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"The Nebraska Question," February 1, 1854


"The Nebraska Question," February 1, 1854


The editor of the Raleigh Register, a Whig newspaper, criticized the Nebraska bill, proposed by Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois, and supported by President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat from New Hampshire. Douglas authored the bill, which later became the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, to organize territories in anticipation of a transcontinental railroad. The editor noted that Douglas proposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase above the southern border of Missouri, in order to "manufacture southern popularity." But the editor doubted that slavery would spread into any territories covered by the bill. Instead, the editor speculated the bill would only succeed in "awaken[ing] the smothered fires of political anti-slavery from Maine to Iowa, with all its fearful consequences to the peace and happiness of the country."


Raleigh Register


"The Nebraska Question," Raleigh Register, February 1, 1854, Secession Era Editorials Project, accessed December 13, 2011,




Raleigh, North Carolina
Wake County, North Carolina



Original Format

Newspaper Article


In the Senate, on the 23d ult., Mr. DOUGLAS, from the Committee on Territories, reported a substitute for the bill which was brought forward by him a short time since for the organization of Nebraska territory. The leading features of the substitutes are stated as follows by the Washington Sentinel:

1. The organization of two territories within the present limits of Nebraska, the one to be called Kansas and the other Nebraska.

2. A definite, distinct, and positive repeal of the restriction of the Missouri Compromise.

DOUGLAS' first bill, it will be remembered, left the question of slavery, while in the territorial condition, in abeyance. It was provided that, when the territory, or any portion of it, shall apply for admission into the Union, that it may be admitted, with or without slavery, as its constitution shall determine. The uncertainty which hung around this bill rendered it generally unpopular, and various amendments were proposed of a pro-slavery as well as anti-slavery character. At length, however, the bill was withdrawn by the mover, and the one above noticed substituted in its place. The proposition to repeal the Missouri Compromise act will not fail to awaken the smothered fires of political anti-slavery from Maine to Iowa, with all its fearful consequences to the peace and happiness of the country. It is said to have received the quasi approval of the Administration.

Possibly, however, this may only be a momentary phase in the vascillating policy of Gen. Pierce's Cabinet, which may be discarded as suddenly as it has been adopted.

Early in December, the Washington Union announced that the Compromise of 1850 was not to be regarded as a part of the Democratic Platform; that it was a matter about which democrats might differ without forfeiting their allegiance to the party, and that Gen'l Pierce could not have been elected if he had been placed unqualifiedly upon it. This official declaration produced a universal feeling of disgust and indignation, by the system of barefaced hypocrisy which it exposes in the demagogues who mislead the democratic party; and the organ has been forced into various hollow explanations, but without satisfying any honest man. Now, we have another swing of the pendulum to the opposite point on the compass. This constant alternation from heat to cold, and from cold to heat, is the certain characteristic of weakness and recklessness -- weakness of purpose and recklessness of principle.

The object of Senator DOUGLAS, in proposing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, is, of course, the manufacture of Southern popularity, and yet it is not expected that slavery will be extended into either of the territories which this bill proposes to establish. This is the opinion of the Charleston Mercury, the Washington Union, and the Richmond Examiner. It is true, that the adjacent State of Missouri nominally tolerates slavery; but the majority of her people, of her presses, and of her politicians, are lamentably hostile to it, and are now publicly debating the propriety of its removal. North of Missouri, lies the free State of Iowa, which is rapidly filling up with the roving population which is peculiar to the West, and which, with Missouri, will supply the pioneer class which always keeps in advance of matured civilization. Slaveholders are men of property, and cannot afford to risk their property, by going into a territory in which a hundred inhabitants to one are against the institution. This is perhaps the proportion of the non-slaveholders to those owning slaves who will emigrate to the territory. The possibility of establishing slavery, therefore, is exceedingly remote, even with the restrictive clause repealed.

The Southern portion of the country, if Fremont's report can be relied upon, is anything but desirable for settlement by slaveholders or non-slaveholders. That portion to be called Kansas, which lies west of Missouri, he describes as for the most part a miserable barren region, destitute of trees, and almost of vegetation. It has none of the characteristics of the prairies, except this absence of forest trees. The State of Missouri includes nearly all the fertile lands in the same parallels, between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.

With these views of the matter, we confess that we somewhat doubt the utility of disturbing the Missouri Compromise, which was acquiesced in by the South as the condition of the admission of Missouri into the Union -- though we hardly know what modification our views may yet undergo. The North may say, that, by attempting to repeal the slavery restrictive clause, the South has violated a solemn compact, and it will be difficult to repel the charge. They will claim, as a matter of course, to be released from that and the more recent compromise, and will attempt to introduce the Wilmot Proviso into the territorial Governments now existing, or which may be in future organised, South of 36 deg. 30 minutes.

This bill, at all events, will be the rallying cry for another anti-slavery agitation which will throw all that have preceded it in the shade.

In this connection, we quote, simply as an indication of Southern sentiment, the views of that conservative and able journal, the Baltimore American:

A calm ensued, (after 1850,) but the ambitious politicians willed that the calm should be of brief duration. They have now re-opened the slavery question, and set the ball of agitation in motion on the Nebraska territorial bill. -- Why was it necessary to so frame that bill as to cause a clause to be put in it to repeal, or to declare superseded and made null and void, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which compromise forbade the introduction of slavery into any territory, acquired with the purchase of Louisiana, north of 36 [degrees] 30' of north latitude? Nebraska lies north of that line. It is said that the compromise of 1820, making this restriction, is unconstitutional. If it is not unconstitutional, it is at least repealable. If it is not unconstitutional, it cannot prevent the people of Nebraska from holding property in slaves, if they choose to take slavery there with them. If it is repealable, and the people of Nebraska shall decide to ask for admission into the Union, as a slave State, it will be time enough for Congress to agitate and act on the subject, when the necessity for such agitation and action arises. -- Why could not, and why should not, the Nebraska bill be framed as were the territorial bills for New Mexico and Utah? Those bills contained no clause relative to the Missouri Compromise, or to the question whether slavery might or might not go there. That vexed question was wisely deferred to the future decision of the people of those territories. Why could not the same vexed question be deferred to the future decision of the people of Nebraska? Because the ambitious political aspirants of the democratic party would not suffer it to be so deferred. They want more agitation; they court it, and they mean to have it, that they may: "Ride the whirlwind and direct the storm."


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Raleigh Register, "The Nebraska Question," February 1, 1854, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 27, 2024,