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Expansion of Slavery

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 threatened to extend slavery into northern territories. This danger thrust Lincoln back into the political spotlight where he would lead a new anti-slavery movement all the way to the White House.

"Anti-Nebraska" Speeches

In September 1854, Lincoln delivered two “anti-Nebraska” speeches in Bloomington, both denouncing slavery’s expansion.

In his September 26, 1854 speech, Lincoln attacked slavery’s expansion as incompatible with the promise of America, calling slavery a “moral, social and political evil.” He also acknowledged his strong belief that Blacks were deserving of basic human rights. His Democratic opponents did not.

There is a vast difference between tolerating slavery in the original slave states...and extending slavery over a territory already free and uncontaminated with the institution.
— Lincoln
September 12, 1854 in Bloomington
Black and white photo of Lincoln posing for a portrait, dressed in a suit, with his hand on a book, looking straight into the camera.

Abraham Lincoln portrait taken February 27, 1860 by Matthew Brady.

Credit: Courtesy the Library of Congress
Black and white photo of Lincoln posing for a portrait, dressed in a suit, with his hand on a book, looking straight into the camera.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

The following year Lincoln wrote to his good friend and Kentucky slaveholder Joshua Speed on his views regarding the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, settlers of each territory were to decide for themselves whether to become a slave or free state.

Violence erupted in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas,” as pro- and anti-slavery forces battled for the future of the territory.

I look upon that enactment not as a law, but as violence from the beginning. It was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence.
— Lincoln to Speed
August 24, 1855
The cover page of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Cover page of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Credit: Courtesy the Library of Congress
The cover page of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
Political cartoon with a woman surrounded by garish men, titled “liberty. the fair maid of Kansas in the hands of the border ruffians.”

This 1856 political cartoon accused the pro-slavery administration of Democratic President Franklin Pierce

of inciting violence in Kansas. “Border ruffians” were pro-slave invaders from Missouri and other slave states.

Pierce (standing, center) is depicted as a border ruffian.

Credit: Courtesy the Library of Congress
Political cartoon with a woman surrounded by garish men, titled “liberty. the fair maid of Kansas in the hands of the border ruffians.”
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