Back to the Interactive Road to Civil War Timeline




The Kansas Nebraska Act was a bill introduced by Illinois Sen. Steven Douglas.  Douglas was a Democrat with presidential ambitions.  At the time, a debate arose over where to build the new Transcontinental Railroad. 

(Click here to hear an argument against Douglas' claim that Kansas will not vote for slavery)

     There were two proposed routes for the new railroad.  The first route would run through the north, while the second would take a southern route.  The nation only had enough resources at the time to build one railway.   Where ever the railroad was built would mean millions of dollars for those along its route.  Members of Congress haggled over the route and sought the one closest to their states.

     Steven Douglas hoped that Congress would choose the northern route for the railroad.  If they did, the city of Chicago would become a natural hub and stand to make millions of dollars.  The major problem with the northern route was that a large portion of the route would have to go through unorganized territories with no governments.  Congress did not want to invest millions of dollars into an unorganized territory.  Douglas knew that he must find a way to organize these territories if he was going to convince Congress to use the northern route.

Fortunately for Douglas, he was the Chairman of the Territories Committee in the Senate.  He proposed the Kansas Nebraska Bill that would organize the territory into the Kansas and Nebraska Territories.  In order to gain southern support for his idea in Congress, Douglas suggested that the new territories use "Popular Sovereignty" to decide the slavery question.  Popular Sovereignty allowed the people of a territory to vote prior to becoming a state to decide if they wanted to be a free or a slave state.

     During a nine month debate in Congress, Douglas assured northerners that Kansas would not vote for slavery in their territory.  He claimed that the climate in Kansas did not support the use of slavery.  Others disagreed with this assessment.  They pointed to Missouri, which was a slave state on the eastern border of Kansas.  (Click here to hear their argument).  In the end, Douglas was able to get Congress to pass the bill and President Pierce signed it into law.  Those opposed to the Kansas Nebraska Act pointed out that it destroyed the Missouri Compromise and the 36' 30" line.  The debate also divided and destroyed the Whig Party.  Years later, Congress would approve the northern route for the railroad during the Civil War.