Compromise of 1850

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Compromise of 1850 and Slave and Free States

Compromise of 1850

Compromise of 1850 and Slave and Free States
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Map of Compromise of 1850 and Slave and Free States

Compromise of 1850
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Compromise of 1850 Map

1850 Compromise of Slavery Debate
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Compromise of 1850 Senate Debate

Compromise of 1850

US Slavery Compromises for Slave and Free States
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US Slave Compromises and Slave and Free States

The Compromise of 1850 was a series of bills passed mainly to address issues related to slavery. The bills provided for slavery to be decided by Popular Sovereignty in the admission of new states, prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia, settled a Texas boundary dispute, and established a stricter fugitive slave act, known also as the Fugitive Slave Law.
(Photo) Henry Clay debating his Compromise in the Senate, ca. 1850. Senator Henry Clay and the United States Senate in 1850. P. F. Rothermel. Engraved by R. Whitechurch,. ca. 1855. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number LC-USZCN4-149. Library of Congress.

By 1850 sectional disagreements, known as Sectionalism, centering on slavery were straining the bonds of union between the North and South. These tensions became especially acute when Congress began to consider whether western lands acquired after the Mexican War would permit slavery. In 1849 California requested permission to enter the Union as a free state. Adding more free state senators to Congress would destroy the balance between slave and free states that had existed since the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Because everyone looked to the Senate to defuse the growing crisis, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a series of resolutions designed to "Adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy . . . arising out of the institution of slavery." Clay attempted to frame his compromise so that nationally minded senators would vote for legislation in the interest of the Union.

In one of the most famous congressional debates in American history, the Senate discussed Clay’s solution for 7 months. It initially voted down his legislative package, but Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois stepped forward with substitute bills, which passed both Houses. With the Compromise of 1850, Congress had addressed the immediate crisis created by territorial expansion. But one aspect of the compromise—a strengthened fugitive slave act—soon began to tear at sectional peace.

The Compromise of 1850 is composed of five statues enacted in September of 1850. The acts called for the admission of California as a “free state,” provided for a territorial government for Utah and New Mexico, established a boundary between Texas and the United States, called for the abolition of slave trade in Washington, DC, and amended the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Compromise of 1850 did not address slavery on the national level but rather on the state level through popular sovereignty, a power granted to the states to determine its own destiny on slavery. Determining the boundaries and borders of slavery were also longitudes and latitudes drawn on a national map by Washington politicians. While one section of the nation was open to slavery, the other was not, causing sectionalism as one area soon possessed greater power in both houses of Congress.
Was the United States going to continue as one nation half free and the other half slave? On the world stage, the United States, not the Southern states, was viewed as being proslavery, while England, France, and Spain had already outlawed the practice. While abolitionists demanded that the Federal government ban the institution of slavery throughout the nation, Southern politicians believed that only the states held the power to make that decision.
Compromise of 1850 Definition
The Compromise of 1850 consisted of five bills and was introduced by Senator Henry Clay, Kentucky, to address issues of slavery with the objective of cultivating and maintaining an equitable political balance between the Northern and Southern sections of the United States.
What Caused the Compromise of 1850?
The Compromise of 1850 was the result of the U.S. victory over Mexico in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the treaty, known as the Mexican Cession of 1848, that officially ended the war. Included in the Mexican Cession was a demand by the United States that Mexico officially recognize the State of Texas and its boundaries. By conquering Mexico, the United States would broaden its boundaries from coast to coast and from sea to shining sea. Many would justify and rationalize the U.S. victory and its rapid territorial expansion as manifest destiny.
What were the Results of the Compromise?
The Mexican defeat proved costly for both nations. The Mexican Cession gave the United States possession and ownership of 55% of the territory of Mexico in exchange for merely $15,000,000, resulting in the U.S. adding 525,000 square miles, a gain of more than 60%, to its prewar size. Following the costly defeat, Mexico plummeted into bankruptcy and civil war, and its economy would be stymied for nearly one century. But with victory, the United States was confronted with whether the newly acquired territory would permit or ban the practice of slavery.   
The Compromise of 1850 failed because in a decade the balance between free and slave states had not materialized. Prior to 1850 the nation had 15 free and 15 slave states, but by 1861 it hosted 19 free and 15 slave states, thus shifting political power in Washington to the antislavery states in the North.
With an inequitable power existing in Washington and an outspoken abolitionist name Abraham Lincoln elected as the 16th President of the United States, a nation that had been torn across the map by sectionalism would now turn from the ballot box to cartridge box in an effort to resolve on the battlefield what the politicians were unable to remedy on the floors of Congress.
The defeat of Mexico had resulted in vast quantities of territory gained by the United States in 1848, and the Compromise of 1850 to address slavery in the new territory, and sectionalism which led to the deaths of more than 620,000 soldiers in the American Civil War in 1861.

Compromise of 1850 and US Territorial Expansion
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(Map) Compromise of 1850 was the result of the Mexican Cession

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 Millard 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 Senator Benton.
In early June, nine slave holding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action should the compromise take hold. While some delegates preached secession, eventually the moderates ruled, and they proposed a series of compromises, including extending the geographic dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.
The various bills were initially combined into one "omnibus" bill. Despite Clay's efforts, it failed in a crucial vote on July 31 with the majority of his Whig Party opposed. He announced on the Senate floor the next day that he intended to persevere and pass each individual part of the bill. Clay, however, was physically exhausted as the effects of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him began to take its toll. Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island, while Stephen A. Douglas wrote the separate bills and guided them through the Senate. The situation was changed by the death of President Zachary Taylor and the accession of Fillmore on July 9, 1850. The influence of the new administration was now thrown in favor of the compromise. The Northern Democrats held together and supported each of the bills and gained Whigs or Southern Democrats to pass each one. All passed and were signed by President Fillmore between September 9 and September 20, 1850.

