The New International Encyclopædia/Kansas-Nebraska Bill

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842214The New International Encyclopædia — Kansas-Nebraska Bill

KANSAS-NEBRASKA BILL. In American history, a bill passed in 1854 by the United States Congress for the organization of the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Upon the admission of Missouri into the Union in 1821, the vast region lying between that State and the Rocky Mountains was left unorganized. Stephen A. Douglas introduced a bill for this purpose in the House in December, 1844, and bills in the Senate in March, 1848, and December, 1848, but no action was taken by either House. Finally, in February, 1853, a bill for the organization of the ‘Territory of Nebraska’ passed the House, but was not acted upon by the Senate. On January 4, 1854, Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, reported from that committee a new bill, accompanied by an explanatory report. The bill contained the provisions usually embodied in bills for Territorial organization, and in addition prescribed that the Territory or any portion thereof, when admitted as a State or States, “shall be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their Constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.” The report, however, went further and maintained that the compromise measures of 1850 had established principles which should govern all future legislation on similar subjects, and in particular had established the principle that “all questions pertaining to slavery in the Territories, and the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose.” This, the so-called principle of ‘popular sovereignty,’ would, if strictly applied, obviously have nullified the essential part of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (q.v.), which directly prohibited slavery north of the latitude of 36° 30′. On January 23d Douglas introduced a new bill, embodying an amendment which had been proposed by Senator Dixon of Kentucky on the 16th. This new bill provided that the Territory was to be divided into two parts to be called Kansas and Nebraska, and stated specifically that the slavery restriction of the Missouri Compromise, “being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures, is hereby declared inoperative and void, it being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.” The bill occasioned a prolonged and acrimonious debate, centring upon the abrogation of the slavery restriction of the Missouri Compromise, but finally passed the Senate on March 4th by a vote of 37 to 14, despite the vigorous opposition of such men as Sumner, Chase, Everett, Wade, Bell, and Seward. After a long debate the bill, slightly amended, passed the House, on May 8th, by a vote of 113 to 100. The Senate agreed to the House amendments on May 26th, and the bill became a law, by President Pierce's signature, on May 30th. The combined Territories, thus organized, comprised a region which now constitutes Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and part of Colorado—a total area of nearly 500,000 square miles.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill is chiefly significant in American history from its having caused a renewal of the contest between the North and the South over the slavery question, which had been regarded as settled, for many years at least, by the compromise measures of 1820 and 1850. It stirred the passions of the people of both sections, gave rise to bitter and protracted controversies both in and out of Congress, and doubtless considerably hastened a resort to arms. The historian Rhodes has given the following estimate of the results of the passage of the bill: “It is safe to say that in the scope and consequences of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it was the most momentous measure that passed Congress from the day that the Senators and Representatives first met to the outbreak of the Civil War. It sealed the doom of the Whig Party; it caused the formation of the Republican Party on the principle of no extension of slavery; it roused Lincoln and gave a bent to his great political ambition. It made the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter at the North; it caused the Germans to become Republicans; it lost the Democrats their hold on New England; it made the Northwest Republican; it led to the downfall of the Democratic Party.” Consult: Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (New York, 1893—); Von Holst, Constitutional and Political History of the United States, vol. iv. (last ed., Chicago, 1899); and Burgess, The Middle Period 1817-58 (New York, 1897), in the “American History Series.” The text of the bill may be found in the United States Statutes at Large, vol. x.