What were the major provisions of the Compromise of 1850?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major provisions of the Compromise of 1850 were as follows:

  • California was admitted into the Union as a free state.
  • Utah and New Mexico could decide whether they wanted slavery in their territories through the principle of popular sovereignty. The south defeated the Wilmot Proviso, which would have outlawed slavery in these territories.
  • The borders of Texas were settled, as the state gave up claims to New Mexico and retained the Texas Panhandle. Texas also received money from the federal government to pay off its debts. 
  • The slave trade, but not slavery, was banned in Washington, D.C.
  • A new, stronger fugitive slave law was enacted.

The compromise resolved the question of whether the lands acquired in the Mexican War of 1846-1848 would be free or slave states. The new fugitive slave law was particularly offensive to abolitionists in the north, who felt that they would have to be complicit in transporting escaped slaves back to the south. The law required federal officials to actively become involved in facilitating the capture and return of slaves, and federal marshals and other officials had the responsibility to arrest anyone they suspected of being an escaped slave. These demands and requirements were a burr in the side of northern abolitionists and helped increase their desire for abolitionism and helped inflame tensions before the Civil War. 

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Compromise of 1850, yet another ill fated attempt to avoid a Civil War between the Northern and Southern sections of the United States, contained five main provisions.  The first four were fairly innocuous when considered side by side with the fifth provision, a new Fugitive Slave Act which (it was claimed) would be enforced this time.  If the first four provisions appeased hostilities and cooled off tempers, it didn't last long, because item number 5 below sent the most fervent abolitionists and slavery proponents "off the deep end".

1.  California was brought into the United States with a stipulation that it would be a "free" state.

2.  Utah and New Mexico could enter the United States as "slave" or "free", which would be determined by popular sovereignty.

3.  Texas would drop its claims to land in what is now New Mexico, in exchange for $10 million to pay its debt to Mexico.

4.  The slave trade was outlawed in Washington, DC.

5.  The Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal to not return a fugitive slave to its owner.