by Camila Chabayta and Maddie Shen
What is the Kansas-Nebraska Act?
Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois hoped to open up the land north of the 36° 30’ line to build a transcontinental railroad to link Chicago and California. Douglas proposed a bill to create the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and in 1854 Congress passed the Kansa- Nebraska Act. The act allowed Kansas and Nebraska to decide the issue of slavery in their state on the basis of popular sovereignty. The admittance of Kansas as a slave state would be a violation of the Missouri Compromise, which stated that no states above the 36° 30’ line, except for Missouri, would permit slavery. Thus, the Kansas- Nebraska Act proved to be extremely controversial in the United States.
Counterargument: Compromise of 1850 and the Second Fugitive Slave Law
Many would argue that the Compromise of 1850 is the point of no return for the Civil War. Passed by Congress before the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state while appeasing the South by included a second, harsher Fugitive Slave Law. The Second Fugitive Slave Law required federal marshals to assist slave-masters in arresting runaway slaves. More importantly, however, the law denied the slaves many rights, such as the right to testify, effectively giving slave-holders the ability to kidnap free African Americans. The Fugitive Slave Law is the point of no return because it further polarized Northerner and Southerners because of its unconstitutional nature. However, the Compromise only set many events in motion and did not guarantee the violent response that resulted.