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On the tree-sparse grasslands of the Great Plains, many homesteaders built houses of sod.

On the tree-sparse grasslands of the Great Plains, many homesteaders built houses of sod.

Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608 PH 0 1249, copy and reuse restrictions apply

On the tree-sparse grasslands of the Great Plains

Images of the Era: 1851-1877

Unprecedented growth in the 1850s strained the fragile agreements that had kept the nation united, but had also kept it part slave, part free. The addition of each new state to the Union rattled the delicate political balance carved out by compromises in Congress. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed residents of each of these new territories, rather than Congress, to decide whether to permit slavery. While intending to keep the nation together, this act inflamed sectional tensions, producing open warfare between pro- and antislavery forces in Kansas, and led directly to the Civil War.