Douglas’s Popular Sovereignty and the Road to Civil War

Looking back at reasons for America becoming involved in the Civil War, Stephen A. Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act are constantly talked about. This event was one of the biggest causes of the Civil War as it repealed the law and created a larger reason for the North especially to go to war. Once this act came into play, the attitude of both the North and the South towards the idea of war changed significantly. Because of the gravity of the act, America was greatly affected and eventually with the help of other intensifying events, America went to war with itself 7 years later in 1861.

What is interesting about this event is that Stephen A. Douglas, senator of northern state Illinois at the time and creator of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise, which was seen as a positive compromise by most northerners against the spread of slavery. Instead of simply allowing Kansas and Nebraska to become states without slavery as followed by the Missouri Compromise, Douglas introduced popular sovereignty and decided it was for other people to decide whether or not they wanted slavery there. Douglas needed Kansas and Nebraska to become states soon because of his ideas about railroads tying the nation together, but did he need to give the choice over slavery to people in Nebraska and Kansas? He apparently did not want the South to hate him for introducing two new non-slave states, but unless he was thinking about the presidential election in 1860 which he lost to Lincoln, there was no need for him to let people vote on such an issue that should have been already decided. Essentially, Douglas’s popular sovereignty brought America much closer to Civil War over a political decision.

The main reason for the Kansas-Nebraska Act paving the way for war was because of the outrage and violence that occurred once Americans learned about this development. Northerners protested, Southerners supported it, and floods of people entered the regions to attempt to determine the outcome, and violence created a sense of chaos there. Douglas unwittingly created a bloodbath in the place he wanted to build railroads. He brought death upon both Northerners and Southerners alike, and set the stage for Civil War. But how would the war be changed if this event never occurred? Would it have happened at all? Would the North or South have a good enough reason to engage in such a conflict? Did Douglas’s attempt at a democratic solution to a problem inadvertently cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans? Did the Kansas-Nebraska Act light the fuse for war?


“The Kansas-Nebraska Act.” The Kansas-Nebraska Act []. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. <;.


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