The Double Holiday

May 30, the traditional Memorial Day, is a time for us to remember the dead. We especially honor those men and women who have given their lives in the defense of their country. There’s another reason that May 30 is worthy of note to Nebraskans, as this 1894 Western Newspaper Union story explains:

“The annually recurring Memorial Day is nowhere more patriotically observed than in Kansas and Nebraska. When the call came for volunteers, those young territories were among the first to respond, and the regiments they furnished fought with bravery and gallantry inferior to none. They were essentially loyal territories, and their few thousand inhabitants furnished more recruits to the population than many New England and Middle states. Then too, Nebraska and Kansas are largely settled by the veterans of the civil war and their descendants.


But aside from feelings of gratitude to the fallen, and of reverence to departed comrades, Memorial Day possesses a peculiar interest for the citizens of Nebraska and Kansas. It was a most felicitous chance that placed Memorial Day on the anniversary of the Nebraska and Kansas bill, for it is certainly fitting to observe the last sacred rites of our civil war on the anniversary of one of the material factors in preparing the nation for that war. The bill did more than organize two frontier territories; it pushed aside the compromises of the past, and joined slavery and freedom in mortal combat.”

The Kansas-Nebraska bill ignored the tenets of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which insured that new states north of Missouri would be free states and those south would allow slavery. This new bill allowed citizens of the territory themselves to chose, and so was opposed by anti-slavery forces.

“The effects of the bill seem scarcely conceivable. Party lines were then in reality drawn on the slavery or bondage of the negro. The indignation shown in the north was only equalled by the joy manifested in the south, widening the sectional breech. After a short period of political unrest, the remnants of the whig and democratic parties who opposed the Nebraska bill were compelled to unite in a new permanent party whose chief tenet was opposition to slavery.”

This new party was the Republican Party which elected Abraham Lincoln. And as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.”

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