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Henry Clay was known as 'the great compromiser' during his lifetime because he understood how important the balance of power in the Congress was to the preservation of the union. In both the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and The Compromise of 1850, Clay proposed his resolutions in pairs appealing to both the north and south, especially in the Congress. His mindset was to offer enough concessions from both perspectives that a compromise could be made, thus avoiding what we now know was inevitible. Henry Clay's resolutions were founded in his belief in the nations' ability to compromise. Unfortunately, by the 1850's compromise had lost its meaning, and as a result The United States lost its way.
Five questions were disputed between the pro and anti slavery factions, three developing as a result of the land conquered from the recent War with Mexico--Should California enter the Union as an antislavery state, should the remaining unorganized western territory allow slavery, should the western border of Texas, which abutted the newly conquered territory, be moved east to disallow slavery, should the slave trade be abolished in the District of Columbia, and should a new fugitive slave act be passed. Henry Clay presented a resolution which would concede two questions to slave states, two questions to antislave states, and compromise on the fifth question. These resolutions were passed as 5 separate bills, and collectively became the Compromise of 1850. Concessions to the North were that California came in as an antislave state, and the slave trade was abolished in DC. The western territories were allowed to determine the slavery question for themselves and a strict fugitive slave law enacted; these were concessions to the South. Texas was compelled to move its border East. The balancing act postponed the outbreak of civil war for a decade, but also planted the seeds of the Compromise's destruction, notably in deferring the question of slavery in the Territories, which lead to "Bleeding Kansas" 4 years later.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 6, pg. 814.
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