The Armistice of 1850 With the belief of their young country’s “manifest destiny”, and victory over Mexico in the Mexican-American War, the United States of America conquered most of the western portion of their continent. While obtaining large territories of land through victories from warfare and at the cost of bargained prices, this proud nation found itself with an immense crisis sitting within the palms of their hands. As the improvement of the United States came through territorial gains, their triumphant progress was met with digression.
Although new territories were under the possession of the United States, many leaders of this powerful nation were unsure whether their newly acquired land was fit to be a territory of free soil or slavery. While many proposed arguments for pro-slavery land, many counter acted with free soil proposals and arguments. During the year of 1850, the United States of America managed to ease the tension between those at opposite spectrums of this confrontation through the Compromise of 1850.
Before the passage of the Compromise of 1850, many of the United States’ leaders found themselves at odds with one another. John C. Calhoun, a publically known pro-slavery Congressman, believed that slavery should not have been excluded from territories prior to admission to state hood. Calhoun thought that Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery in the nation’s newly acquired territories.
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In Calhoun’s Speech on the Admission of California- and the General State of the Union, he assesses the nature of the Union and the needs for its overall preservation. In the beginning of Calhoun’s speech, he clearly believed that the state of the Union was at harm due to its division, and was at the verge of great disaster and disunion. Although Calhoun did not provide a solution for the unity of the country, he did on the other hand argue that the power of the Union rested upon the Northern majority. At that time there was nearly a perfect equilibrium between the two, which afforded ample means to each to protect itself against the aggression of the other; but, as it now stands, one section has the exclusive power of controlling the Government, which leaves the other without any adequate means of protecting itself against its encroachment and oppression,” wrote Calhoun. Calhoun justified his opinion on the North oppressing the South through the South’s deprivation of territory in the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, and the Oregon Territory.
Calhoun, like the other representatives of the southern states, realized that the institution of slavery would either have to be fought for or the Union would eventually abolish it. “It will be found in the belief of the people of the Southern States, as prevalent as the discontent itself, that they cannot remain, as things now are, consistently with honor and safety, in the Union,” stated the Congressman. Calhoun believed that the South had no compromise to offer to the North, but only that of the Constitution.
The Congressman placed the burden and the responsibility of the preservation of the nation within the Northerners hands. Opposed to Calhoun’s view, Congressman David Wilmot believed that the institution of slavery should have been banned from all the newly acquired territory of the west. He was adamant that Congress possessed the power to regulate slavery in these new territories. David Wilmot’s Wilmot Proviso urged the banning of slavery within any territory acquired from Mexico from the Mexican American War or any territory acquired in the future. Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted,” wrote Wilmot. Although the Wilmot Proviso was an unsuccessful amendment, Wilmot’s view of free soil became a rallying point for opponents of slavery.
Wilmot was adamant that all land gained within the United States of America should be free of slavery. While Calhoun and Wilmot demonstrated the extreme views of the pro-slavery South and the free soil North, the Compromise of 1850 managed to settle the sectional divided views of Congress for the short term. The Compromise of 1850 was an amalgamation of eight distinct orders which managed to ease the confrontation between the free states of the North and the slave states of the South in regards to the newly acquired territories from the Mexican-American War.
The compromise was drafted by Kentucky Congressman, Henry Clay, in which avoided Southern secession, reduced sectional conflict, and prevented civil war. The Compromise of 1850 allowed for California to be admitted as one of the States of the Union, as long as it was a free state. It also banned slavery in Washington D. C. “Resolved, That it is inexpedient to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. ” This compromise also made Texas surrender its border to the Rio del Norte to New Mexico, and allowed Texas to transfer its debt to that the national government.
The Compromise of1850 also prohibited Congress from introducing or excluding slavery from the nation’s newly acquired territory, and ordered that the territorial governments were to decide upon the issue of slavery. In other words, the new territories’ actions on the institution of slavery came from popular sovereignty. Although slave trade was prohibited from Washington D. C. , the compromise managed to preserve slavery, while demanding “for the restitution and delivery of persons bound to service or labor in any State, who may escape into any other State or Territory in the Union”.
Northerners became infuriated of the idea that runaway slaves, upon capture, were to be returned to their masters of the South. This precedent became known as The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This act became the sole prize of the South for their compromise in allowing the admission of California to be a free state. Not only did the South manage to keep their traditional ways of enslaving Africans, or African Americans, but they also managed to gain more power over their slaves.
While many viewed the Compromise of 1850 with pleasure, William Seward opposed Clay’s compromise which managed to cause momentary peace within the Union. Seward found discontent with the compromise because it was founded on many unconstitutional grounds. Seward believed that the states were unequal due to slavery, and that slavery should not exist. He thought that slavery was unconstitutional whether classified as property or not, because “it is (was) repugnant to the law of nature and of nations”. In no way did Seward find the compromise constitutional because he felt slavery was unconstitutional.
On the flip side, Henry Clay believed that the Compromise of 1850 was a chance for his nation to become reunited. He demonstrated this by addressing the president in A General Review of the debate on the Compromise Bills by stating, “I believe from the bottom of my soul, that the measure is the re-union of this Union. I believe that it is the dove of peace, which, taking its aerial flight from the dome of the capitol, carries the glad tidings of assured peace and restored harmony to all the remotest extremities of this distracted land. It’s clear that Clay believed the compromise was drawn out for the betterment of his young nation, in hopes that it would reconcile their sectional differences, and become one whole nation again. In 1850, many believed that the Compromise of 1850 had solved the sectional conflicts between the Northern free-soilers and the Southern slave holders. Although there were those who opposed the compromise, for the time being it managed to ease the tension between a divided nation.
Although the Compromise of 1850 was an act in which all parties had to give up important ground, it allowed the nation to momentarily fade into bliss for a couple of years. It’s hard to believe that the expansionists of our country would have predicted these problems while trying to improve our country. Our nation’s “manifest destiny” at the time seemed to be the answer to improve upon a young nation, but the newly acquired territories from Mexico only stirred up intense emotions and caused for greater division within the nation. Although the Compromise of 1850 managed to ease tension, it ultimately did not cease sectional conflict.
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