Legislation triggers political upheaval

Kansas endured several years of fear and hatred in the years after Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, but the Act's impact also was felt far beyond the Kansas and Nebraska borders. The entire nation was deeply involved with political change and uncertainty in the months and years following its passage. The law triggered the disintegration of the nation al Whig political party, which finally divided into Northern and Southern factions over the slavery issue. The Southern Whigs, also known as "Cotton Whigs," subsequently joined the proslavery Democratic Party, while members of the Northern Whigs and the Free-Soil Party combined to form the antislavery Republican Party in the North.

This political turmoil was reflected in the national elections of 1856. When the Whig Party fell apart, the Democratic Party stood as the only political party in America with significant influence in both the North and the South. As the only national party still in existence, the Democrats were able to nudge their presidential candidate, James Buchanan, into the White House. But the 1856 election results showed that the proslavery leanings that made the party so powerful in the South were eroding its popularity in the North. In addition, the 1858 fight over the Lecompton Constitution further bruised the Democrats, sparking bitter divisions among party leaders like Buchanan and Douglas.

The Republicans took full advantage of the growing fragmentation in the Democratic Party. Gathering support throughout the North with their message of abolitionism and economic opportunity in the West, Republicans replaced Democrats in many Northern states by the late 1850s. But Republican officeholders remained practically nonexistent in the South during this time. Indeed, the Democrats had assumed a stranglehold on positions of power throughout the South on the strength of their increasingly proslavery attitudes. As observers looked over the new political landscape, they saw that the North and the South were pitted against one another once again.

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