Western Expansion & Slavery (Tuesday, November 19)

As the nation continued to expand, the possibility of keeping the balance of power between free and slave states grew more difficult. After the Compromise of 1850, California’s admission as a free state tipped majority control of Congress to the free states. The problem for the slave states was that no other territory was anywhere near ready to enter the union as a slave state. How would the slaves states even out the balance of power and prevent Congress from pushing an anti-slavery agenda?

The solution came through the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The origins of the law had nothing to do with slavery – in fact, it had to do with the debate over where to build a transcontinental railroad. Sen. Stephen Douglass of Illinois, seeking to get Congress to fund a transcontinental railroad through his home state and home city (Chicago), needed southern votes to win passage. Douglass went to the southern Congressional delegation and promised that in exchange for their support for a northern transcontinental railroad, Douglass would sponsor the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law that would REPEAL the Missouri Compromise by re-opening territory north of the 36’30 parallel to slavery (through popular sovereignty). The Kansas-Nebraska Act was viewed in the North as a conspiracy by the South to expand slavery, not just into “undetermined territory” but into FREE territory. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which the North held to be sacred, was a huge mistake that reaped unintended consequences…….(which we will study tomorrow)

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