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The potent nature of the slavery question gnawed at the America political consciousness in 1850. When Jefferson described the issue of slavery as similar to holding “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go,” one recognizes that the Compromise of 1850 was an akin to holding on to a wolf. It was only a matter of time before the wolf was going to be free with destruction to follow.
A series of legislation designed to effectively address the issue of slavery through policy, the Compromise of 1850 hoped to deliver consensus to an issue where agreement was slowly becoming impossible to achieve. "The Great Compromiser" Henry Clay drafted the compromise which called for the state of California to be admitted as a free state. It also divided territory into the states of Utah and New Mexico, which were to decide their state of slavery by popular sovereignty, meaning the settlers in those states were going to vote on the issue. Land between Texas and New Mexico would be divided and reallocated to satisfy claims on it that Texas was making, while the slave trade was to be abolished in the nation's capital. Finally, the fugitive slave law was strengthened, making it easier for slaveowners to recapture slaves who had escaped.
Essentially, the Compromise was designed with something for each side of the slavery issue. It ended up creating more frustration and anger. Proponents of slavery began to consider secession, while abolitionists could not embrace the strengthening of the fugitive slave law, which essentially made slavery exist everywhere. Clay initially left his negotiations in disgust, a feeling that would resonate around the nation regarding slavery with a striking unanimity. The Compromise of 1850 demonstrated in stark detail that negotiation and policy debate can go very far in alienating many, the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.
The significance of this compromise was that it, like a number of other actions, was an attempt to diffuse the tensions that were leading to the Civil War. It is also significant to note that the Compromise failed to do this to any great extent.
The Compromise of 1850 was meant to be like the Missouri Compromise. It was meant to calm sectional tensions. However, it was not able to do this. It failed to calm the tensions largely because of the inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Act. The inclusion of this act enraged many Northerners and the Northern reaction enraged the South.
So, the Compromise of 1850 is significant as another attempt to calm sectional tensions; one which did not really work as intended.
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