The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, sponsored by Lincoln’s nemesis Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opened the territories of Nebraska and Kansas. The residents of these territories would vote to decide whether they would be admitted as free or slave states. Leaving that momentous decision to settlers in those territories Douglas called “popular sovereignty.” In his speech at Peoria, Illinois Lincoln decried the Kansas–Nebraska Act for allowing the extension of slavery into the western territories. As Lincoln later noted in his Autobiographical Sketch (see selection 1), it was the monstrous injustice (as he saw it) of this Act that inspired him to return to politics and to join the newly formed Republican Party, the main aim of which was to stop the westward expansion of slavery. The bulk of Lincoln’s long (17,000-word) speech is devoted to a history of the Missouri Compromise and its repeal. Only a small portion is reprinted here.
. . . Equal justice to the South, it is said, requires us to consent to the extending of slavery to new countries. That is to say, inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska, therefore I must not object to you taking your slave.
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