Compromise of 1850

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Compromise of 1850.

The annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe HidalgoGuadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of,
1848, peace treaty between the United States and Mexico that ended the Mexican War. Negotiations were carried on for the United States by Nicholas P. Trist. The treaty was signed on Feb.
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 at the close of the Mexican War (1848) aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of slaveryslavery,
historicially, an institution based on a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact from that person labor or other services.
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 into the territories. The antislavery forces favored the proposal made in the Wilmot ProvisoWilmot Proviso,
1846, amendment to a bill put before the U.S. House of Representatives during the Mexican War; it provided an appropriation of $2 million to enable President Polk to negotiate a territorial settlement with Mexico.
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 to exclude slavery from all the lands acquired from Mexico. This, unsurprisingly, met with violent Southern opposition. When California sought (1849) admittance to the Union as a free state, a grave 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 lawsfugitive slave laws,
in U.S. history, the federal acts of 1793 and 1850 providing for the return between states of escaped black slaves. Similar laws existing in both North and South in colonial days applied also to white indentured servants and to Native American slaves.
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 had long been vexing. 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 ClayClay, Henry,
1777–1852, American statesman, b. Hanover co., Va. Early Career

His father died when he was four years old, and Clay's formal schooling was limited to three years.
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, who emerged from retirement to enter the Senate again. President TaylorTaylor, Zachary
, 1784–1850, 12th President of the United States (1849–50), b. Orange co., Va. He was raised in Kentucky. Taylor joined the army in 1808, became a captain in 1810, and was promoted to major for his defense of Fort Harrison (1812) in the War of 1812.
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 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. These sentiments were voiced in Congress by William H. SewardSeward, William Henry,
1801–72, American statesman, b. Florida, Orange co., N.Y. Early Career

A graduate (1820) of Union College, he was admitted to the bar in 1822 and established himself as a lawyer in Auburn, N.Y., which he made his lifelong home.
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. John C. CalhounCalhoun, John Caldwell
, 1782–1850, American statesman and political philosopher, b. near Abbeville, S.C., grad. Yale, 1804. He was an intellectual giant of political life in his day. Early Career

Calhoun studied law under Tapping Reeve at Litchfield, Conn.
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 and other Southerners, particularly Jefferson DavisDavis, Jefferson,
1808–89, American statesman, President of the Southern Confederacy, b. Fairview, near Elkton, Ky. His birthday was June 3. Early Life

Davis's parents moved to Mississippi when he was a boy.
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, maintained 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.

Clay proposed passage of a series of measures, originally separate then combined as an omnibus compromise bill. Support for this plan was largely organized by Stephen A. DouglasDouglas, Stephen Arnold,
1813–61, American statesman, b. Brandon, Vt. Senatorial Career

He was admitted to the bar at Jacksonville, Ill., in 1834. After holding various state and local offices he became a U.S.
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. The measures were the admission of California as a free state; the organization of New Mexico and Utah territories without mention of slavery, the status of that institution to be determined by the territories themselves when they were ready to be admitted as states (this formula came to be known as popular sovereigntypopular sovereignty,
in U.S. history, doctrine under which the status of slavery in the territories was to be determined by the settlers themselves. Although the doctrine won wide support as a means of avoiding sectional conflict over the slavery issue, its meaning remained
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); the prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia; a more stringent 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, but Daniel WebsterWebster, Daniel,
1782–1852, American statesman, lawyer, and orator, b. Salisbury (now in Franklin), N.H. Early Career

He graduated (1801) from Dartmouth College, studied law, and, after an interval as a schoolmaster, was admitted (1805) to the bar.
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 greatly enhanced the chances for their acceptance by his famous speech on Mar. 7, 1850. Taylor's death and the accession of conservative Millard FillmoreFillmore, Millard,
1800–1874, 13th President of the United States (July, 1850–Mar., 1853), b. Locke (now Summer Hill), N.Y. Because he was compelled to work at odd jobs at an early age to earn a living his education was irregular and incomplete.
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 to the presidency made the compromise more feasible. After long debates and failure to pass the omnibus bill, Congress passed the measures as separate bills in Sept., 1850. Many people, North and South, hailed the compromise as a final solution to the question of slavery in the territories, but the measures lacked broad support as a group in Congress, each having been passed by different legislative coalitions. The issue of the extension of slavery reemerged in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska ActKansas-Nebraska Act,
bill that became law on May 30, 1854, by which the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. By 1854 the organization of the vast Platte and Kansas river countries W of Iowa and Missouri was overdue.
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, and seven years later the factions were fighting the Civil WarCivil War,
in U.S. history, conflict (1861–65) between the Northern states (the Union) and the Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy.
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.

Bibliography

See E. C. Rozwenc, The Compromise of 1850 (1957); H. Hamilton, Prologue to Conflict (1964); F. M. Bordewich, America's Great Debate (2012).