Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 is the name given to a series of congressional statutes enacted in September 1850 in an attempt to resolve longstanding disputes over slavery. Southern slave owners had long demanded a more stringent fugitive slave law while Northern abolitionists insisted that slavery should be abolished in the District of Columbia. The unsuccessful wilmot proviso of 1846–1847 also revealed deep opposition to the expansion of slavery into the newly acquired Mexican territories. The debate over slavery intensified in 1849 when California applied for admission to the Union as a free state. Concern grew over the possibility that some Southern states might secede, leading to the dissolution of the Union.
Senator henry clay of Kentucky, aided by Senators daniel webster of Massachusetts and stephen a. douglas of Illinois, proposed a compromise that passed the Congress after much difficulty. The compromise consisted of five statutes. One statute created the New Mexico Territory, and a second created the Utah Territory. Both statutes left it up to the inhabitants to decide whether to enter the Union as a free state or a slave state. This approach, whose leading advocate was Douglas, became known as "popular sovereignty." A third statute admitted California to the Union as a free state, and a fourth statute prohibited bringing slaves into the District of Columbia for sale or transportation. The fifth statute was the most controversial, for it established a more rigorous fugitive slave law. The strengthening of federal enforcement of the fugitive slave act (9 Stat. 462) angered many Northerners and led to growing sectional conflict.
Compromise of 1850
An Act Proposing to the State of Texas the Establishment of Her Northern and Western Boundaries, the Relinquishment by the Said State of All Territory Claimed by Her Exterior to Said Boundaries, and of All Her Claims upon the United States, and to Establish a Territorial Government for New Mexico
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the following propositions shall be, and the same hereby are, offered to the state of Texas, which, when agreed to by the said state, in an act passed by the general assembly, shall be binding and obligatory upon the United States, and upon the said state of Texas: provided, the said agreement by the said general assembly shall be given on or before the first day of December, eighteen hundred and fifty:
Source: Statutes at Large, vol. 9 (1851), pp. 446–458, 462–465, 467–468.
1. The state of Texas will agree that her boundary on the north shall commence at the point at which the meridian of one hundred degrees west from Greenwich is intersected by the parallel of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, and shall run from said point due west to the meridian of one hundred and three degrees west from Greenwich; thence her boundary shall run due south to the thirty-second degree of north latitude; thence on the said parallel of thirty-two degrees of north latitude to the Rio Bravo del Norte, and thence with the channel of said river to the Gulf of Mexico.
2. The state of Texas cedes to the United States all her claim to territory exterior to the limits and boundaries which she agrees to establish by the first article of this agreement.
3. The state of Texas relinquishes all claim upon the United States for liability of the debts of Texas, and for compensation or indemnity for the surrender to the United States of her ships, forts, arsenals, custom houses, custom house revenue, arms and munitions of war, and public buildings with their sites, which became the property of the United States at the time of the annexation.
4. The United States, in consideration of said establishment of boundaries, cession of claim to territory, and relinquishment of claims, will pay to the state of Texas the sum of ten millions of dollars in a stock bearing 5 percent interest, and redeemable at the end of fourteen years, the interest payable half-yearly at the treasury of the United States.
5. Immediately after the president of the United States shall have been furnished with an authentic copy of the act of the general assembly of Texas accepting these propositions, he shall cause the stock to be issued in favor of the state of Texas, as provided for in the fourth article of this agreement: provided, also, that no more than five millions of said stock shall be issued until the creditors of the state holding bonds and other certificates of stock of Texas for which duties on imports were specially pledged, shall first file at the treasury of the United States releases of all claim against the United States for or on account of said bonds or certificates in such form as shall be prescribed by the secretary of the treasury and approved by the president of the United States: provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to impair or qualify anything contained in the third article of the second section of the "joint resolution for annexing Texas to the United States," approved March first, eighteen hundred and forty-five, either as regards the number of states that may hereafter be formed out of the state of Texas, or otherwise.
And be it further enacted, that all that portion of the territory of the United States bounded as follows: beginning at a point in the Colorado River where the boundary line with the republic of Mexico crosses the same; thence eastwardly with the said boundary line to the Rio Grande; thence following the main channel of said river to the parallel of the thirty-second degree of north latitude; thence east with said degree to its intersection with the one hundred and third degree of longitude west of Greenwich; thence north with said degree of longitude to the parallel of thirty-eighth degree of north latitude; thence west with said parallel to the summit of the Sierra Madre; thence south with the crest of said mountains to the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude; thence west with said parallel to its intersection with the boundary line of the state of California; thence with said boundary line to the place of beginning—be, and the same is hereby, erected into a temporary government, by the name of the territory of New Mexico. Provided, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said territory into two or more territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, or from attaching any portion thereof to any other territory or state. And provided, further, that, when admitted as a state, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.
