What is the significance of the Wilmot Proviso?

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lizedwards's profile pic

lizedwards | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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The Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was the proposition for an American law that would ban slavery in any new territory acquired from Mexico during the Mexican War. The proviso fueled the conflict between the North and the South over the issue of power in Congress. Neither the North nor the South wanted the other to have more power in Congress. If a territory was added to either side, the balance of power would be tipped, and Southerners stood to lose their slavery-driven economy should the North have a majority in Congress. If the proviso passed, free territories would be added, thus growing the North's power and diminishing the South's. 

The Wilmot Proviso passed in the House of Representatives but not the Senate, and thus never became a federal legislation. Its effects however, were long-lasting, and it is seen as one of the events that resulted in the American Civil War. The proviso exacerbated sectional conflict as each side vied for leverage in Congress. A similar conflict had already occurred few decades earlier in 1819 with the Tallmadge Amendment. The Tallmadge Amendment sought to make the newly acquired territory of Missouri a free state. The question then was the same: would the new territory be a free state or a slave state? Like the Wilmot Proviso, the Tallmadge Amendment failed, but had the effect of increasing tension and contention between sides. Ultimately, that growing discord would become so great that the country was led to civil war.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The significance of the Wilmot Proviso is that it helped to make the North and the South more angry at each other at the time of the Mexican American War.  It did so by helping to cast the war as one that was about slavery.

Many in the North worried that the point of this war was to take more land that would (because it was in the South) become slave territory.  For this reason, they (a famous example of this is Henry David Thoreau) opposed the war.  The Wilmot Proviso helped to publicize this idea because it stated that no land taken from Mexico could become slave.

The Proviso did not pass, but it still served to make the North and South come into conflcit more.  This helped to bring on the Civil War.

Yojana_Thapa's profile pic

Yojana_Thapa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Wilmot proviso was specifically provided for the prohibition of slavery in lands acquired from Mexico in the Mexican war. Congress did not pass the Wilmot Proviso. This was one of the causes of the Civil War.

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