The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Rewrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act

By Alice Elizabeth Malavasic | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Nebraska

John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850, at the height of the debate over five separate pieces of legislation relating to the territories ceded by Mexico to the United States two years earlier. Henry Clay, the bills’ floor leader in the Senate, hoped they would pass if packaged as an omnibus measure. They did not. Calhoun’s followers in Congress, led in the Senate by its president, David Rice Atchison, and fellow senators Robert M. T. Hunter, James Murray Mason, and Andrew Pickens Butler ensured Clay’s omnibus package went down in defeat on July 31, four months to the day after the death of their mentor Calhoun. The only one of Clay’s bills that passed was the Utah territorial bill which included the clause “when admitted as a State, the said Territory [Utah], 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.”1 It was the first use of congressional nonintervention or “popular sovereignty” in a territorial bill.

Clay left Washington after the defeat of his omnibus package and did not return until the end of the session.2 It was left to Stephen Douglas, chairman of the Committee on Territories, to revise Clay’s strategy to overcome the objections of Calhoun’s followers in the Senate. He did so by combining the members’ general exhaustion with concessions to the South, specifically the new fugitive slave act authored by Mason of Virginia.3 This time the measures, though virtually the same as those that had been defeated mere weeks before, passed. The bills were reported out of Douglas’s committee on August 5. One by one he shepherded each through the Senate. Texas and California were admitted into the Union as states on August 9 and 13, respectively, thus continuing the informal congressional process begun at the beginning of the Republic of admitting states in pairs, one free and one slave. The New Mexico territorial bill with the same nonintervention language as the Utah bill was passed on August 15. With the statehood and territorial bills out of the way, the Senate, under Douglas’s leadership, tackled the more controversial fugitive slave act and abolition of the slave trade in Washington, using an alliance of northern

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The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Rewrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Civil War America ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Conspiracy 1
  • Chapter One - Rivalries and Alliances 19
  • Chapter Two - Heirs of Calhoun 43
  • Chapter Three - Nebraska 60
  • Chapter Four - Senatorial Junta 81
  • Chapter Five - The Power to Repeal 111
  • Chapter Six - Kansas 143
  • Chapter Seven - We Must Settle This Question 171
  • Epilogue 189
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 245
  • Index 261
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