Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

United States - Scott #1060-1061 (1954)
United States – Scott #1060-1061 (1954)

On May 30, 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act became law establishing the United States territories of Kansas and Nebraska. I lived in northeast Kansas for many years and spent a lot of time in southeast Nebraska as well. While we lived in an historical area of Tennessee previously (just down the road from Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage mansion), it was while going to junior high school near the old Shawnee Indian Mission that I first became interested in local history. Thus, ASAD has already covered the history of Kansas as a territory (using Scott #1061 as illustrated above, albeit a different copy) and as a state. Today’s article will detail debates leading to the Kansas-Nebraska Act itself with histories of the two territories created by it.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) was drafted by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and President Franklin Pierce. The initial purpose of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was to open up thousands of new farms and make feasible a Midwestern Transcontinental Railroad. The popular sovereignty clause of the law led pro- and anti-slavery elements to flood into Kansas with the goal of voting slavery up or down, resulting in Bleeding Kansas.

1850 map of the United States. Covers the United States from Texas (shown at fullest extant) and Santa Fe north through the Missouri Territory to Canada and east to the Atlantic. The Trans-Mississippi region is exceptionally interesting with a fascinating (if somewhat inaccurate even at the time) depiction of the political geography. A long narrow Nebraska Territory extends to Canada. There is a large “Western Territory
1850 map of the United States. Covers the United States from Texas (shown at fullest extant) and Santa Fe north through the Missouri Territory to Canada and east to the Atlantic. The Trans-Mississippi region is exceptionally interesting with a fascinating (if somewhat inaccurate even at the time) depiction of the political geography. A long narrow Nebraska Territory extends to Canada. There is a large “Western Territory” roughly where Oklahoma is today. New Mexico Territory is alternatively called Santa Fe Territory. Missouri Territory occupies the full region west of Nebraska. Texas shown with interesting detail, but lacks the Panhandle — an error common to European maps of Texas from this period. Undated but, published by the John Tallis & Company, London & New York in 1850-1852.

The availability of tens of millions of acres of excellent farmland in the area made it necessary to create a territorial infrastructure to allow settlement. Railroad interests were especially eager to start operations since they needed farmers as customers. Four previous attempts to pass legislation had failed. The solution was a bill proposed in January 1854 by Stephen A. Douglas: the Democratic Party leader in the U.S. Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and a fervent believer in popular sovereignty — the policy of letting the voters, almost exclusively white males, of a territory decide whether or not slavery should exist in it.

Since the 1840s, the topic of a transcontinental railroad had been discussed. While there were debates over the specifics, especially the route to be taken, there was a public consensus that such a railroad should be built by private interests, financed by public land grants. In 1845, Douglas, serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, had submitted an unsuccessful plan to organize the Nebraska Territory formally, as the first step in building a railroad with its eastern terminus in Chicago. Railroad proposals were debated in all subsequent sessions of Congress with cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Quincy, Memphis, and New Orleans competing to be the jumping-off point for the construction.

Several proposals in late 1852 and early 1853 had strong support, but they failed because of disputes over whether the railroad would follow a northern or a southern route. In early 1853, the House of Representatives passed a bill 107 to 49 to organize the Nebraska Territory in the land west of Iowa and Missouri. In March, the bill moved to the Senate Committee on Territories, which was headed by Douglas. Missouri Senator David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slavery was allowed. While the bill was silent on this issue, slavery would have been prohibited, under the Missouri Compromise. Other Southern senators were as inflexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the Senate voted to table the motion, with every senator from the states south of Missouri voting to table.

Photograph of Stephen Arnold Douglas taken between 1855 and 1861. Image is part of Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. --
Photograph of Stephen Arnold Douglas taken between 1855 and 1861. Image is part of Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. — “The great principle of self government is at stake, and surely the people of this country are never going to decide that the principle upon which our whole republican system rests is vicious and wrong.”

During the Senate adjournment, the issues of the railroad and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise became entangled in Missouri politics, as Atchison campaigned for re-election against the forces of Thomas Hart Benton. Atchison was maneuvered into choosing between antagonizing the state’s railroad interests or its slaveholders. Finally, Atchison took the position that he would rather see Nebraska “sink in hell” before he would allow it to be overrun by free soilers.

The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections as well as in some state elections. A single-issue party, its main purpose was to oppose the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, arguing that free men on free soil constituted a morally and economically superior system to slavery. It also sometimes worked to remove existing laws that discriminated against freed African Americans in states such as Ohio.

Representatives then generally found lodging in boarding houses when they were in the nation’s capital to perform their legislative duties. Atchison shared lodgings in an F Street house, shared by the leading Southerners in Congress. Atchison himself was the Senate’s president pro tempore. His housemates included Robert T. Hunter (from Virginia, chairman of the Finance Committee), James Mason (from Virginia, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee) and Andrew P. Butler (from South Carolina, chairman of the Judiciary Committee). When Congress reconvened on December 5, 1853, the group, termed the F Street Mess, along with Virginian William O. Goode, formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Douglas was aware of the group’s opinions and power and knew that he needed to address its concerns.

