrannical Usurpation.” “What are trial by jury, habeas corpus, the ballot-box, the right of petition, the liberty of Kansas, your liberty, sir, or mine,” Sumner asked, “to one who lends himself…. [to] that preposterous wrong which denies even the right of a man to himself! Such a cause can be maintained only by a practical subversion of all rights.” Here Sumner’s condemnation of events in Kansas, like Robinson’s before it, made Lincoln’s point that slavery endangered white liberty. But Sumner and Robinson made their argument by pointing to what had happened with popular sovereignty in Kansas. Lincoln barely touched on actual events. Rather, for Lincoln it was the principle of popular sovereignty—the equation of slavery with freedom—that threatened liberty. Like Robinson, Sumner did not condemn the principle of popular sovereignty. The force of his detailed explication of the “Crime against Kansas” was to keep attention on the workings, rather than the philosophy, of popular sovereignty.

When Lincoln did address specific events in Kansas, he used them to indict popular sovereignty generally. In a speech at Springfield in 1857, he answered Douglas’s objections that free-staters in Kansas had failed to vote in the selection of constitutional convention delegates. Faulting the registration system, Lincoln pointed out that since few free-staters had been registered, they were boycotting the election. Then Lincoln noted that the returns of that election indicated that only about “one sixth of the registered voters, have really voted; and this too, when not more, perhaps than one half of the rightful voters have been registered, thus showing the thing to have been altogether the most exquisite farce ever enacted.”

Interestingly, Lincoln’s most extensive comments on events in Kansas came in a private letter to Speed. The letter reveals that Lincoln was knowledgeable on Kansas affairs, as any newspaper reader of the 1850s must have been. He referred to voting fraud, to “Poor Reeder” (the first territorial governor), to the enactments of the territorial legislature, and to Missourians “Stringfellow & Co.” Those details tended to be absent from his public pronouncements. Further evidence that Lincoln knew of events in Kansas comes from his membership on the National Kansas Committee, which distributed cash, arms, clothing, and provisions to free-state settlers in 1856, and from his correspondence with W.F.M. Arny, the committee’s secretary, and with Mark Delahay, a free-state newspaperman. But he professed no surprise (as Speed apparently did) at the fraud and illegitimate proslavery supremacy in Kansas, for he felt that the law was “being executed in the precise way which was intended from the first.”  For Lincoln it was not that popular sovereignty had been badly implemented in Kansas, resulting in fraud and violence; instead, Lincoln viewed popular sovereignty as fundamentally flawed in its very conception.

Lincoln did follow the twists and turns of events in Kansas for their impact on his political opportunities. Although his efforts to win an Illinois senate seat failed in 1855, he was actively campaigning for the one that would be available in 1858: Douglas’s. Douglas was vulnerable not only because of the controversy caused by his Kansas-Nebraska Act, but also because of the crisis over the Lecompton Constitution. Congress had followed Douglas’s policy of calling for a constitutional convention. Because free-state voters, fearing fraud, had boycotted the election of constitutional convention delegates, the Lecompton convention produced a solidly proslavery constitution at a time when the territory’s settlers were predominantly free-state. Precisely because they knew the settlers to be favorable to the free-state party, the Lecompton delegates did not submit the constitution for an up-or-down ratification vote. Instead, the territory’s voters could select Lecompton “with” or “without” slavery. Lecompton “with” slavery meant that Kansas would be a slave state. Lecompton “without” slavery, however, only forbade further slave importations while allowing those slaveowners in the territory to continue holding their human property. In 1857 Kansas asked for admission to the Union as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. Free-state settlers protested that Lecompton violated popular sovereignty’s promise of a chance to reject slavery entirely. Nonetheless President James Buchanan, under heavy southern pressure, supported Lecompton and presented it to Congress.

