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Chapter 14: the Nebraska Bill.—1854.

The abrogation of the Missouri Compromise produces a powerful reaction at the North, by which the abolitionists profit in respect of greater freedom of speech. Garrison emphasizes his doctrine of disunion by publicly burning the Constitution on the Fourth of July.


The Civil War began in 1854 with the passage of the1 Nebraska Bill. By this measure a tract embracing upwards of 400,000 square miles, bounded on the north by the British dominions, and on the south by the Indian Territory, and lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains,—larger than the original thirteen2 States, comparable in size to the then existing free States, or to Italy, Spain, and France,—was thrown open to slavery, though expressly dedicated to freedom by the Missouri Compromise, as lying wholly north of 36° 30′. This revolutionary proceeding threatened to divide by a3 great wedge the free States of the Pacific Coast from those of the interior and the East, and to give to the Slave Power the exclusive control of the Mississippi Valley.

The Compromise of 1850 had left the Missouri Compromise untouched and unquestioned. Calhoun—grant him Southern California and New Mexico for slavery—was ready, if reluctant, to protract the dividing parallel to the4 Pacific. Lewis Cass, in his famous letter to A. O. P.5 Nicholson, December 24, 1847, laid down a principle of ‘squatter sovereignty’ broad enough, indeed, for all the Territories of the United States, yet intended for immediate application only to the imminent acquisitions from Mexico. Stephen A. Douglas, speaking at New Orleans6 in the summer of 1848, had also the Wilmot Proviso expressly in view when echoing Cass's doctrine, viz., that it was for ‘the people inhabiting them [the Territories] to regulate their internal concerns in their own way [i. e., ’

1 Lib. 24.82.

2 Lib. 24.33.

3 Lib. 24.23.

4 Ante, p. 217.

5 Greeley's Struggle for Slavery Extension, p. 47.

6 Lib. 18.105.

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