Iowa Senator Augustus C. Dodge immediately reintroduced the same legislation to organize Nebraska that had stalled in the previous session; it was referred to Douglas’s committee on December 14. Douglas, hoping to achieve the support of the Southerners, publicly announced that the same principle that had been established in the Compromise of 1850 should apply in Nebraska.

Map of the United States showing the results of the Mexican-American War and the Compromise of 1850.
Map of the United States showing the results of the Mexican-American War and the Compromise of 1850.

In the Compromise of 1850, Utah and New Mexico Territories had been organized without any restrictions on slavery, and many supporters of Douglas argued that the compromise had already superseded the Missouri Compromise. The two territories, however, unlike Nebraska, had not been part of the Louisiana Purchase and had never been subject to the Missouri Compromise.

The bill was reported to the main body of the Senate on January 4, 1854. It had been modified by Douglas, who had also authored the New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory Acts, to mirror the language from the Compromise of 1850. In the bill, a vast new Nebraska Territory was created to extend from Kansas north all the way to the 49th parallel, the US–Canada border. A large portion of Nebraska Territory would soon be split off into Dakota Territory (1861), and smaller portions transferred to Colorado Territory (1861) and Idaho Territory (1863) before the balance of the land became the State of Nebraska in 1867.

Furthermore, any decisions on slavery in the new lands were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.” In a report accompanying the bill, Douglas’s committee wrote that the Utah and New Mexico Acts

…were intended to have a far more comprehensive and enduring effect than the mere adjustment of the difficulties arising out of the recent acquisition of Mexican territory. They were designed to establish certain great principles, which would not only furnish adequate remedies for existing evils, but, in all time to come, avoid the perils of a similar agitation, by withdrawing the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, and committing it to the arbitrament of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for its consequences.

The report compared the situation in New Mexico and Utah with the situation in Nebraska. In the first instance, many had argued that slavery had previously been prohibited under Mexican law, just as it was prohibited in Nebraska under the Missouri Compromise. Just as the creation of New Mexico and Utah territories had not ruled on the validity of Mexican law on the acquired territory, the Nebraska bill was neither “affirming or repealing… the Missouri act.” In other words, popular sovereignty was being established by ignoring, rather than addressing, the problem presented by the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise is the title generally attached to the legislation passed by the 16th United States Congress on May 9, 1820. The measures provided for the admission of Maine as a free state along with Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South. As part of the compromise, slavery was prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri. President James Monroe signed the legislation on March 6, 1820.
The Missouri Compromise is the title generally attached to the legislation passed by the 16th United States Congress on May 9, 1820. The measures provided for the admission of Maine as a free state along with Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South. As part of the compromise, slavery was prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri. President James Monroe signed the legislation on March 6, 1820.

Douglas’s attempt to finesse his way around the Missouri Compromise did not work. Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon believed that unless the Missouri Compromise was explicitly repealed, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, who would most likely oppose slavery. On January 16, Dixon surprised Douglas by introducing an amendment that would repeal the section of the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel. Douglas met privately with Dixon and in the end, despite his misgivings on Northern reaction, agreed to accept Dixon’s arguments.

From a political standpoint, the Whig Party had been in decline in the South because of the effectiveness with which it had been hammered by the Democratic Party over slavery. The Southern Whigs hoped that by seizing the initiative on this issue, they would be identified as strong defenders of slavery. Many Northern Whigs broke with them in the Act. The party eventually died by the division over the issue.

A similar amendment was offered in the House by Philip Phillips of Alabama. With the encouragement of the “F Street Mess”, Douglas met with them and Phillips to ensure that the momentum for passing the bill remained with the Democratic Party. They arranged to meet with President Franklin Pierce to ensure that the issue would be declared a test of party loyalty within the Democratic Party.

Portrait of Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) by Mathew Brady, taken between 1855 and 1865. The Library of Congress describes this as
Portrait of United States President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) by Mathew Brady, taken between 1855 and 1865. The Library of Congress describes this as “Copy neg. from original ink by Brady after Daguerreotype”. Restoration by Adam Cuerden.

Pierce had barely mentioned Nebraska in his State of the Union message the previous month and was not enthusiastic about the implications of repealing the Missouri Compromise. Close advisors Senator Lewis Cass, a proponent of popular sovereignty as far back as 1848 as an alternative to the Wilmot Proviso, and Secretary of State William L. Marcy both told Pierce that repeal would create serious political problems. The full cabinet met and only Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of Navy James C. Dobbin supported repeal. Instead the president and cabinet submitted to Douglas an alternative plan that would have sought out a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise. Both Pierce and Attorney General Caleb Cushing believed that the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional.

Douglas’s committee met later that night. Douglas was agreeable to the proposal, but the Atchison group was not. Determined to offer the repeal to Congress on January 23 but reluctant to act without Pierce’s commitment, Douglas arranged through Davis to meet with Pierce on January 22 even though it was a Sunday, when Pierce generally refrained from conducting any business. Douglas was accompanied at the meeting by Atchison, Hunter, Phillips, and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.

