Compromise of 1850 (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: A last national attempt to resolve the question of slavery in the territories brings the nation closer to civil war.
Summary of Event
The United States’ acquisition of large land areas following the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the Mexican Cession that followed the Mexican War’s end reopened the issue of slavery in the territories for most people in the United States. During the same period, most citizens embraced the idea of manifest destiny and its call for United States’ expansion and eventual control of the continent.
Beginning in the 1830’s, thousands of settlers officially left the United States when they crossed the Mississippi River, intent on harvesting the Western lands’ potential and earning statehood for their new homes. However, the Constitution, while creating a mechanism for the addition of states and acknowledging the right of each state to permit and even encourage slavery within its boundaries, made no mention of slavery’s status in future states. Because the power to admit new states lay exclusively with Congress, it could impose any condition it wished, conceivably requiring either the guarantee or abolition of slavery as a condition for admission. The national government had first addressed the issue when the Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This excluded slavery from the unsettled area north of the Ohio River to the...
(The entire section is 1778 words.)
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Compromise of 1850 (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The Compromise of 1850, also known as the Omnibus Bill, was a program of legislative measures enacted by Congress to reconcile the differences existing between the North and South concerning the issue of SLAVERY in newly formed TERRITORIES OF THE UNITED STATES.
The historical background of the enactment of the Compromise involved the increasingly hostile relationship between the northern and southern states of the Union over the existence of slavery. This hostility was partly due to the reluctant enforcement by northern states of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which established procedures for the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The dissension was exacerbated in 1848 when the United States annexed Texas and gained new territories under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought about the end of the Mexican American War. Abolitionists continued to favor the antislavery stance of the WILMOT PROVISO prohibiting slavery in the lands acquired from Mexico, which was proposed in 1846, but was never enacted into law. The South vehemently opposed the exclusion of slavery from the new territories.
In 1849 the request of California to join the Union as a free state resulted in...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
Compromise of 1850 (Major Acts of Congress)
Slavery presented innumerable problems to the United States prior to 1850, but none proved more unsolvable than those connected with westward expansion. Heated arguments arose over the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the admission of Missouri into the Union (1820821), and the annexation of Texas (1845). Each time politicians responded with some type of compromise that allowed the Union to continue with a slaveholding section and a free labor section. The Compromise of 1850 was the last important compromise between North and South over slavery and it did not last. By the end of 1863, in the midst of Civil War, almost all the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 had been repudiated.
The Mexican War of 1846848 generated the conflict that produced the Compromise of 1850. Northern Democrats, upset at Southern domination of the party, rallied behind a slogan of slavery prohibition from any territory acquired from Mexicohe Wilmot Proviso. But President James K. Polk desired to fill out the continental boundaries of the United States, and in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) he obtained the area now consisting of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Southern politicians immediately denounced the Wilmot Proviso and insisted slavery could expand into any territory acquired by the United States. Between 1847 and the beginning of 1850, Congress was consumed by the slavery expansion issue and it burned away all other issues. The problem simply would not go away.
At the same time California was annexed to the United States as a territory, settlers found gold and within one year California had enough population to become a state. But if California became a free state, it would tip the balance of free to slave states in the nation in favor of the free states. The politics of the situation became desperate. In the 1848 election, the citizenry voted Zachary Taylor into the White House. Taylor, who was a Louisiana slaveholder, nonetheless believed the western territories would be free and so he favored the admission of both California and New Mexico as free states. This outraged Southern politicians and by December 1849 they were speaking of secession.
Henry Clay, called the "Great Compromiser" because of his previous roles in resolving sectional conflicts, was sent back to the U.S. Senate by Kentucky to forge a compromise. He fashioned legislation that he believed resolved all standing issues between the free and slave states. These issues were the admission of California as a free state; the implementation of a settler decision on slavery in the territories of Utah and New Mexico; the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C.; a new fugitive slave law; a new boundary between Texas and New Mexico; and the federal government's agreement to pay the state debts of Texas. Clay placed all these matters in one bill called the "Omnibus." The Omnibus, however, failed to obtain the necessary majority to pass and failed on July 31, 1850. Clay soon left the Senate in disgust.
What changed the situation, however, was the death of Zachary Taylor and the installation of Millard Fillmore as president. Fillmore gave signals that he would sign a compromise act if one were passed by Congress. Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas and Georgia representative Howell Cobb
But the Compromise of 1850 was weak and destined to a short life. The Fugitive Slave Law created a furor in the North;
Southerners in the Gulf states debated leaving the Union in 1850 and 1851, but retreated in the face of overwhelming support for the Union. More importantly, Stephen A. Douglas's ill-conceived legislation to start territorial government in the Kansas and Nebraska territories (the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854), reignited the slavery extension issue and so undid much of the good achieved by the Compromise of 1850. The unsolvable nature of the slavery issue then produced Southern secession in 1860 and 1861, which in turn led to the War for the Union from 1861865.
During the Civil War, the Union Congress ended the Fugitive Slave Law, emancipated slaves in the District of Columbia and then throughout the Union with the Thirteenth Amendment. So the Compromise of 1850, except for the settlement of the New Mexico-Texas boundary and the admission of California to the Union, was entirely unraveled in the space of fifteen years.
See also: FUGITIVE SLAVE ACTS; KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT OF 1854; MISSOURI COMPROMISE
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