Congressional Leaders for Compromise of 1850

Congressional Leaders for Compromise of 1850

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The initial impetus for the Compromise of 1850 came from the old guard in the Senate, but much of the hard bargaining was undertaken by less prominent figures, including:

  • Henry Clay of Kentucky—who was, at 72 years of age, near the end of his illustrious career and had finally rid himself of presidential ambitions. He introduced an omnibus bill that lumped all parts of the compromise into a single measure.
  • Daniel Webster of Massachusetts—who saved one of his greatest orations until the twilight of his career, expressing the opinion that the maintenance of the Union was more important than the injustices caused by an unpopular piece of legislation (the Fugitive Slave Act). Webster's support of a strong federal role in returning runaway slaves cost him much support in the North.
  • William H. Seward of New York—who had recently come to the Senate from a distinguished career in state politics and invoked a “higher law” than the Constitution in his arguments against slavery
  • John C. Calhoun of South Carolina—who was dying of throat cancer, but managed to supply the philosophical framework for the Southern position. His repeated plea was for the North to stop attacking the South and the institution of slavery.
  • James Murray Mann of Virginia—who spoke on behalf of the ailing Calhoun.
  • Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois—who secured passage of the compromise by breaking it into segments that could gain majority approval, one by one.

Great Triumvirate

In U.S. politics, the Great Triumvirate (known also as the Immortal Trio) refers to a triumvirate of three statesmen who dominated American politics for much of the first half of the 19th century, namely Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. [1] These men's interactions in large part tell the story of politics under the Second Party System. All three were extremely active in politics, served at various times as Secretary of State and served together in the Senate. [2] [3]

Clay, the oldest, emerged on the national political scene first, serving as counsel for Aaron Burr in his treason trial and serving two short stints in the Senate before being elected Speaker of the House of Representatives for the Twelfth Congress. Calhoun was a freshman member of this Congress and his friendship and ideological closeness with Clay helped propel him to prominence as a leader of the war hawk faction agitating for a war which would eventually be declared as the War of 1812. Webster was elected in 1813 to Congress and immediately became a leading anti-war and anti-administration Federalist. Webster wrangled with the nationalists Clay and Calhoun on post-war issues such as the chartering of the Second Bank of the United States and the Tariff of 1816. After the Fourteenth Congress, Calhoun became Secretary of War and Webster declined reelection to focus on his law practice in Boston, a practice which took him before the Supreme Court in landmark cases like Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Gibbons v. Ogden and McCullouch v. Maryland in which he represented the Bank of the United States.

The three were reunited in the Senate in 1832, with Calhoun's resignation from the vice presidency and election to the Senate in the midst of the Nullification Crisis. The three would remain in the Senate until their deaths, with exceptions for Webster and Calhoun's tenures as Secretary of State and Clay's presidential campaigns in 1844 and 1848. The time these three men spent in the Senate represents a time of rising political pressure in the United States, especially on the matter of slavery. With each one representing the three major sections of the United States at that time and their respective mindsets (the Western settlers, the Northern businessmen and the Southern slaveholders), the Great Triumvirate was responsible for symbolizing the opposing viewpoints of the American people and giving them a voice in the government. The debates leading to the Compromise of 1850 were the last great hurrah for the triad as they saw at the same time the emergence of a new generation of political leaders like Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward and Stephen A. Douglas.

Calhoun was so ill at the time of the Senate debate on the Compromise that he was unable to deliver his fiery speech opposing it, instead having it read for him by James Mason while he sat in the chamber. Calhoun would die just two weeks later on March 31, 1850. Within three years, Clay and Webster would die as well, passing the torch to the next generation of political leadership. [4]


The Republic of Texas gained independence from Mexico following the Texas Revolution of 1836, and, partly because Texas had been settled by a large number of Americans, there was a strong sentiment in both Texas and the United States for the annexation of Texas by the United States. [1] In December 1845, President James K. Polk signed a resolution annexing Texas, and Texas became the 28th state in the union. [2] Polk sought further expansion through the acquisition of the Mexican province of Alta California, which represented new lands to settle as well as a potential gateway to trade in Asia. [3] His administration attempted to purchase California from Mexico, [4] but the annexation of Texas stoked tensions between Mexico and the United States. [5] Relations between the two countries were further complicated by Texas's claim to all land north of the Rio Grande Mexico argued that the more northern Nueces River was the proper Texan border. [6]

In March 1846, a skirmish broke out on the northern side of the Rio Grande, ending in the death or capture of dozens of American soldiers. [7] Shortly thereafter, the United States declared war on Mexico, beginning the Mexican–American War. [8] In August 1846, Polk asked Congress for an appropriation that he hoped to use as a down payment for the purchase of California in a treaty with Mexico, igniting a debate over the status of future territories. [9] A freshman Democratic Congressman, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, offered an amendment known as the Wilmot Proviso that would ban slavery in any newly acquired lands. [10] The Wilmot Proviso was defeated in the Senate, but it injected the slavery debate into national politics. [11]