Douglas and Atchison first met alone with Pierce before the whole group convened. Pierce was persuaded to support repeal, and at Douglas’ insistence, Pierce provided a written draft, asserting that the Missouri Compromise had been made inoperative by the principles of the Compromise of 1850. Pierce later informed his cabinet, which concurred in the change of direction. The Washington Union, the communications organ for the administration, wrote on January 24 that support for the bill would be “a test of Democratic orthodoxy.”

On January 23, a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the Unorganized Territory into two territories: Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa, who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory were created. Existing language to affirm the application of all other laws of the United States in the new territory was supplemented by the language agreed on with Pierce: “except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March 6, 1820, which was superseded by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures, and is declared inoperative.” Identical legislation was soon introduced in the House.

“The United States Senate, A.D. 1850” drawn by Peter F. Rothermel and engraved by Robert Whitechurch. The engraving depicts the Golden Age of the United States Senate in the Old Senate Chamber, site of many of the institution’s most memorable events. Here, Henry Clay, “the Great Compromiser,” introduces the Compromise of 1850 in his last significant act as a senator. In a desperate attempt to prevent war from erupting, the “Great Triumvirate,” of Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Clay of Kentucky struggled to balance the interests of the North, South, and West. This image shows all three men, with Clay at center stage, presenting his compromise to the Senate. Daniel Webster is seated to the left of Clay and John C. Calhoun to the left of the Speaker’s chair. Published by John M. Butler and Alfred Long, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1855.

Historian Allan Nevins wrote that “two interconnected battles began to rage, one in Congress and one in the country at large: each fought with a pertinacity, bitterness, and rancor unknown even in Wilmot Proviso days.” In Congress, the freesoilers were at a distinct disadvantage. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known” led a tightly disciplined party. It was in the nation at large that the opponents of Nebraska hoped to achieve a moral victory. The New York Times, which had earlier supported Pierce, predicted that this would be the final straw for Northern supporters of the slavery forces and would “create a deep-seated, intense, and ineradicable hatred of the institution which will crush its political power, at all hazards, and at any cost.”

The day after the bill was reintroduced, two Ohioans, Representative Joshua Giddings and Senator Salmon P. Chase, published a free-soil response, “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States:

We arraign this bill as a gross violation of a sacred pledge; as a criminal betrayal of precious rights; as part and parcel of an atrocious plot to exclude from a vast unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers from our own States, and convert it into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.

Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler. An 1854 cartoon depicts a giant free soiler being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the Democratic platform marked
Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler. An 1854 cartoon depicts a giant free soiler being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the Democratic platform marked “Kansas,” “Cuba,” and “Central America”, referring to accusations that southerners wanted to annex areas in Latin America to expand slavery. Franklin Pierce also holds down the giant’s beard, as Stephen A. Douglas shoves a black man down his throat.

Douglas took the appeal personally and responded in Congress, when the debate was opened on January 30 before a full House and packed gallery. Douglas biographer Robert W. Johanssen described part of the speech:

Douglas charged the authors of the “Appeal”, whom he referred to throughout as the “Abolitionist confederates”, with having perpetrated a “base falsehood” in their protest. He expressed his own sense of betrayal, recalling that Chase, “with a smiling face and the appearance of friendship”, had appealed for a postponement of debate on the ground that he had not yet familiarized himself with the bill. “Little did I suppose at the time that I granted that act of courtesy,” Douglas remarked, that Chase and his compatriots had published a document “in which they arraigned me as having been guilty of a criminal betrayal of my trust,” of bad faith, and of plotting against the cause of free government. While other Senators were attending divine worship, they had been “assembled in a secret conclave”, devoting the Sabbath to their own conspiratorial and deceitful purposes.

The debate would continue for four months, as many Anti-Nebraska political rallies were held across the north. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Chase, William Seward, of New York, and Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, led the opposition. The New-York Tribune wrote on March 2:

The unanimous sentiment of the North is indignant resistance…. The whole population are full of it. The feeling in 1848 was far inferior to this in strength and universality.

The debate in the Senate concluded on March 4, 1854, when Douglas, beginning near midnight on March 3, made a five-and-a-half-hour speech. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free-state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor, and slave-state senators supported the bill 23 to 2.

On March 21, 1854, as a delaying tactic in the House of Representatives, the legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled. Davis and Cushing, from Massachusetts, along with Douglas, spearheaded the partisan efforts. By the end of April, Douglas believed that there were enough votes to pass the bill. The House leadership then began a series of roll call votes in which legislation ahead of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was called to the floor and tabled without debate.

Thomas Hart Benton, nicknamed
Thomas Hart Benton, nicknamed “Old Bullion”, was a United States Senator from Missouri. A member of the Democratic Party, he was an architect and champion of westward expansion by the United States, a cause that became known as Manifest Destiny. Benton served in the Senate from 1821 to 1851, becoming the first member of that body to serve five terms. “What is the excuse for all this turmoil and mischief? We are told it is to keep the question of slavery out of Congress! Great God! It was out of Congress, completely, entirely, and forever out of Congress, unless Congress dragged it in by breaking down the sacred laws which settled it!”

