The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Republican Party

In the early 1850s, the United States’ sectional crisis had abated somewhat, cooled by the Compromise of 1850 and the nation’s general prosperity. In 1852, voters went to the polls in a presidential contest between Whig candidate Winfield Scott and Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce. Both men endorsed the Compromise of 1850. Though it was considered unseemly to hit the campaign trail, Scott did so—much to the benefit of Pierce, as Scott’s speeches focused on forty-year-old battles during the War of 1812 and the weather. In New York, Scott, known as “Old Fuss and Feathers,” talked about a thunderstorm that did not occur and greatly confused the crowd. In Ohio, a cannon firing to herald Scott’s arrival killed a spectator.

Pierce was a supporter of the “Young America” movement of the Democratic Party, which enthusiastically anticipated extending democracy around the world and annexing additional territory for the United States. Pierce did not take a stance on the slavery issue. Helped by Scott’s blunders and the fact that he had played no role in the bruising political battles of the past five years, Pierce won the election. The brief period of tranquility between the North and South did not last long, however; it came to an end in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act led to the formation of a new political party, the Republican Party, that committed itself to ending the further expansion of slavery.

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