In January 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Rumsch says that it established Kansas and Nebraska as new territories in the west (26). The act also enabled the territories to decide whether or not to have slavery. Worth and Sarat argue that when the congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it not only opened up Nebraska and Kansas to settlement, but also nullified key provisions of the key provisions of the Missouri Compromise (35). Through the terms of the new legislation, popular sovereignty a vote by all residents would determine whether Nebraska and Kansas become slave or free states.
Supporters and opponents of slavery raced to settle the territories. Worth and Sarat noted “that although many Missourians moved west into neighboring Kansas, abolitionist settlers soon greatly outnumbered them” (35). The slaveholders in Missouri organized armed groups, known as Border Ruffians that rode into Kansas to burn farms and terrorize and murder abolitionist settlers (Worth and Sarat 35). On the other hand, Kansas formed their units and struck back. The fighting was often savage, with atrocities committed by both sides, and soon the fate of bleeding Kansas was pushing the entire country closer to civil war (Worth and Sarat 35).
Loveman noted the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 in the name of popular sovereignty to support expansion of slavery, leading to bloodshed in Kansas and pushing the country ever closer to civil war (60). The legislation also incited opponents to establish the Republican Party. In the Kansas violence, Pierce supported the rogue proslavery legislature and used federal troops against the opponents of slavery (Loveman 60).The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the people of the territories, through their legislatures, to decide if a territory would or would not permit slavery. The act also revealed significant issues concerning the future expansion of slavery and opened up northern territory to the possibilities of slavery (Rumsch 26). In this context, the Congress hoped the Kansas-Nebraska Act would settle the slavery issue. Instead, it pushed the country closer to civil war.