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WHATEVER question or doubt may have existed or may now exist as to the authorship of the Compromise Acts of 1850 respecting the Territories, there is not the slightest question as to where the responsibility—the honor or blame, the credit or odium—for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, belongs. No one has denied that to Stephen A. Douglas belongs whatever fame that justly attaches to an act of legislation, which has been more celebrated (for the censure by its enemies, and praise by ) its friends) than any act of Congress since the foundation of the government. During its pendency it was used as a pretext by the fanatics of the North for the wildest exhibition of ungovernable fury. It drew upon its author the most unbounded abuse and denunciation; while it was pending in Congress a storm, such as has never been known in the political annals of the country was gathering, and it broke with all its force upon his head. Undismayed by threats, he followed the chart that he had laid down, and has lived to see himself the political hero and leader of his own party in all those states where the storm beat fastest and raged the fiercest.
Though Mr. Douglas has gained all the credit and all the opprobrium of the “Nebraska Bill,” and to a great extent his name is more prominently associated with that, than with any previous act of public interest, the truth is, that the Kansas- v. Nebraska Act and its repeal of the Missouri restriction was not an original measure. It was but a second volume in the history of the struggle for popular right, commenced in the contest over the Compromise of 1850; it was but another act in the grand drama which in 1850 had ended with a full recognition of the freedom of the American people, whether in state or territory, to regulate their own domestic relations without interference by Congress. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, was nothing more nor less than an act to extend to the people: of Kansas and Nebraska the same rights and privileges which, in 1850, by the advice, by the aid and support of the patriot
Henry Clay, had been extended to the people of Utah and New Mexico. Search the bill from one end to the other, examine in detail all its provisions, and it will be found to contain no more and no less than that the free, hardy, white American settlers of Kansas and Nebraska shall have the same right to govern themselves that in 1850 was extended to the semi-civilized and amalgamated races that peopled the newly acquired Territories of New Mexico and Utah. But, it is said, in passing that bill, Douglas repealed the Missouri restriction—repealed the act of Congress which declared that north of the line of 36° 30' slavery should not exist, and that south of it, it might exist. It repealed a guaranty and a prohibition—both wrong in principle, unconstitutional, and wholly inconsistent with any sound rule of justice and propriety. The people north of 36°30' were as much entitled to have slaves if they desired them as the people south of that line, and the restriction was not upon slavery but upon the freedom and political rights of the people. South of 36° 30' the people were recognized as capable of self government and as safe depositaries of the power to have or reject the institution of slavery, while those living north of that line were bound with the degrading limitation—that if left to govern themselves they would certainly misuse the power to their own injury. It was a restriction which in terms and effect discriminated against the intelligence and capacity of the northern people. As has been shown in the brief history, given in these pages, of the Compromise measures of 1850, the struggle in those days was over the question whether the people should be allowed to legislate to the exclusion or introduction of African slavery. The struggle took place on the “Omnibus Bill,” and so decisive and complete was the action then, that when that Omnibus broke down, and Mr. Douglas' separate measures came up, the attempt to take that power out of the hands of the people was not renewed, and the bills passed without a question on that point. In 1854, when it became necessary to establish a territorial government over the western territory—a proposition long pending but never seriously needed until then—Mr. Douglas, as Chairman of the Committee on Territories, regarding the action of the Senate and of Congress upon the Compromise Acts of 1850, and also the emphatic endorsement of those measures by the people in 1852, as conclusive as to the principles upon which the Territorial question should be governed, so framed his bill as to make it identical in all essential matters with the acts of 1850. On the 4th of January he reported the bill for the establishment of a territorial government for Nebraska, and at the same time made a written report which stated that the bill was designed to carry out in good faith the principle adopted by Congress in the measures of 1850, and the report closed as follows:
From these provisions it is apparent that the compromise measures of 1850 affirm and rest upon the following propositions:
First.—That all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories, and in the new states to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose.
Second.—That “all cases involving title to slaves,” and “questions of personal freedom,” are referred to the adjudication of the local tribunals, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Third.—That the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, in respect to fugitives from service, is to be carried into faithful execution in all “the organized territories” the same as in the states. The substitute for the bill which your committee have prepared, and which is commended to the favorable action of the Senate, proposes to carry these propositions and principles into practical operation, in the precise language of the compromise measures of 1850.
