Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a collection of Congressional legislation proposed by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay to resolve sectional issues in the United States regarding slavery after the Mexican-American War. After nine months of heated debate throughout the country, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas shepherded Clay's compromise proposals through Congress and secured the enactment of legislation that: 1. Admitted California to the Union as a free state, 2. Authorized the territorial legislatures of New Mexico and Utah to determine the status of slavery within their borders, 3. Settled a boundary dispute between Texas and the United States in favor of the U.S., in exchange for Federal assumption of $10 million of Texas debt, 4. Abolished the slave trade, but not slavery, in the District of Columbia, and 5. Approved a more stringent fugitive slave law to help ensure the return of runaway slaves. Although hailed by moderates at the time as a "final settlement" to the sectional differences the plagued the nation, the compromise legislation quickly unraveled. Only ten years later, the nation was engaged in civil war to determine the future of the Union, as well as slavery in the United States.

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Compromise of 1850

Source: Handbook of Texas Online

The results of the Mexican War (1846–48) brought Texas into serious conflict with the national government over the state's claim to a large portion of New Mexico. The claim was based on efforts by the Republic of Texas, beginning in 1836, to expand far beyond the traditional boundaries of Spanish and Mexican Texas to encompass all of the land extending the entire length of the Rio Grande. Efforts to occupy the New Mexican portion of this territory during the years of the republic came to naught.


The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act

Source: PBS Online

Henry Clay, U.S. senator from Kentucky, was determined to find a solution. In 1820 he had resolved a fiery debate over the spread of slavery with his Missouri Compromise. Now, thirty years later, the matter surfaced again within the walls of the Capitol. But this time the stakes were higher -- nothing less than keeping the Union together.


Compromise of 1850

Source: Martin Kelly,

The Compromise of 1850 was a series of five bills that were intended to stave off sectional strife. Its goal was to deal with the spread of slavery to territories in order to keep northern and southern interests in balance.


The Compromise of 1850 Delayed the Civil War For a Decade

Source: Robert McNamara,

The Compromise of 1850 was a set of bills passed in Congress which tried to settle an issue which was about to split the nation.


March 7, 1850 Speech Costs Senator His Seat

Source: United States Senate

Ask anyone familiar with the Senate's history to name a famous floor speech that is commonly identified by the date on which it was given and you will almost certainly receive one answer, "The Seventh of March Speech."


Compromise of 1850

Source: Our Documents

The Compromise was actually a series of bills passed mainly to address issues related to slavery. The bills provided for slavery to be decided by popular sovereignty in the admission of new states, prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia, settled a Texas boundary dispute, and established a stricter fugitive slave act. This featured document is Henry Clay's handwritten draft.


John C. Calhoun's speech to the United States Senate against the Compromise of 1850

Source: American Memory

The famous South Carolinian John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) made his last Senate speech during the course of the great debate over the Compromise of 1850, a complicated and controversial set of resolutions sponsored by Henry Clay (1777-1852) of Kentucky. At age sixty-eight, emaciated and spectral in appearance, Calhoun was clearly a dying man as he was assisted to his desk on the Senate floor a few minutes past noon on 4 March 1850. A black cloak, which he had pulled around him, added to the drama of the scene.


Compromise of 1850

Source: Infoplease

The annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican War (1848) aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of slavery into the territories. The antislavery forces favored the proposal made in the Wilmot Proviso to exclude slavery from all the lands acquired from Mexico. This, naturally, met with violent Southern opposition.


Compromise of 1850


When Zachary Taylor assumed office in early 1849, the question of the extension of slavery into former Mexican lands was becoming critical. The immediate pressure point was California, whose population mushroomed during the Gold Rush. Enthusiastic Californians petitioned for admission to the Union as a free state, thus laying down a challenge to the existing sectional balance of 15 free states and 15 slave states.


The Compromise of 1850

Source: Digital History

Early on the evening of January 21, 1850, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky trudged through the Washington, D.C. snow to visit Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Clay, 73 years old, was a sick man, wracked by a severe cough. But he braved the snowstorm because he feared for the Union's future.


The Compromise of 1850


The plan was set forth. The giants — Calhoun, Webster, and Clay — had spoken. Still the Congress debated the contentious issues well into the summer. Each time Clay's Compromise was set forth for a vote, it did not receive a majority.


Compromise of 1850

Source: Georgia's Blue and Gray Trail

In the late 1840's many issues were dividing the interests of the North, South and West. When Zachary Taylor was inaugurated in March, 1849 it set in motion a series of events that would not culminate until after his death in 1850. Northern abolitionists had grown in power to the point of controlling the House of Representatives - they easily added the Wilmot Proviso to major bills in the House.


The Compromise of 1850: Back from the Brink of Civil War


By 1850 the issue of slavery was rising to a boiling point in America, and the fragile harmony between slave states and free states was unraveling. Vast new Western lands were acquired by the U.S. after the Mexican-American War, including California -- which was eager for statehood. Admitting California as a free state would mean that for the first time there would be more free states than slave states, upsetting the balance of power in Congress.


Compromise of 1850

Source: James Huston,

Slavery presented innumerable problems to the United States prior to 1850, but none proved more unsolvable than those connected with westward expansion. Heated arguments arose over the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the admission of Missouri into the Union (1820–1821), and the annexation of Texas (1845).


Republicanism and the Compromise of 1850

Source: Michael Dennis, Acadia University

The Civil War began in 1861, but the republican crisis that set the stage for the conflict unfolded in 1850. The Compromise of 1850, a series of legislative bargains over the western territories and slavery, demonstrated that American political leaders could still defuse sectional tensions. What they could not do was resolve deeper social and political problems that simmered under the surface of legislative bargains, congressional balancing, and soaring oratory.


Compromise of 1850

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Compromise of 1850, series of compromise measures passed by the U.S. Congress in an effort to settle several outstanding slavery issues and to avert the threat of dissolution of the Union. The crisis arose from the request of the territory of California (Dec. 3, 1849) to be admitted to the Union with a constitution prohibiting slavery. The problem was complicated by the unresolved question of slavery’s extension into other areas ceded by Mexico the preceding year.


The Compromise of 1850

Source: Michael F. Holt, Ph.D., Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project

By the start of 1850 Congress had failed to provide any formal civil government to any part of the new Mexican Cession because sectional wrangling over the divisive Wilmot Proviso had blocked any action. Yet by 1850 congressional action was necessary for several reasons.


The Compromise of 1850


On January 29, 1850, the 70-year-old Henry Clay, U.S. senator from Kentucky, presented a compromise. For eight months members of Congress, led by Clay, Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina, debated the compromise. With the help of Stephen Douglas, a young Democrat from Illinois, a series of bills that would make up the compromise were ushered through Congress.


Compromise of 1850


At the close of the Mexican War, in 1848, the United States owned vast stretches of territory without local government. All the land now included in New Mexico, Arizona, and California was then unsettled.


Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore - Clay's compromise measure and the great debate

Source: Advameg, Inc.

Such a maze of conflicting sectional interests called for a political compromise. In the waning days of January, Clay, the elder statesman of the Whig party who had recently returned to the Senate, pondered the issues in search of some formula that would resolve the numerous controversies between the free and slave states. One evening he walked to Daniel Webster's quarters to obtain the advice and support of his noted Whig rival, like Clay nearing the end of a long career in public life.