Kansas-Nebraska Bill.For more than thirty years prior to the organization of Kansas as a territory of the United States the slavery question had been a "bone of contention" in the halls of Congress. The first petition of Missouri for admission into the Union, in March, 1818, started the agitation that culminated in the passage of the act of March 6, 1820, known as the "Missouri Compromise." Section 8 of this act provided "That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of 36° 30' north latitude, not included within the limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited."
Of the original thirteen states, seven were free and six were slave states. From the adoption of the constitution to 1819 five slave statesKentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabamahad been admitted into the Union, while during the same period but four free statesVermont, Ohio, Indiana and Illinoishad been added, so that in 1819, immediately after the admission of Alabama, there were eleven of each. The admission of Maine in 1820 gave the free states a majority of one, but the equilibrium was again restored by the admission of Missouri in 1821. With the exception of short intervals, this policy of equality was maintained during the next twenty years. Arkansas, a slave state, was admitted in 1836, but was followed by the free state of Michigan in 1837. The admission of Texas and Florida in 1845 gave the slave power a slight advantage, which was regained by the free states in the admission of Iowa in 1846 and Wisconsin in 1848.
By that time practically all the available territory south of the line 36° 30' had been divided into states, and the slaveholders were compelled to look for a new field if the institution was to be extended. After an acrimonious discussion of eight weeks in the first session of the 31st Congress, over the admission of California, Henry Clay, on Jan. 29, 1850, introduced the resolution which formed the basis of the celebrated "Omnibus Bill" (q. v.), or compromise measures of 1850. These resolutions, and the bill which followed, provided for the admission of California "without the imposition by Congress of any restrictions in respect to the exclusion or introduction of slavery within those boundaries." With the admission of California as a free state, which made sixteen free to fifteen slave states, the slave power was driven to desperation. Soon the region west of the Missouri river must be organized into territories, and as all this section lay north of 36° 30' and was part of the Louisiana Purchase, the cry went up for the repeal of the "Missouri Compromise."
A slight infraction of the compromise had been made in 1836, when the small, triangular tract known as the "Platte Purchase" was taken from the Indian Territory and added to Missouri. But the territory embraced by it was so small, and the change was made merely to give better definition to the Missouri boundaries, that no serious objection was made to the act by the free-state members of Congress.
Petitions were received in the first session of the 32d Congress (1851-52) for the erection of a territory west of the Missouri river, but no action was taken. The first real effort in Congress to organize a territory including the present State of Kansas was made on Dec. 13, 1852, when Willard P. Hall, a member from Missouri, introduced a bill providing for the organization of the "Territory of Platte," to include all the present states of Kansas and Nebraska. Nothing came of this bill and on Feb. 2, 1853, William A. Richardson, of Illinois, reported another bill, providing for the establishment of the Territory of Nebraska, embracing the same region as the Hall bill. This bill passed the house on Feb. 10, by a vote of 98 to 43, and was sent to the senate, where on the 17th it was favorably reported by Stephen A. Douglas, senator from Illinois and chairman of the committee on territories, but on March 3 it was ordered laid on the table by a vote of 23 to 17. Thus ended the second attempt to organize a territory which would embrace the present State of Kansas. No reference to the subject of slavery was made in either the Hall or the Richardson bill, and had either become a law Kansas would have been organized as a free territory under the provisions of the Missouri Compromise, and admitted as a free state without question or dispute.
The third, and what proved to be the successful, effort to organize a territory west of the Missouri had its beginning on Dec. 14, 1853, when Augustus C. Dodge of Iowa, introduced a bill in the United States senate providing for the erection of the Territory of Nebraska, covering the same section of the country as the Hall and Richardson bills of the previous Congress. The bill was referred to the committee on territories, of which Mr. Douglas was still chairman, and was reported back to the senate on Jan. 4, 1854, with several important amendments. In his report Mr. Douglas called attention to the doctrine of "Popular Sovereignty" and the compromise measures of 1850, in "That all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories, and the new states to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose."
On Jan. 16, while the bill was still pending, Archibald Dixon, one of the senators from Kentucky, gave notice that when the proper time came he intended to offer an amendment to the bill declaring the provisions of the Missouri Compromise excluding slavery north of the line 36° 30' should "not be construed as to apply to the territory contemplated in this act, or to any other territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several states and territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves in the territory as if the Missouri Compromise act had never been passed."
To avoid the open rupture between the North and South, which would be certain to follow the introduction of such an amendment, Mr. Douglas secured the recommittal of the bill to his committee, ostensibly for further consideration, but really that the features suggested by Senator Dixon might be incorporated in such a way as to accomplish the repeal of the Missouri Compromise without arousing determined opposition. On Jan. 23, 1854, Senator Douglas reported a substitute bill, providing for two territories instead of onethe northern territory to be called "Nebraska" and the southern one "Kansas"the parallel of 40° north latitude to form the boundary line between them. This was the origin of the term "Kansas-Nebraska Bill," which in a short time became a familiar expression all over the country.
A long and bitter discussion followed, but, near the close of an all-night session, the bill passed the senate on Saturday morning, March 4, by a vote of 37 to 14. It was then sent to the house, where it was several times called up for debate, and finally passed just before midnight on May 22, by a vote of 113 to 100. It was signed by President Pierce on May 30, 1854, and thus became the organic law of the Territory of Kansas.
