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Sectionalism and the Kansas-Nebraska Act


The impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Grade Level:

Middle and High School


This lesson chronicles the events prior to the Civil War from a uniquely Kansas perspective. Two key themes seem to define this time period:sectionalism and popular sovereignty.

Standards addressed:

Kansas history:

  • KH8B3I1 explain the concept of popular sovereignty under the Kansas Nebraska Act
  • KH8B3I3 describe the influence of pro- and antislavery ideas on territorial Kansas



  • Understand the impact of popular sovereignty in the creation of Kansas as a state


  • Using primary sources (letters, speeches, photographs, artifacts, advertisements, government documents)
  • Analyzing persuasive writing

Essential Questions:

  • What issues currently divide the nation?
  • Who has a right to decide the outcome of controversial issues?


  • Students write a short essay about whether the conflict in Kansas is over slavery or popular sovereignty.


  • Activate empathy for the issues in territorial Kansas by discussing a current politically divisive topic.
  • Define the terms sectionalism and popular sovereignty.
  • Have students evaluate primary source documents as to whether they are anti- or proslavery.
  • Lead a discussion about the evidence that students found to support or oppose slavery in Kansas.

Download the Complete Lesson Plan

This lesson plan was originally prepared by the Education and Outreach Division, Kansas State Historical Society for Territorial Kansas Online. The standards cited in the pdf form of the lesson plan were those from the 1999 Kansas State Standards. On this preview of the lesson we have made every attempt to match them to the 2013 Kansas History, Government, and Social Studies Standards and Kansas College and Career Ready Literacy Standards.