Thomas Hart Benton was among those speaking forcefully against the measure. On April 25, in a House speech that biographer William Nisbet Chambers called “long, passionate, historical, [and] polemical,” Benton attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which he “had stood upon … above thirty years, and intended to stand upon it to the end — solitary and alone, if need be; but preferring company.” The speech was distributed afterwards as a pamphlet when opposition to the act moved outside the walls of Congress.

It was not until May 8 that the debate began in the House. The debate was even more intense than in the Senate. While it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the bill would pass, the opponents went all out to fight it. Historian Michael Morrison wrote:

A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, nearly provoked the House into a war of more than words. Campbell, joined by other antislavery northerners, exchanged insults and invectives with southerners, neither side giving quarter. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Finally, bumptiousness gave way to violence. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democrat, well oiled and well armed, had to be restrained from making a violent attack on Campbell. Only after the sergeant at arms arrested him, debate was cut off, and the House adjourned did the melee subside.

The floor debate was handled by Alexander Stephens, of Georgia, who insisted that the Missouri Compromise had never been a true compromise but had been imposed on the South. He argued that the issue was whether republican principles, “that the citizens of every distinct community or State should have the right to govern themselves in their domestic matters as they please,” would be honored.

The final vote in favor of the bill was 113 to 100. Northern Democrats supported the bill 44 to 42, but all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. Southern Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2, and southern Whigs supported it by 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30, 1854.

Colton's map of Nebraska and Kansas, 1855 (first edition), based on an earlier wall map produced by Colton and D. Griffing Johnson. The map details the regions between the Great Salt Lake and Iowa and between the Canadian Border and New Mexico and covers territorial Kansas and Nebraska as well as parts of adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Utah. When this map was printed Nebraska and Kansas had only recently been opened for settlement. Both regions were sparsely inhabited by the diverse yet powerful Indian nations of Comanches, Kioways, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Sioux, Dacotahs, Poncas, Pawnee's, Omahas, Missouris, Delawares, Shawnee, Osages, Crow, Black, and others - whose territorial claims Colton notes. Colton also notes three of the routes proposed for the Pacific Railroad, the Stevens route far to the north, the Beswith route running through the center of the map, and the Gunnison Route passing through Kansas. This map further identifies various forts, rivers, mountain passes, fords, and an assortment of additional topographical detail. Map is hand colored in pink, green, yellow and blue pastels to define territory and state boundaries. Surrounded by Colton's typical spiral motif border. Dated and copyrighted to J. H. Colton, 1855. Published from Colton's 172 William Street Office in New York City. Issued as page no. 50 in volume 1 of the first edition of George Washington Colton's 1855 Atlas of the World .
Colton’s map of Nebraska and Kansas, 1855 (first edition), based on an earlier wall map produced by Colton and D. Griffing Johnson. The map details the regions between the Great Salt Lake and Iowa and between the Canadian Border and New Mexico and covers territorial Kansas and Nebraska as well as parts of adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Utah. When this map was printed Nebraska and Kansas had only recently been opened for settlement. Both regions were sparsely inhabited by the diverse yet powerful Indian nations of Comanches, Kioways, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Sioux, Dacotahs, Poncas, Pawnee’s, Omahas, Missouris, Delawares, Shawnee, Osages, Crow, Black, and others – whose territorial claims Colton notes. Colton also notes three of the routes proposed for the Pacific Railroad, the Stevens route far to the north, the Beswith route running through the center of the map, and the Gunnison Route passing through Kansas. This map further identifies various forts, rivers, mountain passes, fords, and an assortment of additional topographical detail. Map is hand colored in pink, green, yellow and blue pastels to define territory and state boundaries. Surrounded by Colton’s typical spiral motif border. Dated and copyrighted to J. H. Colton, 1855. Published from Colton’s 172 William Street Office in New York City. Issued as page no. 50 in volume 1 of the first edition of George Washington Colton’s 1855 Atlas of the World .

The immediate responses to the passing of the Kansas–Nebraska Act fell into two classes. The less common response was held by Douglas’s supporters, who believed that the bill would withdraw “the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, committing it to the arbitration of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for, its consequences.” In other words, they believed that the Act would leave decisions about slavery in the hands of the people, rather than under the carefully-balanced jurisdiction of the Federal government. The far more common response was one of outrage, interpreting Douglas’s actions as part of “an atrocious plot.” Especially in the eyes of northerners, the Kansas–Nebraska Act was aggression and an attack on the power and beliefs of free states. The response led to calls for public action against the South, as seen in broadsides that advertised gatherings in northern states to discuss publicly what to do about the presumption of the Act.

Kansas Territory extended from the Missouri border west to the summit of the Rocky Mountains and from the 37th parallel north to the 40th parallel north. Much of the eastern region of what is now the State of Colorado was part of the territory. The Territory of Colorado was created to govern this western region of the former Kansas Territory on February 28, 1861.