In September 1847, an American army under General Winfield Scott captured the Mexican capital in the Battle for Mexico City. [12] Several months later, Mexican and American negotiators agreed to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico agreed to recognize the Rio Grande as Texas's southern border and to cede Alta California and New Mexico. [13] The Missouri Compromise had settled the issue of the geographic reach of slavery within the Louisiana Purchase territories by prohibiting slavery in states north of 36°30′ latitude, and Polk sought to extend this line into the newly acquired territory. [14] However, the divisive issue of slavery blocked any such legislation. As his term came to a close, Polk signed the lone territorial bill passed by Congress, which established the Territory of Oregon and banned slavery in it. [15] Polk declined to seek re-election in the 1848 presidential election, [16] and the 1848 election was won by the Whig ticket of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. [17]

Prophetically, Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped that "Mexico will poison us", referring to the ensuing divisions around whether the newly conquered lands would end up slave or free. [18] As of the 1848 election of Taylor, the issue was not yet apparent. Taylor was both a Whig and a slaveholder though Whigs were increasingly anti-slavery, Taylor's slaveholding had reassured the south and he won handily. Taylor made a key electoral promise that he would not veto any congressional resolution on slavery. Much to the horror of Southerners however, Taylor indicated that true to his promise he would not even veto the Wilmot Proviso if it were passed. Tensions accelerated quickly into the fall of 1849. Midterm elections worsened matters, as the Free Soil Party had gained 12 seats, which gave them a king-maker position in the closely divided House: 105 Whigs to 112 Democrats. After three weeks and 62 ballots, the House could not elect a speaker, with territorial crisis the main divide. The tumult of that period was severe, with a loaded revolver drawn on the floor of Congress, several fistfights between Northerners and Southerners, and then Senator Jefferson Davis challenging an Illinois congressman to a duel. Southern congressmen increasingly bandied around the idea of secession. Finally, the House adopted a resolution that allowed a speaker to be elected with a plurality, and elected Howell Cobb on the 63rd ballot. As James McPherson puts it: "It was an inauspicious start to the 1850's." [19]

Three major types of issues were addressed by the Compromise of 1850: a variety of boundary issues, the status of territory issues, and the issue of slavery. While capable of analytical distinction, the boundary and territory issues were included in the overarching issue of slavery. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery interests were each concerned with both the amount of land on which slavery was permitted and with the number of States in the slave or free camps. Since Texas was a slave state, not only the residents of that state but also both camps on a national scale had an interest in the size of Texas.

Texas Edit

The independent Republic of Texas won the decisive Battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1836) against Mexico and captured Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He signed the Treaties of Velasco, which recognized the Rio Grande as the boundary of the Republic of Texas. The treaties were then repudiated by the government of Mexico, which insisted that Mexico remained sovereign over Texas since Santa Anna had signed the treaty under coercion, and promised to reclaim the lost territories. To the extent that there was a de facto recognition, Mexico treated the Nueces River as its northern boundary control. A vast, largely-unsettled area lay between the two rivers. Neither Mexico nor the Republic of Texas had the military strength to assert its territorial claim. On December 29, 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States and became the 28th state. Texas was staunchly committed to slavery, with its constitution making it illegal for the legislature to free slaves.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made no mention of the claims of the Republic of Texas Mexico simply agreed to a Mexico–United States border south of both the "Mexican Cession" and the Republic of Texas claims. [20] After the end of the Mexican–American War, Texas continued to claim a large stretch of disputed land that it had never effectively controlled in present-day eastern New Mexico. New Mexico had long prohibited slavery, a fact that affected the debate over its territorial status, but many New Mexican leaders opposed joining Texas primarily because Texas's capital lay hundreds of miles away [21] and because Texas and New Mexico had a history of conflict dating back to the 1841 Santa Fe Expedition. [22] Outside of Texas, many Southern leaders supported Texas's claims to New Mexico to secure as much territory as possible for the expansion of slavery. [23]

Another issue that would affect the compromise was Texas's debt it had approximately $10 million in debt left over from its time as an independent nation, and that debt would become a factor in the debates over the territories. [24]

California Edit

California was part of the Mexican Cession. After the Mexican War, California was essentially run by military governors. President James K. Polk tried to get Congress to establish a territorial government in California officially, but the increasingly sectional debates prevented that. [25] The South wanted to extend slave territory to Southern California and to the Pacific Coast, but the North did not. The issue of whether it would be free or slave may well have gone undecided for years, as it had already after the end of the Mexican American war, if not for the finding of natural riches. [26]

