Compromises

The Constitution for Kids (Grades 4...
The Constitution for Kids (Grades 4-7)

Compromise of 1850

Throughout the early history of America, slavery was always a tense subject. There were many southern states that were plantation owners that encouraged and believed in slavery, and there were those in the northern and eastern states that wanted slavery abolished.

As new territories were being gained in the west, the government had to make some kind of decision on how slavery would be dealt with. The tipping point was after the Mexican-American War, when so much new land had been added. They tried to create a temporary truce, and the government passed the Compromise of 1850.

  • The details of the Compromise of 1850 included that California would be admitted as a free state to the Union, Washington, D.C. had outlawed the slave trade, there was a requirement for citizens of free states to help capture escaped slaves in the Fugitive Slave Act, and the New Mexico and Utah could have the white residents vote on whether they wanted slavery.
  • The Compromise of 1850 did not address the problem of slavery but tried to make as many people happy on both sides of the argument. For those that supported slavery, they were opposed to the fact that people could have free states and vote on whether they wanted slavery, and for those that were abolitionists, they felt that slavery should be outlawed everywhere, and citizens shouldn’t be required to help capture escaped slaves. The Compromise of 1850 made things worse.
  • The Mexican-American War may have given a sizeable area of land in the Mexican Cession, but it also moved the question of slavery to the top of the conversation list for the new territories. People in the north and east were afraid that the plantation owners of the South would expand and build on the new lands and bring slavery with them. Whether slavery would be permitted in the newly gained western areas was debated in Congress through the 1840s.
  • The American Congress also had to consider the large number of immigrants that were entering the country and heading to California because of the gold rush. If this condition hadn’t happened, it might have given Congress more time to ease through the topic of slavery, but the increased population and entrance as a new state pushed the subject, whether it should be a free or slave state. By 1848, pro-slavery Zachary Taylor was elected as president. However, he valued the country over personal interests and requested that Congress admit California as a free state.
  • Congress members were on both sides of the slavery debate issue. Henry Clay, a Kentucky Senator, was known as the “Great Compromiser,” and added some new resolutions that had a goal of limiting the expansion of slavery and stronger federal fugitive slave laws. On the other side, there was John C. Calhoun, who was known as the “Great Nullifier,” who petitioned to enforce slavery laws and said that the northern aggression on this topic was endangering the prosperity and rights of the South. He also said that the South would leave the Union before it submitted to anti-slavery laws.
  • The argument had the additional voice of Daniel Webster from Massachusetts when he gave his famous “Seventh of March” speech calling for national unity. While Webster denounced slavery, he thought it was worse to divide the country. Senator William H. Seward jumped in as he declared that slavery wasn’t compatible with the Declaration of Independence because “all men are created equal.” This finally brought the words of the abolitionists to the attention of the public when the Congressional speeches were published in the newspapers across the country.

Q&A:

What is thought to have been the tipping point of pushing the topic of slavery to the U.S. government?
Lands gained from winning the Mexican-American War

Mexican American War

What was the name of the famous speech given by Daniel Webster?
Seventh of March

What did the Compromise of 1850 include?
California would be admitted as a free state to the Union, Washington, D.C. had outlawed the slave trade, there was a requirement for citizens of free states to help capture escaped slaves in the Fugitive Slave Act, and the New Mexico and Utah could have the white residents vote on whether they wanted slavery

What was Senator Henry Clay’s nickname in the government?
The Great Compromiser

What was John C. Calhoun’s nickname in the government?
The Great Nillifier

What decision did President Zachary Taylor make about the slave topic in California?
To admit California as a free state