Douglas opposed Lecompton even though it cost him political support among white Southerners. He could not reconcile the constitution with popular sovereignty’s majoritarian rationale. Furthermore, he knew it would cost him dearly in Illinois. So Douglas chose to defy the Buchanan administration and join Republicans in opposing Lecompton. He even opposed the face-saving English Compromise, a Democratic measure that returned the constitution to Kansas for another ratification vote in which free-staters participated and finally voted Lecompton down. As a result of Douglas’s stand, Buchanan worked to undermine the senator’s re-election chances, and Republicans, much to Lincoln’s horror, embraced Stephen A. Douglas. The issue of who got credit for defeating Lecompton was important enough that Lincoln was at pains to demonstrate that Republicans had furnished more votes to defeat Lecompton than had Douglas, twenty to three by Lincoln’s count. Eastern Republicans, such as editor Horace Greeley, even suggested that Illinois Republicans should support Douglas’s re-election. Illinois Republicans, however, had no such intention. Their enmity with Douglas was too long-standing and too embittered to make Douglas acceptable, nor was Douglas interested in converting to the Republican Party. In fact, Douglas would write his 1859 exposition on popular sovereignty for Harper’s in part to fend off Republican encroachments on popular sovereignty and to reassert it as Democratic Party doctrine. The Republican state convention thus nominated Lincoln as “the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate.” For Republicans, accepting Douglas as the candidate would have meant accepting popular sovereignty. Since by 1858, free-staters had finally captured control of the Kansas territorial legislature, popular sovereignty’s immediate danger had receded. Lincoln needed to highlight popular sovereignty’s continued threat to the republic despite Kansas’s relative calm. 

As a senatorial candidate in 1858, Lincoln fought Douglas on ground of the incumbent senator’s own choosing: the legitimacy of popular sovereignty as a republican principle. Lincoln’s acceptance came in the famous “House Divided” speech. By the time Lincoln spoke, both antislavery and proslavery writers had used the metaphor of the house divided to argue that the United States could not be both free and slave. [26] One premise of Douglas’s popular sovereignty, of course, was that it could be both. Lincoln not only rejected that premise, he questioned Douglas’s sincerity in asserting it, arguing that Douglas really intended to nationalize slavery. In the opening of the campaign, Lincoln pointed out that until the Kansas-Nebraska Act, slavery had been excluded from most of the territories. Douglas’s legislation “opened all the national territory to slavery.” Although the Kansas-Nebraska Act left settlers “perfectly free,” “subject only to the Constitution” to choose whether to have slavery, that choice was then followed by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case, which said that congressional exclusions of slavery from the territories were unconstitutional and thus “declare[d] the perfect freedom of the people to be just no freedom at all.” Lincoln saw Kansas-Nebraska and Dred Scott as part of a coordinated conspiracy: “We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert.” But when one sees a house being built with timbers prepared beforehand by “different workmen—Stephen [Douglas], Franklin [Pierce], Roger [Taney] and James [Buchanan]…. we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft before the first blow was struck.” Lincoln predicted that a future Supreme Court decision might build on the timbers already laid by “declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits.” Lincoln repeated the charge of nationalization and conspiracy in the first debate at Ottawa. “Popular Sovereignty, as now applied to the question of slavery, does allow the people of a Territory to have slavery if they want to, but does not allow them not to have it if they do not want it.”

At the Charleston debate, Lincoln spent considerable time elaborating the theory that Douglas’s Kansas policy was part of this effort to nationalize slavery. Douglas, of course, intended no such thing, but Lincoln biographer Donald believes Lincoln sincere in making the conspiracy charge, for belief in a “Slave Power” was prevalent in the north. At the Ottawa debate, when Douglas denied having discussed the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision with Chief Justice Taney or President Buchanan before it was issued, Lincoln rebounded by saying that did not disprove the existence of a conspiracy: “It can only show that he was used by conspirators, and was not a leader of them.” Lincoln’s emphasis on a conspiracy to nationalize slavery was an elaboration of his argument that popular sovereignty threatened republican principles. Events in Kansas and the Dred Scott decision merely proved the assertions that Lincoln had been making since 1854.

