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Compromise of 1850
January 24, 1848 Discovery of gold at Sutters Mill in California California
January 29, 1850 Aging politician Henry Clay proposes a series of laws that would later be known as the Compromise of 1850
  Henry Clay
March 4, 1850 Too ill to deliver his prepared text to the Senate against Clay's plan, John C. Calhoun listens as Virginia Senator James M. Mason reads the text for him. South Carolina
  Speech by John C. Calhoun, March 4, 1850
  John C. Calhoun
  Henry Clay
March 7, 1850 Daniel Webster rises in the Senate and supports Clay's Compromise of 1850. John C. Calhoun is listening.
  John C. Calhoun
  Henry Clay
March 25, 1850 The original bills of the Compromise of 1850 are completed. They were written individually by Stephen Douglas
  Stephen A. Douglas
April 17, 1850 Committee of Thirteen agree on the the border of Texas as part of the Compromise of 1850. It will later be revised Texas
April 17, 1850 During the debate over the Compromise of 1850 in the U. S. Senate, Vice-president Millard Fillmore called Thomas Hart Benton out of order. The exchange became so heated that Benton was nearly shot by Compromise floor leader Henry Foote of Mississippi
  Millard Fillmore
June 3, 1850
June 12, 1850
Nashville Convention - 9 slave states hold a convention to determine their best course of action if the Compromise of 1850 passes. Louisiana
Arkansas
North Carolina
Florida
Texas
South Carolina
Mississippi
Georgia
Alabama
  Nashville Convention of 1850 [Resolutions]
  Nashville Convention of 1850
  Robert Barnwell Rhett
July 9, 1850 President Taylor dies of gastroenteritis. Millard Fillmore becomes President
  Millard Fillmore
  Zachary Taylor
July 30, 1850 Henry Clay's Omnibus Bill (the original Compromise of 1850 legislation) is defeated
  Henry Clay
August 5, 1850 James Pearce Plan for the Compromise of 1850 is proposed. Under this plan Texas retains more land and receives $10 million for the land it gives up. It is this plan that is finally adopted in the Compromise Texas
August 6, 1850 Millard Fillmore, in a message to Congress, urges the payment of Texas for abandoning her claims to a portion of New Mexico.
  Millard Fillmore
September 9, 1850 James Pierce's plan is accepted, making it a fundimental piece of the Compromise of 1850
September 9, 1850 California is admitted to the United States. For the first time the number of free states (16) exceeds the number of slave states (15) California
September 18, 1850 Fugitive Slave Act is passed by Congress
September 19, 1850 Millard Fillmore signs the last of the Acts approved by Congress that comprise the Compromise of 1850
  Causes of the Civil War
  Millard Fillmore
October 31, 1864 Nevada becomes the 36th state in the United States
January 4, 1896 Utah becomes the 45th state to enter the United States
January 6, 1912 New Mexico becomes the 47th state in the United States
February 14, 1912 Arizona becomes the 48th state to enter the Union


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.

Faced with the rise of the abolitionists in the north, and unwilling to forgo the Southern vote, Democrats rallied around the concept of "Popular sovereignty." It was hardly a new phrase or concept. The idea dated back to the 1500's and was embodied in the works of Rousseau and Locke. The concept meant that each new state would decide the slavery question for themselves before entering the Union. Lewis Cass called the idea "squatter sovereignty" in his presidential bid in 1848.

In late 1849 California's incredible growth during its gold rush brought tension in Congress to a high level. Admitting it to the Union would tip the precious balance of slave states and free states in the Senate in favor of the free states for the first time ever. Southern Senators were appalled at the concept and the state of Mississippi called for a Nashville Convention. Measures like the Wilmot Proviso had repeatedly passed in the House and it wouldn't be long before similar measures came before the Senate.

Northern members of the House were also adamantly against the slave trade and slavery in Washington D. C. A proposal to end slavery in our nation's capital was in committee in the House as 1849 ended. The territory of New Mexico and the state of Texas were in a war of words over the borders claimed by the former Republic and many in Washington felt real war might break out at any time.

Major players in the drama about to be played out in front of the public eye included Henry Clay, who hammered out the Missouri Compromise (Compromise of 1820) and the compromise on the Tariff of Abominations in 1833. Clay represented a strong coalition of moderate thinkers in the Senate including Stephen Douglas, Daniel Webster and Henry Foote. Southern extremist pro-slavery forces were led by John C. Calhoun and, later, Jefferson Davis, while northern extremist abolition forces were led by William Seward, a close friend of President Taylor, both of whom were Whigs. Taylor was a slaveholder who opposed the entire compromise but wanted California (and New Mexico) to enter the Union. Vice President Millard Fillmore from New York was a moderate Whig who supported the compromise.

Seward had convinced Taylor that by directly admitting California, skipping the territorial process, the question of it being a free or slave state could be avoided. Taylor's suggestion to Congress that California be added to the Union without it becoming a territory in December, 1849, combined with the proposed Nashville Convention, precipitated the turmoil in Congress in January, 1850.

There were five distinct laws in the Compromise of 1850. First, the state of California would be admitted to the Union as a free state. This would tip the balance in the Senate against the slave states for the first time. Second, slave trade in Washington D. C., then the largest slave market in the United States, would be banned (slavery itself was still allowed). Third, the United States would pay Texas 10 million dollars for land it would give up to the U. S. Fourth, when admitted to the Union, states in this territory (Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona) would enter under popular sovereignty. Fifth, the Fugitive Slave Act would be strengthened.

Stephen Douglas drafted the original, individual bills for both the House and Senate. Proponents of the compromise were helped by the death of Calhoun at the end of March. A Committee of Thirteen was drafted in the Senate to study the problems with the Compromise. Henry Clay, as chairman, backed a committee proposal to combine the bills into a single Omnibus bill. There was little modification of Douglas's original language, but the battle appeared to be headed for a draw -- the

President Taylor tried to keep Southerners at the table with threats when talk of disunion rose. When Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens mentioned "disunion" in a meeting in February, Taylor told them he would personally lead the United States Army against seccessionists in their state. Southerners later held the Nashville Convention, where only Georgia and South Carolina agreed that secession was a possible answer to the problems.

President Taylor's unexpected death in July, 1850 meant that abolitionist William Seward was out as an adviser to the President and moderate Daniel Webster was in. Still, by the end of July it appeared as though the Compromise of 1850 was dead in the water. Tired and sick of Washington, Clay left for a rest in Newport, Rhode Island. Then Douglas broke the Omnibus bill apart. Millard Fillmore's support became obvious on August 6th, when he threw his support behind the bill reimbursing Texas for land deeded to the United States - the easiest bill to pass. Fillmore played a crucial role in passing the Compromise of 1850 by getting northern Whigs to cooperate with Democrat Douglas, whether with yes votes or abstentions. By the middle of September each of the bills had passed both houses and were signed by the President.

There is a belief that Winfield Scott destroyed the Whig party with his disasterous campaign of 1852. This is wrong. The divisions created by the pro-abolition northern Whigs and the Compromise of 1850 destroyed the Whig Party, which could no longer unite across sectional lines.

Links appearing on this page:

Daniel Webster
Henry Clay
Jefferson Davis
John C. Calhoun
Millard Fillmore
Nashville Convention
Popular sovereignty
Stephen Douglas
William Seward
Wilmot Proviso
Winfield Scott

Compromise of 1850 was last changed on - May 26, 2006
Compromise of 1850 was added in 2005





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