The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed legislation prohibiting slavery and gave people in Kansas and Nebraska the right to determine their states’ official positions on that subject. Its significance can be seen in the resulting territorial changes, the formation of the Republican Party, and the growth of common people’s political power.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was enacted in 1854 by the thirty-third Congress of the United States. The adoption of this law is regarded as one of the key factors that increased tensions between different parts of the country in the middle of the nineteenth century and contributed to the Civil War.
The politician who proposed the Kansas Nebraska Act and drafted it was Stephen Douglas, a member of the Democratic Party who became a presidential candidate six years after the law was passed.
As for the main provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the law established the right of people in both states to decide on the legal status of slavery in their territories. The act also struck down the Missouri Compromise, which had been passed thirty-four years earlier to maintain the balance of power between Southern and Northern states.
The official purposes of the Kansas-Nebraska Act included the creation of new territories and developmental opportunities for the country. The act in question was also expected to remove barriers to the construction of transcontinental railways. However, the new projects and the country’s development are rarely discussed as effects of the Kansas-Nebraska Act because other devastating consequences have become the most well-known legacy of what has come to be called “Bleeding Kansas”.
The law’s significance can be seen in the introduction of major territorial changes to the country. Before its enactment, the lands of the two newly proposed states were part of the Indian Territories or unorganized territories that the U.S. government intended to use for the relocation of Indigenous Americans.
The act’s provisions were absolutely incompatible with the relocation policies of the time. Thus, instead of serving as the home for Native American tribes, Nebraska and Kansas became flooded by white Americans eager to promote their perspectives on slavery and win the ongoing ideological war.
Following the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the massive migration of white settlers, the U.S. government had to develop agreements with multiple American Indian tribes in Nebraska and Kansas to exchange their lands for reservations in other states.
The significance of the Kansas Nebraska Act is also inextricably connected to the introduction of innovative legislative practices and terms. The act was among a few laws that applied the ideas of popular sovereignty.
According to those laws, common people should be the main source of political power and should express their views and opinions with the help of their elected and trusted representatives. Of course, the opportunity to decide whether Kansas and Nebraska would permit or ban slavery further escalated the conflict between pro-slavery and abolitionist camps.
The act resulted sophisticated attempts by both movements to alter the results of the popular vote and contributed to the so-called “Bleeding Kansas” phenomenon. “Bleeding Kansas” was a series of severe civil conflicts over the legality of slavery, which took place in Kansas for seven years after the act’s adoption.
The act’s contributions to the formation of political movements and parties are another aspect of its significance. To some degree, the Kansas-Nebraska Act polarized American society by initiating a new round of the debate over slavery and its morality. In the mid-1850s, the opponents of this act attempted to maximize their political power by creating the U.S. Republican Party to replace the Whig Party, ausing intraparty splits and a decline in development.