Lincoln’s famous Freeport questions addressed both Kansas’s specific plight and the alleged conspiracy to nationalize slavery. In the first question, Lincoln asked if Douglas would support Kansas admission even if Kansas lacked the population specified in the English Compromise. Secondly, he asked Douglas if there was a way for a territory to prohibit slavery despite the Dred Scott decision. Thirdly, Lincoln wanted to know if Douglas would support a Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from excluding slavery. Finally, Lincoln asked if Douglas favored acquiring more territory—and in the 1850s that largely meant Latin American territory desired by southern filibusterers—that might reopen the slavery issue. 

Naturally, Lincoln found Douglas’s replies unsatisfactory. Douglas claimed that if settlers failed to enact local police regulations to support slavery, it could not exist. This was Douglas’s means of reconciling popular sovereignty with Dred Scott, which seemingly made it impossible to keep slavery out of the territories. Lincoln objected that the Dred Scott decision did not allow for Douglas’s mechanism of local regulation, and that historically, in the colonial period, slavery had flourished even in the absence of supporting local laws.  In the debate at Quincy, Lincoln elaborated on Douglas’s dilemma: “Judge Douglas has sung poans to his ‘Popular Sovereignty’ doctrine until his Supreme Court … has squatted his Squatter Sovereignty out. But he will keep up this species of humbuggery about Squatter Sovereignty. He has at last invented this sort of do-nothing Sovereignty—that the people may exclude slavery by a sort of ‘Sovereignty’ that is exercised by doing nothing at all. Is not that running his Popular Sovereignty down awfully? Has it not got down as thin as the homœopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death?”

During his debates with Douglas, Lincoln used details of Kansas’s travails sparingly, as was his custom. At Charleston, he returned to the issue of whether popular sovereignty had brought the country closer to the end of slavery agitation, as Douglas claimed. Lincoln, of course, thought not. “Is Kansas in the Union? Has she formed a Constitution that she is likely to come in under? Is not the slavery agitation still an open question in that Territory?” Lincoln asked. It was at Charleston that Lincoln asserted, “If Kansas should sink to-day, and leave a great vacant space in the earth’s surface, this vexed question would still be among us.” Only by putting slavery on “the course of ultimate extinction” or by “surrender[ing]” to the nationalization of slavery could the agitation come to an end, according to Lincoln.  The particular details of Kansas events were less important than the larger principles demonstrated in Kansas’s plight.

In the final debate at Alton, Lincoln used the specific example of what had happened in Kansas to indict Douglas’s popular sovereignty. The “Nebraska policy,” Lincoln told his audience, “was to clothe the people of the Territories with a superior degree of self-government, beyond what they had ever had before.” But it had failed. He asked, “Have you ever heard or known of a people any where on earth who had as little to do, as, in the first instance of its use, the people of Kansas had with this same right of ‘self-government?'” He concluded that popular sovereignty “has been nothing but a living, creeping lie from the time of its introduction till to-day.”

Although Republicans won the popular vote in the 1858 election, they did not win control of the state legislature that would elect the senator. Lincoln thus lost the senatorial race, another bitter disappointment. Afterwards, Lincoln wrote sadly, “I am glad I made the late race. It gave me a hearing on the great and durable question of the age, which I could have had in no other way; and though I now sink out of view, and shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.” 

The loss nonetheless brought him national attention. After all, he had nearly unseated the powerful Douglas. In 1859 he continued campaigning against popular sovereignty and Douglas, refining his arguments. Lincoln feared that popular sovereignty’s acceptance would strengthen slavery. He expanded his charge that popular sovereignty nationalized slavery, accusing it of paving the way “inevitably” for the reopening of the African slave trade: “Try a thousand years for a sound reason why congress shall not hinder the people of Kansas from having slaves, and when you have found it, it will be an equally good one why congress should not hinder the people of Georgia from importing slaves from Africa.” In a speech in Columbus, Ohio, a few months later, Lincoln repeated the charge that popular sovereignty would lead to reopening of the slave trade. There he attacked the idea that “this insidious Douglas Popular Sovereignty” could be a way to oppose slavery “without straining our old party ties or … being called negro worshippers.” Lincoln argued that popular sovereignty instead led to “this gradual and steady debauching of public opinion, this course of preparation for the revival of the slave trade, for the territorial slave code, and the new Dred Scott decision that is to carry slavery into the free States.”

