Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kansas-Nebraska 5: Douglas Casts the Die

Stephen A. Douglas planned to formally introduce the territory bill and begin debate on Monday January 23. But before he did so, he needed to get President Pierce on board.

To accomplish this, he arranged for a horde of senior legislators to descend on the weak-willed president on Sunday January 22, when he was alone. I have previously described aspects of this meeting in another post. For present purposes, the important point is that Douglas and his cohorts got the president write out, in his own hand, a statement that the Missouri Compromise “was superseded by the principles of the legislation of 1850, commonly called the compromise measures and is hereby declared inoperative and void.”

Douglas was now armed with the president’s endorsement. On Monday January 23, 1854, Douglas reported the bill in a dramatically revised form. Those of you who have been wondering when Kansas would make its appearance need wonder no longer. The new version proposed to create two new territories (Kansas and Nebraska) rather than one; the southern boundary of Kansas territory was shifted north from 36° 30’ to the thirty-seventh parallel, so as to avoid dividing lands of the Cherokee nation.

For our purposes, however, the key changes were those relating to the Missouri Compromise. You will recall that Douglas’s original January 4, 1854 bill included a Section 14 that provided that the Constitution and all laws of the United States would have the same force and effect in the Territory of Nebraska as elsewhere within the United States. The Missouri Compromise was not excepted.

Sections 14 (applicable to Nebraska) and 34 (applicable to Kansas) of the new bill now carved out Section 8 of the Missouri Compromise, using language similar to the text that Douglas had the president write out by hand the day before:
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 [“Kansas” in Section 34] as elsewhere within the United States, except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March sixth, eighteen hundred and twenty, which was superseded by the principles of the legislation of eighteen hundred and fifty, commonly called the Compromise Measures, and is hereby declared inoperative.

In addition, the new bill omitted the now-unnecessary Section 21 of the original bill (the “clerical error” section).

It is worth noting how gingerly Section 14 treated the 1820 Compromise. Rep. Phillips’s proposed language had declared the Compromise “inoperative, void and of no force and effect.” The statement that Douglas had Pierce write out declared the Compromise "inoperative and void." Douglas's January 23 amendment proposed to declare Section 8 “superseded” and “inoperative.” Silly as it seems, it's as if Douglas thought that fewer people would be offended if he used tender wording, even though it was a distinction without a difference. Nonetheless, however gentle the wording, it was clear that Douglas was proposing, in effect, to repeal Section 8. The die was cast.

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