- The slave economy
- Life for enslaved men and women
- Early abolition
- The Mexican-American War
- The Compromise of 1850
- Abolition, slavery, and the Compromise of 1850
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - influence of the Fugitive Slave Act
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - reception and significance
- Uncle Tom's Cabin - plot and analysis
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act and party realignment
- Bleeding Kansas
- Manifest Destiny: causes and effects of westward expansion
- Sectional conflict: Regional differences
- Dred Scott v. Sandford
- Dred Scott, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the election of 1860
- The eve of the Civil War
The Kansas-Nebraska Act and party realignment
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed in 1854, reopened the debate over the expansion of slavery in the United States.
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act organized two new territories in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, Kansas and Nebraska. The act established that in these territories, the principle of popular sovereignty would apply, meaning that the white residents of each territory would vote on whether to permit slavery when applying for statehood.
- The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which drew the horizontal line of slavery across the West along the 36° 30' parallel, as both Kansas and Nebraska were north of this line. This reopened the question of slavery’s western expansion.
- The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act induced party realignment and violence, furthering the sectional divide that ultimately erupted in the Civil War.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular sovereignty
In 1854, an uproar regarding the question of slavery in the territories challenged the relative calm after the Compromise of 1850. The pressure on this question came primarily from northern farmers, who wanted the federal government to survey the land west of Iowa and Missouri and put it up for sale. Promoters of a transcontinental railroad also pushed for this westward expansion.
Furthermore, many in the South were growing resentful of the Missouri Compromise, which established the 36° 30' parallel as the geographical boundary of slavery. Slaveholders entrenched themselves in defense of their “way of life,” which depended on the ownership of slaves, while also claiming that prohibiting slavery’s expansion ran counter to basic American property rights. They now contended that the question should be decided by popular sovereignty, or allowing the white residents of a territory to decide whether it should permit slavery when it applied for statehood.
Meanwhile, some antislavery northerners wanted the West reserved for poor whites to seek opportunity. Abolitionists, too, were becoming more vocal in their support for the complete end of slavery.
Democratic leaders sought to bind these disparate ideologies together. Illinois Democratic senator Stephen Douglas believed he had found a solution—the Kansas-Nebraska bill—that would promote party unity and also appease Southerners who detested the Missouri Compromise line. The act created two territories: Kansas, directly west of Missouri; and Nebraska, west of Iowa. The act applied the principle of popular sovereignty. Since both territories fell above the 36° 30' line, the proposed bill would repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
A map showing the outcome of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. After the act passed Congress, the territories of Kansas and Nebraska were allowed to decide whether they wanted slavery.
After heated debates—many members carried a concealed revolver or a knife to the sessions—Congress narrowly passed the act.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed residents of Kansas to determine whether the state would be slave or free, sparked a violent struggle between proslavery and antislavery factions, both of whom flooded into the territory hoping to gain enough votes for their side to triumph. It also spurred a major party realignment.
Since the 1830s, the two main political parties in the United States had been the Democratic Party and the Whig Party. The parties disagreed mainly about economic policy. Whigs advocated for accelerated economic growth, often endorsing federal government projects to achieve that goal. Democrats wanted the federal government to play a smaller role in regulating the economy. Whigs tended to be wealthier; they were prominent planters in the South and wealthy urban northerners--in other words, the beneficiaries of the market revolution. Democrats presented themselves as defenders of the common people against the elite.
The issue of slavery began to crack the foundations of the Second Party System in the 1840s. The Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the Democratic Party along sectional lines, as half of the northern Democrats in the House voted against it. In 1848, the newly-formed Free Soil Party nominated former president Martin Van Buren and ran on an antislavery platform of “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.”
The Democrats divided along sectional lines as a result of the bill, and the Whig party, in decline in the early 1850s, found its political power slipping further. Most important, the Kansas-Nebraska Act gave rise to the Republican Party, a new political party that attracted northern Whigs, Democrats who shunned the Kansas-Nebraska Act, members of the Free-Soil Party, and assorted abolitionists.
As a result, the Republican Party became a solidly northern political organization, creating a new binary party system reflecting sectional fault lines along the question of slavery.
What do you think?
Imagine you were a Northern abolitionist when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. How would you respond?
Explain how the two-party system shifted at the end of the 1850s.
How did the new party system differ geographically from the Second Party System?
Want to join the conversation?
- Did John Brown's murder of five men near Pottawatomie Creek, in Kansas eventually lead to Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859? Then, a Federal court would convict Brown and sentence him to death.(19 votes)
- In a nutshell, yes. The murders at Pottawatomie were part of the escalation of tensions in "Bleeding Kansas" that eventually lead to Brown deciding to attempt to raid the Federal Armory at Harper's Ferry. He envisioned a liberation movement for enslaved African Americans, and he figured that the best way to arm them would be to take out the Armory. He wasn't successful in the raid, and was subsequently captured by a contingent of US Marines led by Robert E. Lee. After which he was tried & convicted of treason in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and executed by hanging.(32 votes)
- What were the end results of Kansas and Nebraska when it came to being a slave free state or a state which highly encouraged slavery?(10 votes)
- On January 29, 1861, Kansas is admitted to the Union as free state. It was the 34th state to join the Union. In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were organized as territories with popular sovereignty (popular vote) to decide the issue of slavery(11 votes)
- how did the two-party system change after 1850?(7 votes)
- The Republican Party was also formed after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It gained popularity among abolitionists, Whigs, and Democrats against the Act. The Republican Party also represented the sectional/regional divide over slavery, as it was predominantly in the North.(3 votes)
- Did senator Preston Brooks attend the speech and attack Charles Sumner right after the speech or did he travel to Charles Sumner to attack him? And if he did not attend the speech do you think that his plan was to attack Charles Sumner when he got there?(8 votes)
- Was Senator Preston Brooks arrested for the attack?(5 votes)
- Who created the Free Soil Party? Why were they even called that? Also, who were some major supporters of the party?(2 votes)
- Salmon P. Chase (Lawyer and Supreme Court Justice) was one of the most prominent members of the Free Soil Party. Former President Martin Van Buren became a candidate for president on this ticket. Also taking part were Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglas among many others. There are many other names of prominent people and organizers.
They were called the Free Soil Party because they were a single issue party that opposed the expansion of slavery to the western areas of the country.
Third political parties can be an interesting study and many of them have contributed to the culture of the day. For instance, a couple of parties contributed to the creation of The Wizard of Oz, and the themes of that story.(5 votes)
- Why was Charles Sumner considered a hero if he got beat with a cane?(0 votes)
- What part about him being beaten by a cane disqualifies him for heroism? Sumner stood up for what he believed was right, the admission of Kansas as a free state.(10 votes)
- The federal government during this time needed money to build what?(3 votes)
- Railroads, most likely. Due to the debates, some wanted railroads to aid Western expansion, and others didn't, though I think railroads were also being built North-South.(2 votes)
- Why are the southerners are intent to keep slavery as a means to survive?(3 votes)
- Property, inhumanity and racism.(1 vote)
- Why are the southerners are intent to keep slavery as a means to survive?(1 vote)
- The southerners wanted to keep slavery because it was their way of life as well as their source of income; slave owners relied on slaves to grow their crops, cook their meals, and serve in the household. Furthermore, slave owners could sell slaves and get a decent amount of money that way.(5 votes)