Lincoln expanded on the importance of public opinion in a speech at Cincinnati the next day. He accused Douglas of influencing northern public opinion so as to increase slavery’s acceptance. First, Douglas refrained from condemning slavery as a “wrong.” Secondly, he had implanted the notion that the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality did not apply to African Americans—a novel idea according to Lincoln—and one that denied blacks’ common humanity. Thirdly, Douglas had said that in all conflicts between the black man and the crocodile, he favored the black man, but in all conflicts between the white man and the black, he favored the white man. The effects of this, Lincoln argued, was to create a logical “proposition” that “as the negro may rightfully treat the crocodile as a beast or reptile, so the white man may rightfully treat the negro as a beast or reptile.” Douglas thus further dehumanized African Americans and thus legitimized their enslavement. 

Lincoln denied that popular sovereignty could create free states. Noting that “Douglas had sometimes said, that all the States that have become free, have become so on his great principle,” Lincoln instead insisted that congressional prohibitions of slavery had been necessary to create free states. Lincoln defended the Ordinance of 1787 as the true source of the northwestern states’ freedom. He noted that southern Ohio and northern Kentucky lacked the climatic or geographical differences often held to determine free soil and slave. He narrated the early histories of Indiana and Illinois to argue that, should slavery get a start, it would be impossible at the time of statehood to dislodge it. Of course, it was Republican Party policy that Congress had the power to prohibit slavery from the territories. The Dred Scott decision denied that such power existed, and Douglas insisted that popular sovereignty rendered it unnecessary. Speaking in Kansas, Lincoln used that territory’s travails to illustrate his point. While the Northwest Territory reached free statehood “without any difficulty at all,” Kansas Territory in the first application of popular sovereignty had suffered five years “of almost continual struggles, fire and bloodshed.” “Kansas will come in as a free State, not because of popular sovereignty,” Lincoln had earlier predicted, “but because the people of the North are making a strong effort in her behalf. But Kansas is not in yet. Popular sovereignty has not made a single free State in a run of seventy or eighty years.”

As late as 1859 Lincoln was reminding national Republicans of the danger of accepting popular sovereignty’s principles. In general, he urged Republicans to look beyond local issues that might divide the party and to unite on common themes. New England Republicans should avoid nativism or trying to criminalize obedience to the Fugitive Slave Law. The Kansans had actually tried to work inside the framework of popular sovereignty, which they regarded as the best strategy for making Kansas a free state. Lincoln sought to remind them that the framework was itself fatally flawed. For Kansas Republicans, Lincoln had this advice: “Kansas, in her confidence that she can be saved to freedom on ‘squatter sovereignty’—ought not to forget that to prevent the spread and nationalization of slavery is a national concern, and must be attended to by the nation.” 

That year Lincoln traveled to Kansas where settlers had just written yet another constitution. Lincoln predicted, prematurely, that they would soon be a free state. He noted the uniqueness of Kansas’s history: “Your Territory has had a marked history. There had been strife and bloodshed here.” He blamed that strife on popular sovereignty: “The bloody code has grown out of the new policy in regard to the government of Territories.” In a major speech at Leavenworth, Lincoln reminded Kansans that the territory’s tumultuous events, which had so absorbed settlers’ attention and energy, were comparatively trivial. Popular sovereignty had allowed the people to decide on slavery but not to select their own governors. This “could only be justified on the idea that the planting [of] a new State with slavery was a very small matter, and the election of Governor a very much greater matter.” Lincoln pointed out that Kansans had had numerous territorial governors, but “although their doings, in their respective days, were of some little interest to you, it is doubtful whether you now, even remember the names of half of them. They are gone.” The governor issue was trivial but the slavery issue was not. Lincoln argued, “If your first settlers had so far decided in favor of slavery, as to have got five thousand slaves planted on your soil, you could, by no moral possibility, have adopted a Free State Constitution.” The owners would be too powerful politically and socially. Kansans, Lincoln predicted, would not know what to do with freedmen: they would not want to keep them “as underlings” or give them “social and political equality.” Neither slave nor free states wanted an influx of free blacks, and sending them to Liberia would be prohibitively expensive. Lincoln reminded his audience of why popular sovereignty was wrong: because it allowed the spread of a great moral evil that was well nigh impossible to eradicate once entrenched.