Within a few days after the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, hundreds of Missourians crossed into the adjacent territory, selected a section of land, and then united with fellow-adventurers in a meeting or meetings, intending to establish a pro-slavery preemption upon all this region. As early as June 10, 1854, the Missourians held a meeting at Salt Creek Valley, a trading post 3 miles (5 km) west from Fort Leavenworth, at which a “Squatter’s Claim Association” was organized. They said they were in favor of making Kansas a slave state if it should require half the citizens of Missouri, musket in hand, to emigrate there. According to these emigrants, abolitionists would do well not to stop in Kansas Territory, but keep on up the Missouri River until they reach Nebraska Territory, which was anticipated to be a free state. Before the first arrival of Free-State emigrants from the northern and eastern States, nearly every desirable location along the Missouri River had been claimed by men from western Missouri, by virtue of the preemption laws.

Emigration from the free states, including New England, Iowa, Ohio, and other Midwestern states, flowed into Kansas Territory beginning in 1854. These emigrants were known as Free-Staters. Because Missourians had claimed much of the land closest to the border, the Free-Staters were forced to establish settlements further into Kansas Territory. Among these were Lawrence, Topeka, and Manhattan.

To protect themselves against the encroachments of non-residents, the “Actual Settlers’ Association of Kansas Territory” was formed. This association held a meeting on August 12, 1854, the object being the adoption of some regulations that should afford protection to the Free-State settlers, under laws not unlike those adopted by the pro-slavery squatters in the border region east.

Andrew Horatio Reeder (July 12, 1807 – July 5, 1864) was the first governor of the Territory of Kansas.
Andrew Horatio Reeder (July 12, 1807 – July 5, 1864) was the first governor of the Territory of Kansas.

The first territorial appointments, looking to the inauguration of a local government, under the provisions of the organic law, were made in June and July 1854. The officers appointed by President Pierce, whose appointments were confirmed by the United States Senate, and who entered upon the duties of their officer. The first governor was Andrew Horatio Reeder (of Easton, Pennsylvania) was appointed June 29, 1854 and removed July 28, 1858.

On November 29, 1854, Border Ruffians from Missouri elected a pro-slavery territorial representative to Congress. On March 30, 1855, armed Ruffians entered Kansas during the territory’s first legislative election and voted in a pro-slavery Territorial Legislature. Antislavery candidates prevailed in one election district, the future Riley County.

The Border Ruffians interfered in territorial elections, and attacked Free-State settlements. This violence was the origin of the phrase “Bleeding Kansas”. The Ruffians contributed to the growing sectional tensions, driven by the rhetoric of leaders such as U.S. Senator David Rice Atchison of Missouri, who called Northerners “negro thieves” and “abolitionist tyrants.” He encouraged Missourians to defend their institution “with the bayonet and with blood” and, if necessary, “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.” Notably, only a few of the Border Ruffians actually owned slaves; most were too poor. What motivated them was hatred of Yankees and abolitionists, and fear of free blacks living nearby.

Postcard showing the first Territorial Capitol Building of Kansas at Pawnee.

Postcard and photograph of the building which served as the first Territorial Capitol of Kansas during five days in July 1855. The building stands on the site of the former town of Pawnee, now on the grounds of Fort Riley, Kansas.
Postcard and photograph of the building which served as the first Territorial Capitol of Kansas during five days in July 1855. The building stands on the site of the former town of Pawnee, now on the grounds of Fort Riley, Kansas.

The first session of the legislature was held in Pawnee, Kansas (within the boundary of modern-day Fort Riley) at the request of Governor Reeder. Today, the two-story building that housed the first Territorial Capitol of Kansas is the sole remaining structure of the former town of Pawnee. It served as the seat of the legislature for five days from July 2–6, 1855, before it was moved to nearer Missouri to the Shawnee Methodist Mission in present-day Fairway, Kansas. The town became part of neighboring Fort Riley. After falling into disrepair, the structure was restored in 1928 and today it serves as a history museum operated by the Kansas Historical Society and supported through The Partners of the First Territorial Capitol.

The first Free-state mass-meeting was in Lawrence on the evening of June 8, 1855; it was stated that persons from Missouri had invaded and had stolen elections to the legislature of the territory.

Future U.S. Senator James Henry Lane joined the Free-State movement in 1855 and became president of the Topeka Constitutional Convention, which met from October 23 to November 11, 1855. He was later a leader of Jayhawkers —  militant bands affiliated with the free-state cause who were against slavery and in favor of individual liberty. These gangs were guerrilla fighters who often clashed with the pro-slavery Border Ruffians.

Far more Free-State settlers moved to Kansas than pro-slavery settlers. The Border Ruffians engaged in general violence against Free-State settlements. They burned farms and sometimes murdered Free-State men. Most notoriously, the Ruffians twice attacked Lawrence, Kansas, the Free-State capital. On December 1, 1855, a small army of mainly Border Ruffians laid siege to Lawrence, but were driven off. On May 21, 1856, an 800-strong army of Ruffians and pro-slavery activists, led by the Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, attacked and ransacked the town of Lawrence, which had been founded by anti-slavery settlers from Massachusetts, who were hoping to make Kansas a “free state”. During the sacking of Lawrence, the posse destroyed two abolitionist newspaper offices (the Kansas Free State and the Herald of Freedom), the fortified Free State Hotel, and the Mount Oread house of Charles Robinson (the free-state militia commander-in-chief and leader of the Free State government established in opposition to the pro-slavery Territorial Government). One of Jones’s men died during the attack after he was struck by falling masonry.

