How did the Compromise of 1850 try to settle the issue of slavery in the new lands? What roles did Clay, Webster and Douglas play in this compromise?

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Compromise of 1850 dealt with the land the U.S. acquired from Mexico in the Mexican-American War.  This land was known as the Mexican Cession.  This compromise attempted to settle the issue of slavery in this new territory by trying to give each side, pro-slavery and anti-slavery, something they could support. There were five parts to the Compromise of 1850. First, California was admitted to the Union as a free state. Next, two new territories were established, Utah and New Mexico, and slavery in those territories would be determined by popular sovereignty, that is, the people of the territories would decide the issue. The border of the state of Texas was determined, with Texas giving up some of its land in exchange for $10 million.  The slave trade, but not slavery itself, was ended in the District of Columbia.  Finally, a new, strict fugitive slave law was enacted.  This compromise was difficult to get passed because each part of the compromise upset one part of the country.  California as a free state upset the south.  Opening slavery to new territories upset the north. Ending the slave trade in D.C. upset the south. Passing a new fugitive slave law upset the north.

Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Stephen Douglas all played an important role in the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Henry Clay, known as “The Great Compromiser”, came up with the plan which he hoped would save the nation from being torn apart.  The debate over this compromised raged for eight months, with John C. Calhoun leading the opposition and threatening secession. Daniel Webster, one of the Senate’s great orators, threw his support behind Clay and his compromise and gave a rousing speech in support which began, “Mr. President, I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as Northern man, but as an American ... I speak today for the preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause."  He ended by warning "there can be no such thing as a peaceable secession."  Stephen Douglas took a leadership role in the fight for passage.  It was Douglas who coined the term “popular sovereignty” and it was his idea to abandon Clay’s idea of putting the compromise in one bill. Instead, he introduced each idea one at a time and was able to garner enough votes for each part individually.