The Kansas-Nebraska Act Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Abby Federico

Abby has taught elementary special education and has her master's degree in this area.

This lesson will teach you about the Kansas-Nebraska Act. You will learn some background information, what the act was, and how it affected the United States.

Background: The Missouri Compromise

In the years leading up to the Civil War, the United States was torn between those wanting slavery and those who didn't. The U.S. was also getting bigger by controlling more lands as people expanded west. When it came time to add more states to the country, people began fighting over whether the new states would be states that allowed slavery or states that did not (called free states).

In 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise. A compromise is when two sides each give a little in order to reach an agreement. This compromise allowed Missouri to enter the U.S. as a slave state and Maine to enter as a free state. It also said that any lands north of 36°30' latitude would in the future be free states. The North and South both agreed with this. Then Nebraska and Kansas came along.

Map of U.S. 1856
Map of U.S. 1856

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

In 1854, Stephen Douglas, a Senator from Illinois, wanted to make the territory of Nebraska into a state so that they could build a railroad through it. However, Southerners did not want to allow Nebraska to become a state because it was located north of the Missouri Compromise line. This means it would be a free state. Douglas came up with the idea that if the South allowed Nebraska to become a state, they could also create the state of Kansas. However, Kansas was also located above the Missouri Compromise line.

Douglas then came up with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the idea of popular sovereignty, the thought that any new state added to the U.S. should be able to decide for itself whether it was a slave state or a free state, no matter where it was located. He thought that the people of Nebraska would vote for a free state, and the people of Kansas would vote for it to be a slave state. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, allowing new states to choose whether they were free or slave states. The passage of this act repealed the prior Missouri Compromise.

Kansas and Nebraska, 1866
Kansas and Nebraska 1866

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