What Was the Kansas-Nebraska Act?
In this video, there is a discussion of the facts and issues surrounding the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, authored by Stephen Douglas. The Nebraska territory was divided by this act into Nebraska and Kansas. It was also stipulated that slavery in these territories would be decided by popular vote of those living in those territories. This was a very hot issue during the sectional crisis of the mid 1800’s leading up to the Civil War. The Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which decreed that they had to be free states because they were both North of the Mason-Dixon line. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act drove opposition Northerners to form the Republican Party. They didn’t like the effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Kansas attempted to word its constitution to be pro-slavery, but it fell apart under congressional review and entered the union as a free state in 1861. Nebraska did not enter the union until after the Civil War in 1867, making all of this moot.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, authored by Stephen Douglas, divided the Nebraska Territory into two parts, Kansas and Nebraska, and it declared that slavery would be determined by popular vote in those territories. This was a big deal, because slavery was a real hot button issue at this time. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was saying these states, once they became two states, would be able to choose whether they would be a free state or a slave state.
The United States as a whole wasn’t deciding this for them. They were giving this territory that was being split into two states the option to choose what they would be. This act effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Missouri Compromise had said that any states formed above a certain horizontal line geographically across the United States would be free states and be formed below that line would be slave states.
These states were both above that line, north of that line, so they should have been free states according to the Missouri Compromise, but they weren’t going to be automatically free states. They were going to have the right to choose. This effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise. It also drove opposing Northerners to the liberal side and caused the creation of the Republican Party. This would be the Republican Party more as we know it today and not as the Democratic Republicans that first came about when the United States first became a country.
This basically split the country into two political sections. It had kind of broken up any other political affiliations that had been formed. Now, there were basically two parties. The North were the Republicans, and the South are Democrats. There were going to be some exceptions to that. You might find some Republicans in the South and some Democrats in the North.
You may find a few people who supported slavery in the North and some that opposed slavery living in the South, but, for the most part, these two sections were split up both by economics, by what they thought about slavery, and now by political parties. These sections are becoming more and more different from each other and the conflict is really getting closer to a head here.
This Kansas-Nebraska Act drove these opposing Northerners to the liberal side and caused them to form the Republican Party. The Northerners were so upset, because the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had guaranteed that no more slave states would be formed in the North. This was effectively repealed and these two new states were just going to be able to decide to do whatever they wanted to do.
The Northerners, who had really come to rely on the fact that, well, if more slave states do come about, there will be more free states, too, because we have this nice dividing line. Anything north of it will be free, and anything south of it will be slave, so things will kind of even out. This was throwing a wrench in things. This was a wild card.
They were saying, “Oh, here are two brand new states, and they get to decide for themselves if they’ll be free or slave states, and they are two states in the North. The northerners really didn’t like this and that’s what pushed them to form the more modern Republican Party. Also, the opposing factions engaged in violence to try and win the popular vote within Kansas and Nebraska.
People flocked to the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to be there when the voting happened so they could cast their vote and try to make this either a slave state or a free state. People who supported both sides rushed in and there was a lot of violence, because they were so adamantly against or for slavery. When there was that much difference between the opinions of these two groups, violence broke out. A lot of people that were coming in weren’t even ones who were coming to live there permanently.
People came in simply to be there long enough to vote and then they could go back to their regular homes once they had assured that the state became a slave state or the state became a free state, whichever one they were traveling for. There was a lot of violence in these two states, especially in Kansas over the voting of whether the state would be free or a slave state.
Though Kansas worded its Constitution in an attempt to have slaves, so they didn’t come right out and say, “We’re a slave state,” but they worded the constitution so that slavery could be allowed. The document fell apart upon review by Congress. They had to revise it and it eventually entered the union as a free state in 1861. Kansas did enter as a free state in 1861.
Now, Nebraska did not actually enter the union until after the Civil War in 1867. Then, of course, it entered as a free state, because all the states were free after the Civil War. The Kansas Nebraska Act was a big push toward the Civil War. It was like the final nail in the coffin for the union as it was at this time.
It effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had made the Northerners feel safe. They opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act so much that it pushed them to form the Republican Party, which effectively separated the two sections of the country even more. Now they were also split by political party with the Republicans mainly in the North and the Democrats mainly in the South.
There was already violence occurring in Kansas and Nebraska over the voting for whether the states should become free states or slave states. In the end, Kansas did become a free state before the Civil War, even though it tried to edge in the possibility of slavery. Nebraska didn’t actually enter the Union till after the Civil War, when, of course, it did enter as a free state.
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Last updated: 09/10/2018