1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

THE COMPROMISE 0F 1850

The first serious incident in the slavery controversy after the Missouri Compromise grew out of the War with Mexico. In 1846 President Polk applied to Congress for two million dollars with which to promote a peace with Mexico, and at the same time secure a large amount of Mexican territory. This territory was to be acquired in the interest of Slavery. David Wilmot, a Democratic Member of the House, from Pennsylvania, offered the following amendment to the bill: "Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States in virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the monies herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted."

Thus was the whole slavery matter precipitated for debate in Congress and discussion in the country. The Proviso was immediately championed by the North and utterly condemned in the South. Except that of Iowa, the legislatures of the free States passed resolutions affirming that Congress had power to prohibit slavery in all the Territories of the Union, and it was its duty to do so. The country was divided for the first time on sectional lines, and the Proviso was defeated. The first threat of slavery to resort to actual war was uttered by the legislature of Virginia in the consideration of the Wilmot Proviso.

The questions raised by the Proviso were avoided in the Presidential election of 1848. The convention which nominated Lewis Cass for the Presidency on the Democratic ticket voted down a resolution condemning the Proviso, and adopted a strict-construction platform. The Whigs did not adopt a platform, but nominated Zachary Taylor, a slaveholder and a Louisiana planter. He was elected. While the issue was slavery, it was not in the form it later assumed. At that time the opponents of slavery were not in favor of abolition, but opposed its extension. That was, in fact, the intent of the Wilmot Proviso.

The vast territory ceded us by Mexico brought many troublesome questions with it. Gold was discovered in California in 1848. The influx of population as a consequence created the need of a sufficient government there. In the first attempt to form a State government the people declared against slavery. Then, what form of government should be provided for the remainder of the Mexican cession? Coming up with these were other problems. The North had hoped to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, while the South demanded a more stringent Fugitive-slave law.

These questions came before the Congress of 1850 for settlement. The Senate was favorable to the contentions of the South, but the House stood against the extension of slavery. Neither side could secure the enactment of its desires. A compromise was the only peaceful recourse. This was proposed by Henry Clay, then a Senator from Kentucky. Through his efforts the following settlement was effected:

1. California was admitted as a free State.

2. New Mexico and Utah were organized as territories to be admitted as States with or without slavery as their constitutions might provide when application for statehood was made.

3. The Slave trade in the District of Columbia was prohibited, but it was declared inexpedient to abolish slavery in the District.

4. A very severe Fugitive-slave law was enacted.

In addition there was the declaration that Congress had no power over the interstate slave trade and could not prohibit it. And Texas was paid $10,000,000 to relinquish her claims to a portion of New Mexico.

All these provisions had been embodied in what was known at the time as the "Omnibus Bill," which was defeated. The result was attained by separate measures. Daniel Webster committed political suicide in the delivery of his "Seventh-of March" speech on these questions. He took refuge in the climatic defense of slavery, as did Governor Robert J. Walker of Kansas, a few years later, saying that slavery was excluded from the territory under consideration by "the law of Nature, of physical geography, the law of the formation of the earth."

The Compromise of 1850 destroyed the Whig party. The execution of the Fugitive-slave law of that year disgusted the North, and the Whig party, being charged with the responsibility of its enactment, was in due course abandoned and wrecked.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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