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(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

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Lincoln and Kansas-Nebraska, 1847-54

In 1847, Abraham Lincoln was a congressman from Illinois and a member of the Whig party – a party that had been disliked by frontier whites for being middle-class, abolitionist, Indian-loving and opposed to westward expansion. Lincoln in 1847 joined others in describing the war with Mexico as wicked and an attempt to extend slavery. In Illinois, pro-war Democrat newspapers called him a latter day Benedict Arnold and denounced his views as a slur against the volunteers of Illinois serving in the military. Lincoln did not run for re-election and returned to the practice of law.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 returned Lincoln to politics. The Democrat senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas, wanted Chicago to be the nation's railway hub through which trains passed westward into the Kansas-Nebraska territory, rather than a more Southern route. Douglas was interested in running for the presidency and had support from his fellow Democrats in the South. Southerners supported Douglas in exchange for his agreeing to allow people in the Kansas-Nebraska territory (which included the Dakotas) to choose slavery – contrary to the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which restricted the expansion of slavery above 36° 30' latitude. Douglas led the drive for the bill. The president, Franklin Pierce, another Democrat, signed the bill. People opposed to slavery were outraged. Protest meetings took place across the North, attended by abolitionists and members of various political parties, including the Free Soil party, a number of northern Democrats and some Whigs. Men such as Salmon Chase, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, organized a rally at Ripon, Wisconsin, aimed at bringing together people opposed to slavery. It was an informal beginning of the Republican Party, borrowing half of the name of Jefferson's old party, the Republican-Democrats.

In October 1854, Lincoln responded to the Kansas-Nebraska Act with a speech in Peoria, Illinois. Congressional elections were near and the speech won him new political support in the state. Lincoln helped organize the Illinois branch of the Republican Party, and that year the Republicans won 44 seats in the US House of Representatives. A few Republicans were elected to the US Senate and some were elected to state legislatures. Northern Democrats lost seats, and another loser that year was Lincoln, who failed in his try for the US Senate.

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