I. The Popular Sovereignty Panacea
- The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War, but
it started a whole new debate about the extension
of slavery, with
Northerners rallying around the Wilmot Proviso (which proposed that the
Mexican Cession lands be free
soil); however, the Southerners shot it
- Before, the two national parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, had
had strong support from all over the nation; now,
that was in jeopardy.
- In 1848, Polk, due to tremendous overworking and chronic diarrhea,
did not seek a second term, and the Democrats nominated
Cass, a veteran of the War of 1812, a senator and diplomat of wide
experience and considerable ability,
and the originator of popular
sovereignty, the idea that issues should be decided upon by the people
it applied to slavery, stating that the people in the
territories should decide to legalize it or not).
- It was good (and liked by politicians) because it was a compromise
between the extremes of the North and the South,
and it stuck with the
idea of self-determination, but it could spread slavery.
II. Political Triumphs for General Taylor
- The Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor, the hero of Buena Vista
in the Mexican War, a man with no political experience,
man, and they avoided all picky issues in his campaign.
- Disgusted antislavery Northerners organized the Free Soil Party, a
party committed against the extension of slavery
in the territories and
one that also advocated federal aid for internal improvements and urged
free government homesteads
- This party appealed to people angry over the half-acquisition of
Oregon, people who didn’t like Blacks in the
new territory, as
well as “conscience Whigs” who condemned slavery on moral
- The Free-Soilers nominated Martin Van Buren.
- Neither major party talked about the slavery issue, but Taylor won narrowly.
III. “Californy Gold”
- In 1848, gold was discovered in California, and thousands flooded into the state, thus blowing the lid off of the slavery
- Most people didn’t “strike it rich,” but there were many lawless men and women.
- As a result, California (privately encouraged by the president)
drafted a constitution and then applied for free statehood,
bypassing the usual territorial stage and avoiding becoming a slave
IV. Sectional Balance and the Underground Railroad
- In 1850, the South was very well off, with a Southerner as
president (Taylor), a majority in the cabinet and on the
and equality in the Senate meaning that its 15 states could block any
proposed amendment that would outlaw
slavery. Still, the South was
- The balance of 15 free states and 15 slave states was in danger
with the admission of free California (which would
indeed destroy the
equilibrium forever) and other states might follow California as free
- The South was also agitated about Texas’ claims on disputed
territory and the prospect of no slavery in Washington
putting a piece of non-slavery land right in the middle of
slave-holding Virginia and Maryland.
- Finally the Underground Railroad, a secret organization that took
runaway states north to Canada, was taking more and
more slaves from
- Harriet Tubman freed more than 300 slaves during 19 trips to the South.
- The South was also demanded a stricter fugitive slave law.
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
- In 1850, the South was confronted with catastrophe, with California demanding admission as a free state.
- Thus, the three giants met together for the last time to engineer a compromise.
- Henry Clay, AKA “The Great Compromiser,” now 73 years
old, urged concession from both the North and the
South (the North for
a fugitive slave law, the South for others) and was seconded by Stephen
Douglas, the “Little
Giant” and fine senator.
- Southern spokesman John C. Calhoun, dying of tuberculosis, pleaded
for states’ rights, for slavery to be left
alone, for the return
of runaway slaves, the restoration of the rights of the South as a
minority, and the return for
- Northerner Daniel Webster proclaimed that the new land could not
hold slaves anyway, since it couldn’t cultivate
etc… and his Seventh of March speech helped move the North into
- As a result of the popular speech, though, Webster was also
proclaimed a traitor to the North, since he had called
for ignoring the
VI. Deadlock and Danger on Capitol Hill
- A new group of politicians, the “Young Guard,” seemed
more interested in purifying the Union rather than
patching it up.
- William H. Seward, a young senator from New York, was flatly
against concession and hated slavery, but he didn’t
realize that the Union was built on compromise, and he said that
Christian legislators must adhere to a “higher
law” and not
allow slavery to exist; this might have cost him the 1860 presidential
- President Taylor also appeared to have fallen under the influence
of the “higher law,” vetoing every compromise
sent to him
VII. Breaking the Congressional Logjam
- Then, in 1850, Zachary Taylor suddenly died of an acute intestinal disorder, and portly Millard Fillmore took over the
- Impressed by arguments of conciliation, he signed a series of agreements that came to be known as the Compromise of 1850.
- Clay, Webster, and Douglas orated on behalf of the compromise for
the North, but the South hated it; fortunately, they
it after much debate.
VIII. Balancing the Compromise Scales
- What the North got… (the North got the better deal in the Compromise of 1850)
- California was admitted as a free state, permanently tipping the balance.
- Texas lost its disputed territory to New Mexico and (now) Oklahoma.
- The District of Columbia could not have slave trade, 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 because a person could easily buy a slave in next-door
- What the South got…
- 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 36o30’ 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
therefore would never see slaves.
