The Legal Tendency toward Slavery Expansion
THERE is no better illustration of the moral confusion in contemporary historical literature on the Lincoln-Douglas debates than Allan Nevins's conflicting judgments concerning the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. In his chapter on the Kansas-Nebraska Act he bitterly condemns Douglas, as we have seen, as a man of dim moral perceptions who, feeling no repugnance for slavery himself, could not fathom the depths of anti-slavery feeling in the free states. However, in the final chapter of his four massive volumes, in a review of the causes of the Civil War which gives full prominence to the repeal as the first of a series of ill-fated steps, Nevins has this to say: "Had an overwhelming majority of Americans been ready to accept the squatter sovereignty principle, this law might have proved a statesmanlike stroke; but it was so certain that powerful elements North and South would resist it to the last that it accentuated strife and confusion."1 One would have thought, from the earlier condemnation of Douglas in effecting the repeal, that northern anti-slavery opinion was right in rejecting a doctrine professing indifference to the morality of slavery and that, had an overwhelming majority of Americans accepted such a position, it would have been not a statesmanlike stroke but a calamity. Nevins appears very close to endorsing the view that what is acceptable to the overwhelming majority is right, that slavery is right where an overwhelming majority desire it and wrong where they reject it; in short, that Douglas's popular sovereignty was the true doctrine.