The Kansas-Nebraska Act Facts for Kids

  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act had a profound effect on America.
  • The act, proposed by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois in 1854, was seen as an attempt to extend slavery into the territories where it had been banned.
  • It created divisions over slavery in the United States that would later be at the center of the Civil War.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act changed the Missouri Compromise. It created two new territories. It also allowed popular sovereignty. This led to many people going into one territory to try and influence the vote. 

The violence was called “Bleeding Kansas.” The act also made it so that there could be a split in the Whig coalition, which led to the creation of a new party called Republican Party. 

Stephen Douglas claimed his bill would cause peace, but when it happened we saw violence that was like an introduction to war.

The Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a group of laws that dealt with the issue of slavery and territorial expansion. 

California found gold in 1849. They wanted to be a state, but they had banned slavery. That made people mad because California was changing the balance of which states were for slaves and which ones were free.

By the end of 1850, Senator Henry Clay convinced the US Congress to accept the Compromise of 1850. It said that California could be a free state where slavery was not allowed. It also left it up to other areas to decide whether they wanted to have slavery or not.

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas was a senator from Illinois. They called him “Little Giant”. People had started to visualize him as a future president.

Douglas wanted to build the transcontinental railroad so people could travel across the country. It would be faster and more reliable. He wanted this railroad to go through Chicago and Nebraska, which was in the Louisiana Purchase.

He also made the Compromise of 1850 happen by taking it apart and making coalitions for each part of it. It held together with the Union even though some people did not want to do this.

The railroad route

The problem of what route the railway would take was hotly debated. Proslavery politicians were against a northern railway, as it would break the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that banned slavery north of Missouri’s southern border.

Douglas wanted to build a railroad from Chicago all the way to California.

The railroad would not be completed without the help of slave-state Senators. Stephen Douglas stepped in and said that the rule of popular sovereignty should also apply to Kansas and Nebraska, as it had for Utah and New Mexico.

Douglas wanted to have a Northern route that would run through Illinois. He also had done business in Chicago and invested in real estate there. So he had hidden interests in approving the Missouri Compromise line, which was repealed so more Southern politicians would vote for it.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act 

In the 1850s, many people wanted to move into Nebraska. But they couldn’t do that because it wasn’t a state yet. This was bad for them because they couldn’t hold onto the land and make it their own.

In 1854, Stephen Douglas and his friends made a bill. It was about the Nebraska Territory. This is an area now known as the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and the Dakotas.

At the time, people called it “the Nebraska Bill.” Now we know it as the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. 

Douglas wanted to make Nebraska a territory. To get people in the south on his side, he proposed new state that could approve slavery if they wanted to. 

He proposed organizing this vast territory with or without slavery. It divided land west of Missouri into Nebraska and Kansas.

He was favoring “popular sovereignty” which would allow the new populations to decide whether they wanted slavery to be legal there or not.

This contradicted a law called the Missouri Compromise that was made before. This law had made slavery illegal in these territories.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act left open the question of slavery. Nevertheless, it did not satisfy a group of powerful senators.

Douglas needed votes for his bill. He wanted to repeal the Missouri Compromise and add two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska. Settlers in those territories would vote about whether they want slavery or not.

The opposition

People who were against the law were upset that the Missouri Compromise was not followed. They thought that Douglas had given in to slave power. 

Anti-Nebraska groups formed quickly after this happened. They wanted to stop slavery from expanding into new states and the West.

Despite the opposition of people who did not want to allow slavery in new territories, the Senate passed the Nebraska bill. President Franklin Pierce signed it into law on May 30, 1854.

Before the bill was passed, most of the Native American groups living on the land signed a treaty. They agreed to give up their land to the US government and move south to reservations in Oklahoma.

In the North, people felt that because of Douglas’ actions, slavery would not end. They were against him and thought he was bad.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act said that each territory could decide on the issue of slavery. This would break the Missouri Compromise, which has kept the Union together for over thirty years. 


After people debated for months, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed on May 30, 1854. People who were pro-slavery and anti-slavery rushed to Kansas so that they could make sure that their side would win the election after the law went into effect. 

They came in big groups of each side and fought with each other, trying to convince the people of Kansas to vote for them. Kansas became a big deal that made national headlines and started a lot of arguments about whether or not slavery should continue.

They fought with weapons and this made it harder for North and South to get along. They were followed by violence and anger.

People fought to control Kansas. They wanted to make it a place where they could live and have their own way.

People who want to have a military fight were called “border ruffians.” Border ruffians were so-called because they lived near the border with Missouri, which was a free state. 

These people fought with Free-State “jayhawkers,” and both sides did some violent things and committed crimes that were really bad.

John Brown came to Kansas in 1855. He thought the Kansas-Nebraska Act meant he had to fight people who owned slaves. His acts of aggression against Missouri slave owners made the violence along the border worse.

In one year, people who were against slavery outnumbered the people who were for it. They had not been obeying the laws. 

The Free Soilers made a constitution and elected their own governor and state legislature in Topeka. This caused there to be two governments in one state. Violence soon followed.

Consequences of the Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act also had a profound political impact. The debate over this bill split the Whig Party in two. This party dissolved, and it also split the Democratic Party along sectional lines.

Depiction of the The Kansas-Nebraska impact.

In 1856, in the halls of the Congress, there was more anger over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. One of the most heated moments in this debate was when a proslavery Congressman called Preston Brooks from South Carolina beat an antislavery Senator called Charles Sumner with his cane on the Senate floor in 1856. Then he said: “I have done my part, and unless somebody else does something I think that will be about all I can do.”

The people who were angry started sending Preston Brooks canes to show that they sympathized with him even though he had hit Charles Sumner.

Charles Sumner was in a lot of pain after the caning. He could not go to the Senate during most of the next several years. Most people from Massachusetts voted for him and let his seat sit empty so that people would know about what happened in Kansas.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act made people abandon their party following. People who were antislavery, which were called Free-Soilers, left the Whigs and Democrats to become Republicans in 1854.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was designed to help the United States expand into western territories through the railroad. The act ended up dividing the nation over the issue of slavery. It led to the modern Republican Party and made Abe Lincoln president in 1860.

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Kansas became a free state in the same year. This caused people to worry that sectionalism would destroy the Union. 

The Kansas-Nebraska Act helped found the Republican Party. They opposed the spread of slavery into territories. The United States became closer to Civil War as a result of this act.

This event also left the Democratic Party as the only institution that crossed sectional lines. The North and South grew angrier with each other.

Read more about The American Civil War


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