The late 1840’s were difficult times in American history given the civil war. This required immediate remedy since the unity of the southern states and Northern regions was at stake. The 1850 Compromise was therefore the only remedy according to Senator Henry Clay. The compromise was centered on five bills which were supposed to address slavery and territorial boundaries acquired during the 1846–48 Mexican-American war. These series of laws were intended to end sectional strife and make the American union stronger.
Based on the compromise, Texas would surrender the land in dispute but, in return, be awarded 10,000 000 dollars, which it would use to clear its debt with Mexico. The states of New Mexico, Utah Arizona, and Nevada were allowed to decide by their own whether they want to become free or not. California would become free states. In Washington, the trade would be abandoned in Columbia, although slavery would still be permitted. To appease slave-trade politicians, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. These bills however resulted into a hitted debate with the Fugitive Slave act being the most controversial. This essay therefore analyses the views of three politicians believed to have made major contribution in this topic.
According to John C. Calhoun (p 32), the perceived strife was rather caused by the belief of the people in the southern states that they could not remain in the union with safety and honor which was caused by many factors including, the long continued agitation of the slave question on the northern states and by the favor federal government accorded the northern section because of their population and majority of states. The northern section had more powers running the government leaving the southern section without any means to protect itself from oppression and encroachments hence it prospered more than the southern states. This view was seriously disputed by Daniel Webster arguing that such grievances had no basis. To some extent John Calhoun was right given that the North had acquired more states than the Southern region during the war and hence held majority of the positions in government. The region also used the constitution in its favor to benefit from revenue collection. This therefore broke the equilibrium between the two regions.
Although all the three agreed on the fact that slavery existed even before the constitution existed, William H. Seward was for the view that all people are equal according to the law of nature thus slaves should not be treated as properties of the other. He argued that fugitive slave act would only deny slaves their constitutional rights and give the lords more powers hence oppress slaves-slavery is a crime against humanity and should be abolished (George pp 52). Calhoun concurred with him and argued that slavery has divided the people in the southern states into sections. “Those most opposed and hostile call it a sin, and use every religious effort to destroy it.
Those little opposed and hostile perceive it as a crime, feel bound to employ all efforts to effect the same object, while those least opposed and hostile regards it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the “nation,” and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support”(Calhoun, p12). Daniel Webster also supports the fact that all people are equal and that fugitive slaves in the north should be subjected to the same law as those in the south. He argues that “every member of Northern states is bound by oath, like every other official in the country, to support the constitution of the United States, and the article of the constitution which states that fugitive slaves shall be delivered from service, is a binding and conscience as any other article” (Bryan, p 24). He was however against abolition states stating that “I don’t regard them useful. Their operations for the past 20 years yielded nothing valuable.” (Bryan, p36) In his view, slavery had contributed so much to American economy in terms of agricultural exports (cotton) through labor availability thus should be allowed to continue under stated regulations. What he failed to understand was however the idea that slavery only benefited a few individuals-the lords-at the expense of the masses, hence there was need for better solutions that would bind the country together.
The solution to the perceived threats in the union rather lies in adopting measures that will assure southern states their safety and honor in the union according to John Calhoun. This could only be realized by the means of final and full resolution based on the foundations of justice between the two parties. William Seward also concurs with him arguing that if only the equilibrium that existed during the adoption of the constitution would be restored then there would be some unity.
Although heavily disputed, the compromise achieved its purposed goal. It ended the civil war and kept the people united but this only lasted a decade before the country plunged back to its original strife. The law enforcers misused the slave act in their favor. There were various complaints of slaves being kidnapped by the law enforcers and sold back to their owners. The antagonists more than ever now felt justified in their arguments. It was therefore clear that better measures were needed to solve this problem than was thought by the protagonists.
George, E. Baker, ed. The Works of William H. Seward, New York: Redfield, 1853, vol. I, pp 70-93. Web.
Bryan, J. William, ed, The world famous orations: on the clay compromise, 1906 vol. ix. America II. Web.
John, C. Calhoun. The Clay Compromise Measures. 1850. Web.