Kansas-Nebraska Bill: Review Background Information

After serving one frustrating term in Congress I return home to Springfield in 1849, where I soon become one of the most successful lawyers in Illinois. But my appetite for politics never really disappears. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May 1854 soon pulls me back into the political arena. This act overturns the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had outlawed slavery in the area now being called the Nebraska Territory. In other words, slavery can now spread into the northern territories.

This is a stunning reversal that threatens to redraw the political map. What should I do? Should I prove my opposition to the spread of slavery by once more seeking political office?

Name of Person 1

Name of Person 1

Run Again

The Nebraska bill could mean that slavery will never come to an end. It reverses a policy that has kept the Union together for decades. Senator Stephen Douglas, the law’s sponsor and an old rival of mine, would let territorial residents decide for themselves whether to enter the Union as a slave or free state. That is a morally neutral position I cannot tolerate.

Remain on the Sidelines

The political climate across the North, but especially in Illinois, is terribly volatile. Taking a public stand against slavery and aligning myself with anti-slavery radicals might prove to be a grave mistake. Also, I am working on the biggest case of my legal career and have a dear family to consider. Only a few years ago, my wife and I lost one of our sons to illness. Perhaps it is best to stick with my law practice and remain a private citizen.

So those are my choices: Re-enter the political arena to oppose Douglas and the extension of slavery into the territories, or keep silent about the Nebraska bill and rely on others to take up the political fight. The stakes couldn’t be higher. What should I do?