Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois calculates that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would end the political turmoil over slavery, appease the South and convince the North that a free economy would triumph over slavery in any fair contest. In the meantime the act would reunite the Democratic Party with him at the helm and catapult Douglas into the White House.

Calculus is a difficult subject. Senator Douglas’ grade in this test of political calculus is F.

The bill is simple enough: revoke the Missouri Compromise of 1820, open all territories to any settler and have the ballot decide whether to allow or exclude slavery.

Rather than Douglas’ vision, the bill splits the Democrats, reinvigorates abolitionists, brings attention, tension and bloodshed to Kansas and births the Republican Party,

President Franklin Pierce backs the act, making it a test of party loyalty. Senator David Atchison of Missouri was foremost among its backers. The act would pass along party lines but there was, in effect, no party in opposition to the Democrats. Opposition was almost entirely grass roots and homegrown. Mass meetings, antislavery groups and conventions resolve to oppose the act. Clergymen sign protests. In the north arises a whirlwind of resentment and condemnation. New England emigrant aid societies sent pioneers west for decades; now they focus on sending them to Kansas.

Amazingly, Pierce, Atchison and Douglas are totally surprised and aghast. They expect the entire United States to step aside and allow their constituents to have their way in Kansas. Indeed, the entire South expects the same. Pierce signs the bill on May 30, 1854. With his penstroke, the Civil War begins.

1 comment:

Carlw4514 said...

way behind in keeping up with your blog, hank

quick comment: absolutely agree that Kansas-Nebraska act did mucho to bring on the civil war