The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) was a significant piece of legislation because it dealt with several controversial issues, including SLAVERY, western expansion, and the construction of a transcontinental railroad.
Slavery was a widely debated divisive issue for many years preceding the Civil War and there were several attempts at conciliation. The first of these was the MISSOURI COMPROMISE OF 1820 (3 Stat. 545), which decided the slavery question in regard to the creation of two new states, Missouri and Maine. The compromise declared that Maine was to be admitted as a free state, while Missouri was allowed to enter the Union with no restrictions regarding slavery. Subsequently, however, Missouri entered as a slave state. The compromise also prohibited the extension of slavery north of the 36°30? latitude which established the southern border of Missouri.
The COMPROMISE OF 1850 (9 Stat. 452) settled another controversy concerning slavery and instituted the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which permitted the residents of the area to decide the question. When Texas and other new territories were acquired as a result of the
Mexican War in 1848, and California sought admission to the Union in 1849, the question again arose concerning the slave status of the new areas. The Compromise of 1850 provided that California be admitted as a free state and that the citizens of the new territories of New Mexico and Utah decide whether their states favored or opposed slavery, pursuant to the doctrine of popular sovereignty.
In 1854, the Kansas and Nebraska territories were the next areas subjected to a dispute over slavery. Senator STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS of Illinois drafted a bill calling for the creation of two states, Kansas and Nebraska, areas he felt were vital to the construction of a railroad to the Pacific coast. The question of slavery in these states would be decided by popular sovereignty. The reasons for Douglas's excessive concern are speculative but include his support of western expansion and his belief that the popular sovereignty doctrine would cause the least dispute; his hope that his business interests would profit by the construction of a transcontinental railroad with a Chicago terminus and a route through the new territories; and his desire to gain favor in the South to garner support for his future presidential aspirations.
In order for the Kansas-Nebraska...