And be it further enacted, that the executive power and authority in and over said territory of New Mexico shall be vested in a governor, who shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president of the United States. The governor shall reside within said territory, shall be commander in chief of the militia thereof, shall perform the duties and receive the emoluments of superintendent of Indian affairs, and shall approve all laws passed by the legislative assembly before they shall take effect; he may grant pardons for offenses against the laws of said territory, and reprieves for offenses against the laws of the United States, until the decision of the president can be made known thereon; he shall commission all officers who shall be appointed to office under the laws of the said territory and shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
And be it further enacted, that there shall be a secretary of said territory, who shall reside therein, and hold his office for four years, unless sooner removed by the president of the United States; he shall record and preserve all the laws and proceedings of the legislative assembly hereinafter constituted and all the acts and proceedings of the governor in his executive department; he shall transmit one copy of the laws and one copy of the executive proceedings, on or before the first day of December in each year, to the president of the United States, and, at the same time, two copies of the laws to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate, for the use of Congress. And, in case of the death, removal, resignation, or other necessary absence of the governor from the territory, the secretary shall have, and he is hereby authorized and required to execute and perform all the powers and duties of the governor during such vacancy or necessary absence, or until another governor shall be duly appointed to fill such vacancy.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative power and authority of said territory shall be vested in the governor and a legislative assembly. The legislative assembly shall consist of a council and house of representatives. The council shall consist of thirteen members, having the qualifications of voters as hereinafter prescribed, whose term of service shall continue two years. The house of representatives shall consist of twenty-six members, possessing the same qualifications as prescribed for members of the council, and whose term of service shall continue one year. An apportionment shall be made, as nearly equal as practicable, among the several counties or districts, for the election of the council and house of representatives, giving to each section of the territory representation in the ratio of its population (Indians excepted), as nearly as may be. And the members of the council and of the house of representatives shall reside in, and be inhabitants of, the district for which they may be elected respectively. Previous to the first election, the governor shall cause a census or enumeration of the inhabitants of the several counties and districts of the territory to be taken, and the first election shall be held at such time and places and be conducted in such manner, as the governor shall appoint and direct; and he shall, at the same time, declare the number of the members of the council and house of representatives to which each of the counties or districts shall be entitled under this act. The number of persons authorized to be elected having the highest number of votes in each of said council districts, for members of the council, shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected to the council; and the person or persons authorized to be elected having the greatest number of votes for the house of representatives, equal to the number to which each county or district shall be entitled, shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected members of the house of representatives. Provided, that in case of a tie between two or more persons voted for, the governor shall order a new election to supply the vacancy made by such tie. And the persons thus elected to the legislative assembly shall meet at such place and on such day as the governor shall appoint; but thereafter, the time, place, and manner of holding and conducting all elections by the people, and the apportioning the representation in the several counties or districts to the council and house of representatives according to the population, shall be prescribed by law, as well as the day of the commencement of the regular sessions of the legislative assembly: provided, that no one session shall exceed the term of forty days.
And be it further enacted, that every free white male inhabitant, above the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been a resident of said territory at the time of the passage of this act, shall be entitled to vote at the first election and shall be eligible to any office within the said territory; but the qualifications of voters and of holding office, at all subsequent elections, shall be such as shall be prescribed by the legislative assembly. Provided, that the right of suffrage, and of holding office, shall be exercised only by citizens of the United States, including those recognized as citizens by the treaty with the republic of Mexico, concluded February second, eighteen hundred and forty-eight.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative power of the territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act; but no law shall be passed interfering with the primary disposal of the soil; no tax shall be imposed upon the property of the United States; nor shall the lands or other property of nonresidents be taxed higher than the lands or other property of residents. All the laws passed by the legislative assembly and governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and, if disapproved, shall be null and of no effect.
And be it further enacted, that all township, district, and county officers, not herein otherwise provided for, shall be appointed or elected, as the case may be, in such manner as shall be provided by the governor and legislative assembly of the territory of New Mexico. The governor shall nominate and, by and with the advice and consent of the legislative council, appoint all officers not herein otherwise provided for; and in the first instance the governor alone may appoint all said officers, who shall hold their offices until the end of the first session of the legislative assembly, and shall lay off the necessary districts for members of the council and house of representatives, and all other officers.
And be it further enacted, that no member of the legislative assembly shall hold, or be appointed to, any office which shall have been created, or the salary or emoluments of which shall have been increased while he was a member, during the term for which he was elected, and for one year after the expiration of such term; and no person holding a commission or appointment under the United States, except postmasters, shall be a member of the legislative assembly, or shall hold any office under the government of said territory.
And be it further enacted, that the judicial power of said territory shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and in justices of the peace. The supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom shall constitute a quorum, and who shall hold a term at the seat of government of said territory annually, and they shall hold their offices during the period of four years. The said territory shall be divided into three judicial districts, and a district court shall be held in each of said districts by one of the justices of the supreme court, at such time and place as may be prescribed by law; and the said judges shall, after their appointments, respectively, reside in the districts which shall be assigned them. The jurisdiction of the several courts herein provided for, both appellate and original, and that of the probate courts and of justices of the peace, shall be as limited by law. Provided, that justices of the peace shall not have jurisdiction of any matter in controversy when the title or boundaries of land may be in dispute, or where the debt or sum claimed shall exceed one hundred dollars; and the said supreme and district courts, respectively, shall possess chancery as well as common-law jurisdiction. Each district court, or the judge thereof, shall appoint its clerk, who shall also be the register in chancery and shall keep his office at the place where the court may be held. Writs of error, bills of exception, and appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final decisions of said district courts to the supreme court, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law, but in no case removed to the supreme court shall trial by jury be allowed in said court. The supreme court, or the justices thereof, shall appoint its own clerk, and every clerk shall hold his office at the pleasure of the court for which he shall have been appointed. Writs of error and appeals from the final decisions of said supreme court shall be allowed, and may be taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, in the same manner and under the same regulations as from the circuit courts of the United States, where the value of the property or the amount in controversy, to be ascertained by the oath or affirmation of either party, or other competent witness, shall exceed one thousand dollars; except only that in all cases involving title to slaves, the said writs of error or appeals shall be allowed and decided by the said Supreme Court without regard to the value of the matter, property, or title in controversy; and except also that a writ of error or appeal shall also be allowed to the Supreme Court of the United States from the decision of the said supreme court created by this act, or of any judge thereof, or of the district courts created by this act, or of any judge thereof, upon any writ of habeas corpus involving the question of personal freedom; and each of the said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States; and the said supreme and district courts of the said territory, and the respective judges thereof, shall and may grant writs of habeas corpus in all cases in which the same are grantable by the judges of the United States in the District of Columbia; and the first six days of every term of said courts, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, shall be appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the said Constitution and laws; and writs of error and appeals in all such cases shall be made to the supreme court of said territory, the same as in other cases. The said clerk shall receive in all such cases the same fees which the clerks of the district courts of Oregon Territory now receive for similar services.
And be it further enacted, that there shall be appointed an attorney for said territory, who shall continue in office for four years, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall receive the same fees and salary as the attorney of the United States for the present territory of Oregon. There shall also be a marshal for the territory appointed, who shall hold his office for four years, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall execute all processes issuing from the said courts when exercising their jurisdiction as circuit and district courts of the United States; he shall perform the duties, be subject to the same regulation and penalties, and be entitled to the same fees as the marshal of the district court of the United States for the present territory of Oregon, and shall, in addition, be paid two hundred (dollars) annually as a compensation for extra services.
