Nebraska became a territory on May 30,
1854. President Franklin Pierce
signed what became known as the "Kansas-Nebraska Act."
The act repealed a ban on slavery in the lands of the Louisiana
Purchase and rekindled the sectional fires that threatened to
plunge the nation into civil war. Who would decide if slavery
would be allowed? Would Indian peoples have rights?
The key to Southern support for
organizing Nebraska and Kansas was the doctrine of Popular Sovereignty.
The people (white male voters) in each territory, not the federal
government, would decide whether to allow slavery.
a Nebraska Territory?
Bills to organize a Nebraska Territory
had been introduced in Congress as early as 1844. Supporters
such as Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, realized
a transcontinental railroad would someday be constructed to the
West Coast and wanted the line to pass through the Platte Valley,
bringing economic benefits to Midwestern states and cities. The
thought was that no railroad could be built there, nor white
settlements be made, until the Indians were removed and government
In 1852 a group of former Ohioans
who had settled on the banks of the Missouri held a convention
to send a delegate to Congress to urge creation of a Nebraska
Territory. The group had lost their land in Ohio, and was eager
to protect their new homes from speculators by gaining legal
title. They elected Abelard Guthrie as their delegate. They were
Two other groups soon held similar conventions;
southern sympathizers from Missouri came into what is now Kansas,
and northern sympathizers from Council Bluffs came into what
is now Nebraska near Nebraska City.
Guthrie and other provisional delegates
went to Washington and the debate over the Nebraska Territory
began. Although a bill eventually passed, the Wyandot ultimately
were forced to move to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Their
organizing convention was not enough to win them the vote or
status as U.S. citizens.
The seal of Nebraska Territory
included the motto, "Popular Sovereignty."
The Omaha Nebraskian incorporated
Popular Sovereignty in its motto.
Nebraska & Kansas, Published
by J. H. Coulter 1854 (3M pdf)
This is the first map published of the
new Nebraska and Kansas Territories. The eastern edge shows explorers;
American Indians hunt bison in the middle and dance in the western
portion. Wildlife and landscape are also depicted in engravings.
Note the text that explains that American Indian tribes are required
to have a chief or head man who officially represents them in
negotiations with the United States government.
Abelard Guthrie, delegate elected
from the provisional convention of the Nebraska Territory. Guthrie
was not himself a member of the Wyandot Tribe, but his wife,
Quindaro Nancy Guthrie was one-eighth Wyandot and a tribal member.
William Walker was the first Provisional
Governor of the Nebraska Territory and a member of the Wyandot
This bas-relief sculpture depicts
the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The sculpture
is on the east façade of the Nebraska Capitol. Photograph
by Richard Hufnagle, ca. 1964.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act left the issue
of slavery to be decided by the citizens of each respective territory.
There were initially slaves in the Nebraska Territory, but not
many. The 1860 census indicates that of the 81 African-Americans
recorded, fifteen were enslaved.
In January of 1861, the legislature abolished
slavery in the territory, overriding the veto of the Governor.
On December 5, 1860, the sheriff of Otoe County advertised for
the pending auction
of two slaves, Hercules and Martha.
African-Americans in Brownville,
Nebraska Territory. Photograph by C. R. Walker, ca. 1864.
William Richardson was a congressman
from Illinois who introduced a bill to create the Nebraska Territory.
Although his bill failed, Richardson guided the successful Kansas-Nebraska
Act through the House of Representatives. He arrived in Omaha
on January 12, 1858, to take office as territorial governor.
Although capable, Richardson opposed the pro-southern, anti-homestead
act policies of President James Buchanan and resigned after serving
less than a year.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
Bas-relief sculpture over the east entrance, Nebraska State Capitol.
Photograph by Richard Hufnagle ca. 1964.
Shackles, the symbol of enslavement.
These came to Nebraska from Virginia, but it is not known if
they were used here.