Omnibus Bill.The compromise measures of 1850 are of interest to the student of Kansas history, for the reason that they represent the last action of Congress on the question of slavery prior to the organization of Kansas as a territory, and paved the way for the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill (q. v.) four years later. Oregon was organized as a territory by the act of Aug. 19, 1848. Section 14 of the organic act reaffirmed the Ordinance of 1787, giving to the people of Oregon all the "rights, privileges and advantages secured to the people of the territory northwest of the river Ohio," and providing that they should he subject "to all the conditions, restrictions and prohibitions in said articles of compact imposed upon the people of said territory."
As the Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in the territory northwest of the Ohio, the advocates of slavery were chagrined at the aggressiveness of their opponents in the organization of Oregon, and determined to make at least a portion of the territory acquired as a result of the war with Mexico open to the introduction of that institution. After weeks of debate in the early part of 1850, Henry Clay, on May 8, reported in the United States senate a bill embodying the following features: 1The formation of new states from Texas, and their admission into the Union to be postponed until such time as they should present themselves for admission; 2The admission of California, with the boundaries as proposed by her constitution; 3The establishment of territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico, without the Wilmot Proviso, embracing all territory acquired from Mexico not contained within the boundaries of California; 4The combination of the 2nd and 3d provisions in one bill; 5The establishment of the boundaries of Texas, excluding from her jurisdiction all of New Mexico and rendering to Texas an equivalent therefor; 6The enactment of a more effective fugitive slave law; 7The prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, but without abolishing slavery therein.
Some one compared the bill to a public omnibus, because it was "a vehicle for all sorts of passengers." The press and the public were not slow to adopt the notion thus advanced, and in a short time the measure became generally known as the "Omnibus Bill." While the bill was under discussion in the senate, President Taylor died (July 9) and his death weakened the anti-slavery cause, a number of the Whigs going over to the support of the compromise. A vote was reached on July 31, though Wilson, in his "Rise and Fall of the Slave Power," says: "The measure adopted did not bear much resemblance to that at first introduced. Indeed, only so much as referred to the Mormon territory of Utah remained. When, therefore, the pretentious measure on which Clay and his grand committee of thirteen had bestowed so much anxious thought and care had passed the senate, and was sent to the house, it had been so shorn and reduced that it was received with peals of laughter from both friend and foe. And yet, though failing to pass the senate as a whole, the debate and votes rendered it apparent that the separate measures of which it was composed could be carried, and that slavery, in the name of compromise, was again to be victorious."
Consequently the original Omnibus Bill was divided into five separate measures. The bill fixing the boundaries between Texas and New Mexico, and granting Texas an indemnity of $10,000,000, passed the senate on Aug. 10, and the house on Sept. 6; the bill admitting California as a free state passed the senate on Aug. 13, and the house on Sept. 17; the bill providing for the organization of the territories of Utah and New Mexico passed the senate on Aug. 14, and the house on Sept. 6; the fugitive slave law was passed by the senate on Aug. 23, and by the house on Sept. 12; and the act relating to the prohibition of the slave trade, but legalizing slavery, in the District of Columbia passed the senate on Sept. 14, and the house on the 17th of the same month.
The provisions of the fugitive slave law quickly became odious to the people of the Northern states and formed the basis of the issues in the presidential campaign of 1852. The Democratic party indorsed the compromise acts of 1850 and nominated for president Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire; the Whig party divided, one wing nominating Daniel Webster and the other Gen. Winfield Scott; the Free-Soil party, which first made its appearance in 1848 under the slogan "All territory ought to be free," nominated John P. Hale. The Whigs who supported the compromise measures were known as "Silver Greys" or "Snuff Takers," and those opposed were called "Woolly Heads." Pierce was elected and the slave party was in power when the question of organizing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska came before Congress in 1854. (See also Slavery.)Pages 389-391 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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