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Nashville Convention of 1850
In 1849, the South was reeling from President Zachary Taylor's plan to admit California as a free state. Taylor, a Whig slaveholder, had taken William Seward as an advisor and Seward proposed bypassing the "territorial phase" of statehood and directly admitting California, hoping to bypass the slave or free state debate.
The Nashville Convention was the earliest salvo in the southern nationalist movement. It was called by Mississippi in response to Taylor's action on California to determine the South's options. John C. Calhoun, then dying of cancer, asked Mississippi to propose the conference because both he and South Carolina were viewed as "too radical" on the subject of secession.
All slave states were invited to send delegates to the Nashville Convention. In Georgia, Governor George Washington Towns, who felt his recent victory in Georgia's gubernatorial election was a mandate to "resist further Northern aggression" pushed a slate of pro-secession delegates through the legislature. Neighboring Alabama also sent delegates, but instructed them that disunion should not be considered. In Florida, pro-Convention forces had a hard time convincing the legislature to elect a slate of delegates, but finally succeeded. In Virgina, extremists including Edmund Ruffin strongly supported the convention, gaining enough support for a popular election of delegates.
During the fall and winter of 1849-1850, the South organized the convention and little could be told of its outcome, or what the states would do if the Convention voted for disunion. The threat of this convention was a driving force behind Henry Clay's proposed Compromise of 1850.
By May, 1850, work on the Compromise was under way, and the national politicians had calmed the feelings within the state houses. Fire-eaters who urged secession if slavery were restricted in any of the new territories were overruled by the moderates. Speaking for the moderate position, the presiding officer, Judge William L. Sharkey, was a Whig and a strong unionist. He declared that the convention had not been "called to prevent but to perpetuate the Union." Thus, the Nashville delegates, while they denounced the Omnibus Bill and reaffirmed the constitutionality of slavery, agreed to a "concession" whereby the geographic dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 would be extended to the Pacific Coast. Only Georgia and South Carolina delegates voted for disunion.
Today, the importance of the Nashville Convention is downplayed, misunderstood or simply forgotten. For example, in The Georgia Governors, the article on secessionist governor Towns does not mention the Nashville Convention or his role in the selection of delegates. A Jefferson Davis biography also fails to mention the Convention. Fire-eater Barnwell Rhett, who attended the meetings but rarely spoke, felt the convention was an essential move towards an independent South.
A direct outgrowth of the Nashville Convention was the formation of the Constitutional Union party, attracting pro-Union Whigs and moderate, anti-nationalistic Democrats.
Nashville Convention of 1850 [Resolutions]
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Nashville Convention of 1850 was last changed on - December 9, 2006
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