The first eighteen sections of the bill related to the Territory of Nebraska. Section 19 defined the boundaries of the Territory of Kansas (see Boundaries), and provided "That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said territory into two or more territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, and that the said territory, or any part of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission." The section also provided for the protection of Indian rights until they should be relinquished by treaty.
Section 20 related to the executive power and authority of the governor, which were not materially different from those of other territorial governors. He was to be appointed for a term of four years, unless sooner removed by the president, and was required to reside in the territory.
Section 21 defined the duties of the territorial secretary, who was to be appointed for a term of five years, subject to removal by the president.
Section 22 provided for a territorial legislature, composed of thirteen members of a council, to be elected for two years, and twenty-six representatives, to be elected for one year, the legislature to have power to increase the number of members in each branch in proportion to the increase in the number of qualified voters. No session of the legislature was to last more than forty days, except the first, which might continue for sixty days.
Section 23 provided that "Every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years, who shall be an actual resident of said territory, and shall possess the qualifications hereinafter prescribed, shall be entitled to vote at the first election, and shall be eligible to any office within said territory; but the qualifications of voters, and of holding office, at all subsequent elections, shall be such as shall be prescribed by the legislative assembly." The section then goes on to declare that citizens of the United States, or those who might announce their intention of becoming such, should be entitled to vote, but that no soldier or seaman, or other person belonging to the army or navy of the United States should have the right of suffrage in the territory.
Section 24 related to the powers of the legislature and the veto power of the governor, and the next section defined the authority of the executive in the matter of appointments.
Section 26 set forth that no member of the legislature should be eligible to any office created during the session of which he might be a member, and that all Federal officers except postmasters should be ineligible for members of the legislature.
Section 27 related to the territorial and inferior courts, the manner in which they should be established, their jurisdictions, etc.
Section 28 declared the fugitive slave laws of 1793 and 1850 to be in full force and effect within the territorial limits.
Section 29 provided for the appointment of a district attorney and marshal for the territory, each to be appointed for a term of four years, unless sooner removed, and defined their duties.
Section 30 provided for the appointment of all territorial officers by the president, "by and with the advice and consent of the senate," and fixed the salaries as follows: "Governor, $2,500 per annum; justices, $2,000; secretary, $2,000; marshal, $200 and fees the same as the marshal of Utah Territory; district attorney, fees similar to those of the district attorney of the Territory of Utah. Members of the legislature were to receive $3 per day for the time actually employed in the discharge of their duties, and $3 for every twenty miles traveled in connection therewith.
Section 31 fixed the temporary seat of government at Leavenworth, the permanent seat of government to be established by act of the legislature.
Section 32 contained the features of the bill that caused all the trouble. In addition to providing for the election of a delegate to Congress, it contained the provision for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, to-wit: "That the constitution and all laws of the United States which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said Territory of Kansas as elsewhere within the United States, except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820, which being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the states and territories as recognized by the legislature of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures, is hereby declared inoperative and void; it being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any territory or state, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the constitution of the United States. Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to revive or put in force any law or regulation which may have existed prior to the act of the 6th of March, 1820, either protecting, establishing, prohibiting or abolishing slavery."
The remaining five sections of the bill related to matters of minor detail. Section 33 appropriated money for the erection of public buildings and the establishment of a library; section 34 set apart two sections of land (16 and 36) in each Congressional township for the benefit of the public schools; section 35 provided that the governor should divide the territory into judicial districts, which should be recognized until the legislature should change them; section 36 provided that officers appointed by the governor should give bond; and section 37 stipulated that all laws and treaties with the Indians in the territory should "be faithfully and rigidly observed."
In section 32 the slave power overreached itself. Under the influence of the Congressmen from the slave states the Missouri Compromise had become a law in 1820. Thirty-four years later, when the law stood in the way of the extension of slavery, the same influence was brought into requisition to secure its defeat. This had the effect of crystallizing the sentiment in opposition to slavery, with the result that the institution was finally abolished after one of the most sanguinary wars in the world's history. During the debate on the bill in the United States senate, the situation was well summed up by Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, when, as though endowed with the spirit of prophecy, he said:
"Sir, the bill which you are now about to pass is at once the worst and the best bill on which Congress ever acted. It is the worst bill as it s a present victory of slavery. In a Christian land, and in an age of civilization, a time-honored statute of freedom is struck down, opening the way to all the countless woes and wrongs of human bondage. . . . It is the best bill on which Congress ever acted, for it prepares the way for that 'All hail hereafter,' when slavery must disappear. It annuls all past compromises with slavery, and makes all future compromises impossible. Thus it puts freedom and slavery face to face and bids them grapple. Who can doubt the result? . . . Everywhere within the sphere of Congress, the great Northern Hammer will descend to smite the wrong, and the irrestistible cry will break forth, 'No more slave states!' Thus, sir, now standing at the very grave of freedom in Kansas and Nebraska, I find assurances in that happy resurrection, by which freedom will be secured hereafter, not only in these territories, out everywhere under the national government. Sorrowfully I bend before the wrong you are about to perpetrate. Joyfully I welcome all the promises of the future."Pages 54-59 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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