Kansas-Nebraska Act

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The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opened new lands, repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and allowed settlers in those territories to determine if they would allow slavery within their boundaries. The initial purpose of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was to create opportunities for a Mideastern Transcontinental Railroad. It became problematic when popular sovereignty was written into the proposal. The act was designed by Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.

The act established that settlers could vote to decide whether to allow slavery, in the name of popular sovereignty or rule of the people. Douglas hoped that would ease relations between the North and the South, because the South could expand slavery to new territories but the North still had the right to abolish slavery in its states. Instead, opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South. The new Republican Party, which was created in opposition to the act, aimed to stop the expansion of slavery and soon emerged as the dominant force throughout the North.

Contents

Background

The availability of tens of millions of acres of excellent farm land in the area made it necessary to create a territorial infrastructure to allow settlement. Railroad interests were especially eager to start operations since they needed farmers as customers. Four previous attempts to pass legislation had failed. The solution was a bill proposed in January 1854 by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. He was the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and, above all, a fervent believer in popular sovereignty: the policy of letting the residents of a territory decide whether or not they would permit slavery to exist.[1]

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