The Missouri Compromise of 1820 settled the first national conflict over the expansion of slavery into the western territories and future states. Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and slavery was banned in the area north of 3630' latitude.

The Compromise was an article of faith among most Americans, guaranteeing that free labor would never have to compete with slave labor in the vast western region. To slaveholding southerners of the 1850s, the Compromise checked the growth of their slave economy and threatened to overwhelm them with new free states hostile to slavery that might one day act in concert and abolish slavery nationwide.

For slavery to expand, and to preserve the balance of power, the Compromise had to go. The means was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, organizing part of the region into two territories and leaving the question of slavery or freedom up to the settlers themselves-"Popular Sovereignty," in the words of its sponsor, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the best-known Senate Democrat and a presidential hopeful. The Compromise was effectively repealed, and Congress's constitutional authority over the governance of the territories was challenged. Douglas and his southern allies, in effective control of the national Democratic Party, made acceptance of the Compromise repeal a test of party loyalty, sending many alienated Democrats in search of a new political home.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act evoked an instant chorus of protest, fractured political parties, led to the bloody Kansas conflict that would dominate the decade, and gave rise to a new political force, the Republican Party.




Liberty, the Fair Maid of Kansas: In the Hands of the "Border Ruffians." Lithograph. (n.p., 1856)

"Map of Kansas & Nebraska," reproduced from Edward Everett Hale, Kansas and Nebraska: The History, Geographical and Physical Characteristics, and Political Position of those Territories; and Account of the Emigrant Aid Companies, and Directions to Emigrants. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1854)