Nashville Convention

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NASHVILLE CONVENTION of delegates from the southern states met in two sessions from 3 to 12 June and 11 to 18 November 1850. As sectional tensions deepened following the opening of the first session of the new Congress of December 1849, many southern politicians, led by the aging senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, believed that a united front was necessary if slavery and southern rights were to be maintained within the Union. Calls for concerted action were made throughout the South, and in October 1849, strongly prompted by Calhoun, the Mississippi state convention, in a bipartisan move, resolved "that a convention of the slave-holding States should be held in Nashville, Tenn… to devise and adopt some mode of resistance to [northern] aggressions." In response to this call, delegates from nine states—chosen by popular vote, by conventions, by state legislatures, or by governors—assembled at Nashville on 3 June 1850. The majority of delegates present came from Tennessee itself, but of the main slave states, only Louisiana and North Carolina were unrepresented. Although delegates from both parties were chosen, Democrats dominated the proceedings. Wary of Calhounite calls for cross-party unity, and fortified by the introduction in Congress of Henry Clay's compromise program in January 1850, the majority of southern Whigs had come to regard the proposed convention as a cloak for Democratic disunionism.

In truth, the Nashville Convention proved a failure for Democratic radicals. At the close of its first session, the convention unanimously adopted twenty-eight resolutions but issued no ultimatums on southern rights in the territories, the main bone of sectional dispute. The resolutions maintained that slavery existed independent of, but was recognized by, the Constitution; that the territories belonged to the people of the states; that the citizens of the several states had equal rights to migrate to the territories; and that Congress had no power to exclude a citizen's property but was obligated to protect it. In its eleventh resolution, the convention demonstrated its moderation by expressing a willingness to settle the territorial matter by extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, albeit as an "extreme concession." Finally, delegates adopted an address to the people of the southern states that condemned Clay's compromise resolutions, then being debated by Congress. Reassembling on 11 November, the convention, with a much reduced attendance, rejected the compromise that had been agreed by Congress six weeks earlier and affirmed the right of secession while calling for a further meeting. With southern sentiment rapidly crystallizing in support of the compromise, the second session proved a fiasco. A week after the delegates concluded their work, voters in Georgia voted by a clear majority in support of the compromise, evidence of the changed political sentiment that had undermined the convention's appeal.


Cooper, William J., Jr. The South and the Politics of Slavery, 1828– 1856. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Jennings, Thelma. The Nashville Convention: Southern Movement for Unity, 1848–1851. Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1980.


Fletcher M.Green

See alsoMissouri Compromise .