The Kansas-Nebraska Act
After the Compromise of 1850, the largely Democratic southern Congressional leaders did not enjoy being the minority party. California's admission to the Union had created an imbalance between free and slave states; how to organize the remaining territories began to cause friction in the south.
The Great American Desert, as defined by the 36o; 30' provision of the Compromise of 1820, was now the site of many Indian Reservations and a major destination of European immigrants. The area was also proven to be more suitable for (limited) farming than previously thought. Some Democrats were interested in populating the region with pro-slavery citizens while trying to have the Compromise of 1820 declared unconstitutional. They had learned that the territory was going to be a part of the proposed transcontinental railway; slaves could be shipped west from here at some point in the future. One thing stood in their way: the 36 o; 30' proviso.
Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas was the man to whom the majority of southern politicians looked. Douglas had purchased a lot of stock in the railroad and therefore had a vested interest in seeing the railroad get built and be used for transportation of people and cargo (property) to the western territories. His ties to the railroad were public knowledge; so were his political views.
- Splitting his large Nebraska Territory into two parts.
- Kansas, the new region, would try to become a slave state while Nebraska would likely attract free-soilers.
- Allowing the people of the territories, not their legislatures, to decide their status through referendum, or what came to be known as popular sovereignty (vox populi).
- Outright repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
The Kansas-Nebraska act was debated and eventually did become law in May 1854; it had an immediate impact on the political landscape. Douglas had managed to create a public conscience or sense of morality where none had been. Anti-slavery Whigs, Free-Soil Party members and northern Democrats all joined in response by creating the Republican Party. The Era of Compromise was dead.