And be it further enacted, that the governor, secretary, chief justice and associate justices, attorney, and marshal shall be nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed by the president of the United States. The governor and secretary, to be appointed as aforesaid, shall, before they act as such, respectively take an oath or affirmation, before the district judge, or some justice of the peace in the limits of said territory, duly authorized to administer oaths and affirmations by the laws now in force therein, or before the chief justice or some associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, to support the Constitution of the United States, and faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices; which said oaths, when so taken, shall be certified by the person by whom the same shall have been taken, and such certificates shall be received and recorded by the said secretary among the executive proceedings; and the chief justice and associate justices, and all other civil officers in said territory, before they act as such, shall take a like oath or affirmation, before the said governor or secretary, or some judge or justice of the peace of the territory, who may be duly commissioned and qualified; which said oath or affirmation shall be certified and transmitted, by the person taking the same to the secretary, to be by him recorded as aforesaid; and afterwards, the like oath or affirmation shall be taken, certified, and recorded in such manner and form as may be prescribed by law. The governor shall receive an annual salary of fifteen hundred dollars as governor, and one thousand dollars as superintendent of Indian affairs. The chief justice and associate justices shall each receive an annual salary of eighteen hundred dollars. The secretary shall receive an annual salary of eighteen hundred dollars. The said salaries shall be paid quarter-yearly, at the treasury of the United States. The members of the legislative assembly shall be entitled to receive three dollars each per day during their attendance at the sessions thereof, and three dollars each for every twenty miles' travel in going to and returning from the said sessions, estimated according to the nearest usually traveled route. There shall be appropriated annually the sum of one thousand dollars, to be expended by the governor, to defray the contingent expenses of the territory; there shall also be appropriated annually a sufficient sum to be expended by the secretary of the territory, and upon an estimate to be made by the secretary of the treasury of the United States, to defray the expenses of the legislative assembly, the printing of the laws, and other incidental expenses; and the secretary of the territory shall annually account to the secretary of the treasury of the United States for the manner in which the aforesaid sum shall have been expended.
And be it further enacted, that the legislative assembly of the territory of New Mexico shall hold its first session at such time and place in said territory as the governor thereof shall appoint and direct; and at said first session, or as soon thereafter as they shall deem expedient, the governor and legislative assembly shall proceed to locate and establish the seat of government for said territory at such place as they may deem eligible; which place, however, shall thereafter be subject to be changed by the said governor and legislative assembly.
And be it further enacted, that a delegate to the House of Representatives of the United States, to serve during each Congress of the United States, may be elected by the voters qualified to elect members of the legislative assembly, who shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as are exercised and enjoyed by the delegates from the several other territories of the United States to the said House of Representatives. The first election shall be held at such time and places, and be conducted in such manner, as the governor shall appoint and direct; and at all subsequent elections, the times, places, and manner of holding the elections shall be prescribed by law. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be declared by the governor to be duly elected, and a certificate thereof shall be given accordingly; provided, that such delegate shall receive no higher sum for mileage than is allowed by law to the delegate from Oregon.
And be it further enacted, that when the lands in said territory shall be surveyed under the direction of the government of the United States, preparatory to bringing the same into market, sections numbered sixteen and thirty-six in each township in said territory shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the purpose of being applied to schools in said territory, and in the states and territories hereafter to be erected out of the same.
And be it further enacted, that temporarily and until otherwise provided by law, the governor of said territory may define the judicial districts of said territory, and assign the judges who may be appointed for said territory to the several districts, and also appoint the times and places for holding courts in the several counties or subdivisions in each of said judicial districts, by proclamation to be issued by him; but the legislative assembly, at their first or any subsequent session, may organize, alter, or modify such judicial districts, and assign the judges, and alter the times and places of holding the courts, as to them shall seem proper and convenient.
And be it further enacted, that the Constitution, and all laws of the United States which are not locally inapplicable, shall have the same force and effect within the said territory of New Mexico as elsewhere within the United States.
And be it further enacted, that the provisions of this act be, and they are hereby, suspended until the boundary between the United States and the state of Texas shall be adjusted; and when such adjustment shall have been effected, the president of the United States shall issue his proclamation, declaring this act to be in full force and operation, and shall proceed to appoint the officers herein provided to be appointed in and for said territory.
And be it further enacted, that no citizen of the United States shall be deprived of his life, liberty, or property, in said territory, except by the judgment of his peers and the laws of the land.
Approved, September 9, 1850.
AN ACT FOR THE ADMISSION OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA INTO THE UNION
Whereas the people of California have presented a constitution and asked admission into the Union, which constitution was submitted to Congress by the president of the United States, by message dated February thirteenth, eighteen hundred and fifty, and which, on due examination, is found to be republican in its form of government:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of California shall be one, and is hereby declared to be one, of the United States of America, and admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever.
And be it further enacted, that, until the representatives in Congress shall be apportioned according to an actual enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States, the state of California shall be entitled to two representatives in Congress.
And be it further enacted, that the said state of California is admitted into the Union upon the express condition that the people of said state, through their legislature or otherwise, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the public lands within its limits, and shall pass no law and do no act whereby the title of the United States to, and right to dispose of, the same shall be impaired or questioned; and that they shall never lay any tax or assessment of any description whatsoever upon the public domain of the United States, and in no case shall nonresident proprietors, who are citizens of the United States, be taxed higher than residents; and that all the navigable waters within the said state shall be common highways, and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of said state as to the citizens of the United States, without any tax, impost, or duty therefore: provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed as recognizing or rejecting the propositions tendered by the people of California as articles of compact in the ordinance adopted by the convention which formed the constitution of that state.
Approved, September 9, 1850.
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A TERRITORIAL GOVERNMENT FOR UTAH
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that all that part of the territory of the United States included within the following limits, to wit: bounded on the west by the state of California, on the north by the territory of Oregon, and on the east by the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and on the south by the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude, be, and the same is hereby, created into a temporary government, by the name of the territory of Utah; and, when admitted as a state, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission: provided, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said territory into two or more territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, or from attaching any portion of said territory to any other state or territory of the United States.* * *
And be it further enacted, that the sum of five thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated out of any moneys in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be expended by and under the direction of the said governor of the territory of Utah, in the purchase of a library, to be kept at the seat of government for the use of the governor, legislative assembly, judges of the supreme court, secretary, marshal, and attorney of said territory, and such other persons, and under such regulations, as shall be prescribed by law.
