The New Student's Reference Work/Compromise of 1850

Compromise of 1850, a measure designed by Henry Clay and, largely through his efforts, adopted by both houses of Congress in August, 1850. Its chief purpose was to satisfy the conflicting demands of the north and the south in the matter of slave and free territory. The leaders for the south were attempting to have the recently acquired Mexican domain organized into states all of which should permit slavery (The Clayton Compromise); were trying to have the Missouri Compromise line extended through to the Pacific; were backing Texas in her demand either for a money indemnity or the Rio Grande as a western boundary; were demanding an effective fugitive-slave law; were demanding that no free state should be admitted unless paired with a slave state. The leaders for the north were backing California's demand to be admitted as a free state; were attempting to have slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; were seeking to prohibit interstate commerce in slaves; were justifying the personal-liberty laws which made just about useless the fugitive-slave law; were resisting the demands of Texas. There was a deadlock, and to many civil war seemed certain. It was at this juncture that Clay introduced his compromise. In one form or another it was debated for nearly five months, but was finally passed about as Clay had designed it. It provided that California be admitted with her free constitution; that there should be no slavery prohibition in the organization of territorial governments founded in the Mexican domain (which included the territories of New Mexico and Utah); that Texas should receive her indemnity; that slaves might be held in the District of Columbia; that there should be no slave-trading in the District of Columbia; that the fugitive-slave law should be enforced; and that the interstate slave-trade should not be interfered with. Passed to avert a clash at arms, the measure was one of the shortest-lived and least successful compromises in history. The fugitive-slave law in its operation rapidly turned the whole north into abolitionists, and so hastened the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill which made the whole compromise a dead letter.