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The Kansas-Nebraska Act: the Civil War

  • Type of the document: Bill/law
  • Date of the document: 1854
  • The author of the document: The Congress of the United States

For what audience was the document written?

This legal act was primarily intended for the public administrators working in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Moreover, it was intended for people who had citizenships status because they were to decide whether slavery should or should not be legal in the newly-created states.

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Quote 3 things stated in the document that you think are important and explain why each is important

  1. And be it further enacted, That the legislative power and authority of said Territory shall be vested in the Governor and a Legislative Assembly.” (The Congress of the United States, unpaged). This quote is important because it shows that the Federal government of the United States enabled local authorities in the new territories of Nebraska and Kansas to enact laws independently. There was nothing unusual in this decision; however, this freedom of legislation also extended to slavery and its status in these lands. This provision demonstrates that the role of the Federal government was essentially minimized.
  2. “It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form an regulate their domestic institutions in their own way” (The Congress of the United States, unpaged). This statement had profound implications for the legal of status of slavery in the United States. The thing is that this provision eliminated the Missouri Compromise according to which the slavery had distinct regional boundaries. A citizen of the country could not legally own slaves if he was north of the parallel 36 30 (Forbes 274). The Missouri Compromise was essentially abolished by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It enabled people to decide whether slavery can should or should not be legitimized. Thus, this principle could later be applied to other territories of the United States (Eisenstark and Weber 70). This law could result in subsequent expansion of slavery across the country.
  3. “Every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years who shall be an actual resident of said Territory, and shall possess the qualifications hereinafter prescribed, shall be entitled to vote at the first election, and shall be eligible to any office…” (The Congress of the United States, unpaged). This sentence is significant because it shows that the law of the citizenship in the new territories was primarily based on the principle of exclusion, rather inclusion. Moreover, this provision implied that other inhabitants of the new territories had very little chance of receiving any political power. Thus, the problem was slavery was supposed to be resolved by a very limited segment of American population.

Explain why you think this document was written

This law was primarily aimed at creating the laws and regulating that could govern the interactions between the citizens of the new territories. However, its major goal was to address the problem of slavery in the United States. The creators of this bill tried to reconcile the opponents and advocates of slavery. They believed that by allowing the citizens to decide on this question, the government intended to minimize the risk of possible conflicts within the society (Goodrich, 9). This was the main objectives that legislators attempted to achieve. However, these attempts failed and the Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted into hostilities and violence.

What evidence in the document helped you know why it was written?

The authors of this document mention that the Congress will adhere to the principle of “non-intervention” and will not impose the laws about the status of slavery. Moreover, they suggest that citizens are free to decide. In other words, the Congress tried to act as a referee, but not as a decision-maker.

List and explain 2 things that tell about the life in the United States.

Hesitancy of the government

This document shows that the legislators were unable to decide what kind of attitude they had to adopt with regard to slavery. Thus, at the time when this document was written, there was not consensus among policy-makers and citizens. Most importantly, one can see that there is a significant divisive factor that could eventually result in conflicts among the citizens of the country.

The exclusionary policies of the state

The Kansas-Nebraska Act shows that at that time, very few people could participate in the political life of the country. Citizenship was the privilege of white males who reached a certain age (Isenberg, 192). Women, Native Americans, and black people were essentially erased from the political landscape.

Write a question to the author that is left unanswered by the document

How should the government act if the opponents and advocates of slavery begin to act violently against one another?

Works Cited

Eisenstark, Reyna and Weber, Jennifer. Abolitionism, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Print.

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Forbes, Robert. The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery & the Meaning of America, Raleigh: UNC Press, 2007. Print.

Goodrich, Thomas. War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Print.

Isenberg, Nancy. Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, Raleigh: UNC Press, 1998. Print.

The Congress of the United States, 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act. Web.

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