Just as Lincoln sought in 1859 to prevent creeping acceptance of popular sovereignty, he sought to prevent Republican acceptance of popular sovereignty’s champion, Douglas. In early 1859, speaking at Chicago, Lincoln confronted head-on the belief that Republicans should have accepted Douglas as their candidate for the Senate. Although Republicans in other states had supported anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Lincoln argued that backing Douglas would destroy the Republican Party. Lesser Douglas men might be absorbed by the Republicans but “Let the Republican party of Illinois dally with Judge Douglas … they do not absorb him; he absorbs them.” Douglas would claim their support as an endorsement for popular sovereignty, and Republican critiques of slavery as an evil would be lost. Later in the year, Lincoln spoke more generally of finding an acceptable presidential candidate. He warned against choosing someone who did not agree with Republican ideas “in regard to the prevention of the spread of slavery.” Such a candidate would not win in the slave states and would also alienate Republican voters of “principle.”  He seemed still worried that Republicans would be seduced into supporting Douglas.

Douglas and Lincoln continued to debate popular sovereignty even though the election of 1858 had concluded. Harold Holzer has called Douglas’s 1859 article in Harper’s Magazine and Lincoln’s Cooper Union address of the following year the “final round of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.” Douglas wrote both to defend popular sovereignty from the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision as well as to fend off Republican attacks. As Lincoln would later do at Cooper Union, Douglas grounded his exposition of popular sovereignty in historical sources such as The Federalist and the debates over the Constitution, and even sought help from historian George Bancroft. Lincoln would use some of the same sources. In keeping with rhetorical traditions of the period, Douglas sought to give popular sovereignty the pedigree of descent from the Founders. In part, Douglas accomplished this by defining the American Revolution as a struggle for local self-government within the empire. Douglas maintained that the local emphasis had continued under the Constitution. He construed the constitutional clause giving Congress authority over the territories to be limited strictly to land sales and not to government. Congress thus had no power to interfere in the “internal policy, either of the States or of the Territories.” Therefore Congress could neither impose slavery nor prohibit it in either states or territories. Republicans, of course, believed that Congress could do so in the territories, but not in the states. As he had at Freeport, Douglas maintained that the Dred Scott decision did not change this fact. Dred Scott had correctly removed the Missouri Compromise prohibition, because such a prohibition was unconstitutional, but it had not, or so Douglas claimed, imposed slavery on the territories. Instead, Douglas contended that the only way in which the federal government could impose slavery on a territory was by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. Except for that instance, “slave property stands on the same footing [as other property] … and in like manner is dependent upon the local authorities and laws for protection.” In other words, on popular sovereignty. In his final section, Douglas reviewed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act to show that they were “in perfect harmony with … the principles” dividing federal and local authority. “The principle,” Douglas concluded, “under our political system, is that every distinct political Community … is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of self-government in respect to their local concerns and internal polity, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.” 

Lincoln dismissed Douglas’s efforts by noting that the senator’s “explanations explanatory of explanations explained are interminable.” But when given the opportunity to speak in New York City, Lincoln was at pains to construct his own argument giving Republican beliefs the imprimatur of the Founders. He opened the Cooper Union address by accepting Douglas’s premise that “Our fathers” who “framed the Government under which we live,” understood “this question” best and proposed to fight on the very ground that Douglas had laid out. Lincoln identified the fathers, or framers, as the men who signed the Constitution. The question was Douglas’s: “Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?” Douglas said yes; the Republicans no. Lincoln sought to prove that the Founders would have agreed with the Republicans, not the Democrats, and he sought to do so by making an historical argument.