AN ACT TO AMEND, AND SUPPLEMENTARY TO, THE ACT ENTITLED "AN ACT RESPECTING FUGITIVES FROM JUSTICE, AND PERSONS ESCAPING FROM THE SERVICE OF THEIR MASTERS," APPROVED FEBRUARY TWELFTH, ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND NINETY-THREE
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the circuit courts of the United States, and who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same under and by virtue of the thirty-third section of the act of the twenty-fourth of September, seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, entitled "An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States," shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.
And be it further enacted, that the superior court of each organized territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which is now possessed by the circuit court of the United States; and all commissioners, who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the superior court of any organized territory of the United States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the circuit courts of the United States for similar purposes and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.
And be it further enacted, that the circuit courts of the United States and the superior courts of each organized territory of the United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.
And be it further enacted, that the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the circuit and district courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several states, and the judges of the superior courts of the territories, severally and collectively, in termtime and vacation; and shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the state or territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled.
And be it further enacted, that it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the circuit or district court for the district of such marshal; and after arrest of such fugitive by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the state, territory, or district whence he escaped. And the better to enable the said commissioners, when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time, to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties; with authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to ensure a faithful observance of the clause of the Constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act; and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose; and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, anywhere in the state within which they are issued.
And be it further enacted, that when a person held to service or labor in any state or territory of the United States has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another state or territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized by power of attorney in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the state or territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the state or territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the state or territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the state or territory in which such service or labor was due, to the state or territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the state or territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first (fourth) section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the state or territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.
And be it further enacted, that any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offenses, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the district court of the United States for the district in which such offense may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars, for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the district or territorial courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offense may have been committed.
And be it further enacted, that the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said district and territorial courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed to them for similar services in other cases; and where such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in the whole by such claimant, his agent or attorney; and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued by such commissioners for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as aforesaid shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest and take before any such commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them: such as attending at the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination of such commissioner; and, in general, for performing such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near as may be practicable, and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor be ordered to be delivered to such claimants by the final determination of such commissioners or not.
And be it further enacted, that, upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will be rescued by force from his or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the state in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody and to remove him to the state whence he fled, and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent, or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such force and to retain them in his service so long as circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while so employed, to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.
And be it further enacted, that when any person held to service or labor in any state or territory, or in the District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be; and a transcript of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other state, territory, or district in which the person so escaping may be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other officer authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant. And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized by this act to grant certificates to claimants of fugitives, shall, upon the production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person identified and proved to be owing service or labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the state or territory from which he escaped: provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in law.
Approved, September 18, 1850.
AN ACT TO SUPPRESS THE SLAVE TRADE IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that from and after the first day of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-one, it shall not be lawful to bring into the District of Columbia any slave whatever, for the purpose of being sold, or for the purpose of being placed in depot, to be subsequently transferred to any other state or place to be sold as merchandise. And if any slave shall be brought into the said district by its owner, or by the authority or consent of its owner, contrary to the provisions of this act, such slave shall thereupon become liberated and free.
And be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for each of the corporations of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, from time to time, and as often as may be necessary, to abate, break up, and abolish any depot or place of confinement of slaves brought into the said district as merchandise, contrary to the provisions of this act, by such appropriate means as may appear to either of the said corporations expedient and proper. And the same power is hereby vested in the Levy Court of Washington County, if any attempt shall be made, within its jurisdictional limits, to establish a depot or place of confinement for slaves brought into the said district as merchandise for sale contrary to this act.
Approved, September 20, 1850.
Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
Wilmot Proviso. The crisis over the status of slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico grew out of the struggle for partisan advantage. A breach in the Democratic Party opened when James K. Polk defeated former president Martin Van Buren for the presidential nomination in 1844, and the split deepened over the next two years. When Polk guided the United States into a war with Mexico, planning to annex territory extending to the Pacific Ocean, the Van Burenites moved to exact their revenge. Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposed to add a clause, or proviso, to military appropriations for the war stipulating that slavery would not be permitted in any territory obtained from Mexico. Wilmot’s proposal imitated restrictions by which slavery had been barred from the Northwest Territory in 1787 and from the Louisiana Purchase Territory north of the 36° 30’ latitude in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Congressional response to the Wilmot Proviso confirmed the Van Burenites’ calculations that the gambit would be received enthusiastically by Democrats and Whigs in the North. Bipartisan support enabled the proviso to pass in the House of Representatives, where the more populous Northern states enjoyed a commanding majority, but it was stymied in the Senate, where free and slave states were evenly divided.
Alternative Proposals. As the Mexican War ended with the cession of more than six hundred thousand square miles of land to the United States, Democratic and Whig leaders adjusted to the polarizing impact of the Wilmot Proviso by developing strategies for the 1848 presidential campaign that promised to restore the intersectional alliances on which the parties were based. The Democrats, led by Sen. Lewis Cass of Michigan, promoted a policy of “popular sovereignty” under which the residents in any territory would decide whether or not to permit slavery; this approach would effectively remove the issue of slavery in the federal territories from national politics and make the question a local matter. The Whigs nominated war hero Zachary Taylor, who remained non-committal about slavery in the territories but who appealed to both sections because he was a Louisiana slave owner with influential Northern advisers. Meanwhile, two other approaches to the question continued
to attack the intersectional pattern of politics. Martin Van Buren made the Wilmot Proviso the cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency on the Free Soil ticket. His strong showing divided Democratic voters and contributed to the victory of Taylor. Meanwhile, John C. Calhoun tried unsuccessfully to form a Southern coalition around the policy that slavery must be permitted throughout the federal territories. Perhaps more surprising was the collapse of the solution suggested by the Missouri Compromise, extension of the 36° 30’ line to the Pacific Ocean. The North’s rejection of this option
reflected an increasing tendency to treat the issue as a matter of principle that should not be compromised.
