The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 is one of the most significant events in American history during the 19th century. For example, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was an important moment in many other aspects of American history, including: the American Civil War, slavery in the United States, and the American Abolitionist Movement. In fact, the Kansas-Nebraska Act is often considered to be one of the main causes of the Civil War.
BEFORE THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT
As stated above, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854 in the midst of growing tensions over the practise of slavery in the United States. At the time, the American Abolitionist Movement had been rising in popularity and slavery had become a central issue between the Northern and Southern states of the country. The American Abolitionist Movement is the name for the advancements made in the United States towards ending the practise of slavery. For instance, the term ‘abolition’ means to stop or end something. As such, an abolitionist is someone who was working to ban slavery. The American Abolitionist Movement is considered to have occurred from the late 1700s until 1865 when the American government abolished slavery following the end of the American Civil War.
There was quite a divide between the Northern and Southern states in relation to their views on slavery and the Abolitionist Movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. More specifically, the Northern states were the first to support the American Abolitionist Movement and by the end of the 18th century, most Northern states has some sort of anti-slavery legislation. However, the situation in the Southern states was much different, with most people supporting the practise of slavery well into the 19th century. In fact, by 1830 there were nearly 2 million slaves in the United States, and the vast majority of them were located in the Southern states. As such, the Southern states were economically centered on the practise of slavery, and the salve owners held a lot of financial and political influence at the time. This divide between the north and south is important because it set the stage for the conflict that emerged out of the American Civil War, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act was one of the key causes of the Civil War.
In general, the Kansas-Nebraska Act dealt with whether newly added states would be allowed to carry on the practise of slavery or not. At the time, the addition of both Kansas and Nebraska to the United States was considered important to completing the Transcontinental Railroad, but it enflamed the issue of slavery. In fact, it led to the violent outbursts referred to as ‘Bleeding Kansas’. In short, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed states to chose for themselves whether slavery would be allowed and repealed the earlier Missouri Compromise.
Before the creation of Kansas and Nebraska in 1854, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had set clear guidelines regarding the issue of slavery in the differing states. In short, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 did not allow slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel and west of the Mississippi River. Of course, Missouri was excluded from this requirement due to the fact that it was located mostly north of the 36°30′ parallel. However, the Kansas-Nebraska Act changed these rules with the creation of the states of Kansas and Nebraska.
INTRODUCTION OF THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was first introduced by Stephen A. Douglas on January 4th, 1854. At the time, Douglas was a member of the United States House of Representatives for the states of Illinois. However, he is most famous for running as the Democratic Party nominee for president in the 1860 election. He lost the election to Republican Abraham Lincoln, but the debates between Douglas and Lincoln became famous throughout history.
Douglas’ intention with the creation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to help create a railroad route that would benefit his constituents in Illinois, while also allowing for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. However, Douglas’ initial plan only called for the creation of Nebraska. This created tensions as Nebraska was located north of the latitude 36°30’ line. As such, this meant that newly founded region would become a ‘free’ state in terms of slavery. This angered politicians from the Southern states. In fact, they argued that it would create an imbalance between states that supported slavery and those that didn’t. As such, this caused Douglas to propose a solution in which two new states would be created: Nebraska and Kansas. This would solve the crisis in that one state (Nebraska) would be located above the 36°30’ line, while Kansas would be located below. In Congressman Douglas’ mind, this was a natural solution. Nebraska would lie above the latitudinal line (and be a ‘free’ state) while Kansas would reside below (and be a slavery state). Furthermore, Douglas proposed that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 be abolished, and instead individual states would get to decide if the they would allow slavery or not. This idea became known as ‘popular sovereignty’.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was eventually signed into law on May 30th, 1854 by President Franklin Pierce, after it went through debate in both the Senate and House of Representatives. However, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act created many more issues than it solved. For instance, while some supported the basic principles of the act, most people at the time resented the government’s intervention on the issue of slavery. This was especially true in the Northern states, who were angered that slavery was being allowed to potentially spread. This anger eventually boiled over in the events referred to as ‘Bleeding Kansas’.
‘Bleeding Kansas’ is a term that is used to refer to the violence that erupted in the new state of Kansas after the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The violence occurred between 1854 and 1861 and set the stage for the eventually outbreak of the American Civil War. For instance, the violent clashes were between Northerners (‘Free-Staters’) who were against slavery and Southerners (‘Border Ruffians’) who were in favor of slavery. This was ultimately due to popular sovereignty and how it was used to decide the slave ownership status of the state. Essentially, both the ‘Free-Staters’ and the ‘Border Ruffians’ entered Kansas to try and win the vote on the issue of slavery in the new state. Violence between the two groups soon became common in the area as both tried to fight for control. As such, the event gained the name ‘Bleeding Kansas’ by the national media. John Brown, the famous abolitionist, participated in the fighting in Kansas. In fact, Brown and his sons helped carry out the Pottawatomie Massacre, which occurred from May 24th to May 25th in 1856. The massacre saw Brown and other anti-slavery supporters kill five pro-slavery settlers in Kansas.
As stated above, the violence during the events of ‘Bleeding Kansas’ was a significant factor in the lead up to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. Eventually, the pro-slavery movement in Kansas was defeated and Kansas was granted statehood. In fact, Kansas was officially admitted as a ‘free’ state on January 29th, 1861.
LEGACY OF THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a pivotal moment in the history of slavery in the United States. It sparked the divide between the Northern ‘free’ states and Southern ‘slavery’ states and was a preview of the violence that would later erupt as part of the American Civil War. In fact, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was an important event in the history of the United States in the 19th century, including: American Abolitionist Movement and the life of John Brown. Beyond this, the Kansas-Nebraska Act also played a significant role in the political landscape of the United States at the time. For example, the passage of the act split the Whig party in half. One of the two biggest political parties of the time was split in half between Northern Whigs, which created the Republican Party, and the Southern Whigs, which was absorbed by the Democratic Party.
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