Crash! Boom! Terrified screams and rifle shots filled the air as Margaret snatched up her baby sister into her arms as she ran around frantically in search of shelter. Finally finding a safe hiding spot behind a large rock, Margaret and her little sister watched in desperation as their small shack was ransacked by John Brown and his raiders. As the sky grew black with smoke, angry tears began streaming down Margaret’s face. Why can’t the anti-slavery settlers just leave us alone? Why are they being so violent? What have we done to them? All we want is land to settle on! Margaret wondered in disheartenment. For settlers who had rushed to claim land in Kansas and Nebraska in the stormy 1850’s, facing violent clashes had become a daily routine. Right on the verge of a national split, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to increased friction between the North and South, led to a national split of the Whig party, and led to violence in Kansas and the Civil War. This significant act resulted in numerous accouterments that left both immediate and progressive effects on America and its political system.
The Great Plains area, west of Missouri offered countless opportunities for farming and ranching. In the early 1850’s, settlers and entrepreneurs alike wanted to move into the area we now refer to as present-day Nebraska. However, since Nebraska was organized as a territory, nobody could settle into it as they couldn’t legally claim any land. The southern states' representatives in Congress were reluctant about permitting a Nebraska territory as the land was north of the 36°30' parallel (where slavery had been outlawed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820). The Kansas-Nebraska Act made it possible for the Kansas and Nebraska territories to allow slavery. The Missouri Compromise had prohibited this since 1820 (Clay). With the passage of the act, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had to be repudiated:
To win Southern support, [he] proposed a Southern state inclined to support slavery. It was Kansas…Kansas with slavery would violate the Missouri Compromise, which had kept the Union from falling apart for the last 34 years. The long-standing compromise would have to be repealed. Many people in the North considered the Missouri Compromise a binding agreement. Even in the South, the compromise was heavily supported. (“U.S. History”)
The creator of the act was Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who wanted to see citizens be able to settle in these territories. Underlying it all, Douglas’s real desire was to build a transcontinental railroad to go through Chicago. Although opposition was intense, The Kansas-Nebraska Act was finally passed by congress on May 30, 1854. It allowed settlers in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide whether slavery would be legal or not within their borders based on popular sovereignty. Territory north of the 36°30' parallel was now open to popular sovereignty as Northern leaders’ moods grew darker than the...