Near the end of Polk's term in 1848, incredible news reached Washington: gold had been discovered in California. So began the California Gold Rush, which transformed California from a sleepy and almost forgotten land into a burgeoning hub with a population bigger than Delaware or Florida. The mostly lawless land found itself in desperate need of governance. Californians wanted to be made into a territory or state promptly. [27] In response to growing demand for a better more representative government, a Constitutional Convention was held in 1849. The delegates unanimously outlawed slavery. They had no interest in extending the Missouri Compromise Line through California and splitting the state the lightly populated southern half never had slavery and was heavily Hispanic. [28] The issue of California would play a central role in the exhausting 1849 speaker dispute. [29]

Other issues Edit

Aside from the disposition of the territories, other issues had risen to prominence during the Taylor years. [30] The Washington, D.C. slave trade angered many in the North, who viewed the presence of slavery in the capital as a blemish on the nation. Disputes around fugitive slaves had grown since 1830 in part due to improving means of transportation, as escaped slaves used roads, railroads, and ships to escape. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 had granted jurisdiction to all state and federal judges over cases regarding fugitive slaves, but several Northern states, dissatisfied by the lack of due process in these cases, had passed personal liberty laws that made it more difficult to return alleged fugitive slaves to the South. [31] Congress also faced the issue of Utah, which like California and New Mexico, had been ceded by Mexico. Utah was inhabited largely by Mormons, whose practice of polygamy was unpopular in the United States. [32]

Taylor takes office Edit

When Taylor took office, the issue of slavery in the Mexican Cession remained unresolved. While a Southern slaveowner himself, Taylor believed that slavery was economically infeasible in the Mexican Cession, and as such he opposed slavery in those territories as a needless source of controversy. [33] In Taylor's view, the best way forward was to admit California as a state rather than a federal territory, as it would leave the slavery question out of Congress's hands. The timing for statehood was in Taylor's favor, as the Gold Rush was well underway at the time of his inauguration, and California's population was exploding. [34] In October 1849, a California constitutional convention unanimously agreed to join the Union—and to ban slavery within their borders. [35] In his December 1849 State of the Union report, Taylor endorsed California's and New Mexico's applications for statehood, and recommended that Congress approve them as written and "should abstain from the introduction of those exciting topics of a sectional character". [36]

Main figures Edit

The problem of what to do with the Territories became the leading issue in Congress. So began the most famous debates in the history of Congress. At the head were the three titans of Congress: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun. All had been born during the revolution, and had carried the torch of the founding fathers. This represented their last and greatest act in politics. The nationalist Clay and Webster sought compromise, while Southern sectionalist Calhoun warned of imminent disaster. The triumvirate would be broken before long as Calhoun would die of Tuberculosis. In March, shortly before his death, his final speech was delivered by James Murray Mason, as the blanket wrapped Calhoun sat nearby: too weak to do it himself. He provided a prescient warning that the South perceived the balance between North and South as being broken, and that any further loss of balance might lead to war. The situation was severe. [37]

Other players included a variety of rising politicians who would play key roles in the Civil War, such as the staunch anti-slavery William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase, who would be in Lincoln's cabinet the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis and rival to Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas. [37]

Clay proposes compromise Edit

On January 29, 1850, Senator Henry Clay introduced a plan which combined the major subjects under discussion. His legislative package of eight bills included the admission of California as a free state, the cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief, the establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories, a ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale, and a more stringent fugitive slave law. [38] [37] Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately, but Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California's admission and the disposition of Texas's borders into one bill. [39] Clay hoped that this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions. [40] Clay's proposal attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs, but it lacked the backing necessary to win passage, and debate over the bill continued. [40] Seven months of agonizing politicking lay ahead. [37]

Opposition Edit

President Taylor opposed the compromise and continued to call for immediate statehood for both California and New Mexico. [40] Senator Calhoun and some other Southern leaders argued that the compromise was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. [41] Most Northern Whigs, led by William Henry Seward, who delivered his famous "Higher Law" speech during the controversy, opposed the Compromise as well because it would apply the Wilmot Proviso to the western territories and because of the pressing of ordinary citizens into duty on slave-hunting patrols. That provision was inserted by Democratic Virginia Senator James M. Mason to entice border-state Whigs, who faced the greatest danger of losing slaves as fugitives but were lukewarm on general sectional issues related to the South on Texas's land claims. [42]

Debate and results Edit

On April 17, a "Committee of Thirteen" agreed on the border of Texas as part of Clay's plan. The dimensions were later changed. That same day, during debates on the measures in the Senate, Vice President Fillmore and Senator Benton verbally sparred, with Fillmore charging that the Missourian was "out of order." During the heated debates, Compromise floor leader Henry S. Foote of Mississippi drew a pistol on Benton.

In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. While some delegates preached secession, the moderates ruled and proposed a series of compromises, including extending the dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.

