Bleeding Kansas and Popular Soveriegnty

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BLEEDING KANSAS
AND
POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY

Bleeding Kansas was a term used by Horace Greely of the New York Tribune to describe the violent hostilities between pro and anti-slavery forces in Kansas Territory during the mid and late 1850’s. Bleeding Kansas was also a mini Civil War between the North and the South. (Robert McNamara, Bleeding Kansas) For many years the Great Plains area was labeled the Great American Desert, implying that the lands offered little in the way of economic benefits. The federal government relocated a number of Native American tribes to the Plains as further testimony to the area’s lack of appeal to white settlers. Attitudes began to change as people traveled westward across the Santa Fe Trail and discovered the area’s richness. (David Wishart, Great Plains Indians before the Civil War) The KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT OF 1854 may have been the single most significant event leading to the Civil War. By the early 1850s settlers and entrepreneurs wanted to move into the area now known as Nebraska. However, until the area was organized as a territory, settlers would not move there because they could not legally hold a claim on the land. The southern states' representatives in Congress were in no hurry to permit a Nebraska territory because the land lay north of the 36°30' parallel — where slavery had been outlawed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Just when things between the north and south were in an uneasy balance, Kansas and Nebraska opened fresh wounds. (T. Lloyd Benson from the Hartford, Connecticut, Daily Courant, 27 January 1854) The person behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act was SENATOR STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS of Illinois. The Kansas-Nebraska Act began a chain of events in the Kansas Territory that foreshadowed the Civil War. However, the most important factor that brought Kansas into the national consciousness was the strife that occurred following the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.

He said he wanted to see Nebraska made into a territory and, to win southern support, proposed a southern state inclined to support slavery. It was Kansas. Underlying it all was his desire to build a transcontinental railroad to go through Chicago. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed each territory to decide the issue of slavery on the basis of popular sovereignty. Kansas with slavery would violate the Missouri Compromise, which had kept the Union from falling apart for the last thirty-four years. The long-standing compromise would have to be repealed. Opposition was intense, but ultimately the bill passed in May of 1854. Territory north of the sacred 36°30' line was now open to popular sovereignty. The North was outraged. The political effects of Douglas' bill were enormous. Passage of the bill irrevocably split the Whig Party, one of the two major political parties in the country at the time. Every northern Whig had opposed the bill; almost every southern Whig voted for it. With the emotional issue of slavery involved, there was no way a common ground could be found. Most of the southern Whigs soon were swept into the Democratic Party. Northern Whigs reorganized themselves with other non-slavery interests to become the REPUBLICAN PARTY, the party of Abraham Lincoln. This left the Democratic Party as the sole remaining institution that crossed sectional lines. Animosity between the North and South was again on the rise. The North felt that if the Compromise of 1820 was ignored, the Compromise of 1850 could be ignored as well. Violations of the hated Fugitive Slave Law increased. Trouble was indeed back with a vengeance. (U.S. History.org, the Kansas Nebraska Act, U.S. History Online Textbooks, Friday, July 20, 2012, Copyright 2012)

Under the terms of the act, two territories were to be formed, Kansas and Nebraska. One would presumably become a slave state and the other a free state. Popular sovereignty would prevail and it was assumed that slave-owning Southerners would occupy Kansas and make it a slave state, while Free...
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