Why was the Compromise of 1850 seen as a solution to the sectional controversy started by the Wilmot Proviso?

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Americans would regard the Compromise of 1850 as a final solution to the sectional controversy that began with the Wilmot Proviso of 1846 as it had the support of politicians from both sides of the debate.

The Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was an attempt to eliminate slavery in the territories conquered from Mexico during the War of 1846-48.

The man who lent his name to the measure, Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot, sought to avoid the constitutional fallout that would inevitably follow from the addition of a slave-holding territory to the Union. Wilmot believed that if slavery were permitted in the new territories, then the political balance within Congress would tip further towards the slave interest.

In any event, the Wilmot Proviso was defeated by pro-slavery Senators from the South. But the slave interest and its supporters in Congress were certain that it was just a matter of time before anti-slavery forces tried to halt the spread of slavery into new territories.

And so, in due course, a number of politicians put forward proposals—such as popular sovereignty, allowing state voters to decide whether they wanted slavery or not—which they hoped would establish some kind of compromise that would take the sting out of this highly contentious issue. Like Congressman Wilmot, however, they would fail.

One such failed proposal was the Compromise of 1850. Though it enjoyed the support of politicians from both sides of the aisle, who believed that it represented arguably the last best chance of preventing the Union from splitting apart over slavery, it was ultimately doomed to failure as it appeared to give more to pro-slavery interests than abolitionists, thus ensuring that this running sore in American politics would continue to divide the nation.

Abolitionists were particularly incensed by the most notorious component of the 1850 Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled all citizens to assist in the apprehension of runaway slaves. To vast swathes of Northern opinion, and not just abolitionists either, such a measure was not just unworkable but morally repugnant. No wonder, then, that the 1850 Compromise was destined to go the same way as all other attempts to provide workable solutions to this most pressing of problems.

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