Taylor died in July 1850, and was succeeded by Vice President Fillmore, who had privately come to support Clay's proposal. [43] The various bills were initially combined into one "omnibus" bill. Despite Clay's efforts, it failed in a crucial vote on July 31, opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. He announced on the Senate floor the next day that he intended to pass each part of the bill. The 73-year-old Clay, however, was physically exhausted as the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him, began to take their toll. Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay's proposals through the Senate. [44]

Fillmore, anxious to find a quick solution to the conflict in Texas over the border with New Mexico, which threatened to become an armed conflict between Texas militia and the federal soldiers, reversed the administration's position late in July and threw its support to the compromise measures. [45] At the same time, Fillmore denied Texas's claims to New Mexico, asserting that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. [46] Fillmore's forceful response helped convince Texas's U.S. Senators, Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk, to support Stephen Douglas's compromise. With their support, a Senate bill providing for a final settlement of Texas's borders won passage days after Fillmore delivered his message. Under the terms of the bill, the U.S. would assume Texas's debts, while Texas's northern border was set at the 36° 30' parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian. The bill attracted the support of a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and Democrats from both sections, though most opposition to the bill came from the South. [47] The Senate quickly moved onto the other major issues, passing bills that provided for the admission of California, the organization of New Mexico Territory, and the establishment of a new fugitive slave law. [48]

The debate then moved to the House of Representatives, where Fillmore, Senator Daniel Webster, Douglas, Congressman Linn Boyd, and Speaker of the House Howell Cobb took the lead in convincing members to support the compromise bills that had been passed in the Senate. [49] The Senate's proposed settlement of the Texas-New Mexico boundary faced intense opposition from many Southerners, as well as from some Northerners who believed that Texas did not deserve monetary compensation. After a series of close votes that nearly delayed consideration of the issue, the House voted to approve a Texas bill similar to that which had been passed by the Senate. [50] Following that vote, the House and the Senate quickly agreed on each of the major issues, including the banning of the slave trade in Washington. [51] The president quickly signed each bill into law save for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 he ultimately signed that law as well after Attorney General Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. [52] Though some in Texas still favored sending a military expedition into New Mexico, in November 1850 the state legislature voted to accept the compromise. [53]

Settlement of borders Edit

The general solution that was adopted by the Compromise of 1850 was to transfer a considerable part of the territory claimed by Texas state to the federal government to organize two new territories formally, the Territory of New Mexico and the Territory of Utah, which expressly would be allowed to locally determine whether they would become slave or free territories, to add another free state to the Union (California), to adopt a severe measure to recover slaves who had escaped to a free state or free territory (the Fugitive Slave Law) and to abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia. A key provision of each of the laws respectively organizing the Territory of New Mexico and the Territory of Utah was that slavery would be decided by local option, called popular sovereignty. That was an important repudiation of the idea behind the failure to prohibit slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico. However, the admission of California as a free state meant that southerners were giving up their goal of a coast-to-coast belt of slave states. [54]

Texas was allowed to keep the following portions of the disputed land: south of the 32nd parallel and south of the 36°30' parallel north and east of the 103rd meridian west. The rest of the disputed land was transferred to the Federal Government. The United States Constitution (Article IV, Section 3) does not permit Congress unilaterally to reduce the territory of any state, so the first part of the Compromise of 1850 had to take the form of an offer to the Texas State Legislature, rather than a unilateral enactment. This ratified the bargain and, in due course, the transfer of a broad swath of land from the state of Texas to the federal government was accomplished. In return for giving up this land, the United States assumed the debts of Texas.

From the Mexican Cession, the New Mexico Territory received most of the present-day state of Arizona, most of the western part of the present-day state of New Mexico, and the southern tip of present-day Nevada (south of the 37th parallel). The territory also received most of present-day eastern New Mexico, a portion of present-day Colorado (east of the crest of the Rocky Mountains, west of the 103rd meridian, and south of the 38th parallel) all of this land had been claimed by Texas.

From the Mexican Cession, the Utah Territory received present-day Utah, most of present-day Nevada (everything north of the 37th parallel), a major part of present-day Colorado (everything west of the crest of the Rocky Mountains), and a small part of present-day Wyoming. That included the newly founded colony at Salt Lake, of Brigham Young. The Utah Territory also received some land that had been claimed by Texas this land is now part of present-day Colorado that is east of the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

Fugitive Slave Law Edit

Perhaps the most important part of the Compromise received the least attention during debates. Enacted September 18, 1850, it is informally known as the Fugitive Slave Law, or the Fugitive Slave Act. It bolstered the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The new version of the Fugitive Slave Law required federal judicial officials in all states and federal territories, including in those states and territories in which slavery was prohibited, to assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters actively in the states and territories permitting slavery. Any federal marshal or other official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave was liable to a fine of $1000. Law enforcement everywhere in the US had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a fugitive slave on no more evidence than a claimant's sworn testimony of ownership. Suspected slaves could neither ask for a jury trial nor testify on their own behalf. Also, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was to be subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1000 fine. Officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee for their work, and the cost was expected to be borne by the Federal Government. [55]

