Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 318-319
One of the most important actions affecting the settlement of the Plains was the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas Act, which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. In examining the passage of the bill and its aftermath, The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854 brings into clear focus many of the events related to this legislation. Although the law was officially called "An Act to Organize the territories of Nebraska and Kansas," it was often referred to as "the Nebraska bill."
Collectively, the eight essays in this slender volume look at the national debate over the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas Act, the act's relationship to the settlement of Kansas and Nebraska, and the positions taken by certain period leaders on the passage of the bill. Wrapped around the concept of popular sovereignty, the organic act allowed the settlers of the two territories to determine whether they would permit slavery within their borders. Shortly after the bill's passage, however, Kansas took center stage when pros lavery and antislavery proponents made that territory a key battleground in their national struggle over the "peculiar institution." As John Wunder and Joann Ross point out in the opening essay, the subsequent political turmoil and brief civil war in Kansas led to that territory's history acquiring the label of "Bleeding Kansas." The "bleeding" of Kansas also heightened the North-South political divide and influenced the coming of the American Civil War. The national fervor over Kansas, however, left Nebraska in the background of the debates over the 1854 legislation's passage. Since there was no "Bleeding Nebraska," historical discussion about the Nebraska part of the act has also been overshadowed by Kansas. In response, The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854 largely focuses on Nebraska, while not forgetting Kansas.