Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history
in VOA Special English.
Now, we continue the story of America's fourteenth
president, Franklin Pierce.
Pierce was elected in eighteen fifty-two. He was a
compromise candidate of the Democratic Party. He was well-liked. But he was not
considered a strong leader.
eighteen fifties were an increasingly tense time in the United States. Most of
the population lived east of the Mississippi River. But more and more people
were moving west. As western areas became populated, they became official
territories, and then new states.
of laws would these new territories and states have? Would the laws be decided
by the Congress in Washington? Or would they be voted on by the people living in
biggest legal question affecting western lands was slavery. This week in our
series, Rich Kleinfeldt and Shirley Griffith tell more about the long disputed
issue of slavery and the Kansas-Missouri bill.
another human being was legal in many parts of the United States at that time.
Slaves were considered property, like furniture and farm animals.
owned negro slaves wanted to take all their property -- including the slaves --
with them when they moved west. People who opposed slavery did not want it to
spread. Some of them considered slavery a moral issue. They believed it
violated the laws of God. An increasing number of white Americans, however, saw
slavery as an economic issue. They wanted new states to be free from slavery,
so they would not have to compete with slave labor.
States had been established as a democracy. Yet slavery existed. America's
early leaders knew that trying to end slavery probably would split the nation
in two. So they looked for compromises. They decided it was better to save the
Union...even if it was not perfect...than to watch the Union end.
presidents, Franklin Pierce hoped to avoid the issue. He also believed that
earlier legislation had settled the debate. In eighteen twenty, Congress had
passed the Missouri Compromise. It extended a line across the map of the United
States. South of the line, slavery was legal. North of the line, slavery was
not legal, except in Missouri.
years later, another political compromise made the situation less clear.
compromise of eighteen fifty made slavery a local issue, instead of a national
issue, in several western territories. It said the people in those territories
had the right to decide for themselves if slavery would be legal or illegal.
few years, that law caused a new debate in Congress. Lawmakers argued: was the
peoples' right to decide the issue of slavery restricted only to the
territories named in the compromise of eighteen fifty? Or was the right
extended to the people of all future territories?
came in eighteen fifty-four. In that year, Congress debated a proposal to
create two territories from one large area in the west. The northern part would
be known as the Nebraska territory. The southern part would be known as the
Kansas territory. Settlers in both new territories would have the right to
decide the question of slavery.
Pierce did not like the Kansas-Nebraska bill. He feared it would re-open the
bitter, national debate about slavery. He did not want to have to deal with the
results. Tensions were increasing. Violence was increasingly possible.
Kansas-Nebraska bill had a lot of support in the Senate. It passed easily. The
bill had less support in the House of Representatives. The vote there was
close, but the measure passed. President Pierce finally agreed to sign it. In
exchange, congressional leaders promised to approve several presidential
of the Kansas-Nebraska bill celebrated their victory. They fired cannons as the
city of Washington was waking to a new day. Two senators who opposed the bill
heard the noise as they walked down the steps of the capitol building. One of
them said: "They celebrate a victory now. But the echoes they awake will
never rest until slavery itself is dead."
bill gave the people of Kansas and Nebraska the right to decide if slavery
would be legal or illegal. The vote would depend on who settled in the
territories. It was not likely that people who owned slaves would settle in
Nebraska. However, there was a good chance that they would settle in Kansas.
the South organized quickly to help pro-slavery settlers move to Kansas. At the
same time, groups in the North helped free-state settlers move there, too.
the northern groups were companies called emigrant aid societies. Shares of
these companies were sold to the public. The money was used to help build towns
and farms in Kansas. Owners of the companies hoped to make a lot of money from
southern effort to settle Kansas was led mostly by slave-owning farmers in
Missouri. They believed that peace in Missouri depended on what happened in
Kansas. They did not want to live next to a territory where slavery was not
Washington, President Pierce announced the appointment of Andrew Reeder to be
governor of the Kansas territory. Pro-slavery settlers urged Reeder to hold
immediate elections for a territorial legislature. They believed they were in
the majority. They wanted a vote before too many free-state settlers moved in.
The legislature would have the power to keep the territory open to slavery and,
in time, help it become a slave state.
Reeder rejected the demands. He decided to hold an election, but only for a
territorial representative to the national Congress. On election day, hundreds
of men from Missouri crossed the border into Kansas. They voted illegally, and
the pro-slavery candidate won.
thing happened when Kansas finally held an election for a legislature. Governor
Reeder took steps to make the voting fair. His efforts were not completely
successful. Once again, men from Missouri crossed the border into Kansas. Many
of them carried guns. They forced election officials to count their illegal
votes. As a result, almost every pro-slavery candidate was elected to the new
governor ordered an investigation. The investigation showed evidence of
wrong-doing in six areas, and new elections were held in those areas. This
time, when only legal votes were counted, many of the pro-slavery candidates
were defeated. Yet there were still enough pro-slavery candidates to have a
Reeder was governor of a bitterly divided territory. He wanted to warn
President Pierce about what was happening.
went to Washington. He met with Pierce almost every day for two weeks. He
described how pro-slavery groups in Missouri were interfering in Kansas. He
said if the state of Missouri refused to deal with the trouble-makers, then the
national government must deal with them. He asked the president to do
agreed that Kansas was a serious problem. He seemed ready to act. So Reeder
returned home and opened the first meeting of the territorial legislature. The
pro-slavery majority quickly voted to move to a town close to the Missouri
border. It also approved several pro-slavery measures.
Reeder vetoed these bills. But there were enough votes to reject his veto and
pass the new laws.
legislature also sent a message to President Pierce. It wanted him to remove
Andrew Reeder as governor. Political pressure was strong, and the president
agreed. He named a new governor, Wilson Shannon. Shannon supported the
pro-slavery laws of the legislature. He also said Kansas should become a slave
state, like Missouri.
leaders were extremely angry. They felt they could not get fair treatment from
either the president or the new governor. So they took an unusual step. They
met and formed their own government in opposition to the elected government of
the territory. It would not be long before the situation in Kansas became
be our story next week.
Our program was written by Christine Johnson. The narrators were Rich
Kleinfeldt and Shirley Griffith. Transcripts,
MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be found along with historical images at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an
American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #82 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION