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feeling. The precise motives which actuated Clay at this time have been much debated. Some writers have asserted that a jealousy of Taylor, his successful rival, was the leading motive, and others have suggested that he really believed that secession on the part of the slave States was imminent. The accuracy of the insight of those who believed that the Union was really in danger in 1850 has however been impugned. No matter what was the cause of Clay's action, it is certain that the discussions which it aroused greatly increased whatever bitterness of feeling there may have been. This contest had been somewhat forestalled - by the attempt of the antislavery men to devote these new territories to freedom before they were acquired. This they endeavoured to accomplish (1846) by attaching to the bill appropriating money to enable the President to buy land from Mexico, a proviso that slavery should be forbidden for ever in any territory acquired from Mexico. This was known as the Wilmot Proviso because it was introduced by David Wilmot of Pennsylvania. The bill was defeated at the moment owing, curiously enough, to the fact that the clocks of the two Houses did not agree, so that the Senate did not take action until after the House had finally adjourned; the bill thus failed to pass at that session. The appropriation was made a short time afterwards, without the proviso. The extremists in the North were determined that sooner or later the policy embodied in the Wilmot Proviso should become the law of the land. The Southern extremists were determined to break up the Union, if it were passed into law. General Taylor, with rare insight, recognized that the easiest way would be that the people of the proposed States should settle the matter before the politicians could meddle with it. Clay, however, took possession of the subject and proceeded to dispose of the whole matter in his own way.

Clay's compromise scheme included the simultaneous


The Compromise of 1850.



settlement of eight questions in the following manner: (1) California to be admitted as a free State; (2) New

Clay's ComMexico and Utah to be organized as territories, promise without any reference being made as to slavery; (3) and (4) the claims of Texas to portions of New Mexico to be extinguished by a money payment by the United States to Texas; (5) slavery not to be abolished in the District of Columbia; (6) the slave-trade to be prohibited within that district; (7) an affirmation to the effect that Congress has no power over the inter-state slave-trade; and (8) the passage of a workable fugitive slave law. In the course of the debates to which these resolutions gave rise, four speeches were made which well show the different phases of public opinion at the moment. The first was delivered by Clay, “compromise incarnate,” as he has been well termed by a modern writer. He was now an old man and a thrice disappointed candidate for the presidency. He was one of those slave-owners, of whom Senator Benton of Missouri was the best example, who preferred their country to their slaves. Of Clay's patriotism and sincerity there is not the slightest doubt, though the expediency of some of his actions may be open to question. He now could see no safety for the country except in “a union of hearts" to be brought about by mutual concessions. The issue, he argued, was one of sentiment on the part of the Northerners — of interest on the part of the Southerners. Sentiment he thought could be more easily overcome than interest, and, therefore, the Northerners, in the general bargain, must concede more than their opponents. This was the view of a Southern moderate. John C. Calhoun represented the Southern extremists. He was now at death's door, and died in fact within a few weeks of his speech. He was weak read aloud what he had written, and it was read to the Senate by another Southern Senator. Calhoun put forward no plan. The Union was doomed unless the South should have equal rights in the newly acquired

districts. He had no desire for local option, and regarded the action of the Californians as a piece of gross impertinence

the admission of that State would be equivalent to a notice that the North meant to overwhelm the South. He also demanded the passage of a fugitive slave law which would give the slave-owners power to exercise their constitutional right to reclaim their runaway slaves. Moreover, he thought that the North must put an end to all agitation looking toward abolition, and advised the passage of an Amendment to the Constitution embodying some machinery by which the South should for ever enjoy equal power with the North, no matter what the population and resources of the two sections might be. The third speech was made by Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts, on the 7th of March, 1850. It is always referred to as the “Seventh of March Speech,” and created a most painful and profound sensation in the North. Webster declared for the compromise. He argued that slavery was "excluded by nature" from California and New Mexico. Why, then, put in a“Wilmot Proviso" as a taunt and reproach? These speeches were the work of men who were at the close of their careers. The fourth speech was made by one of the foremost of the younger men, William H. Seward.

