What were the reactions of the moderates and radicals of the North and the South to the Compromise of 1850?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Generally speaking, moderates on both sides of the issue of slavery's expansion warily hoped that it would solve the issue. As Henry Clay put it, the issue was whether people were willing to accept the possibility of disunion, warning "gentlemen" on both sides of the issue to

pause at the edge of the precipice, before the fearful and dangerous leap be taken into the yawning abyss below, from which none who ever take it shall return in safety.

Few agreed with all of its provisions, however. Radicals in the North, mostly abolitionists, objected to the fact that it still, in theory, allowed for the expansion of slavery through popular sovereignty in Utah and New Mexico. They also bitterly protested the new version of the Fugitive Slave Act, which essentially forbade Northerners from giving any support to escaped slaves. In fact, the Fugitive Slave Act had the effect of radicalizing many Northerners who had not felt strongly about the issue of slavery before. As for the South, ultras like John C. Calhoun, who protested the passage of the Act before the Senate, thought it would empower the North to limit the expansion of slavery, which was, they argued, constitutionally protected. In fact, by outlawing slavery in California, Calhoun argued, the North sent the message that they planned to restrict the institution everywhere:

California will become the test question. If you admit her, under all the difficulties that oppose her admission, you compel us to infer that you intend to exclude us from the whole of the acquired territory, with the intention of destroying irretrievably the equilibrium between the two sections. We would be blind not to perceive, in that case, that your real objects are power and aggrandizement, and infatuated not to act accordingly...

 

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