*The origin of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill has been a much discussed subject among historians in recent years. The older view that Douglas was simply playing into the hands of the "slavepower" by sacrificing Kansas, is no longer tenable. This point has been elaborated by Allen Johnson in his study of Douglas ("Stephen A. Douglas: a Study in American Politics"). In his "Repeal of the Missouri Compromise", P.O. Ray contends that the legislation of 1854 originated in a factional controversy in Missouri, and that Douglas merely served the interests of the proslavery group led by Senator David R. Atchinson of Missouri. Still another point of view is that presented in the "Genesis of the Kansas-Nebraska Act," by F. H. Hodder, who would explain not only the division of the Nebraska Territory into Kansas and Nebraska, but the object of the entire bill by the insistent efforts of promoters of the Pacific railroad scheme to secure a right of way through Nebraska. This project involved the organization of a territorial government and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Douglas was deeply interested in the western railroad interests and carried through the necessary legislation.
CHAPTER II. THE PARTY OF POLITICAL EVASION
In order to understand Douglas one must understand the Democratic party of 1854 in which Douglas was a conspicuous leader. The Democrats boasted that they were the only really national party and contended that their rivals, the Whigs and the Know-Nothings, were merely the representatives of localities or classes. Sectionalism was the favorite charge which the Democrats brought against their enemies; and yet it was upon these very Democrats that the slaveholders had hitherto relied, and it was upon certain members of this party that the label, "Northern men with Southern principles," had been bestowed.
The label was not, however, altogether fair, for the motives of the Democrats were deeply rooted in their own peculiar temperament. In the last analysis, what had held their organization together, and what had enabled them to dominate politics for nearly the span of a generation, was their faith in a principle that then appealed powerfully, and that still appeals, to much in the American character. This was the principle of negative action on the part of the government--the old idea that the government should do as little as possible and should confine itself practically to the duties of the policeman. This principle has seemed always to express to the average mind that traditional individualism which is an inheritance of the Anglo-Saxon race. In America, in the middle of the nineteenth century, it reenforced that tradition of local independence which was strong throughout the West and doubly strong in the South. Then, too, the Democratic party still spoke the language of the theoretical Democracy inherited from Jefferson. And Americans have always been the slaves of phrases!
Furthermore, the close alliance of the Northern party machine with the South made it, generally, an object of care for all those Northern interests that depended on the Southern market. As to the Southerners, their relation with this party has two distinct chapters. The first embraced the twenty years preceding the Compromise of 1850, and may be thought of as merging into the second during three or four years following the great equivocation. In that period, while the antislavery crusade was taking form, the aim of Southern politicians was mainly negative. "Let us alone," was their chief demand. Though aggressive in their policy, they were too far-sighted to demand of the North any positive course in favor of slavery. The rise of a new type of Southern politician, however, created a different situation and began a second chapter in the relation between the South and the Democratic party machine in the North. But of that hereafter.
Until 1854, it was the obvious part of wisdom for Southerners to cooperate as far as possible with that party whose cardinal idea was that the government should come as near as conceivable to a system of non-interference; that it should not interfere with business, and therefore oppose a tariff; that it should not interfere with local government, and therefore applaud states rights; that it should not interfere with slavery, and therefore frown upon militant abolition. Its policy was, to adopt a familiar phrase, one of masterly inactivity. Indeed it may well be called the party of political evasion. It was a huge, loose confederacy of differing political groups, embracing paupers and millionaires, moderate anti-slavery men and slave barons, all of whom were held together by the unreliable bond of an agreement not to tread on each other's toes.
Of this party Douglas was the typical representative, both in strength and weakness. He had all its pliability, its good humor, its broad and easy way with things, its passion for playing politics. Nevertheless, in calling upon the believers in political evasion to consent for this once to reverse their principle and to endorse a positive action, he had taken a great risk. Would their sporting sense of politics as a gigantic game carry him through successfully? He knew that there was a hard fight before him, but with the courage of a great political strategist, and proudly confident in his hold upon the main body of his party, he prepared for both the attacks and the defections that were inevitable.
Defections, indeed, began at once. Even before the bill had been passed, the "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" was printed in a New York paper, with the signatures of members of Congress representing both the extreme anti-slavery wing of the Democrats and the organized Free-Soil party. The most famous of these names were those of Chase and Sumner, both of whom had been sent to the Senate by a coalition of Free-Soilers and Democrats. With them was the veteran abolitionist, Giddings of Ohio. The "Appeal" denounced Douglas as an "unscrupulous politician" and sounded both the warcries of the Northern masses by accusing him of being engaged in "an atrocious plot to exclude from a vast unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers from our own States."