The law was so rigorously pro-slavery as to prohibit the admission of the testimony of a person accused of being an escaped slave into evidence at the judicial hearing to determine the status of the accused escaped slave. Thus, if a freedman were claimed to be an escaped slave, they could not resist their return to slavery by truthfully telling their actual history. Furthermore, the federal commissioners overseeing the hearings were paid five dollars for ruling a person was free, but were paid 10 dollars for determining they were a slave, thus providing a financial incentive to always rule in favor of slavery regardless of the evidence. [56] The law further exacerbated the problem of free blacks being kidnapped and forced into slavery. [57]

The Fugitive Slave Act was essential to meet Southern demands. In terms of public opinion in the North, the critical provision was that ordinary citizens were required to aid slave catchers. Many northerners deeply resented that requirement to help slavery personally. Resentment towards the Act continued to heighten tensions between the North and South, which were inflamed further by abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, stressed the horrors of recapturing escaped slaves and outraged Southerners. [58]

End of slave trade in District of Columbia Edit

A statute enacted as part of the compromise prohibited the slave trade in Washington DC, but not slave ownership. [59] Southerners in Congress were unanimous in opposing that provision, which was seen as a concession to the abolitionists and a bad precedent, but they were outvoted. [60] However, Washington DC's residents could still easily buy and sell slaves in the nearby states of Virginia and Maryland.

Compromise of 1850

The results of the Mexican War (1846–48) brought Texas into serious conflict with the national government over the state's claim to a large portion of New Mexico. The claim was based on efforts by the Republic of Texas, beginning in 1836, to expand far beyond the traditional boundaries of Spanish and Mexican Texas to encompass all of the land extending the entire length of the Rio Grande. Efforts to occupy the New Mexican portion of this territory during the years of the republic came to naught (see TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION).

In the early months of the Mexican War, however, federal troops, commanded by Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, easily occupied New Mexico. Kearny quickly established a temporary civil government. When Texas governor J. Pinckney Henderson complained to United States secretary of state James Buchanan, the latter replied that, though the matter would have to be settled by Congress, Kearny's action should not prejudice the Texas claim. By the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico relinquished all claim to territory north and east of the Rio Grande. The treaty did not, however, speak to the issue of the Texas claim to that portion of New Mexico lying east of the river.

By this time New Mexico and all other lands ceded to the United States by Mexico had become embroiled in the slavery controversy. Southern leaders insisted that all of the new territory be opened to slaveholders and their human property. Northern freesoilers and abolitionists were determined to prevent such an opening and so resisted the claims of Texas to part of the area in question. Texas attempted to further its claim by organizing Santa Fe County in 1848, with boundaries including most of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande. In New Mexico military and civilian leaders then petitioned the federal government to organize their area into a federal territory. Texas governor George T. Wood responded by asking the legislature to give him the power and means to assert the claim of Texas to New Mexico "with the whole power and resources of the State." Soon afterward his successor, Peter H. Bell, made a more moderate request, asking only for authority to send a military force sufficient to maintain the state's authority in that area. Bell then sent Robert S. Neighbors west to organize four counties in the disputed area. Although he was successful in the El Paso area, Neighbors was not welcomed in New Mexico.

Publication of the report of Neighbors's mission in June of 1850 led to a public outcry in Texas. Some persons advocated the use of military force others urged secession. Bell reacted by calling a special session of the legislature to deal with the issue. Before the session began, the crisis deepened. New Mexicans ratified a constitution for a proposed state specifying boundaries that included the territory claimed by Texas. Also, President Millard Fillmore reinforced the army contingent stationed in New Mexico and asserted publicly that should Texas militiamen enter the disputed area he would order federal troops to resist them. Southern political leaders responded by sending Governor Bell offers of moral and even military support.

Meanwhile, the United States Congress was grappling with the issue. On January 16, 1850, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri introduced a bill that would have had Texas cede all land west of 102° longitude and north of the Red River to the United States for $15 million. The bill would also divide Texas into two states. Soon afterward, Senator John Bell of Tennessee offered a resolution that would have divided Texas into three states. Then a Senate committee, chaired by Henry Clay of Kentucky, reported a bill that would have given Texas an unspecified sum in exchange for ceding all lands northwest of a straight line from the El Paso area to that point on the 100th meridian that intersects the Red River. None of these efforts proved successful.

