Nebraska Bill Introduced to Senate

The bill was reported to the main body of the Senate on January 4, 1854.

The bill had been significantly modified by Douglas, who had also authored the New Mexico and Utah territorial acts, to mirror the language from the Compromise of 1850. In the new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the forty-ninth parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made "when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission." In a report accompanying the bill, Douglas’s committee wrote that the intent of the Utah and New Mexico acts:

...were intended to have a far more comprehensive and enduring effect than the mere adjustment of the difficulties arising out of the recent acquisition of Mexican territory. They were designed to establish certain great principles, which would not only furnish adequate remedies for existing evils, but, in all time to come, avoid the perils of a similar agitation, by withdrawing the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, and committing it to the arbitrament of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for its consequences.

The report compared the situation in New Mexico and Utah with the situation in Nebraska. In the first instance, many had argued that slavery had previously been prohibited under Mexican law just as it was prohibited in Nebraska under the Missouri Compromise. Just as the creation of New Mexico and Utah territories had not ruled on the validity of Mexican law on the acquired territory, the Nebraska bill was neither "affirming or repealing ... the Missouri act." In other words, popular sovereignty was being established by ignoring, rather than addressing, the problem presented by the Missouri Compromise.

Douglas’ attempt to finesse his way around the Missouri Compromise did not work. Archibald Dixon, a Kentucky Whig, believed that unless the Missouri Compromise was explicitly repealed, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers -- settlers who would most likely hold free-soil views. On January 16 Dixon surprised Douglas by introducing an amendment that would repeal the section of the Missouri Compromise prohibiting slavery above the 36°30' parallel. Douglas met privately with Dixon and in the end, despite his misgivings on northern reaction, agreed to accept Dixon’s arguments. From a political standpoint, the Whig Party had been in decline in the South because of the effectiveness with which the Democrats had hammered southern Whigs over slavery issues. The Whigs hoped that by seizing the initiative on this issue that they would be identified as the strongest defender of slavery.

Charles Sumner on Douglas -- "Alas! too often those principles which give consistency, individuality, and form to the Northern character, which render it staunch, strong, and seaworthy, which bind it together as with iron, are drawn out, one by one, like the bolts of the ill-fitted vessel, and from the miserable, loosened fragments is formed that human anomaly -- a Northern man with Southern principles. Sir, no such man can speak for the North."

A similar amendment was offered in the House by Philip Phillips of Alabama. With the encouragement of the "F Street Mess", Douglas met with them and Phillips to ensure that the momentum for passing the bill remained with the Democratic Party. Towards this end, they arranged to meet with President Franklin Pierce to ensure that the issue would be declared a test of party loyalty within the Democratic Party.

SLAVERY EXTENSION. The Nebraska Bill In Congress.
Address to the People
WASHINGTON, Thursday Jan. 19, 1854.

FELLOW-CITIZENS: As Senators and Representatives in Congress of the United States, it is our duty to warn our constituencies whenever imminent danger menaces the Freedom of our Institution or the Permanency of our Union.

Such danger, as we firmly believe, now impends, and we earnestly solicit your prompt attention to it.

At the last session of Congress, a bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska passed the House of Representatives, with an overwhelming majority. That bill was based on the principle of excluding slavery from the new territory. It was not taken up for consideration in the Senate, and consequently failed to become a law.

The great principle of self government is at stake, and surely the people of this country are never going to decide that the principle upon which our whole republican system rests is vicious and wrong.”

— Stephen A. Douglas