Compromise of 1850

Date: 1850
  • After the United States gained vast tracts of land from the Mexican Cession, the slavery issue was inflamed on whether or not to allow slavery in the newly acquired territory. The Wilmot Proviso provided that there would be no slavery in the Mexican territory, but the South voted against this in Congress, and it was not passed. It was, however, enforced in all but one free states.
  • Both Whigs and Democrats tried to put a lid on the slavery issue during the election of 1848. Democratic candidate Lewis Cass thought slavery should be decided by popular sovereignty, making it a local issue and not a national one. The Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor (Mexican War hero), who owned slaves, but didn't take a stand on the slavery expansion issue. Antislavery northerners ran Martin van Buren in a new party strictly standing for abolition, the Free Soil party. Zachary Taylor won the election.
  • Gold Rush-populated California needed an adequate state government, so they drafted a Constitution in 1849 that excluded slavery. The passing of this constitution would be heavily debated in Congress, because it would throw off the balance of 15 slave states and 15 free states. Along with the California issue, Texas now claimed a part of territory that belonged to Mexico, and threatened to seize it with violence. The North wanted Washington DC to become a free area, and this upset the South. The South wanted a stricter fugitive slave law, because so many slaves were escaping North through the Underground Railroad. All these problems were carefully compromised at the Congressional Convention of 1850.
  • Henry clay and Daniel Webster pushed the idea of compromising with reasonable concessions to the South. President Taylor was against this compromise, but he soon died, and former vice president Millard Fillmore gladly signed the compromise measures.
  • Compromise of 1850 benefited North: admitted California as a free state, abolished slave trade but not slavery in Washington DC, and the disputed New Mexico territory was given to New Mexico.
  • South also benefited: Texas got a $10 million compensation for not getting the land, New Mexico and Utah could choose if they wanted to allow slavery based on popular sovereignty, and tighter Fugitive Slave Laws were enacted.
  • Cali being a free state now tipped the Senate to the North - South angry.
  • Fugitive Slave Law received opposition in the North. Many of the northern states didn't enforce it, and Massachusetts made it illegal to follow it.
  • War could have easily broken out in 1850, as a result of this compromise, but the North was so set on preserving the Union, and refused to let these issues start a war...for now.

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