The Cooper Union address is perhaps the most consciously historical of Lincoln’s speeches. But where Seward and Sumner had discussed history to show the developing policies over slavery in the territories, Lincoln, taking Douglas as his “text,” was concerned only with the founding. Douglas returned to the framers to show that popular sovereignty was indeed the great principle of the republic. Lincoln returned to the framers to show it was not. He spent a third to a half of the speech discussing how the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution voted on other measures related to slavery in the territories. When he found them in agreement with modern Republicans, his refrain included Douglas’s phrasing from the Harper’s article that there was “no line dividing local from federal authority.” Since one of the purposes of traveling to New York was to introduce himself to eastern Republicans, the painstaking research behind Lincoln’s assertions would make clear to his audience that he was a statesman worthy of presidential consideration, not the “Western Stump Orator” they might have previously thought. Harold Holzer notes that the Cooper Union speech is one of the least quoted because it lacks some of Lincoln’s usual rhetorical flair. It is “almost mordantly legalistic and historical.”

What is indeed missing from the Cooper Union address is the emphasis Lincoln had previously put on slavery’s morality and the slave’s humanity. The second section of the speech, addressed to the absent southerners, asserts the harmlessness of the Republican position. It is there that Lincoln denies any affinity with John Brown, who had recently tried to incite a slave rebellion in Virginia. Perhaps as part of an effort to achieve that distance, Lincoln minimized his condemnations of slavery’s immorality. He asserts that it is an “evil” so “marked” by those original framers. He notes that the Constitution does not use the word slave, and that when it refers to slaves the word “person” is used. But the Cooper Union speech lacks Peoria’s ringing denunciation of slavery as a “monstrous injustice,” its comparison of slavery to a cancer, and its lengthy argument showing “the humanity of the slave.” Lincoln insists at Cooper Union that Republicans can only reassure the South if they “cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right,” but he does not spend much time making that condemnation himself.  Lincoln returned to popular sovereignty at the end of the speech: “Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored—contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong … such as a policy of ‘don’t care’ on a question about which all true men do care….”  Lincoln referred, of course, to the middle ground Douglas had offered with popular sovereignty. In his final line, Lincoln called for a repudiation of popular sovereignty in favor of Republican opposition to slavery extension: “LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”

Harold Holzer boldly calls the Cooper Union talk “the speech that made Abraham Lincoln president.” I will be so bold as to say that it was popular sovereignty that made Lincoln president. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act and the consequent turmoil in Kansas provided the political setting for Lincoln’s return to political prominence. More than that, it was in setting forth his reasons for opposing popular sovereignty that Lincoln articulated many of his central themes: slavery’s incompatibility with republicanism, its immorality, and the threat of a “middle ground” doctrine about slavery such as popular sovereignty to republican liberty. Other Republicans also expressed a moral distaste for slavery and the fear that black slavery threatened white liberty. But they more often used the events in Kansas to indict popular sovereignty as policy. Lincoln concentrated on popular sovereignty as principle. This seemingly left him closer in perspective to Douglas than to his fellow Republicans, but it also meant that Lincoln attacked the very essence of popular sovereignty while other Republicans attacked only its effects. As Lincoln consistently noted, popular sovereignty attached no moral stigma to slavery. Lincoln’s concentration on what at Cooper Union he mocked as “the ‘gur-reat purrinciple'” of popular sovereignty allowed him to assert the true principle of the republic: freedom. 


The repeal of the Missouri Act and the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was nothing more than a naked attempt at increasing the spread of slavery in the western states. It was one of the major causes of the civil war and caused wide spread violence through Kansas.

Resources, “Kansas-Nebraska Act.” By Wikipedia Editors;, “The Law that Ripped America in Two: One hundred fifty years ago, the Kansas-Nebraska Act set the stage for America’s civil war.” By Ross Drake;, “Was the Kansas Nebraska Act good or bad?”, “Was the Kansas-Nebraska Act good or bad for the North?” By Esther Fleming;, “‘A living, creeping lie’: Abraham Lincoln on Popular Sovereignty.” By Nicole Etcheson;


Was the Kansas Nebraska Act good or bad?

