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Signed into law on May 30, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided Nebraska Territory into Kansas and Nebraska and specified that the question of whether or not to allow slavery would be left up to the voters within each territory.
In early 1853, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to organize Nebraska Territory. Although the bill itself said nothing about slavery, the Missouri Compromise of 1850 meant that slavery would be illegal in the territory since it lay north of 36'30". The bill faced trouble in the Senate from the beginning, however, because Southern Senators insisted that current slaveholders not be excluded from settling in the new territory, with their slaves. With deadlock likely, the Senate voted 23-17 to table the bill rather than bring it up for debate on the floor. Soon after that vote the Senate went into recess, and both sides of the slavery issue began working on their own proposals for how the Nebraska Territory should be organized.
On January 23, 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas introduced a modified version of the House bill that divided Nebraska Territory into Kansas and Nebraska and specified that the question of whether or not to allow slavery would be left up to the voters within each territory. After an amendment specifically repealing the Missouri Compromise was added, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the Senate on March 5, 1864, by a vote of 37-14. A long debate followed in the House, but it ultimately passed that body by a vote of 44-42; President Franklin Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30, 1854.
Douglas hoped the Kansas-Nebraska Act would allow the slavery issue to be decided peacefully at the polls, but he would be extremely disappointed. Supporters on both sides of the issue flocked to Kansas Territory in hopes of swaying the popular vote, and many of them were willing to resort to violence in order to get fellow settlers to join their side. The next seven years would become known as the "Bleeding Kansas Era." Two pro-slavery constitutions were passed by the voters, but both were declared invalid because of massive election fraud. Anti-slavery forces eventually outnumbered pro-slavery forces, and an anti-slavery constitution was approved by voters, but Southerners in Congress refused to recognize the constitution and denied statehood for Kansas. Kansas was finally admitted as a free state on January 29, 1861, but only after several Southern states had seceded from the Union.
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to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
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Pierce's Administration, 1853-1857
This page was last updated on April 11, 2017.