America in the 1850s


How was Stephen Douglas’ bold proposal for the Kansas-Nebraska Act received?

Almost everyone in Congress—the House and the Senate—recognized the implications of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. If it passed, and its provisions became law, the Missouri Compromise would be outdated, and there was a possibility—however slim—that slavery would come to dominate in the eventual states of Kansas and Nebraska. Many historians believe that the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the single most-explosive event that helped bring on the Civil War; even if they are mistaken, no doubt exists that it was one of the most important.

Neither the House nor the Senate wished to rush this bill through, and President Franklin Pierce (see sidebar) was cautiously in favor. As a result, the Kansas-Nebraska Act moved with glacierlike slowness, and it was not until the fourth week of May that it was passed by both Houses. In that same week occurred the other major event that insured 1854 would long be remembered.


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