Finally, Senator James A. Pierce of Maryland introduced a bill that offered Texas $10 million in exchange for ceding to the national government all land north and west of a boundary beginning at the 100th meridian where it intersects the parallel of 36°30', then running west along that parallel to the 103d meridian, south to the 32d parallel, and from that point west to the Rio Grande. The bill had the support of the Texas delegation and of moderate leaders in both the North and South. Holders of bonds representing the debt of the Republic of Texas lobbied hard for the bill, for it specified that part of the financial settlement be used to pay those obligations. The measure passed both houses of Congress in the late summer of 1850 and was signed by President Fillmore.

Though there was some opposition in Texas to accepting the proffered settlement, voters at a special election approved it by a margin of three to one. The legislature then approved an act of acceptance, which Governor Bell signed on November 25, 1850. The boundary act and four additional bills passed at about the same time, all dealing with controversial sectional issues, came to be known collectively as the Compromise of 1850.

Compromise of 1850 for APUSH®

America’s victory in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) added a lot of land to the divisive nation. Questions of how to incorporate the new land into the Union increased the sectional conflict ripping America apart. Northerners wanted the new lands to be slave free. Southerners, not wanting to weaken their representation in Congress, adamantly pushed back Northern efforts to outlaw slavery in the new land. The question of how the new land would handle the slavery question and the resulting re-balancing of Congressional power shaped the Compromise of 1850.

There were five major elements of the Compromise of 1850:

  1. California entered the Union as a free state.
  2. The remaining Mexican Cession lands would become the territories of Utah and New Mexico which would decide the issue of slavery in that area based on popular sovereignty (voter decision).
  3. The federal Fugitive Slave law would be strengthened to catch runaway slaves.
  4. The slave trade in Washington D.C. would be abolished.
  5. Texas would receive $10 million for their western lands and these lands would be added to the New Mexico territory.

This compromise was extremely significant because it established several of the issues that eventually led to the Civil War. The political balance in Congress for the next ten years leading to the Civil War favored the northern states. Additionally, the South was angered over the fact that The Fugitive Slave law, though much more stringent than previous federal laws, would not be enforced. The idea of popular sovereignty which might allow for the spreading of slavery enraged many northern abolitionists.

In the end, The Compromise of 1850 kept the union together for a decade and some historians believed that because of the industrial growth that took place during that time, the North would have the resources and industrial might to win the War when it came. If the war was fought in 1850, the South may have achieved independence with the resulting separation of nations making America look extremely different than it does today.

Compromise of 1850 (Boyer, 1995)

Whatever the ambiguities and ironies of the Compromise, it did avert a grave crisis in 1850 – or at least postponed it. Most Americans – even those who disliked the Compromise – breathed a sigh of relief. Moderates in both parties and in both sections took their cue from President Fillmore, who announced that the Compromise was “a final and irrevocable settlement” of sectional differences. Acceptance of the compromise was more hearty in the South than in the North. Most Southerners, especially Whigs, regarded it as a Southern victory. “We of the South had a new lease for slave property,” wrote a North Carolina Whig. “It was more secure than it had been for the last quarter of a century.”

These sentiments blunted the fire-eaters’ drive to keep disunionism alive. In four lower-South-states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi – Unionist coalitions of Whigs and moderate Democrats defeated efforts by Southern Rights Democrats to win control of the state governments and to call secession conventions. The Georgia Unionists in December 1850 adopted resolutions that furnished a platform for the South during the next decade. It was a platform of conditional Unionist. Although Georgia did “not wholly approve” of the Compromise, she would “abide by it as a permanent adjustment of this sectional controversy.”

Millard Fillmore Signs Compromise of 1850

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

In 1850, the United States Congress debated a proposal for an important compromise. The compromise dealt mostly with the national dispute over slavery. That dispute threatened to split the northern and southern parts of the country. There was a danger of civil war. Many leaders supported the compromise. But President Zachary Taylor did not.

This week in our series, Leo Scully and Larry West complete our story of the Compromise of Eighteen Fifty.

Taylor did not think there was a crisis. He did not believe the dispute over slavery was as serious as others did. He had his own plan to settle one part of the dispute. He would make the new territory of California a free state. Slavery there would be banned.

Taylor's plan did not, however, settle other parts of the dispute. It said nothing about laws on escaped slaves. It said nothing about slavery in the nation's capital, the District of Columbia. It said nothing about the border dispute between Texas and New Mexico. The congressional compromise was an attempt to settle all these problems.

Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had written the compromise, questioned the president's limited proposal. Clay said: "Now what is the plan of the president? Here are five problems, five wounds that are bleeding and threatening the life of the republic. What is the president's plan? Is it to heal all these wounds? No such thing. It is to heal one of the five and to leave the other four to bleed more than ever."

While the debate continued in Washington, the situation in Texas and New Mexico got worse. Texas claimed a large part of New Mexico, including the capital, Santa Fe. Early in 1850, Texas sent a representative to Santa Fe to take control of the government.

