Kansas-Nebraska Act
created Kansas and Nebraska from Indians lands


Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in 1854. It provided that two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were to be made from the Indian land that lay west of the bend of the Missouri River and north of 37 degrees north latitude. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced the bill into Congress.

Midwesterners had tried to get a new territory organized in Nebraska for four years. They wanted to see the region opened for settlement. Douglas was influenced by the Midwesterners, especially Missourians, and may also have been influenced by his desire for a railroad from Chicago to the Pacific Coast.

Douglas included in his bill a provision for "popular sovereignty" in Kansas and Nebraska. This provision stated that all questions of slavery in the new territories were to be decided by the settlers rather than by Congress. The provision was designed to win the support of the Southern congressmen and was directly contrary to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Missouri Compromise had declared that all land in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30', except for the state of Missouri, was to be free. Douglas was persuaded by the Southerners to declare the Compromise "inoperative and void."

Antislavery people furiously attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. The debate in Congress was long and bitter. But President Franklin Pierce supported the bill, and it became law. The Kansas-Nebraska Act made slavery legally possible in a vast new area. The act revived the bitter quarrel over the expansion of slavery, which had died down after the Compromise of 1850, and it hastened the start of the Civil War.

Contributor: Robert F. Dalzell, Jr., Ph.D., Prof. of History, Williams College.


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