Kansas-Nebraska Act

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.


The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the true point of no return for the Civil War because it resulted in bloodshed. The consequence of the act’s popular sovereignty clause was widespread fighting between those who wanted slavery in Kansas and Nebraska and those who did not. Moreover, the act caused people from other states to travel to Kansas and Nebraska in order to vote on the issue. For example, the Northerners, who sought to prevent the expansion of slavery, sent a group of New England farmers to settle in Kansas. Meanwhile, the governor of Missouri, Sterling Price, sent a group of armed, slave supporters into Kansas. Both the North and South aimed to have the popular sovereignty vote go in their favor. However, by sending in armed Southerners into Kansas, violence became inevitable. Thus, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the point of no return because it began irreparable fighting between the North and the South.

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.

Political Cartoon

This image mocks the congressmen who passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act by compromising on the issue of slavery.

source: http://www.savagesandscoundrels.org/events-landmarks/1854-kansasnebraska-act-passed/

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