Compromise of 1850


On January 29, 1850, Whig Senator Henry Clay gave a speech which called for compromise on the issues dividing the Union.

However, Clay’s specific proposals for achieving a compromise, including his idea for Texas’ boundary, were not adopted in a single bill.

Upon Clay’s urging, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, divided Clay’s bill into several smaller bills, and passed each separately.

When he instructed Douglas, Clay was nearly dead and unable to guide the congressional debate any further.

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.

Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850, which defused a four-year political confrontation between slave and free states regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).

The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slave-owner, had favored excluding slavery from the Southwest.

Which leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to opposition by both pro-slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery northern Whigs.

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 had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise 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.

The general solution that was adopted by the Compromise of 1850 was to transfer a considerable part of the territory claimed by the state of Texas to the federal government, to formally organize two new territories, the Territory of New Mexico and the Territory of Utah, which expressly would be allowed to locally determine whether they would become slave or free territories, to add another free state to the Union (California), adopt a severe measure to recover slaves who had escaped to a free state or free territory (the Fugitive Slave Law), and to abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia.

At first, Clay introduced an omnibus bill covering these measures. Calhoun attacked the plan and demanded that the North cease its attempts to limit slavery.

By backing Clay in a speech delivered on March 7, Webster antagonized his onetime abolitionist supporters.

Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed compromise and earned an undeserved reputation for radicalism by claiming that a “higher law” than the Constitution required the checking of slavery.

The compromise was the last major involvement in national affairs of Senators Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, all of whom had had exceptional careers in the Senate.