 1.California was admitted as a free state. It passed 150-56.
 2.The slave trade was abolished (the sale of slaves, not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia.
 3.The Territory of New Mexico (including present-day Arizona) and the Territory of Utah were organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed 97-85.
 4.A harsher Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-75.
 5.Texas gave up much of the western land which it claimed and received compensation of $10,000,000 to pay off its national debt.
Clay was still given much of the credit for the Compromise's success. It quieted the controversy between Northerners and Southerners over the expansion of slavery and delayed secession and civil war for another decade. Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi, who had suggested the creation of the Committee of Thirteen, later said, "Had there been one such man in the Congress of the United States as Henry Clay in 1860–'61 there would, I feel sure, have been no civil war."

Five Bills

The Compromise of 1850 consisted of five bills that passed in the United States in September 1850 and diffused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, avoided secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict for four years.

The Compromise was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions.
  • Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, which it had threatened war over, as well as its claims north of the Missouri Compromise Line, transferred its crushing public debt to the federal government, and retained the control over El Paso that it had established earlier in 1850, with the Texas Panhandle (which earlier compromise proposals had detached from Texas) thrown in at the last moment.
  • California's application for admission as a free state with its current boundaries was approved and a Southern proposal to split California at parallel 35 north to provide a Southern territory was not approved.
  • The South avoided adoption of the symbolically significant Wilmot Proviso and the new New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory could in principle decide in the future to become slave states (popular sovereignty), even though Utah and a northern fringe of New Mexico were north of the Missouri Compromise Line where slavery had previously been banned in territories. In practice, these lands were generally unsuited to plantation agriculture and their existing settlers were non-Southerners uninterested in slavery. The unsettled southern parts of New Mexico Territory, where Southern hopes for expansion had been centered, remained a part of New Mexico instead of becoming a separate territory.
  • The most concrete Southern gains were a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, the enforcement of which outraged Northern public opinion, and preservation of slavery (but not the slave trade) in the national capital.
  • The slave trade was banned in Washington D.C.

The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slaveowner, had favored excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to the opposition of both pro-slavery Southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery Northern Whigs. Upon Clay's instruction, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas (Illinois) then divided Clay's bill into several smaller pieces and narrowly won their passage over the opposition of those with stronger views on both sides.

(Map) Beginning and Ending Dates of Slavery in US
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Date for Slave and Free States and Emancipation of Slaves

Kids Lesson Plan. Compromise of 1850 and Slavery
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(Map) Compromise of 1850, Slavery, and Slave and Free States

(About) Above map shows the Compromise of 1850 and an attempt to contain slavery in the United States. (Right) Map of each territory and state as it becomes a slave or free state in the Union.

Fugitive Slave Law
The fourth statute of the Compromise of 1850, enacted September 18, 1850, is informally known as the Fugitive Slave Law or the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. (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 actively assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters 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 $1,000. Law-enforcement officials everywhere in the United States had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a fugitive slave on no more evidence than a claimant's sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf. In addition, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was to be subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee for their work.
In addition to federal officials, the ordinary citizens of free states could be summoned to join a posse and be required to assist in the capture and/or custody and/or transportation of the alleged escaped slave. This particular 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 under the Fugitive Slave Law he or she could not resist his or her return to slavery by truthfully telling his or her own actual history
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 this requirement that they personally aid and abet slavery. Resentment towards this act continued to heighten tensions between the North and South, as inflamed by abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her book Uncle Tom's Cabin stressed the horrors of recapturing escaped slaves, and outraged Southerners. See also Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law .

The Compromise in general proved widely popular politically, as both parties committed themselves in their platforms to the finality of the Compromise on sectional issues. The strongest opposition in the South occurred in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, but unionists soon prevailed, spearheaded by Georgians Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, and Howell Cobb and the creation of the Georgia Platform. This peace was broken only by the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 introduced by Stephen Douglas, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and led directly to the formation of the Republican Party, whose capture of the national government in 1860 led directly to the secession crisis of 1860-61.
Many historians argue that the Compromise played a major role in postponing the American Civil War for a decade, during which time the Northwest was growing more wealthy and more populous, and was being brought into closer relations with the Northeast. During that decade, the Whig Party had completely broken down, being replaced with the new Republican Party dominant in the North and the Democrats in the South. But others argue that the Compromise only made more obvious pre-existing sectional divisions and laid the groundwork for future conflict. In this view, the Fugitive Slave Law helped polarize North and South, as shown in the enormous reaction to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law aroused feelings of bitterness in the North. Furthermore, the Compromise of 1850 led to a breakdown in the spirit of compromise in the United States in the antebellum period, directly before the Civil War. The Compromise exemplifies this spirit, but the deaths of influential senators who worked on the compromise, primarily Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, contributed to this feeling of increasing disparity between the North and South.
The delay of hostilities for ten years allowed the free economy of the Northern states to continue to industrialize. The Southern states, to a large degree based on slave labor and cash crop production, lacked the ability to industrialize heavily. By 1860, the Northern states had added many more miles of railroad, steel production, modern factories, and population to the advantages it possessed in 1850. The North was better able to supply, equip, and man its armed forces, an advantage that would prove decisive in the later stages of the war.

See also

Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives;;;; Encyclopaedia Britannica.


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