EARLY in January, 1854, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois reported to the Senate of the United States a bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska. Twelve days later Senator Archibald Dixon, the old Whig associate of Robert S. Todd in the Kentucky legislature, now filling out the unexpired term of Henry Clay, startled the country by offering an amendment to the Nebraska Bill which in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened vast areas of the West to slavery.
For four months the halls of Congress rocked in the throes of a bitter, violent debate, then unequaled in the parliamentary annals of the nation. Personal encounters were narrowly averted on the floor as hot accusations and retorts, often couched in fighting language, shot back and forth across the aisles.
"He retreats," said Cutting of New York one day in the House, referring to his colleague, John C. Breckinridge of Lexington, "and escapes, and skulks behind the Senate Bill."
Breckinridge was instantly on his feet. "I ask the gentleman to withdraw that last word," he said sharply.
"I will withdraw nothing," retorted Cutting emphatically.