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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the contested issues that led to the Compromise of 1850
  • Describe and analyze the reactions to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act
A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1850, Henry Clay brokers the Compromise of 1850; a painting of Clay introducing the compromise in the Senate is shown. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin; the cover of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is shown. In 1854, antislavery Whigs, Democrats, and Free-Soilers form the Republican Party, and Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1856, Preston Brooks canes Charles Sumner; a portrait of Preston Brooks is shown. In 1857, the Supreme Court hands down the Dred Scott decision; a portrait of Dred Scott is shown. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debate in Illinois. In 1859, John Brown raids Harpers Ferry; a portrait of John Brown is shown. In 1860, Lincoln is elected president; a portrait of Lincoln is shown.

At the end of the Mexican-American War, the United States gained a large expanse of western territory known as the Mexican Cession. The disposition of this new territory was in question; would the new states be slave states or free-soil states? In the long run, the Mexican-American War achieved what abolitionism alone had failed to do: it mobilized many in the North against slavery.

Antislavery northerners clung to the idea expressed in the 1846 Wilmot Proviso: slavery would not expand into the areas taken, and later bought, from Mexico. Though the proviso remained a proposal and never became a law, it defined the sectional division. The Free-Soil Party, which formed at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and included many members of the failed Liberty Party, made this position the centerpiece of all its political activities, ensuring that the issue of slavery and its expansion remained at the front and center of American political debate. Supporters of the Wilmot Proviso and members of the new Free-Soil Party did not want to abolish slavery in the states where it already existed; rather, Free-Soil advocates demanded that the western territories be kept free of slavery for the benefit of white laborers who might settle there. They wanted to protect white workers from having to compete with slave labor in the West. (Abolitionists, in contrast, looked to destroy slavery everywhere in the United States.) Southern extremists, especially wealthy slaveholders, reacted with outrage at this effort to limit slavery’s expansion. They argued for the right to bring their slave property west, and they vowed to leave the Union if necessary to protect their way of life—meaning the right to own slaves—and ensure that the American empire of slavery would continue to grow.

Brokering the compromise

The issue of what to do with the western territories added to the republic by the Mexican Cession    consumed Congress in 1850. Other controversial matters, which had been simmering over time, complicated the problem further. Chief among these issues were the slave trade in the District of Columbia, which antislavery advocates hoped to end, and the fugitive slave laws, which southerners wanted to strengthen. The border between Texas and New Mexico remained contested because many Texans hoped to enlarge their state further, and, finally, the issue of California had not been resolved. California was the crown jewel of the Mexican Cession, and following the discovery of gold, it was flush with thousands of emigrants. By most estimates, however, it would be a free state, since the former Mexican ban on slavery still remained in force and slavery had not taken root in California. The map below ( [link] ) shows the disposition of land before the 1850 compromise.

A map shows the states and territories of the United States from March 3, 1849, to September 9, 1850, as well as part of Mexico. States include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Territories include Oregon Territory, Unorganized territory, Minnesota Territory, and Mexican Cession (Unorganized territory).
This map shows the states and territories of the United States as they were in 1849–1850. (credit “User:Golbez”/Wikimedia Commons)

Questions & Answers

How did imperialism Effect America
Melinda Reply
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Osvaldo Reply
what is the main idea of the passage
The Reply
what major industries emerged in the decades after the Civil war
ComicHickory Reply
Does militia men still exist in U.S.A?
Shakeel Reply
To contrast the steamboat of the antebellum to today’s technology?
Nyrah Reply
contrast the steamboats of the antebellum years with technologies today.
Nyrah
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David
I reading what happened earlier so much
melanda
I meant I love to read a lot
melanda
omg I never noticed this until now.
sunny
what advantages did people in urban areas have over rural areas?
HAILEY Reply
what factors helped cause the dust bowl
HAILEY
They had easy availability of food water. They had more comfortable life style as compare to people in rural areas. Better education was at there disposal
Shakeel
why did northerners lose thier resolve to pursue reconstruction
bambi Reply
what is taring and feathering?
Dominic Reply
Isnt there any laws in place for gun control?
Ryan Reply
How would you characterize the former president’s reaction? What do you think he means by writing that the Missouri Compromise line “is a reprieve only, not a final sentence”?
Tonda Reply
Compare and contrast the steamboats of the antebellum years with technologies today. In your estimation, what modern technology compares to steamboats in its transformative power?
Tonda Reply
airplanes to jets. Another would be electric trains.
Darren
I would say the Internal Combustion engine was as if not more transformative the the Steam power which it replaced. The ability of the Steamboat to rapidly move large amounts of goods through the water ways that weave there way from town to town increased our fledgling country's economy. I can draw direct coraleris with the National highway system built during the 1950's that were soon clogged with Transport trucks using I.C.E.
Pancho
what are the impact of the missionaries on indigenous knowledge of black communities
Don Reply
What were the initial issues that lead to the introduction of legislation
Benedicta Reply
what is the main title of franklin D roosevelt
Allan Reply
the president of the USA
Yangduk

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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