- Texas was paid $10 million for the land lost to New Mexico.
- A new, tougher Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was drastic, and it
stated that (1) fleeing slaves couldn’t testify
on their own
behalf, (2) the federal commissioner who handled the case got $5 if the
slave was free and $10 if not,
and (3) people who were ordered to help
catch slaves had to do so, even if they didn’t want to.
- Angry Northerners pledged not to follow the new law, and the Underground Railroad stepped up its timetable.
- It turns out that the new Fugitive Slave Law was a blunder on
behalf of the South, since it inflamed both sides, but
a civil war
didn’t occur, and this was better for the North, since with each
moment, it was growing ahead of the
South in population and
wealth—in crops, factories, foundries, ships, and railroads.
IX. Defeat and Doom for the Whigs
- In 1852, the Democrats, unable to agree, finally nominated dark horse Franklin Pierce, a man who was unknown and enemyless.
- The Whigs nominated “Old Fuss and Feathers,” Winfield
Scott, the old veteran of the War of 1812 and the
- Both parties boasted about the Compromise of 1850, though the Democrats did more.
- The Whigs were hopelessly split, and thus, Pierce won in a
landslide; the death of the Whigs ended the national political
and gave rise to sectional political alignments.
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of the Border
- Pierce tried to be another Polk, and he impressed followers by
reciting his inaugural address from memory, but his
cabinet was filled
with Southerners like Jefferson Davis and he was prepared to be a
- In July of 1856, a brazen American adventurer, William Walker,
grabbed control in Nicaragua and proclaimed himself
legalized slavery, but a coalition of Latin American states overthrew
him. This threw some fuel on the
“Slavocracy” theory (a
conspiracy theory where the South was always seeking new slave land).
- America also eyed Cuba with envy.
- Although America wanted Cuba, Spain wouldn’t sell it to the U.S. at any price.
- So after two attempts to take Cuba failed, and after Spain captured
the American steamer Black Warrior on a technicality,
foreign ministers met in Ostend, Belgium and drew up the Ostend
Manifesto which stated that the U.S. was
to offer $120 million to Spain
for Cuba, and if it refused and Spain’s ownership of Cuba
continued to endanger
the U.S., then America would be justified in
seizing the island (sell it or it’ll be taken).
- Northerners were outraged once this “secret” document
was leaked, and the South could not get Cuba (and
obtain another slave
state). Pierce was embarrassed and more fuel thrown on the Slavocracy
XI. The Allure of Asia
- Over on the Pacific, America was ready to open to Asia.
- Caleb Cushing was sent to China on a goodwill mission.
- The Chinese were welcoming since they wanted to counter the British.
- U.S.—China trade began to flourish.
- Missionaries also sought to save souls; they largely kindled resent however.
- Relations opened up Japan when Commodore Matthew C. Perry steamed
into the harbor of Tokyo in 1854 and asked/coerced/forced
them to open
up their nation.
- Perry’s Treaty of Kanagawa formerly opened Japan.
- This broke Japan’s centuries-old traditional of isolation,
and started them down a road of modernization and
then imperialism and
XII. Pacific Railroad Promoters and the Gadsden Purchase
- Though the U.S. owned California and Oregon, getting out there was
very difficult, since the sea routes were too long
and the wagon route
overland was dangerous, so the only real feasible solution lay in a
- The Southerners wanted a route through the South, but the best one
would go through Mexico, so Secretary of War Jefferson
to have James Gadsden appointed minister to Mexico.
- Two reasons this was the best route: (1) the land was organized
meaning any Indian attacks could be repelled by the
U.S. Army and (2)
geography—the plan was to skirt south of the Rocky Mtns
- Finding Santa Anna in power again, he bought the Gadsden Purchase
for $10 million, and despite clamor about the “rip-off,”
passed the sale.
- A northern railroad would be less effective since it would cross over mountains and cross through Indian territory.
- The South now appeared to have control of the location of the
transcontinental railroad, but the North said that if
of territories was the problem, then Nebraska should be organized.
XIII. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Scheme
- To do this, Senator Stephen Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska
Act, which would let slavery in Kansas and Nebraska
be decided upon by
popular sovereignty (a concession to the South in return for giving up
- The problem was that the Missouri Compromise had banned any slavery
north of the 36∞30’ line, so the act
would have to repeal
- Southerners had never thought of Kansas as a possible slave state, and thus backed the bill, but Northerners rallied against
- Nevertheless, Douglas rammed the bill through Congress, and it was passed, repealing the Missouri Compromise.
XIV. Congress Legislates a Civil War
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act directly wrecked the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (by opening slavery up above the 36o30’
line) and indirectly wrecked the Compromise of 1850 (when everyone thought the issue was settled and done).
- Northerners no longer enforced the Fugitive Slave Law at all, and Southerners were still angry.
- The Democratic Party was hopelessly split into two, and after 1856, it would not have a president elected for 28 years.
The History Database