The greatest challenge to the country's equilibrium during the Pierce administration, though, was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. It repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the question of slavery in the West. This measure, sponsored by Senator Stephen A. Douglas, had its origins in the drive to facilitate the completion of a transcontinental railroad with a link from Chicago, Illinois to California through Nebraska.
Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, advocate of a southern transcontinental route, had persuaded Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico to buy land for a southern railroad. He purchased the area now comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico for $10 million (USD), commonly known as the Gadsden Purchase. This became known as the greatest success of the Pierce presidency.
Douglas, to win Southern support for the organization of Nebraska, placed in his bill a provision declaring the Missouri Compromise to be null and void; the bill provided that the residents of the new territories could decide the slavery question for themselves. Although his cabinet had proposed an alternative plan, Pierce was subsequently persuaded to support Douglas' plan in a closed meeting with Douglas and several southern Senators, having consulted with Jefferson Davis alone of his cabinet members.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act triggered a series of events that came to be known as Bleeding Kansas. Pro-slavery Border Ruffians, mostly from Missouri, illegally voted in a government that Pierce recognized, and Pierce called the Topeka Constitution, a shadow government set up by Free-Staters, an act of "rebellion." Pierce continued to recognize the pro-slavery legislature even after a congressional investigative committee found its election illegitimate, and dispatched federal troops to break up a meeting of the shadow government in Topeka.
The Act provoked outrage among northerners who saw Pierce as kowtowing to slave-holding in...