Kansas-Nebraska Act

(1854)

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820—with its prohibition against slavery in the region—and attempted to settle the question of the expansion of slavery by popular sovereignty, allowing each territory to decide the matter for itself. First reported to the U.S. Congress on January 4 by the Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic chair of the Senate Committee on Territories and the architect of the measure, the Kansas-Nebraska Act underwent major revisions before its final passage on May 26 and approval by President Franklin Pierce four days later.

In the early months of 1854 the contentious issue of slavery spreading into America's western territories had once again reared its head after a brief respite following the Compromise of 1850 and the so-called finality campaign of 1852 (between Democrat Franklin Pierce and Whig Winfield Scott). For decades American politicians, working through a very competitive national...

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This 1856 cartoon depicts the violence that followed the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Library of Congress)

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