The United States military commander in New Mexico advised the people not to recognize the man. The governor of Texas was furious. He decided to send state soldiers to enforce Texas's claims in New Mexico. He said if trouble broke out, the United States government would be to blame.

President Taylor rejected Texas's claims. He told his secretary of war to send an order to the military commander in New Mexico. The commander was to use force to oppose any attempt by Texas to seize the territory.

The secretary of war said he would not send such an order. He believed that if fighting began, southerners would hurry to the aid of Texas. And that, he thought, might be the start of a southern struggle against the federal government.

In a short time, the North and South would be at war. When the secretary of war refused to sign the order, President Taylor answered sharply. "Then I will sign the order myself!"

Taylor had been a general before becoming president. He said he would take command of the army himself to enforce the law. And he said he was willing to hang anyone who rebelled against the Union.

President Taylor began writing a message to Congress on the situation. He never finished it. On the afternoon of July 4, 1850, Taylor attended an outdoor independence day ceremony. The ceremony was held at the place where a monument to America's first president, George Washington, was being built.

The day was very hot, and Taylor stood for a long time in the burning sun. That night, he became sick with pains in his stomach. Doctors were called to the White House. But none of their treatments worked.

Five days later, President Taylor died. Vice President Millard Fillmore was sworn-in as president.

Fillmore was from New York state. His family was poor. His early education came not from school teachers, but from whatever books he could find. Later, Fillmore was able to study law. He became a successful lawyer. He also served in the United States Congress for eight years.

The Whig Party chose him as its vice presidential candidate in the election of 1848. He served as vice president for about a year and a half before the death of President Taylor.

Fillmore had disagreed with Taylor over the congressional compromise on slavery and the western territories. Unlike Taylor, Fillmore truly believed that the nation was facing a crisis. And he truly believed the compromise would help save the Union.

Now, as president, Fillmore offered his complete support to the bill. Its chances of passing looked better than ever. Fillmore asked the old cabinet to resign. He named his own cabinet members. All were strong supporters of the union. All supported the compromise.

Congress debated the compromise throughout the summer of 1850. There were several proposals in the bill. Supporters decided not to vote on the proposals as one piece of legislation. They saw a better chance of success by trying to pass each proposal separately. Their idea worked.

By the end of September, both the Senate and House of Representatives had approved all parts of the 1850 compromise.

President Fillmore signed them into law. One part of the compromise permitted California to enter the Union as a free state. One established territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah. One settled the dispute between Texas and New Mexico. Another ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia.

Many happy celebrations took place when citizens heard that President Fillmore had signed the 1850 compromise. Many people believed the problem of slavery had been solved. They believed the Union had been saved.

Others, however, believed the problem had only been postponed. They hoped the delay would give reasonable men of the North and South time to find a permanent answer to the issue of slavery. Time was running out.

It was true that the 1850 compromise had ended a national crisis. But both northern and southern extremists remained bitter. Those opposed to slavery believed the compromise law on runaway slaves violated the constitution.

The new law said negroes accused of being runaway slaves could not have a jury trial. It said government officials could send negroes to whoever claimed to own them. It said negroes could not appeal such a decision.

Those who supported slavery had a different idea of the compromise. They did not care about the constitutional rights of negroes. They considered the compromise a simple law for the return of valuable property. No law approved by Congress, and signed by the president, could change these beliefs.

The issue of slavery was linked to the issue of secession. Did states have the right to leave the Union? If southern states rejected all compromises on slavery, did they have the right to secede? The signing of the 1850 compromise cooled the debate for a time. But disagreement on the issues was deep. It would continue to build over the next ten years. Those were difficult years for America's presidents.

Next week, we will tell how the situation affected the administration of President Millard Fillmore.

Who were involved in the Compromise of 1850?

Senator Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions on January 29, 1850, in an attempt to seek a compromise and avert a crisis between North and South. As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was amended and the slave trade in Washington, D.C., was abolished.

Also Know, what were the components of the Compromise of 1850? The Compromise of 1850 contained the following provisions: (1) California was admitted to the Union as a free state (2) the remainder of the Mexican cession was divided into the two territories of New Mexico and Utah and organized without mention of slavery (3) the claim of Texas to a portion of New Mexico was

Also to know is, what is the compromise of 1850 and why is it important?

The Compromise of 1850 also allowed the United States to expand its territory by accepting California as a state. A territory rich in gold, agricultural products and other natural resources would create wealth and enrich the country as a whole.

Was the Compromise of 1850 Proslavery or antislavery?

Antislavery advocates wanted to end the slave trade in the District of Columbia, while proslavery advocates aimed to strengthen fugitive slave laws. Although Taylor himself owned more than one hundred slaves, he prioritized national unity over sectional interests.