The Omnibus Bill. The situation in the Mexican cession assumed a new urgency when the California Gold Rush of 1849 produced a large population on the Pacific Coast that required the prompt organization of a government. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had played a lead role in defusing the Missouri controversy during 1819–1821 and the Nullification controversy in 1833, took the legislative initiative by seeking to combine the settlement of the territorial problem with several other slavery issues. Clay proposed to admit California to the union as a free state, which was clearly the preference of the majority of inhabitants; to organize territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico without restrictions on slavery; to draw the Texas-New Mexico border in a way that made the slave state of Texas smaller than it might have been; to provide for the federal government to assume the debt contracted by Texas before annexation; to pass a new law governing the retrieval of fugitive slaves; to prohibit public slave auctions in the District of Columbia; and to forswear congressional interference with the legality of slavery in the District of Columbia or with the interstate slave trade. Because President Taylor favored the admission of California as a free state but opposed the provisions for the organization of New Mexico and Utah, Clay put the linked proposals together into one piece of legislation known as the “omnibus bill.”
The Great Debate. The congressional deliberations on the omnibus bill were among the most dramatic in American history. Clay, brandishing a fragment of George Washington’s coffin, led off by calling for each section to make concessions to preserve the Union. John C. Calhoun, who would be dead within a month, watched in enfeebled silence while a colleague read the South Carolinian’s speech opposing the compromise and calling for a restructuring of the federal government to protect Southern interests. Daniel Webster answered by supporting the compromise in his “Seventh of March address,” for which he was pilloried by his antislavery constituents in Massachusetts. The eloquent curtain calls of this triumvirate were matched by the rising generation. William Henry Seward of New York memorably appealed to a “higher law” than the Constitution to justify his opposition to a compromise that recognized slavery; Salmon P. Chase of Ohio took a similar position. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi in turn opposed the compromise on the ground that Congress had no authority to interfere with slavery.
Breakthrough. Although Clay had initially planned to present each proposal separately and had only adopted the omnibus strategy to counter the threat of a veto by Taylor, the compromise remained a single bill after the president died on 9 July 1850 of acute gastroenteritis caused by overindulgence in raw vegetables, cherries, and iced milk at Fourth of July ceremonies in Washington. The measure failed to pass in the omnibus format: most Northerners would not vote for the fugitive slave bill or for legislation that recognized the possibility of slavery in the territories, while most Southerners continued to oppose the admission of California as a free state and the reduction in the size of Texas. After the collapse of the omnibus, Clay left Washington for a vacation in Newport, Rhode Island, and Democrat Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois took charge of the measure. Douglas had already been working behind the scenes to cement intersectional harmony by sponsoring the first grant of federal land to promote railroad construction, for a line stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Mobile, Alabama. The advance of other land grants similarly defused sectional tensions, and financier William Wilson Corcoran effectively promoted the compromise measures by interesting members of Congress in the Texas bonds that would stabilize in value once assumed by the United States government. When Douglas broke up the omnibus into a series of bills in September, all of Clay’s original proposals passed in a modified form. But different measures depended on the votes of different coalitions. Northerners from both parties and Whigs from the border states secured the admission of California, the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, and the adjustment of the Texas border. Southerners and Northern Democrats passed the Fugitive Slave Law and organized Utah and New Mexico without restrictions on slavery. The “compromise” had won no real concessions from either side, but supporters nonetheless hoped that it would achieve a final resolution of slavery disputes in national politics.
Northern Reactions . The limits of acquiescence in the compromise measures became apparent more immediately in the North. The Fugitive Slave Law had not been a primary focus of the congressional debates: the issue necessitating action had been the admission of California; the main collision of principle had been over the status of slavery in the territories; and the stickiest negotiating point had been the adjustment of the Texas border. But the new mechanisms for retrieving runaway slaves soon inflamed the North and sparked several highly publicized episodes of resistance. The Fugitive Slave Law also impelled Harriet Beecher Stowe to write one of the most politically important novels of American history, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published as a book in the spring of 1852 after appearing in installments in an antislavery newspaper, Stowe’s exploration of slavery and evangelical Christianity sold three hundred thousand copies within a year. By the end ofthat time, however, it seemed that the compromise might be taking hold. The federal government under Millard Fillmore had demonstrated its willingness to commit the resources necessary to subdue local resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law. Controversy also declined because the number of African Americans returned to the South fell by two-thirds in the second year under the law, in part because so many blacks had resettled in Canada. The Free Soil Party, which had received about 10 percent of the vote in the presidential election of 1848, received only about half as much in 1852.
Southern Reactions . The Southern response to the Compromise of 1850 was outwardly less volatile but in the end more dangerous to the Union than the Northern reactions. The immediate result of the compromise was to take the wind out of the sails of advocates of secession. The Nashville Convention, held in June 1850, which had agreed to meet after the compromise to decide policy, could muster only a handful of radicals in November 1850. Unionist candidates won the races for governor in Georgia and Mississippi, and supporters of the Compromise won fourteen of the nineteen congressional seats from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. Even in South Carolina, by far the most aggressively disunionist state, voters overwhelmingly rejected an appeal for secession in a statewide referendum. Unionism in the lower South after the Compromise seemed stronger. Several states embraced the “Georgia Platform” of 1850, which threatened resistance and even secession if Congress enacted additional antislavery measures. Moreover, the Compromise left leading Whigs from the lower South estranged from their party. Northern Whigs like William Henry Seward had not only led the protest against permitting slavery in the Mexican cession but had seemed to control Whig president Zachary Taylor. Repairing the intersectional bonds of party politics would be crucial to cementing loyalty to the Union.
THE GEORGIA PLATFORM, 1850
To the end that the position of this State may be clearly apprehended by her Confederates of the South and of the North, and that she may be blameless of all future consequences—
Be it resolved by the people of Georgia in Convention assembled, First. That we hold the American Union secondary in importance only to the rights and principles it was designed to perpetuate. That past associations, present fruition, and future prospects, will bind us to it so long as it continues to the be the safe-guard of those rights and principles. . . .
Third. That in this spirit the State of Georgia as maturely considered the action of Congress . . . and whilst she does not wholly approve, will abide by it as a permanent adjustment of this sectional controversy.
