The Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854
For nearly thirty-five years, the United States had operated under an agreement known as the Missouri Compromise (see Chapter 1). Under the outline of the Compromise, slavery was limited in the territory west of the Mississippi River to land below the 36 degree 30 minute parallel with the exception of Missouri. The compact created a relative balance of power in the United States between free and slave states. Now, in 1854, a new proposal had been presented that appeared ready to undo the Missouri Compromise and open all United States territory to slavery.
By 1850, the United States stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 quickly led to statehood (see Chapter 22). All land east of the Mississippi River was divided into states and, especially in the South, states pushed past the Mississippi toward California. Connecting California with the rest of the United States via the railroad became an American imperative. But even here, Americans could not agree on the best route. A southern route that ran through Texas and territory newly acquired from Mexico represented the route of least resistance because it did not run through Indian territory, and it bypassed the harsh weather of the Great Plains. Some Americans favored St. Louis as the departure point for the railway to California. Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, however, wanted Chicago to be the rail center, but his proposal stood little chance of passage since it would require the railway to run through sparsely settled and unorganized territory that had been reserved for Native Americans.
Douglas came up with a plan. However, it meant that the Missouri Compromise would have to be altered or even repealed. Douglas proposed, as chair of the Committee on the Territories, the Nebraska Bill. It provided that the territory west of Missouri, Iowa, and the Minnesota territory—the unorganized remnant of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase—be setded under the policy of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty, according to Douglas’s bill, said that “all questions pertaining to slavery in the Territories, and in the
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Publication information: Book title: Debating the Issues in the Antebellum Press: Primary Documents on Events from 1820 to 1860. Contributors: David A. Copeland - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 349.
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