The Impact of The Compromise Of 1850

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The compromise of 1850 can be described as a series of five bills that was passed by the Congress in September 1850 with the aim of ending the dispute between the free states and the slave states. It was Senator Henry Clay that presented a series of resolutions that aimed at ending the animosity between the North and South residents. The southerners had threatened to succeed the union if better slavery terms were not put in place. The compromise of 1850 is made up of five bills, and the first one was an Act that proposed definite boundaries in the Northern and the Western borders of Texas; this ensured that Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico. The second act assured that the State of California was admitted into the union, the third bill aimed to establish a territorial government for Utah and New Mexico (Hamilton 176). The fourth bill was the amendment of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The fifth act was the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia (Hamilton 209).

The Compromise of 1850

One of the provisions of the five bills was the Fugitive Slave Act. The southerners were agriculturalists, and they needed a reliable supply of slaves to work in their plantations. Therefore, to honor their demands a raft of measures were adopted to compel the blacks back into slavery. The proposals were adopted to ensure a balance between the needs of the northerners and the southerners.  Several contentious issues prompted the adoption of the 1850 compromise. One of the controversial issues was whether the newly adopted territories should adopt slavery or not and also whether the citizens of the acquired regions should decide about adopting slavery. Moreover, California had petitioned the Congress to enter the union between the northern and southern. The move by California was contentious since the balance between slavery regions and the Free states had been maintained for an extended period since the Missouri Compromise. The request by California threatened the balance between the free and the slavery states. Additionally, Texas claimed that the state’s territory had to be extended beyond Santa Fe and on the other hand, Washington DC was abating slavery even though it was the largest market for slaves in North America (Finkelman 861).

To amicably solve the contentious issues, the compromise of 1850 proposed a number of measures that were to be adopted. One of the measures was Texas to drop its claim over Santa Fe and in return it would be paid $10 million to clear its debt to Mexico. Moreover, the newly acquired territories of Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona had to be set be and the decision of adopting slavery was left in the hands of the citizens of the states (Hamilton 176). The compromise also proposed for abolishment of slave trade in Washington D.C. but it did not illegalize slavery. The state of California would also be admitted to the union as a free state and the Fugitive Slave Act would be passed to appease those against adoption of California as a Free State (Finkelman 864) fugitive.

The Fugitive Slave Act was regarded as controversial since it proposed harsh measures against black slaves. One of the measures was that the citizens would assist in recovery of fugitive slaves and those citizens who would collude with the fugitives would receive a fine and face prosecution. Moreover, the act proposed that the slaves claiming to be freemen should be denied the right to fair jury trial. The proposal was resented by several free black slaves since they could not contest their freedom in a court and gets a fair hearing; this is when a commission designed to deal with the slaves to claimed to be free was formed, on the other hand, the federal government took charge of the jurisdiction and enforcement of the slavery laws. The Fugitive Slave Act prompted the blacks living in the north to flee to neighboring Canada. In a period of 10 years more than 20,000 blacks had fled to Canada after learning that they were defenseless and had no legal authority to defend their freedom in court (Finkelman 879).

Many free slaves were captured and forced back into slavery with some being taken to the southern. Between 1850 and 1960, the southerners had developed several kilometers of a railroad which gave them an advantage over the Northerners during the civil war. The goal of the compromise of 1850 was to avoid the fallout between the north and the south. However, the compromise agitated the abolitionists to intensify their war against slavery in the United States of America. The intensification of the fight against slavery gained momentum with most of the people who were supporting the act turning against slavery. Consequently, the Slavery Fugitive Act later divided the nation further instead of uniting it as it had previously intended. There was mixed reaction with the country divided on the right path to take on the issue regarding slavery (Finkelman 880).

The Aftermath of the 1850 Compromise

There was increased polarization among centrist citizens who had seen the need to abolish slavery. The Uncle Tom’s Cabin book had acted as an eye opener for most of citizens on the issue of slavery. The fictional book depicted the misery that the slaves were going through on the hands of their owners further widening the division between the North and South. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which was passed with the congressmen wielding weapons at each other in the Congress overturned the Missouri Compromise allowing the inhabitants to choose whether to permit slavery or not by popular vote. The Kansas-Nebraska act plunged the nation into further division with pro-and anti-slavery agitators demonstrating in Kansas to express their stand. The two factions were engaged in violence and bloodshed that claimed over 56 lives. The Kansa event shocked the nation and further fueled for the fight against slavery (Hamilton 182).

The Dred v. Sanford is another event that led to the buildup of the American civil war. Dred was a slave who had contested his freedom in the court of law but the supreme court found that he was a piece of property with no legal rights or entitlement to human rights. The decision by the Supreme Court further fueled the polarization between the Northerners and the Southerners hence setting the ground for the civil war. In addition to that, John Brown organized an abolitionist campaign where he organized a raid on the government’s arsenal in Virginia to steal weapons and in a bid to stage a revolution against slavery in the South. Brown was apprehended upon the raid and charged with treason whose penalty was execution. Browns execution triggered further anti-slavery uprising (Finkelman 4).

In addition, election of Abraham Lincoln marked another point towards the civil war. The Republican Party was anti-slavery, and this did not augur well with the southerners. Seven states seceding from the Union marked Lincoln's election and continued secession marked the beginning of the civil war. The battle of Fort of Sumter laid ground for the war. Fort Sumter was a federal garrison that was had been captured by the pro-slavery agitators. Lincoln sent supplies to the affected militias, but the supplies were quashed by the pro-slavery allies prompting the federal government to launch a military attack on the garrisons that had been taken over by the pro-slavery agitators (Smith 918). In April 1961, Lincoln ordered for recruitment of 75,000 men to join the Northern Army. The civil war had already begun with several southern states severing ties with the federal government (Hamilton 171).


The Compromise of 1850 consists of five separate bills that were proposed by Senator Henry Clay in the attempt to resolve the dispute between citizens of the northern and the southern states on the issue of slavery. The issue of slavery had led to a lot of unrest in the United States with many parties having different opinions about whether to end or promote slavery. The first bill of the compromise of 1850 ended the dispute between Texas and Mexico as teas had to surrender its claim to New Mexico territory. The second bill ensured that the state of California was admitted into the union as a free state. An organized government was established for Utah and New Mexico by the third bill. The fourth bill was the amendment of the Fugitive Slave Act, and the fifth act abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia (Hamilton 208).

Works Cited

Finkelman, Paul. "Scott v. Sandford: The Court's most dreadful case and how it changed history."Chi.-Kent L. Rev.82 (2007): 3.

Finkelman, Paul. "The Cost of Compromise and the Covenant with Death."Pepp. L. Rev. 38 (2010): 845.

Hamilton, Holman. Prologue to Conflict: the Crisis and Compromise of 1850. University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

Smith, Steven D. "Lessons from Lincoln: A Comment on Levinson."Pepp. L. Rev. 38 (2010): 915.

November 24, 2023


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