Fourth. That the State of Georgia, in the judgment of this Convention, will and ought to resist, even (as a last resort) to a disruption of every tie which binds her to the Union, any future Act of Congress abolishing Slavery in the District of Columbia, without the consent and petition of the slaveholders thereof, or any Act abolishing Slavery in places within the slave-holding States, purchased by the United States for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, navy-yards, and other like purposes; or in any Act suppressing the slave-trade between slave-holding States; or in any refusal to admit as a State any Territory applying because of the existence of Slavery therein; or in any Act prohibiting the introduction of slaves into the Territories of Utah and New Mexico; or in any Act repealing or materially modifying the laws now in force for the recovery of fugitive slaves.
Fifth. That it is the deliberate opinion of this Convention, that upon the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Bill by the proper authorities, depends the preservation of our much loved Union.
Holman Hamilton, Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1964).
Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
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). Each time politicians responded with some type of compromise that allowed the Union to continue with a slaveholding section and a free labor section. The Compromise of 1850 was the last important compromise between North and South over slavery and it did not last. By the end of 1863, in the midst of Civil War, almost all the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 had been repudiated.
The Mexican War of 1846–1848 generated the conflict that produced the Compromise of 1850. Northern Democrats, upset at Southern domination of the party, rallied behind a slogan of slavery prohibition from any territory acquired from Mexico—the Wilmot Proviso. But President James K. Polk desired to fill out the continental boundaries of the United States, and in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) he obtained the area now consisting of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Southern politicians immediately denounced the Wilmot Proviso and insisted slavery could expand into any territory acquired by the United States. Between 1847 and the beginning of 1850, Congress was consumed by the slavery expansion issue and it burned away all other issues. The problem simply would not go away.
At the same time California was annexed to the United States as a territory, settlers found gold and within one year California had enough population to become a state. But if California became a free state, it would tip the balance of free to slave states in the nation in favor of the free states. The politics of the situation became desperate. In the 1848 election, the citizenry voted Zachary Taylor into the White House. Taylor, who was a Louisiana slaveholder, nonetheless believed the western territories would be free and so he favored the admission of both California and New Mexico as free states. This outraged Southern politicians and by December 1849 they were speaking of secession.
Henry Clay, called the "Great Compromiser" because of his previous roles in resolving sectional conflicts, was sent back to the U.S. Senate by Kentucky to forge a compromise. He fashioned legislation that he believed resolved all standing issues between the free and slave states. These issues were the admission of California as a free state; the implementation of a settler decision on slavery in the territories of Utah and New Mexico; the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C.; a new fugitive slave law; a new boundary between Texas and New Mexico; and the federal government's agreement to pay the state debts of Texas. Clay placed all these matters in one bill called the "Omnibus." The Omnibus, however, failed to obtain the necessary majority to pass and failed on July 31, 1850. Clay soon left the Senate in disgust.
What changed the situation, however, was the death of Zachary Taylor and the installation of Millard Fillmore as president. Fillmore gave signals that he would sign a compromise act if one were passed by Congress. Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas and Georgia representative Howell Cobbleapt at the opportunity. They divided the Omnibus into separate bills, calculating they could win a majority for each bill even though the composition of the majority would change with every vote. And so in August and September 1850, separate bills passed the Senate and the House representing the elements of Clay's original Omnibus bill; those separate pieces of legislation were referred to as "The Compromise of 1850."
But the Compromise of 1850 was weak and destined to a short life. The Fugitive Slave Law created a furor in the North;
Southerners in the Gulf states debated leaving the Union in 1850 and 1851, but retreated in the face of overwhelming support for the Union. More importantly, Stephen A. Douglas's ill-conceived legislation to start territorial government in the Kansas and Nebraska territories (the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854), reignited the slavery extension issue and so undid much of the good achieved by the Compromise of 1850. The unsolvable nature of the slavery issue then produced Southern secession in 1860 and 1861, which in turn led to the War for the Union from 1861–1865.
During the Civil War, the Union Congress ended the Fugitive Slave Law, emancipated slaves in the District of Columbia and then throughout the Union with the Thirteenth Amendment. So the Compromise of 1850, except for the settlement of the New Mexico-Texas boundary and the admission of California to the Union, was entirely unraveled in the space of fifteen years.
Brock, William R. Parties and Political Conscience: American Dilemmas, 1840–1850. Millwood, NY: KTO Press, 1979.
Hamilton, Holman. Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1964.
Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union, Vol. 1: Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852. New York: Scribners, 1947.
Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
Stegmaier, Mark J. Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute and Sectional Crisis. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996.
Compromise of 1850
COMPROMISE OF 1850
COMPROMISE OF 1850, a designation commonly given to five statutes enacted in September 1850, following a bitter controversy between the representatives of the North and South. The controversy reached a fever pitch during the weeks following the assembling of Congress in December 1849, when the election of a speaker under the customary majority rule was prevented by the unwillingness of the Free Soil members, who held the balance of power, to be drawn into an arrangement with either of the two major parties. In the course of the prolonged balloting, criminations and recriminations passed between the hotheaded spokesmen of the two sections. Pointing to indications that the principle of the Wilmot Proviso might be enacted into law and receive the signature of President Zachary Taylor, southerners insisted as a matter of right upon the recognition of the Calhoun doctrine, which stated that under the Constitution all the territories should be deemed open to slavery. There was talk of secession unless this principle was recognized in fact or as a basis for some adjustment. Plans were underway for the discussion of a satisfactory southern program at a southern convention called to meet at Nashville in June.
In the face of increasing sectional strife Henry Clay returned to the U.S. Senate in 1849 and on 29 January 1850 suggested a series of resolutions intended to provide the basis for the prompt adjustment of the main questions at issue between the two sections. His resolutions were shortly referred to a select committee of thirteen, of which he was made chairman. Its report (8 May), which covered the ground of Clay's resolutions, recommended an "omnibus bill" providing for the admission of California under its free state constitution, for territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico silent on slavery, and for the settlement of the boundary dispute between Texas and the United States. It also recommended a bill for the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia and an amendment to the fugitive slave law.