It will be seen by the report that the committee did not recommend the repeal, in express terms, of the Missouri restriction, though they declared that the bill, as reported by them, left the question of slavery in the territory “to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives chosen by them for that purpose.” Their object was to leave the people of Nebraska and ‘Kansas, as the people of Utah and New Mexico had been left, free to act for them
selves in the matter of slavery. That part of the report has
been frequently quoted by the enemies of popular right to show that the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was an “after-thought,” and agreed upon afterwards at the dictation of the “slave oligarchy.” The committee stated distinctly that they designed to leave the people of the territory, through their legislature, all the legislative power over slavery, and all other questions, that was conceded by the legislature of 1850 to the Territories of Utah and New Mexico. The committee evidently supposed and intended that the words of the bill
declaring “that the legislative power of said territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation,” removed all obstacles to the exercise of that power over the subject of slavery; and that, therefore, the act of Congress interdicting slavery might be left, as was the Mexican law in the other cases, to the courts for a decision as to its authority and legal force. Be that as it may, the committee soon found that a wide difference of opinion prevailed in the Senate as to the effect of the language of the bill. Did it leave the territorial legislature free to act upon the subject of slavery 2 How could the legislature act when an act of Congress stood in their way prohibiting the existence of slavery north of 36° 30'. It was necessary to make the bill clear and distinct upon this point. Did the Missouri restriction bind the hands of the territorial legislature against the admission of slavery 2 If it did, then while that restriction existed as a law the people of Nebraska could not be admitted to the enjoyment of the same freedom in legislation that was secured by the acts of 1850 to the people of Utah and New Mexico; and consequently the principle of the Compromise Act could not be applied to the territorial act designed for Nebraska and Kansas. The removal of the Missouri restriction was imperatively necessary if the territorial legislature was to be left free to exercise the power of legislation respecting African slavery. To do that—to remove all obstacles in the way of the free and full exercise of legislative power over that as well as all other subjects of domestic concern —the Missouri restriction was repealed; it was repealed for no other reason, because there was no other possible reason for repealing it. It stood in the way of the practical application of the principle established in the acts of 1850. If allowed to stand, it would create the necessity for the organization of territorial governments for Nebraska and Kansas on a principle and theory totally distinct and different from that followed in the cases of Utah and New Mexico. The North, in 1850, had perseveringly and successfully struggled for the recognition of the power and authority of the territorial legislature over the subject of African slavery. The North, by an almost unanimous vote for Scott and Pierce in 1852, had approved and ratified the action of Congress in 1850. Was the North now, in 1854, to change front? Was the North to repudiate the
t principles it had asserted in 1850, and clamor again for the empty and valueless Congressional prohibition ? On the first day of the session Mr. Dodge, of Iowa, gave notice of his intention to introduce a bill for the government of the Territory of Nebraska; on the 4th of December he did introduce the bill, which was referred to the Committee on Territories, of which Mr. Douglas was chairman. On the 4th of January Mr. Douglas, as has been stated, reported the bill back with amendments. On the 23d of January the commit
tee made the report already noticed, and reported a further
amendment dividing the immense region into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. This division was made upon the solicitation of the representatives of the people of the territory, and by the advice of the representatives in Congress from Iowa and Missouri. In the meantime, on the 16th of January, Mr. Dixon, of Kentucky, had given notice that when the bill was taken up for action he would offer as an amendment the following:
“That so much of the eighth section of an act approved March 6, 1820, entitled “An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri Territory to form a Constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories,’ as declares “that in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirtysix degrees thirty minutes north latitude, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than as a punishment of crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be forever prohibited,” shall not be so construed as to apply to the territory contemplated by this act, or to any other territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several states or territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves within any of the territories of the United States or of the states to be formed therefrom, as if the said act, entitled as aforesaid, and approved as aforesaid, had never been passed.”
Here was the same proposition which in 1850 had been rejected by Congress, and voted down by the friends of the Compromise. It was a proposition declaring the right of the slaveholder to carry his slaves into the territory. In 1850, those who supported the right of the territorial legislature to legislate on that subject refused to declare by Congressional act the right to take slaves into the territory, because such a provision in an act of Congress would override an act of the territorial legislature. In the bill, as reported on the 23d of January, the committee expressed more clearly what was originally their intention respecting the removal of the Missouri