Compromise of 1850

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Compromise of 1850, in U.S. history, a series of measures proposed by the “great compromiser,” Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, and passed by the U.S. Congress in an effort to settle several outstanding slavery issues and to avert the threat of dissolution of the Union. The crisis arose from the request of the territory of California (December 3, 1849) to be admitted to the Union with a constitution prohibiting slavery. The problem was complicated by the unresolved question of slavery’s extension into other areas ceded by Mexico the preceding year (see Mexican-American War).

The issue of whether the territories would be slave or free came to a boil following the election of Zachary Taylor as president in 1848. In his first annual message to Congress, Taylor endorsed statehood for California and urged that “those exciting topics” that had caused such apprehension be left to the courts. He opposed any legislative plan that would address the problems that so agitated Northerners and Southerners, thus preventing Henry Clay from pushing ahead with another compromise plan that, he hoped, would settle the issue for at least a generation, as had the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Then Taylor died just 16 months into his term, and his successor, Millard Fillmore, saw the wisdom of Clay’s proposal and encouraged him to continue.

Clay’s purpose was to maintain a balance between free and slave states and to satisfy both proslavery and antislavery forces. The plan adopted by Congress had several parts: California was admitted as a free state, upsetting the equilibrium that had long prevailed in the Senate the boundary of Texas was fixed along its current lines Texas, in return for giving up land it claimed in the Southwest, had $10 million of its onerous debt assumed by the federal government areas ceded by Texas became the recognized territories of New Mexico and Utah, and in neither case was slavery mentioned, ostensibly leaving these territories to decide the slavery question on their own by the principle of popular sovereignty the slave trade, but not slavery itself, was abolished in the District of Columbia and finally, Congress passed a new and stronger Fugitive Slave Act, taking the matter of returning runaway slaves out of the control of states and making it a federal responsibility.

With the influential support of Sen. Daniel Webster and the concerted unifying efforts of Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, the five compromise measures were enacted in September. These measures were accepted by moderates in all sections of the country, and the secession of the South was postponed for a decade. Indeed, the political system had seemed to work, and many Americans greeted the Compromise of 1850 with relief. President Fillmore called it “a final settlement,” and the South certainly had nothing to complain about. It had secured the type of fugitive slave law it had long demanded, and although California came in as a free state, it elected proslavery representatives. Moreover, New Mexico and Utah enacted slave codes, technically opening the territories to slavery.

The compromise, however, contained the seeds of future discord. The precedent of popular sovereignty led to a demand for a similar provision for the Kansas Territory in 1854, causing bitterness and violence there (see Bleeding Kansas). Furthermore, the application of the new Fugitive Slave Act triggered such a strong reaction throughout the North that many moderate antislavery elements became determined opponents of any further extension of slavery into the territories. While the Compromise of 1850 succeeded as a temporary expedient, it also proved the failure of compromise as a permanent political solution when vital sectional interests were at stake.

1850, Sept. 20

President Fillmore completed signing of the individual bills that made up the Compromise of 1850, crafted in U.S. Congress largely by Henry Clay, Whig majority leader in the U.S. Senate, and shepherded by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Daniel Webster. Bills admitted California to the Union as a free state provided funds for payment to Texas for cession of lands admitted New Mexico and Utah as territories, with the slavery issue to be decided by popular sovereignty abolished the slave trade, but not the institution of slavery itself, in Washington, D.C. and instituted a Fugitive Slave Act. The latter was considered highly controversial by anti-slavery advocates in the Northeast but was not vetoed by Fillmore.

Zachary Taylor mausoleum, Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville, Ky. Creator, David W. Haas. HABS/HAER. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. HALS KY-6-17

1850, Nov. 4

Buried at Louisville, now the site of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument.

1851, Feb.

Richard Taylor married Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier (d. 1875), a French Creole native of Louisiana. Expanded land holdings and held some 200 enslaved persons in bondage.

Margaret Taylor lived with son Richard Taylor at “Fashion” plantation newly purchased by Richard in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. She brought with her documents, clothing, awards, artifacts and other personal belongings of her late husband for storage and as family memorabilia.

1852, Aug. 14

Former first lady Margaret Taylor died during visit to daughter Betty Bliss in Mississippi.

Richard Taylor elected to the Louisiana Senate.

Freezing weather caused serious financial setbacks for many southern planters, including Richard Taylor.

A former Whig and Know-Nothing who became a Democrat, Richard Taylor attended the Democratic Party Convention in Charleston, S.C., as a state delegate.

Brother-in-law of Confederate States of America leader Jefferson Davis, Richard Taylor served as brigadier general in the Confederate Army, leading the Louisiana brigade in the Shenandoah Valley campaign.


Promoted to major general, Richard Taylor became a recruiting officer in Louisiana and led Confederate forces in clashes with the Union Army over control of lower Louisiana. In the last year of the war he was promoted to lieutenant general and commanded the CSA Army of Tennessee. His home, library, and father's papers were looted and destroyed during the war.

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