The hope of compromise was tied up with the fate of the omnibus bill. Clay rallied to his support the outstanding Union men, including Daniel Webster, Lewis Cass, Henry S. Foote, and Stephen A. Douglas; the latter became the active force in the promotion of the necessary legislation. President Taylor wanted the admission of California but no action on New Mexico and Utah until they should be ready to become states; he was, therefore, a formidable obstacle to the plans of the compromisers until his death on 9 July. Even the active support of the bill by his successor, Millard Fillmore, did not offset the fact that the idea of compromise "united the opponents instead of securing the friends" of each proposition.
Compromise as such had clearly failed; the ground that it had contemplated was covered in five statutes each formerly included as sections of the proposed omnibus bill. The act establishing a territorial government for Utah (9 September) contained the important popular sovereignty clause providing that any state or states formed out of this territory should be admitted with or without slavery as their constitutions should prescribe. Popular sovereignty deftly removed slavery as an obstacle to congressional organization of these territories, but it did not remove the divisive issue of slavery in the territories from the national political scene. An identical clause was appended to the New Mexico territorial act (9 September), which also resolved the conflict between Texas and the federal government over the Santa Fe region by a cession, with compensation to Texas, to the newly created territory. On the same date, the act admitting California under its constitution—prohibiting slavery in the new state—was approved. The Fugitive Slave Act of 18 September 1850, which amended the original statute of 12 February 1793, provided for the appointment of special commissioners to supplement the regular courts empowered after a summary hearing to issue a certificate of arrest of a fugitive "from labor," which authorized the claimant to seize and return the fugitive (with a fee of ten dollars when the certificate was issued and of only five dollars when denied); in no trial or hearing was the testimony of the alleged fugitive to be admitted as evidence nor was a fugitive claiming to be a freeman to have the right of trial by jury; federal marshals and deputy marshals were made liable for the full value of fugitives who escaped their custody and were empowered to call to their aid any bystanders, or posse comitatus; and any person willfully hindering the arrest of a fugitive or aiding in his rescue or escape was subject to heavy fine and imprisonment, as well as to heavy civil damages. The Act Abolishing the Slave Trade in the District of Columbia was approved on 20 September.
These statutes were presented to the country as a series of compromise measures. They did not, however, magically calm the sectional storm. In the North there was widespread denunciation of the iniquitous features of the Fugitive Slave Act and deliberate declaration that its enforcement would never be tolerated. At the same time the conservative forces organized a series of Union meetings and pleaded the obligations of the North to pacify the South. In the latter section the other four enactments precipitated one of the most serious disunion crises the country had ever faced. In Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina the Southern Rights, or secession, forces were checkmated only by the most strenuous efforts of the Union or Constitutional Union elements. Both sides foreswore old party labels and fought under their new banners to win control over the official state conventions that were ordered. The Southern Rights forces lost in the first test fight in Georgia (see Georgia Platform) and had to carry this moral handicap in the remaining contests. It was not until the elections of 1852 that the country at large made clear its (albeit temporary) acquiescence in what at length became known by the over simple label the Compromise of 1850.
Hamilton, Holman. Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1964.
Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s. New York: Norton, 1983.
Potter, David Morris. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. Edited and completed by Don E. Fehrenbacher. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
Remini, Robert V. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. New York: Norton, 1991.
Arthur C.Cole/t. m.
Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The United States expanded westward at a rapid pace in the 1800s. Expansion of the country raised the question of whether slavery would be allowed in new territories and states. It was a difficult question with moral and economic issues. For free whites living in the South, slavery provided a stable economy. For whites in the North, slavery was incompatible with the economic needs, and many also believed it was immoral. The complexity of issues often meant passionate debates in Congress that threatened the union of states. Several compromises preserved the Union throughout the first half of the 1800s, but they often provided inadequate solutions. The Compromise of 1850 was one of the last great efforts in Congress to appease all sides (except the slaves, who had no representation in government). For awhile, the measures helped to avoid secession and to preserve the Union.
With the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress set a boundary allowing slavery in Missouri and the states below it but prohibiting slavery in areas to the north. This compromise only covered areas that had been within the Louisiana Territory, the largest portion of the Louisiana Purchase (approximately 530 million acres of land acquired from France in 1803).
By the end of the 1840s, after the Mexican-American War (1846–48), U.S. territories extended beyond the former Louisiana Territory, all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. The discovery of gold in 1849 led to a rush of people to California (see California Gold Rush ). Westward expansion revived debates over the expansion of slavery in the United States. Some southerners began to talk about seceding from the United States if slavery was not allowed to expand.
Many in Congress believed compromise on the expansion of slavery was impossible. U.S. senator Henry Clay (1777–1852) of Kentucky , however, made the first concrete proposal for compromise in January 1850. Originally hoping to present five separate bills, he organized them all into one, the Omnibus Bill, to avoid vetoes by U.S. president Zachary Taylor (1784–1850; served 1849–50).
Stipulations of the Omnibus Bill proposed to admit California as a free state and to reduce the boundaries of the slavery state of Texas . New Mexico would compensate Texas for land it would gain in the boundary adjustment. The territories of Utah and New Mexico would have no restrictions on slavery. The Omnibus Bill provided a stricter fugitive slave law for the return of runaway slaves, and it would abolish the slave trade in Washington, D.C. Debate surrounding the bill was dramatic and passionate. The bill proved to be too controversial, and it failed to pass.
U.S. senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) of Illinois took charge of the measure in the summer of 1850. Douglas had been working hard to reduce division among the politicians on other legislative measures. Choosing to break up the Omnibus Bill into five modified bills, Douglas presented the proposals to Congress again in September. The success of the various measures depended on different interest groups, and all eventually passed. Called the Compromise of 1850, the legislation temporarily quieted talk of secession. Abolitionists continued to advocate ending slavery everywhere, and the issue would erupt again in the American Civil War (1861–65).
Compromise of 1850
COMPROMISE OF 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was passed by the U.S. Congress to settle slavery issues and to avert the dissolution of the Union. It stemmed from the request for statehood by the territory of California in 1849, which included a constitution banning slavery. California's admission to the Union would tip the balance in favor of free states—sixteen free states to fifteen slave states. A balance had been achieved with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which tried to settle the growing slavery issue at that time by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The proposed admission of California in 1850 was further complicated by unresolved slavery questions in the vast southwestern territory that had been ceded to the United States after the war with Mexico ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
As he had done with the Missouri Compromise thirty years earlier, U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky attempted to find a solution in 1850. This time the stakes were higher—the real possibility that the Union would break apart. Now seventy-one years old and in ill health, Clay gave his last great speech to the Senate on February 5–6, 1850, outlining the many features of the compromise, which once again tried to give satisfaction to both sides, and staking his reputation upon its passage. It was Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, though, who successfully crafted the measures.
