The Kansas-Nebraska Act: Opposition

A contemporary map of the territories. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

A contemporary map of the territories. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kansas-Nebraska Act changed forms rapidly. I have tried to keep up with that in the various posts, but a summary timeline might help:

  • Wednesday, January 4, 1854: Douglas introduces a new version of the Nebraska bill, repeating the slavery language used in the New Mexico and Utah territorial bills and leaving the Missouri Compromise untouched.
  • Tuesday, January 10, 1854: Douglas adds a section he claims “clerical error” omitted to the bill, which more strongly passed the slavery buck to territorial legislatures but still did not repeal the Missouri Compromise. Phillip Phillips and other Democrats begin to lean on Douglas to make more concessions.
  • Sunday, January 15, 1854: Dixon dictates his amendment to the Nebraska bill to his wife.
  • Monday, January 16, 1854: Archibald Dixon submits his radical repeal amendment to the bill.
  • Wednesday, January 18, 1854: Douglas goes for his fateful carriage ride with Dixon and comes out committed to repeal of the Missouri Compromise. On or about the same time, Douglas agrees to split the territory into Kansas and Nebraska.
  • Thursday, January 19, 1854: Douglas agrees to let Phillip Phillips write the slavery language for the bill, asking him to find the least radical phrasing that F Street will approve.
  • Friday, January 20, 1854: The Washington Union prints its last editorial condemning the repeal plan.
  • Saturday, January 21, 1854: The Pierce cabinet meets and most disapprove of repealing the compromise. They suggest to Douglas that he refer the matter to the courts. F Street rejects the idea. Late this night, the committee decide they have a workable bill with the repeal language and the territorial split in place, and resolve to report it out Monday.
  • Sunday, January 22, 1854: Douglas, the F Streeters, and Jefferson Davis call on Pierce and strongarm him into signing off on the repeal. The Washington Union endorses repeal and soon calls supporting it a test of party loyalty.
  • Monday, January 23, 1854: Douglas introduces the final form of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 1854: Douglas moved for the Senate to consider his new bill. Dixon announced his support as a proslavery man. The Senate agreed to hold off for a week so that members could read the bill thoroughly.
  • Monday, January 30, 1854: The Senate opens debate on the bill.

For much of this time, deliberation happened in secret. F Street approved the repeal language in a literal smoke-filled back room. Douglas and Dixon rode alone together on that fateful carriage ride. Phillip Phillips pleaded with F Street in private. The speed and secrecy had meant little initial outcry. But the various revisions to the bill and all the activity drew some attention. Douglas and Pierce had to expect a northern democratic revolt and antislavery men did not nod at the wheel, as Stephen Douglas archly noted when he rose to open debate on the bill on January 30th:

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

It will be born in mind that the Senator from Ohio [Mr. Chase], then objected to consideration of the bill, and asked for its postponement until this day, on the ground that there had not been time to understand and consider its provisions; and the Senator from Massachusetts [Mr. Sumner] suggested that the postponement be for one week, for that purpose. These suggestions seeming to be reasonable to Senators around me, I yielded to their request, and consented to the postponment of the bill until this day.

Sir, little did I suppose at the time that I granted that act of courtesy to those two Senators, that they had drafted and published to the world a document, over their own signatures, in which they arraigned me as having been guilty of a criminal betrayal of my trust, as having been guilty of an act of bad faith, and been engaged in an atrocious plot against the cause of free government. Little did I suppose that those two Senators had been guilty of such conduct when they called upon me to grant that courtesy, to give them an opportunity of investigating the substitute reported from the committee. I have since discovered that on that very morning the National Era, the Abolition organ in this city, contained an address, signed by certain Abolition confederates, to the people, in which the bill is grossly misrepresented, in which the action of the members of the committee is grossly falsified, in which our motives are arraigned, and our characters calumniated. And, sir, what is more, I find that there was a postscript added to the address, published that very morning, in which the principal amendment reported by the committee was set out, and then coarse epithets applied to me by name.

Douglas referred to a manifesto titled Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States: Shall slavery be permitted in Nebraska? The full text appears elusive online, but it begins in the Congressional Globe for the 33rd Congress on page 281. I use the archive fairly extensively, but direct linking to it seems not to work very well. The previous link is the best I can do. Sorry.


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