In 1938–40, American painter John Steuart Curry painted Tragic Prelude, a mural of Brown holding a gun and a Bible, in the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka.
In 1938–40, American painter John Steuart Curry painted Tragic Prelude, a mural of Brown holding a gun and a Bible, in the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka.

Free-State settlers sometimes struck back. Free-State irregulars (known as Jayhawkers, Redlegs, or Redleggers) attacked pro-slavery settlers and suspected Ruffian sympathizers. During the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence, John Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers — some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles — killed five settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas. Brown had been outraged by both the violence of pro-slavery forces and by what he saw as a weak and cowardly response by the anti-slavery partisans and the Free State settlers, whom he described as cowards, or worse. In addition, two days before this massacre, Brown learned about the caning of abolitionist Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks on the floor of Congress. Later, Brown also helped defend a few dozen Free-State supporters from several hundred angry pro-slavery supporters at Osawatomie.

American Unitarian minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson became a founding member of the Kansas Aid Committee in the summer of 1856. During the guerrilla war in the Kansas Territory between proslavery and antislavery settlers, the committee worked to recruit abolitionist settlers, raised funds for them to migrate to Kansas, and equipped them with rifles to use against the Border Ruffians.

Hostilities between the factions reached a state of low-intensity civil war, which was damaging to President Pierce. The new Republican Party sought to capitalize on the scandal of Bleeding Kansas. Routine ballot-rigging and intimidation, practiced by both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, failed to deter the immigration of anti-slavery settlers, who eventually became the majority of the population.

In 1857, pro-slavery settlers in Kansas proposed the Lecompton Constitution for the future state of Kansas. The Ruffians tried to get the Lecompton Constitution adopted with additional fraud and violence, but by then there were too many Free-Staters there.

The last legislative act of the Territorial Legislature was the approval of the charter for the College of the Sisters of Bethany. This was February 2, 1861—four days after James Buchanan signed the act of Congress that officially brought Kansas into the Union.

Changes to the boundaries of Kansas Territory, 1854-1861.
Changes to the boundaries of Kansas Territory, 1854-1861.

A new territory was organized in the wake of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858–1861 which brought the first large concentration of white settlement to the region. The boundary lines drawn in 1860, Colorado Territory was officially organized by Act of Congress on February 28, 1861, out of lands previously part of the Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico territories. Kansas had achieved statehood on January 29.

The violence in the state not only continued during the American Civil War of 1861-1865, but escalated tremendously. Many of the former Border Ruffians became pro-Confederate guerrillas. They operated in western Missouri, sometimes raiding into Kansas, and Union forces campaigned to suppress them. Farms were burned and looted. Suspected guerrillas were killed; guerrillas killed Union sympathizers and suspected informers. Many of the Union troops involved were Kansas Jayhawkers, and had deep grudges against Missourians. Jayhawkers destroyed several towns in Missouri, such as Osceola. The destruction of Osceola is depicted in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Life was much calmer north of the 40th parallel in the Nebraska Territory. It was bounded on the west by the Continental Divide between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; on the north by the 49th parallel north (the boundary between the United States and Canada), and on the east by the White Earth and Missouri rivers. However, the creation of new territories by acts of Congress progressively reduced the size of Nebraska.

 Survey monument JF00-072, located on Nebraska-Kansas state line at intersection of Nebraska counties Thayer and Jefferson and Kansas counties Washington and Republic; marking the intersection of 40 degrees north latitude and the Sixth Principal Meridian. Monuments and historical marker, seen from the west. Photo taken on March 9, 2012.
Survey monument JF00-072, located on Nebraska-Kansas state line at intersection of Nebraska counties Thayer and Jefferson and Kansas counties Washington and Republic; marking the intersection of 40 degrees north latitude and the Sixth Principal Meridian. Monuments and historical marker, seen from the west. Photo taken on March 9, 2012.

Several trading posts, forts and towns were established in the Nebraska Territory from the early 19th century through 1867, including Fontenelle’s Post founded in the present-day site of Bellevue in 1806. It was first mentioned in fur trading records in 1823. Fort Lisa, founded by Manuel Lisa near present-day Dodge Park in North Omaha was founded in 1812, although Lisa had earlier founded posts further up the Missouri River in Montana and North Dakota. With a variety of early fur trading posts, Fort Atkinson, founded in 1819 on the Council Bluff, was the location of the first military post in what became the Nebraska Territory, as well as its first school. In 1822, Cabanne’s Trading Post was founded nearby on the Missouri River.

Mormon settlers founded Cutler’s Park in 1846, and the town of Bellevue was incorporated in 1853. Nearby Omaha City was founded in 1854, with Nebraska City and Kearney incorporated in 1855. The influential towns of Brownville and Fontanelle were founded that year as well. The early village of Lancaster, later called Lincoln, was founded in 1856, along with the towns of Saratoga, South Nebraska City and Florence. Other posts in the Nebraska Territory included Fort Kearny near present-day Kearney; Fort McPherson near present-day Maxwell; Fort Mitchell near present-day Scottsbluff; Fort Randall, in what is now South Dakota; and Fort Caspar, Fort Halleck, Fort Laramie, and Fort Sanders, in what is now Wyoming.

