Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Kansas-Nebraska 1: The Original Bill

If you're reading this blog, you probably know that the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. You may also know that the driving force behind Kansas-Nebraska, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, did not initially propose to repeal the 1820 Compromise explicitly. Although most standard histories go through the stages of the bill, I thought I’d provide some detail, with references to source documents. Here goes.

To begin at the beginning. In 1820, Congress enacted, and President Monroe signed, An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri territory to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories, better known as the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise (among other things), prohibited slavery north of 36° 30’ north latitude within the area of the Louisiana Purchase, with the exception of that portion of the Purchase that would become the State of Missouri (the southern boundary of which was 36° 30’). The Section of the Missouri Compromise Act that set forth the ban was Section 8, which did so in the following language:
SEC. 8. And be it further enacted. That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the state, contemplated by this act [i.e., the State of Missouri], slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited: Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labour or service is lawfully claimed, in any state or territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labour or service as aforesaid.

Thirty-four years later, on January 4, 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas introduced a bill to create a formal territory out of the portion of the Louisiana Purchase that remained unorganized. The bill that he introduced was actually an amendment to a bill introduced in December 1853 by Senator Augustus Caesar Dodge of Iowa (what a great name!). The version of the bill that Senator Douglas substituted on January 4, 1854, entitled “A Bill to Organize the Territory of Nebraska,” may be viewed (with one significant caveat, discussed later) here. As you will see, the text of Senator Dodge’s original bill has been bracketed – that is deleted – and replaced by Senator Douglas’s new text, in italics, which begins here.

Senator Douglas’s original bill (which, for convenience, I will refer to as the “original bill,” even though it wasn’t) erected a single territory – the Territory of Nebraska. For our purposes, it contains three important provisions.

First, Section 6 of the original bill provided:
Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That the legislative power of the Territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act . . . .

Section 6 then carved out certain exceptions to this general rule, but none of them related to slavery or the Missouri Compromise.

Second, Section 14 of Senator Douglas’s original bill provided:
Sec. 14. And be it further enacted, . . . That the constitution, and all laws of the United States which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said Territory of Nebraska as elsewhere within the United States.

Finally, the very first section of the original bill stated that the state or states that would ultimately be created from the territory would be admitted even if they were slave states:
[W]hen 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 short, Senator Douglas's initial version of the bill did not even mention Section 8 of the Missouri Compromise, much less repeal it. On the other hand, it suggested that the territorial legislature could enact virtually any legislation it chose with respect to slavery, and it expressly authorized the admission of slave states.

In the next post, we will consider what all this meant, and why it proved insufficient.

And where, by the way, is Kansas in all this?

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