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Kompromis 1850 roku

Kompromis 1850 roku zadziałał jak opatrunek na powiększającą się ranę podziałów.


  • The Compromise of 1850 acted as a temporary truce on the issue of slavery, primarily addressing the status of newly acquired territory after the Mexican-American War.
  • Under the Compromise, California was admitted to the Union as a free state; the slave trade was outlawed in Washington, D.C., a strict new Fugitive Slave Act compelled citizens of free states to assist in capturing enslaved people; and the new territories of Utah and New Mexico would permit white residents to decide whether to allow slavery.
  • Ultimately, the Compromise did not resolve the issue of slavery’s expansion; instead, the fiery rhetoric surrounding the Compromise further polarized the North and the South.

The Mexican Cession begs the slavery question

At the end of the Mexican-American War, the United States gained a large piece of western land known as the Mexican Cession.
Mapa przedstawiająca obszar Cesji Meksykańskiej, w tym obszary obecnych stanów Kalifornii, Newady, Utah i porcji Arizony, Nowego Meksyku, Colorado i Wyoming.
The Mexican Cession. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The issue of whether to permit slavery in the territories organized in this new land consumed Congress at the end of the 1840s. During the war, Congressman David Wilmot introduced the Wilmot Proviso, a proposal to ban slavery in any new territory acquired from Mexico. The measure passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.
Congress was also seeking resolutions for several other controversial matters. Antislavery advocates wanted to end the slave trade in the District of Columbia, while proslavery advocates aimed to strengthen fugitive slave laws. But the most pressing problem was California: the many emigrants who had flocked to the territory upon the discovery of gold in the late 1840s had forced the question of its statehood and status as a slave or free state.
The presidential election of 1848 determined which of these issues would be tackled first. Southern Mexican-American war military hero Zachary Taylor was elected president in 1848, much to the satisfaction of southern slaveholders. Although Taylor himself owned more than one hundred slaves, he prioritized national unity over sectional interests. He called on Congress to admit California as a free state.

Wielki Ugodowiec vs. Wielki Nullifikator

The debate in Congress heated up quickly. Kentucky senator Henry Clay, also known as the “Great Compromiser,” offered a series of resolutions, most of which aimed to limit slavery’s expansion. Clay answered Taylor’s request, calling for California to enter the Union as a free state, but he coupled this antislavery provision with a more robust federal fugitive slave law in hopes of sectional compromise.
Clay's resolution angered the deathly ill John C. Calhoun, also known as the "Great Nullifier” due to his role in the Nullification crisis. Calhoun, too sick to speak, had his friend deliver a speech condemning Clay's proposal as endangering Southern rights and prosperity. Calhoun reinforced the need for a stronger fugitive slave law and condemned what he saw as northern aggression, warning that the South would leave the Union sooner than submit to limitations on slavery.
Soon thereafter, Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster countered Calhoun in his famous “Seventh of March” speech. Webster called for national unity, famously declaring that he spoke “not as a Massachusetts man, not as a Northern man, but as an American.” While Webster denounced slavery, he regarded disunion as much worse.
Then, Whig senator William H. Seward declared that slavery was incompatible with the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” and proclaimed that slavery would be extinguished in the country. Seward’s speech, in which he invoked the idea of a "higher moral law" than the Constitution and displayed contradictions within the Constitutional text itself, brought abolitionist rhetoric from the margins to the mainstream.
Od lewej do prawej: Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, i William Seward. Zdjęcia dzięki uprzejmości Wikimedia Commons.
The speeches made in Congress were published in the nation’s newspapers. The American public followed with great interest, anxious to learn how the issues of the day, especially the potential advance of slavery, would be resolved.
However, President Taylor and Henry Clay’s inability to cooperate stalled the government’s resolutions on slavery. Taylor then became suddenly ill and died within five days. Vice President Millard Fillmore succeeded him as president and worked with Congress to flesh out the “final” terms of the compromise.

Provisions of the Compromise of 1850

The package of bills included four major provisions:
  • A new, stricter Fugitive Slave Law: Congress passed a strict fugitive slave law, which required officials in all states and territories to assist with the return of enslaved people who had escaped to freedom or pay a substantial fine. Ordinary citizens were also required to assist in recapturing escapees or face fines or imprisonment. There were no safeguards to prevent opportunists from claiming that any person of African descent, including free black citizens of the North, was an escapee.
  • Admission of California as a free state: To balance the Fugitive Slave Act's concession to the South, Congress admitted California as a free state.
  • Popular sovereignty in New Mexico and Utah territories: Congress avoided a direct decision on the question of slavery in the new Territory of New Mexico and the Territory of Utah, employing the principle of popular sovereignty. This allowed white residents of the territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery.
  • A ban on slave trading in Washington, DC: Antislavery advocates welcomed Congress’s ban on the slave trade in Washington, DC, although slavery itself continued to be legal in the capital.
Most Americans breathed a sigh of relief over the deal brokered in 1850, choosing to believe it had saved the Union. However, the compromise stood as a temporary truce in an otherwise white-hot sectional conflict. Popular sovereignty paved the way for unprecedented violence in the West over the question of slavery.

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