The Compromise of 1850 called for the admission of California as a free state as well as the organization of the ceded southwestern land into the territories of New Mexico and Utah, without mention of slavery. It stated that, when the territories became states, voting citizens living in those territories could then decide on their slavery status, a solution known as popular sovereignty. The compromise also settled the boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico and called for prohibition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
But by far the most contentious part of the Compromise of 1850 was the Fugitive Slave Act. It was the second of such acts, the first having been passed in 1793. Southern states demanded it largely in response to the growing number of fugitive slaves who were escaping to freedom in the North or into Canada. The act not only called for the return of runaway slaves, as the previous law had done, but prohibited the fugitives a trial by jury or even to testify in their own behalf. In addition, marshals in the North who did not enforce the law were given heavy penalties, as were those who helped slaves to escape.
The act was so severe and the outrage against it in the North so intense that it led to heavy abuses and therefore defeated its own purpose. Some Northern states passed personal liberty laws to defy the Fugitive Slave Act. The number of escapees increased, as did the number of abolitionists who took up the cause against slavery. Putting the law into effect only led to more animosity between North and South, and when South Carolina justified its secession from the Union in December 1860, it listed the personal liberty laws as one of its grievances. The Fugitive Slave Act was not repealed until June 28, 1864, well into the Civil War. The Compromise of 1850, created in an effort to stave off war, actually may have fostered sectional tensions. Ultimately, it led to a Republican victory in 1860 and to Southern secession.
Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
"The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act." In Africans in America, Part 4: 1831–1865. PBS Online. Available from <www.pbs.org>.
Rose Blue and
Corinne J. Naden
Compromise of 1850
COMPROMISE OF 1850
The Compromise of 1850 comprised a related series of statutes enacted by Congress in an attempt to settle sectional disputes related to slavery that had flared since 1846, with the outbreak of the Mexican War and the introduction of the wilmot proviso. After California's 1849 demand for admission as a free state and the concurrent appearance of southern disunionist sentiment, what had begun as a contest over the constitutional status of slavery in the territories absorbed other issues related to the security of slavery in the extant states and expanded into a crisis of the Union.
From proposals submitted by President Zachary Taylor and Senator henry clay, Senator stephen a. douglas marshaled measures through Congress that admitted California as a free state; established the Texas-New Mexico boundary and compensated Texas and holders of Texas securities for territory claimed by Texas but awarded to New Mexico; abolished the slave trade in the district of columbia (but Congress rejected a proposal to abolish slavery itself there); amended the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 by the drastic new measure known as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; and created Utah and New Mexico Territories. (See fugitive slavery.)
Both major parties hailed the Compromise as a final settlement of all problems relating to slavery. Southern disunion sentiment abated, while the Free Soil coalition, which had made a respectable beginning in the 1848 election, began to disintegrate. franklin pierce was elected President in 1852 on a platform extolling the finality of the Compromise and condemning any further agitation of the slavery issue.
But the territorial and fugitive-slave measures only extended and inflamed the slavery controversy. The New Mexico and Utah acts were couched in ambiguous language that left the status of slavery in those two immense territories unsettled, though Congress did decisively reject the Free Soil solution embodied in the Wilmot Provisoof 1846. The acts also contained sections providing for appeal of slavery controversies from the territorial courts directly to the United States Supreme Court, an effort to resolve a politically insoluble problem by nonpolitical means.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a harsh and provocative measure that virtually legitimated the kidnapping of free blacks. It thrust the federal presence into northern communities in obtrusive ways by potentially forcing any adult northern male to serve on slave-catching posses, by creating new pseudo-judicial officers encouraged by the fee structure to issue certificates of rendition, and by authorizing use of federal military force to enforce the act. It was therefore widely unpopular in the northern states. Subsequent recaptures, renditions, and rescues provided numerous real-life counterparts to the fictional drama of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The finality supposedly achieved by the Compromise of 1850 was shattered by the controversy over the kansas-nebraska act of 1854. But as alexander stephens noted back in 1850, "the present adjustment may be made, but the great question of the permanence of slavery in the Southern states will be far from being settled thereby."
William M. Wiecek
Potter, David M. 1976 The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York: Harper & Row.
Compromise of 1850
COMPROMISE OF 1850
The Compromise of 1850, also known as the Omnibus Bill, was a program of legislative measures enacted by Congress to reconcile the differences existing between the North and South concerning the issue of slavery in newly formed territories of the united states.
The historical background of the enactment of the Compromise involved the increasingly hostile relationship between the northern and southern states of the Union over the existence of slavery. This hostility was partly due to the reluctant enforcement by northern states of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which established procedures for the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The dissension was exacerbated in 1848 when the United States annexed Texas and gained new territories under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought about the end of the Mexican American War. Abolitionists continued to favor the antislavery stance of the wilmot proviso prohibiting slavery in the lands acquired from Mexico, which was proposed in 1846, but was never enacted into law. The South vehemently opposed the exclusion of slavery from the new territories.
In 1849 the request of California to join the Union as a free state resulted in heated debates on the floor of Congress. Many viewed the situation as a grave threat to the existence of the Union. henry clay returned to the Senate to propose measures, based upon the ideas of stephen douglas, that would reconcile the
different positions of the North and South. The proposals included the admission of California into the Union as a free state, the right of the New Mexico and Utah territories to determine the slavery issue for themselves at the time of their admission to the Union, the outlawing of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and the congressional enactment of the more stringent fugitive slave act of 1850 (9 Stat. 462).
Due to the efforts of daniel webster and others, these controversial measures, which initially caused heated debate, were enacted by Congress in September 1850. Although labeled a compromise due to its position on slavery, the Compromise of 1850 had short-lived effect as a solution to the issue in light of the subsequent problems resulting in the enactment of the kansas-nebraska act in 1854 (10 Stat. 277) and the onset of the Civil War less than ten years later.