In 1853, William D. Brown operated the Lone Tree Ferry to shuttle California Gold Rush prospectors and Oregon Trail settlers across the river between Kanesville, Iowa and the Nebraska Territory. The Lone Tree Ferry eventually became the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company. “Omaha City” was organized by the owners of the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry Company to lure the proposed transcontinental railroad to Council Bluffs. Alfred D. Jones, Omaha City’s first postmaster, platted the town site early in 1854, months after the Kansas-Nebraska Act created the Nebraska Territory.

Omaha Central High School sits on the site of the old capitol building on Capital Hill in downtown Omaha. On November 10, 1859, Omaha High School opened in the Nebraska Territory capitol building. In 1869, after the territorial government was removed from Omaha, the capitol building was donated to the City of Omaha by the Nebraska state government for educational use only. In 1870, it was demolished. replaced two years later by a four-story building that hosted kindergarten through twelfth grades. In 1900, a new building was begun that encircled the second school, which was dismantled by 1912. Photo taken on May 30, 2010.
Omaha Central High School sits on the site of the old capitol building on Capital Hill in downtown Omaha. On November 10, 1859, Omaha High School opened in the Nebraska Territory capitol building. In 1869, after the territorial government was removed from Omaha, the capitol building was donated to the City of Omaha by the Nebraska state government for educational use only. In 1870, it was demolished. replaced two years later by a four-story building that hosted kindergarten through twelfth grades. In 1900, a new building was begun that encircled the second school, which was dismantled by 1912. Photo taken on May 30, 2010.

Late in 1854, Omaha was chosen as the territorial capital for Nebraska. In 1855, during a land grab a group of businessmen formed the Omaha Land Company and platted Scriptown to reward Nebraska Territory legislators for their votes for statehood. After Baker v. Morton in 1857, this type of land baron-like behavior was made illegal; by that time lots had been developed and Scriptown quickly became part of several neighborhoods, including Gifford Park, Prospect Hill and the Near North Side.

The small city suffered greatly in the economic Panic of 1857; however, the presence of the capital is credited for keeping the town alive. For several years Omaha enjoyed its status as the capitol of the Nebraska Territory, although not without contention. In January 1858, a group of representatives illegally moved the Nebraska Territorial Legislature to Florence following a violent outburst at the State Capitol in Omaha. After repeatedly being dogged out of voting on the removal of the Capitol from Omaha, a skirmish pitted representatives from Nebraska City, Florence, and other communities to convene outside of Omaha. Despite having a majority of members present for the vote to remove the Capitol and all agreeing, the “Florence Legislature” did not succeed in swaying the Nebraska Territory governor, and the Capitol remained in Omaha until 1867 when Nebraska gained statehood. When Omaha eventually lost the capital to Lincoln (then called Lancaster) in 1867, the city was by then strong enough to maintain economic growth for a period of time.

Most settlers were farmers, but another major economic activity involved support for travelers using the Platte River trails. After gold was discovered in Wyoming in 1859, a rush of speculators followed overland trails through the interior of Nebraska. The Missouri River towns became important terminals of an overland freighting business that carried goods brought up the river in steamboats over the plains to trading posts and Army forts in the mountains. Stagecoaches provided passenger, mail, and express service, and for a few months in 1860–1861 the Pony Express provided mail service.

Many wagon trains trekked through Nebraska on the way west. They were assisted by soldiers at Ft. Kearny and other Army forts guarding the Platte River Road between 1846 and 1869. Fort commanders assisted destitute civilians by providing them with food and other supplies while those who could afford it purchased supplies from post sutlers. Travelers also received medical care, had access to blacksmithing and carpentry services for a fee, and could rely on fort commanders to act as law enforcement officials. Fort Kearny also provided mail services and, by 1861, telegraph services. Moreover, soldiers facilitated travel by making improvements on roads, bridges, and ferries. The forts additionally gave rise to towns along the Platte River route.

Relief map of the Dakota and Nebraska Territories and State of Kansas, 1862.
Relief map of the Dakota and Nebraska Territories and State of Kansas, 1862.
Territorial evolution of Nebraska Territory and the State of Nebraska, United States, 1854–1882. The colored area indicates the largest extent of Nebraska Territory. The black lines indicate modern state boundaries. The red line is the Continental Divide.
Territorial evolution of Nebraska Territory and the State of Nebraska, United States, 1854–1882. The colored area indicates the largest extent of Nebraska Territory. The black lines indicate modern state boundaries. The red line is the Continental Divide.

