1. The Popular Sovereignty Panacea
1. The Mexican Cession lands opened a "can of worms" with the question,
"What should be done about slavery in these lands?"
2. Further, with this question, the political parties (Whig and Democrat)
were put into a tricky position. No matter which way they answered,
half of the nation would be offended.
1. Largely, the parties simply chose to side-step the slavery-
expansion question (give no clear answer) so as to offend no
3. In the election of 1848, Polk was ailing and would not run again.
1. The Democrats nominated Gen. Lewis Cass who'd spoken
previously for popular sovereignty (the people of a territory
should decide and issue for themselves).
2. The popular sovereignty position was well-liked by politicians
since it enabled them to take a neutral stance and rather say,
"Let the people decide." During the campaign, however, he
kept rather silent on slavery.
2. Political Triumphs for General Taylor
1. The Whigs nominated Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1848. He had no
political experience but was the "hero of Buena Vista" which went a
long way—he won the election.
1. Taylor put the question of slavery expansion on the back burner
and essentially had no official position on it.
2. Notable in 1848 was the Free Soil Party that emerged when many
Northerners were upset that neither party took a position on the
expansion of slavery. They nominated Martin Van Buren and their
position was clearly against the expansion of slavery.
1. The Free Soilers also favored federal money for internal
improvements and free land for settlers out west.
2. The party attracted a wide mix of people: (a) folks upset over
getting only 1/2 of Oregon, (b) people who didn't want blacks
in the new lands, and (c) northern abolitionists who didn't like
3. “Californy Gold”
1. At Sutter's Mill in 1848, gold was discovered. The secret was quickly
out and California gold rush was on.
2. The next year, 1849, "Forty-Niners" flooded to California. Dreams of
getting rich quick nearly always turned into either going bust or the
constant hard work of moving dirt involved in mining.
1. Perhaps more people made their fortunes out of the myriad of
things needed to accompany the miners: general stores,
lumberyards, bars, barbershops, bakeries, opera-houses for
3. The overall result of the gold rush was that California had enough
people to become a state, almost overnight. It applied to be a free
state and thus threatened the 15-to-15 slave-to-free balance.
4. Sectional Balance and the Underground Railroad
1. By 1850, the South and slavery was on solid ground because (a)
the president (Zachary Taylor) was a Virginia slave owner born/raised
in Louisiana, (b) though outnumbered in the House, the South had
equality in the Senate and could therefore block any unwanted laws,
and (c) the Constitution favored the South (this would later be upheld
in the Dred Scott case). 2. Even though on solid ground, the South felt they were under attack or
upset over the following issues…
1. The proposition of California as a free state threatened the
free/slave state balance.
2. Texas had a disputed region, again, this time into the New
3. Northerners were pushing hard to abolish slavery in
4. And most bothersome to the South was the issue of runaway
slaves. The Fugitive Slave Law was supposed to "round up"
runaways up North and ship them back South. This was
largely not being done and the South took it as a personal
1. The Underground Railroad was a secret route
from "station to station" that led many slaves to
the North and eventually to Canada.Harriet
Tubman was the most well-known "conductor"
of the "railroad." She snuck back into the South
19 times and led some 300+ slaves to freedom.
3. With these hot issues heating up, political compromise was needed to
avoid violent conflict.
5. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
1. California's request to be a free state forced all of these issues onto
the Congressional floor.
2. The 3 leading senators of the past decades had one more round of
greatness in them…
1. Henry Clay was known as the "Great Compromiser" and
offered a compromise here. He was notably seconded by a
young Senator Stephen Douglas who will take a larger role in
events later. Clay urged both sides to make concessions and to
2. For the South, John C. Calhoun argued for states' rights (the
same argument as in the tariff crisis of the 1830's). He wanted
slavery to be left alone, the runaway slaves to be returned to
the South, and state balance kept intact.
3. For the North, Daniel Webster had been opposed to slavery's
expansion. But, in his famous "Seventh of March" speech
he urged the North to compromise on the issue. He felt that the
lands of the Mexican Cession were too dry to grow cotton and
therefore wouldn't need slavery anyway.
1. Abolitionists, like poet Whittier, sharply
criticized Webster as a traitor to the cause.
6. Deadlock and Danger on Capitol Hill
1. A "Young Guard" of politicians were emerging in Congress. They were
more interested in purifying the nation than in preserving it.
2. Chief among the Young Guard was William H. Seward of NY. He was
staunchly against slavery and argued that, when it came to slavery,
Americans must follow a "higher law" (God's law), above the
1. This moral high road may have cost Seward the presidency in
1860. 3. Pres. Zachary Taylor came under Seward influence. He appeared ready
to veto any concessions on the matter. The chance for compromise
7. Breaking the Congressional Logjam
1. Suddenly, Pres. Taylor died. Vice-President Millard Fillmore took over
and was more open to compromise.
2. The Compromise of 1850 emerged.
1. Senate leaders Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Stephen
Douglas all urged the North to compromise.
2. Southern "fire-eaters" were still very much a against
concession/compromise. Yet, calmer minds prevailed, the
South went along, and the Compromise of 1850 passed.
8. Balancing the Compromise Scales This content copyright © 2010 by
1. What the North got…
1. California admitted as a free state. This tipped the balance to
the free side, permanently.
2. Texas gave up its claims to lands disputed with New Mexico.
3. The slave trade in District of Columbia was banned,
but slavery was still legal. This was symbolic only. It was
symbolic in that the nation’s capital “took a stance” against the
trade. However, it was impractical because the trade only was
illegal, not slavery, and since a person could easily buy a slave
in next-door Virginia.
2. What the South got…
1. Popular sovereignty in the Mexican Cession lands. This was
good for the South because prior to this, there was to be no
new slave lands (the 36°30’ Missouri Compromise line had
drawn that). On paper, this opened a lot of land to slavery,
possibly. This was bad for the South because those lands were
too dry to raise cotton anyway and therefore would never see
2. Texas was paid $10 million for the land lost to New Mexico.
3. A new, tougher Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 had read teeth in it.
Details held that (a) runaway slaves weren't given "due
process" rights if caught, (b) the official that handled the case
received $5 for a slave's freedom but $10 for a slave's return,
and (c) officials were demanded to catch runaway slaves
despite their personal convictions on the matter.
1. This Fugitive Slave Law proved to the be most