Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Compromise of 1850

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The Compromise of 1850

Until 1845, it had seemed that slavery would be confined to the areas where it had already existed. The Missouri Compromise in 1850 created a political barrier. Many territories further west were now asking for admittance as states, and the argument arose as to whether these should by designated slave or free.

Many Northerners believed that if not allowed to spread slavery would eventually disappear. However, the annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory at the close of the Mexican War in 1848 aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of slavery into the territories. The antislavery forces favored the proposal to exclude slavery from all the lands acquired from Mexico.

Shortly after in 1848 California wanted admittance to the Union as a free state, a crisis threatened. Also causing friction was the conflict over the boundary claims of Texas, which extended far westward into territory claimed by the United States. In addition, the questions of the slave trade and the fugitive slave laws had long been challenging. There was some fear that, in the event of strong antislavery legislation, the Southern states might withdraw from the Union altogether. The possibility of the disintegration of the Union was deprecated by many but was alarming to some, among them Henry Clay, who emerged from retirement to enter the Senate again. President Taylor was among those who felt that the Union was not threatened; he favored admission of California as a free state and encouragement of New Mexico to enter as a free state. Many Southerners encouraged that the South should be given guarantees of equal position in the territories, of the execution of fugitive slave laws, and of protection against the abolitionists.

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Clay proposed that a series of measures be passed as a set compromise bill. Stephen A. Douglas supported this bill and the measures were the admission of California as a free state and the organization of New Mexico and Utah territories with no slavery, the status of that institution to be determined by the territories themselves when they were ready to be admitted as states. This system was known as popular sovereignty, the prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, a more rigorous fugitive slave law, and the settlement of Texas boundary claims by federal payment of $10 million on the debt contracted by the Republic of Texas.

These proposals faced great opposition. After long debates and failure to pass the bill, Congress passed the measures as separate bills in September of 1850. Many people, North and South, welcomed the compromise as a final solution to the question of slavery in the territories. However, the issue reemerged in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and seven years later the factions were fighting the Civil War.

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