In 1848 he had stated in a public address, that “slavery can be limited to its present bounds; it can be ameliorated; it can and must be abolished, and you and I can and must do it.” He now swept aside historical subtleties and constitutional precedents and declared “there is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain and devotes it to the same noble purposes ['to union, to justice, to defence, to welfare, and to liberty ']." This appeal to “the higher law” marks the beginning of the end of the period of compromise.

Meantime, Taylor had been managing the business in his own direct soldierly fashion, when, suddenly, in July, 1850, he died, and Millard Fillmore, the Vice-President and Seward's


The Compromise of 1850.


The Com

tive Slave

rival in New York, became President. At once there was a complete change in the political horizon. Seward, who had been very strong owing to promise of

1850. his influence with Taylor, lost all power in the administration. Webster became Secretary of State, and the compromise measures were passed, although not in the original form. California was admitted on her own terms; Texas received the promised price for her land; New Mexico and Utah were organized as territories, without any restriction as to slavery; the slave-trade was abolished within the precincts of the national capital; and a fugitive slave law was passed stringent enough to satisfy the Southern slave-holder.

This last law was so severe, indeed, that it defeated its own objects. Among other things, the right to a jury

The Fugitrial to determine the question of ownership was denied, and the act was ex post facto in its opera

Act, 1850. tion. The authors of the bill forgot, however, that while a jury trial was denied to the reclaimed slave, it was not and could not be denied to the rescuer of the negro from the hands of the fugitive slave hunter. Seward had stated in a speech, on this branch of the compromise, that a very mild fugitive slave law would be more efficacious than a severe one; but he had not been heeded.

The slave-owners' agents now poured over Mason and Dixon's line to recover the property of their

The attempts employers. It was found to be practically impossible to secure and retain possession of the coveted fugitives. These prosecutions attracted more attention to the slavery question in a few months than the Abolitionists had been able to arouse in twenty years. The most respected and respectable men bore prominent parts in the rescue of the reclaimed fugitives. On the other hand, the United States Deputy Marshals were often drawn from the lowest strata of society. Mr Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, expressed the

C. A.

to enforce the Act.


popular feeling in a speech delivered in Faneuil Hall. The “public conscience, ” he affirmed, “will not allow a man who has trodden our streets as a free man to be dragged away as a slave." Sumner was soon afterwards elected to the United States Senate, where he and Hamilton Fish of New York, and B. F. Wade of Ohio formed with Seward and Chase a small but strong party, representing “the higher law," which rules the “public conscience.” These same years (1850–52) that witnessed this uprising of the "public conscience" in the North witnessed the death of Calhoun, Clay, and Webster, and the return of Jefferson Davis to political life. It was then also that “Uncle Tom's Cabin” was published. This latter may well be regarded as a political event of the utmost importance, although its import was not discerned at the time. No other American book, perhaps no other work of fiction, has ever had the same degree of success as Mrs. Stowe's “Uncle Tom.” Three hundred thousand copies were sold within a year. The story was dramatized and placed on the stage, where it had an unprecedented success. It is not unlikely that the description of slavery is overdrawn in the sense that all the hardships and outrages therein set forth were seldom if ever felt by any one particular slave; the description of “Southern Society” also is defective. The most curious thing in the story of the book is the fact that it was extremely popular in the South. Whatever its merits or demerits, its ultimate influence was tremendous. The Northern boys who read “Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852-58 were the voters of 1860 and the soldiers of 1861-65. The signing of the Fugitive Slave Act has blackened the

memory of Millard Fillmore in later days, but at the time it aroused little comment. He was the

strongest candidate for the nomination of the Whig party, and would have secured it, had not Webster's friends refused to co-operate with his. As it turned out,

The Election

of 1852.

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