The Kansas-Nebraska Act: Delay

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas had his bill. The next day, January 24, 1854, the Little Giant leaned on the Senate to get it considered. He complained that many Senators had not read his work, insisting that they had two weeks to mull it over and neglecting to mention the drastic revisions that took place in those two weeks. Ohio’s Salmon Chase, one of the two Free Soilers in the Senate rose to call Douglas out on that:

I hope the Senator from Illinois will not press the consideration of this bill this morning. As introduced originally by the Senator from Iowa, [Mr. Dodge] it was a simple bill which was presented to the Senate for its consideration at the last session.

Douglas knew that, of course. He wrote the bill, introduced it, and argued for its adoption in the final day of the 32nd Congress. But Douglas had to pretend he made only trifling revisions to satisfy everyone. He would not win northern votes by playing up his explosive capitulations to slavery. Chase would not let him off that easily. He rightly said that the bill

Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase (Free Soil-OH)

has since undergone very important changes in the hands of the Committee on Territories, and been printed and laid on the tables of Senators embodying these changes. Only yesterday the committee changed the form of the bill altogether, and proposed to create two Territories instead of one, and also changed materially the provisions upon other questions of very much public interest; and the bill thus having been changed in fact into two bills, has only been laid on the tables of Senators this morning, and I presume no one has had an opportunity to read it. It involves very important matters, and I think that when we take it up it should be with a determination to proceed with it until it shall be disposed of.

Though Douglas presented the bill the day previous, it took time for the Senate bureaucracy to print it up and distribute a copy to each Senator. With the bill only on their desks that morning, it stands to reason that not every Senator would have read it. Douglas probably preferred it that way and hoped for a hasty vote. He tried it last Congress, after all.

Michigan’s Lewis Cass, once Mr. Popular Sovereignty, joined Chase’s motion:

would it not be better to let the bill lie over until Monday? It embraces important points about which there will be a great deal of discussion, and many gentlemen say they have not read the bill, and are not prepared to enter upon its consideration. It seems to me, therefore, that just comity requires that in so important a measure there should be no appearance of precipitancy, nor should any effort to force any gentleman to consider it when he is not prepared to be permitted.

Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass (D-MI)

Just the day before, when Douglas submitted the bill for printing, he himself called it a replacement for the previous bill. He couldn’t get away with claiming he had in hand the same measure that he wrote the previous March and which Augustus Caesar Dodge resubmitted in December after that. But his political circumstances dictated that with the deed done, he not draw attention to it. Even with his confession on Monday, Douglas kept up the fiction that his bill only repeated the repeal already done in 1850.

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