The Colorado Territory was formed February 28, 1861 from portions of the Nebraska Territory south of 41° N and west of 102°03′ W (25° W of Washington, D.C.) (an area that includes present-day Fort Collins, Greeley and the portions of Boulder north of Baseline Road, in addition to portions of Kansas Territory, New Mexico Territory, and Utah Territory). March 2, 1861, saw the creation of the Dakota Territory. It was made of all of the portions of Nebraska Territory north of 43° N (the present-day Nebraska–South Dakota border), along with the portion of present-day Nebraska between 43° N and the Keya Paha and Niobrara rivers (this land would be returned to Nebraska in 1882). The act creating the Dakota Territory also included provisions granting Nebraska small portions of Utah Territory and Washington Territory — present-day southwestern Wyoming bounded by 41° N, 110°03′ W (33° W of Washington, D.C.), 43° N, and the Continental Divide. These portions had not been part of the Louisiana Purchase; rather, they had been part of Oregon Country and became part of the United States in 1846. On March 3, 1863, the Idaho Territory was formed of all the territory west of 104°03′ W (27° W of Washington, D.C.).

Governor Alvin Saunders guided the territory during the American Civil War (1861–1865), as well as the first two years of the postbellum era. He worked with the territorial legislature to help define the borders of Nebraska, as well as to raise troops to serve in the Union Army. No battles were fought in the territory, but Nebraska raised three regiments of cavalry to help the war effort, and more than 3,000 men served in the military.

An enabling act was passed by Congress in 1864. Delegates for a constitutional convention were elected; this convention did not produce a constitution. Two years later, in 1866, a constitution was drafted and voted upon. It was approved by 100 votes. However, a clause in this constitution that limited suffrage to “free white males” delayed Nebraska’s entry into the Union for almost a year. The 1866 enabling act for the state was subject to a pocket veto by President Andrew Johnson. There was some controversy over Nebraska’s admission as a state, in view of a provision in the 1866 constitution restricting suffrage to White voters.

On February 8, 1867, the United States Congress voted to admit Nebraska as a state provided that suffrage was not denied to non-white voters. The bill admitting Nebraska as a state was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but the veto was overridden by a supermajority in both Houses of Congress. Nebraska became the first–and to this day the only–state to be admitted to the Union by means of a veto override.

Map of Nebraska and Kansas, drawn in 1868.
Map of Nebraska and Kansas, drawn in 1868.
Modern highway map of Nebraska and Kansas.
Modern highway map of Nebraska and Kansas.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act divided the nation and pointed it toward civil war. The Act itself virtually nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The turmoil over the act split both the Democratic and Whig parties and gave rise to the Republican Party, which split the United States into two major political camps, the Republican North and the Democratic South.

Senator Stephen A. Douglas and former Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln aired their disagreement over the Kansas–Nebraska Act in seven public speeches during September and October 1854. Lincoln gave his most comprehensive argument against slavery and the provisions of the act in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, the Peoria Speech. He and Douglas both spoke to the large audience, Douglas first and Lincoln in response, two hours later. Lincoln’s three-hour speech presented thorough moral, legal, and economic arguments against slavery and raised Lincoln’s political profile for the first time. The speeches set the stage for the Lincoln-Douglas debates four years later, when Lincoln was running for Douglas’s Senate seat.

A new anti-slavery state constitution, known as the Wyandotte Constitution, was eventually drawn up. On January 29, 1861, five weeks before Lincoln’s inauguration, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. On March 1, 1867, Nebraska was admitted to the Union. By then, the 1861–1865 Civil War had been fought, and slavery itself had been outlawed throughout the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

United States - Scott #1060 (1954) first day cover, block of 4, ArtCraft cachet
United States – Scott #1060 (1954) first day cover, block of 4, ArtCraft cachet

A 3-cent violet stamp to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Nebraska Territory was issued in Nebraska City, Nebraska, on May 7, 1954 (Scott #1060). The stamp’s central design features an image of “The Sower,” a statue that tops the dome of Nebraska State Capitol building. It was created by sculptor Lee Lawrie, who worked with Nebraska philosophy professor Hartley Burr Alexander to develop the themes of the building sculptural work. “The Sower” faces northwest, since most of the state of Nebraska is north and west of Lincoln, the capital city. In the background is a view of the impressive Mitchell Pass, with Scotts Bluff dominating the right side of the scene. The numerals 1854 and 1954 in dark Gothic are placed in the upper left and right corners, respectively. In the lower right corner appear the denomination 3c and U.S. POSTAGE in two lines, and placed across the bottom is the wording NEBRASKA TERRITORIAL CENTENNIAL, all in white-face Gothic.

Scott #1060 measures 0.84 by 1.44 inches, arranged horizontally with a single outline frame, printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the Rotary process, electric-eye perforated in a gauge of 11 x 10½, and issued in sheets of fifty. The printing of 110,000,000 stamps was authorized with a total of 115,810,000 actually issued.

The centennial of Kansas Territory was commemorated with Scott #1061, released at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 31, 1954, previously featured on A Stamp A Day.

United States Flag (1851-1858)
United States Flag (1851-1858)
Kansas State Flag, adopted on September 22, 1961
Kansas State Flag, adopted on September 22, 1961

Nebraska State Flag, adopted on July 16, 1963
Nebraska State Flag, adopted on July 16, 1963

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