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The first half of the 19th century was a time of great change on the Great Plains. Remember it was only 1803 when President Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon — a purchase including the Great Plains region. No one knew what was in the purchase besides a lot of land and relatively few Indians.

Suppose you were looking for new territory to start over. Here’s all this new land. So what’s stopping you from just moving in? In addition to the hardships of a long journey, there is the small problem of settling in an area that is inhabited by Native Americans. In addition, there’s no way for you to specify what plot of land you are interested in. There are no roads, no surveyor’s land marks. This is a land that has never been organized into a territory. In 1854, the federal government passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and a large area of land labeled the Nebraska Territory became available for settlement.

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Kansas-Nebraska Territory 1855
1855 Map of new Nebraska and Kansas territories by Joseph Hutchins Colton.
Courtesy Geographicus Fine Antique Maps

Not everyone was happy with the Kansas-Nebraska proposal. Southerners feared it would lead to a territory filled with anti-slavery settlers. The anti-slave people worried that at least a part of the area would be filled with pro-slave settlers, and in fact, the Kansas-Nebraska Act "threw out" provisions of the Missouri Compromise. It opened up the territory to "popular sovereignty".



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