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Compromise of 1850


Henry Clay explains his compromise proposals to attentive listeners including J.C. Calhoun, immediately to the left of presiding Vice President Fillmore, and Daniel Webster, sitting with head resting on hand behind Clay.
Source:  "The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom" by James McPherson

        When the slavery issue threatened to dissolve the Union in 1850, 72-year-old Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay placed before Congress several provisions that he hoped would placate sectional antagonisms. After 10 weeks of intense debate, the bill, which Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois shepherded through the legislative process, reached the Senate floor as a modified but politically brilliant compromise measure, calling for California to be admitted as a free state; for the passage of a strict Fugitive Slave law; for new territories in the Southwest to he allowed to organize without restrictions on slavery; for protecting slavery in the District of Columbia while abolishing domestic slave trade there; and for a settlement of $10 million to Texas if the state would relinquish claims to certain lands in New Mexico Territory.
        The leading statesmen addressed their colleagues and a crowded gallery on the importance of subverting sectional interests to solve the nations great dilemma and restore the balance of power. Clay argued that the North had little to lose by giving the Southern states what they wanted--laws ensuring the protection of slavery. Virginian James M. Mason read John Calhoun's carefully prepared speech to the audience: the old States Rights theorist was too ill and frail to deliver it himself. Calhoun eloquently reiterated the Southern position: the South could not be made secure on the slavery issue, it would never remain within the Union. The words had a powerful effect on Congress, which passed Clays compromise in September, 1850. The people and their representatives were lulled into believing the nations problems had been solved, but the statesmen had bought a fragile peace that lasted scarcely a decade.
Source: "The Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust

This Page last updated 04/20/05


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