A Dictionary of American History

Author: Thomas L. Purvis  | Date: 1995

Compromise of 1850

Compromise of 1850 Faced with the problem of establishing governments in territories acquired in the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor recommended on 4 December 1849 that California be admitted to the Union under its free-state constitution, and that Congress accept the territorial constitutions adopted in New Mexico and Utah, which excluded slavery. Led by John Calhoun, southerners objected that Calif. statehood would create a free-state majority in the Senate, argued that N.Mex. and Utah should be opened to slavery, and renewed demands for strengthening the Fugitive Slave Law (1793). Abolitionists then fulminated against slavery in the District of Columbia, and Texans claimed to own all of N.Mex. east of the Rio Grande.

Based on his resolutions of 29 January 1850, Henry Clay fashioned a compromise measure termed the Omnibus Bill. Daniel Webster supported Clay on 7 March. Calhoun opposed Clay until he died on 31 March, then Jefferson Davis led southern opposition to the Omnibus Bill. Stephen Douglas devised the stratagem of separating the compromise into five separate acts, each of which commanded majority support from different coalitions. When the necessary votes for each measure were assured, the package passed during 9–20 September.

The Compromise of 1850 provided for: (1) admitting Calif. as a free state; (2) giving N.Mex. and Utah the option to authorize slavery by territorial law; (3) fixing the Tex.–N.Mex. border at its present line and compensating Tex. with $10,000,000 for giving up its claims west to the Rio Grande; (4) passing a more stringent Fugitive Slave Act; and (5) abolishing the slave trade within the District of Columbia (without ending slavery itself). Southern reaction to the compromise was expressed by the Georgia Platform and Nashville Convention. The problem of slavery in the territories then receded until the Kansas–Nebraska Act’s passage.


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Chicago: Thomas L. Purvis, "Compromise of 1850," A Dictionary of American History in A Dictionary of American History (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Reference, 1995), Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=U3ZUX5JB2X5YZCL.

MLA: Purvis, Thomas L. "Compromise of 1850." A Dictionary of American History, in A Dictionary of American History, Cambridge, Mass., Blackwell Reference, 1995, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=U3ZUX5JB2X5YZCL.

Harvard: Purvis, TL, 'Compromise of 1850' in A Dictionary of American History. cited in 1995, A Dictionary of American History, Blackwell Reference, Cambridge, Mass.. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=U3ZUX5JB2X5YZCL.