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The Compromise of 1850

Compromise of 1850When five individual bills were passed by the United States Congress in 1850, the act was titled The Compromise of 1850. This compromise helped to defuse a four-year political debate between free states and slave states over the territories acquired during the 1846 to 1848 Mexican-American War. Whig Senator Henry Clay from Kentucky drafted the compromise, and Senator Stephen Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois, helped to broker the movement in order to reduce the conflict between the sections. Controversy came about regarding the Fugitive Slave provision, but the compromise was largely greeted with relief. Both sides had issues with certain provisions; however, the overall feeling was elation.

Because of the compromise, Texas surrendered its previous claim on New Mexico and the claims it made north of the Missouri Compromise Line. It got to keep the Texas Panhandle and the federal government took on the Texas public debt. California kept its boundaries as they lie today and was admitted as a free state. The South did not have to adopt Wilmot Proviso, which would have outlawed slavery in any new territories it grabbed. That meant that the new Utah region and the New Mexico Territory were able to decide the matter of slavery in their regions. These lands were not very well suited to plantations and agriculture, so their settlers were not interested in owning slaves. The slave trade, but not slavery itself, was turned down in the District of Columbia and more stringent Fugitive Slave Laws were put into place.

The Compromise only come to fruition after President Zachary Taylor suddenly died. He was a slave owner himself but favored excluding slavery in the Southwest portion of the country. Henry Clay crafted the compromise, which did not pass early in 1850 because of pro-slavery Democrats in the south who opposed the idea. John C. Calhoun let the opposition along with anti-slavery northern individuals. When Clay began to help Douglas divide the bill into smaller items, they each narrowly won and passed even in the midst of opposition by those on each side with strong views.

The Compromise was popular politically since both parties were able to commit to their own platforms on certain sections of the issues. The strongest ones against the idea in general were those in the South in states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. But unionists got through those oppositions and formed peace with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which was also led by Douglas. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise and led to the beginning of the Republican Party. The party took over the national government in 1860 and that led to a secession crisis in 1860, which continued into 1861.

Historians argue about the effects the Compromise had on the American Civil War. Many say it played a major role in postponing the conflict for an entire decade. The Northwest grew more populated and wealthy in that time and had better relations with the Northeast. The Whig party also broke down during that decade and was replaced with the Republican Party in the North while the Democrats settled into the South. Others argue that the Compromise made the divisions that already existed more obvious and simply laid the groundwork for the conflict that would break out in the future. Those historians say the Fugitive Law polarized the views in the North and the South and caused the huge reaction to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which highlighted the polarization. The Fugitive Slave Law showed bitterness from the North and the Compromise of 1850 broke down the actual spirit of compromise in the country. The Compromise lead to major issues, including boundary issues, territory issues and their statuses, and plenty of slavery issues.

In the end, hostilities were delayed for ten years, which allowed the economy in the northern states to industrialize and free itself. Southern states, which were largely based on slave labor and the cash crops, did not have the ability to industrialize on a large scale. Northern states added miles of railroad using their own steel production and modern factories along with their rising population. All of these advantages allowed the North better arms supplies. These arms gave these states an advantage that helped decide the outcome of the Civil War in its later stages.