Douglas introduced the bill intending to open up new lands to development and facilitate the construction of a transcontinental railroad, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, stoking national tensions over slavery, and contributing to a series of armed conflicts …

Why was the Kansas Nebraska Act a failure?

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.

What were the main points of the Kansas Nebraska Act?

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 30, 1854. It allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. The Act served to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which prohibited slavery north of latitude 36°30´.

What went wrong with popular sovereignty in Kansas? It led to violent conflicts between the North and the South and ended with many lives lost, towns being raided, and tension between the two sections of the US. It also picked up the attention and debate topics of Congress and would lead to the Civil War.

Why did the Bleeding Kansas happen?

Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas, or the Border War was a series of violent civil confrontations in Kansas Territory, and to a lesser extent in western Missouri, between 1854 and 1859. It emerged from a political and ideological debate over the legality of slavery in the proposed state of Kansas.

What was the long term effect of the Bleeding Kansas problem?

What was the long term effect of the “Bleeding Kansas” problem? The antislavery and proslavery governments established separate states. The North and South agreed to accept Kansas into the Union as a slave state. The North and South became more divided over the issue of slavery.

What happened after Bleeding Kansas?

John Brown, who with others rode into Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, a village of several slave-owning families, and killed five men during “Bleeding Kansas”. Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, thousands of Northerners and Southerners came to the newly created Kansas Territory. …

Who is the phrase Bleeding Kansas associated with?

The term was first coined by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune. He used it to describe the violence happening in the Kansas territory during the mid to late 1850s.

What is the Bleeding Kansas crisis referred to in the text?

Bleeding Kansas” Literal Meaning: “Bleeding Kansas” was the term that referred to violence between abolitionists and pro-slavery whites in Kansas where elections were going to take place that would decide the fate of the territory.

What President signed the bill making Kansas a state?

President James Buchanan

Was there slavery in Kansas?

Slavery existed in Kansas Territory, but on a much smaller scale than in the South. Most slaveholders owned only one or two slaves. Many slaves were women and children who performed domestic work rather than farm labor. Marcus Lindsay Freeman was brought to Kansas Territory as a slave.

Why did the Kansas Nebraska Act end in bloodshed?

Why did the Kansas-Nebraska Act end in bloodshed? Pro- and antislavery forces each sent settlers to compete for control.

Was the Kansas-Nebraska Act good or bad for the North?

Douglas introduced the bill intending to open up new lands to development and facilitate the construction of a transcontinental railroad, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, stoking national tensions over slavery, and contributing to a series of armed conflicts …

What bothered northerners about the Kansas-Nebraska Act?

The Popular Sovereignty clause in the Act meant the territories might allow slavery and enter the Union as slave states. Why were Northerners angry with the Kansas-Nebraska Act? Under the Missouri Compromise, slavery had not been allowed in the territories of Kansas or Nebraska; now that ban could be lifted.

Why did Southerners support Kansas-Nebraska Act?

The Southerners supported Kansas-Nebraska Act because they thought that granting popular Sovereignty would allow slavery in the territories.

Why did Northerners dislike the Kansas Nebraska Act?

Why did northerners dislike the Kansas-Nebraska Act? Northerners disliked the Kansas – Nebraska Act because it gave people the chance to turn what was already a free state into a dreary slave state. Click to see full answer

Who was the sponsor of the Kansas Nebraska Act?

The Kansas-Nebraska Act. Stephen Douglas, the sponsor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act as well as the most vocal supporter of popular sovereignty, was known as the “Little Giant” because of his small stature. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 may have been the single most significant event leading to the Civil War.

How did Kansas and Nebraska become free states?

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.

Why did Douglas want to create Kansas and Nebraska?

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.

How We Sold Our Soul Postings

Exit mobile version