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was favorably reported, with the recommendation that the name of the territory be changed from “Platte" to Nebraska, which was agreed to. Eight days after (February 1oth) the bill was passed, 98 to 43; and the next day it was referred in the Senate to the Committee on Territories, of which Douglas was chairman.
Senator Douglas had lately been elected for a second term. In the previous year he had figured rather prominently in the national convention of his party as a Presidential candidate — the main contest at the outset being between Messrs. Cass and Buchanan; and had the “Young Democracy” been less eager to thrust him forward as against these two veterans, there is no manifest reason why the choice might not have alighted on Douglas instead of the unconspicuous ex-Senator from New Hampshire. As it was, Douglas had much to hope for at the next trial. He had never given the South offense, and was little disposed to do so now. Six days after its reference he reported back the Nebraska bill without amendment, recommending its passage. The status of the new territory as to slavery, as the bill then stood, was clearly defined by the Missouri Compromise. On the 2d of March he asked that the bill be taken up for consideration. Only twenty Senators voted in the affirmative, while twenty-five, all Southern, voted against his motion. He tried again on the next and last day of the session, when he was again defeated, by a vote exclusively Southern.
Senator Atchison, of Missouri, had vaguely intimated some exigency requiring prompt action in negotiating with the Indians just across the border of his State for the extinguishment of their title to certain
reservations; and some of his constituents were importuning him to favor an immediate organization of the Platte territory. He and his colleague alone among Southern Senators voted for present action on the bill; and in explanation of his vote he spoke significantly enough, though a little darkly. No State was perhaps, he said, “ more deeply interested in this question than Missouri.” The best, if not the largest part of the proposed territory, and “perhaps the only portion of it that in half a century will become a State, lies immediately west of the State of Missouri.” While his remarks disclosed clearly enough his unwillingness to see a nonslaveholding territory organized on the west of Missouri, was he not as yet quite innocent of even a transient thought that it would be practicable to annul the restriction by direct action of Congress? He more probably counted upon its easy evasion by the gradual and quiet expansion of slaveholding communities on the western border, in like manner as slavery had spread into the free soil of Texas before its annexation. If such was his policy, he was wiser in his generation — or at least more cunning — than those who ultimately chose a bolder course.
All this skirmishing about Nebraska was little noticed outside of Washington. It produced little excitement even there, but served to introduce a new name, “ Nebraska,” which later events were to make familiar.
The session closed and President Pierce was inaugurated. The Senate promptly confirmed his chosen Cabinet officers, of whom the recent “Resistance” candidate for Governor of Mississippi was a leading spirit. In his December message the President declared, as he had done in his inaugural address, that during his term nothing should be done with his consent to reopen the closed agitation. On the 14th of December Senator Dodge, of Iowa, introduced a bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska, similar in terms to that of the previous session. Douglas reported it back from his committee — this time with amendments — on the 4th of January (1854). A question had arisen in 1850, said the report,“ whether slavery was prohibited by law in the country acquired from Mexico," and the question was disposed of by leaving the issue to the people themselves in New Mexico and Utah. So, too, "a similar question” had now arisen concerning “the right to hold slaves in the proposed Territory of Nebraska when the Indian laws shall be withdrawn and the country thrown open to emigration and settlement." Under the eighth section of the Missouri Act of March 6, 1820, slavery in the territory in question was “forever prohibited”; but, “as in the case of Mexican law in New Mexico and Utah, it is a disputed point whether slavery is prohibited in the Nebraska country by valid enactment. The decision of this question involves the constitutional power of Congress to pass laws prescribing and regulating the domestic institutions of the various territories of the Union.” Senator Dixon, of Kentucky, gave notice that when the bill came up for consideration, he should propose an amendment annulling the said eighth section of the Missouri Act, as applicable to Nebraska. This met the issue squarely. On motion of Douglas, the bill was thereupon recommitted, and a week later he reported a substitute creating two territories, Kansas and Nebraska, and declaring the Missouri Compromise
restriction “inoperative.” This proving insufficient, he added the words, “and void,” ending all Southern opposition.
“ The country was at once in a blaze.” The mere proposition of repeal seemed a sacrilege, and popular excitement rose to a pitch unprecedented even in 1850. Douglas had not taken the momentous step until after consultation with President Pierce, who gave it his approval, and pledged the power of his administration in its support. Mr. Pierce kept this promise.
When Douglas asked the Senate to proceed at once to the consideration of the bill as finally amended, Senator Chase objected, asking a postponement until the following week, and by general consent the 30th of January was fixed for opening the discussion. Meanwhile a vigorous Anti-Nebraska manifesto, signed by Senators Chase and Sumner, and by other members of Congress, was sent to the country. Resolutions indignantly condemning the proposed action were introduced into several State Legislatures then in session, and passed with emphasis and promptitude. The press of the free States was never more terribly earnest in the display of fiery indignation. The whole power of the administration, of which Douglas expected so much, was far from sufficient to keep in line the rank and file of the Democratic party. On the other hand, Northern Whigs — by no means excepting those who had been most conservative in their views of slavery agitation disgusted and alienated by the course of their Southern fellow-partisans, who in a sectional caucus decided to support the Nebraska bill, were in a mood to welcome the obviously inevitable advent of a reorganization of parties.
On the 30th of January, when the question came up according to assignment in the Senate, Douglas, having a bitter foretaste of what was coming, angrily arraigned Senator Chase and his associates for their manifesto, and used all his ingenuity in defending his own action. The debate was prolonged, deepening the impression first made upon the public mind. The “ Nebraska bill ” passed the Senate on the 3d day of March. It was not at once acted on in the House. Democratic members from the free States found it perilous — with an election just at hand — to stand in party line. By a vote of 113 to 100, on the final test, the consummation was reached on the 26th of May.
At once began the struggle, which lasted for years, between the friends and foes of slavery for the control of the Territory of Kansas.