The Debate Over Slavery

The Debate Over
The Expansion of Slavery
• Victory for the U.S. in the Mexican
War added approx. 500,000 square
miles to the U.S.
• It also caused the debate over slavery
to begin again.
• The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had
settled the debate until now.
• The Missouri Compromise had divided
the Louisiana Purchase into free and
slave territory. Slavery was not
allowed north of latitude 36,30.
• President Polk and others now wanted
to extend this line all the way to the
Pacific Coast, which would divide the
Mexican Cession into slave and free
• Some northerners wanted to prohibit
slavery in all parts of the Mexican
• During the war, Representative David
Wilmot had proposed the Wilmot
Proviso. It stated that “neither
slavery no involuntary servitude shall
ever exist in any part of the territory.”
• The Proviso did not pass through
Congress, it’s impact was felt in the
growing sectionalism of the country.
• Another idea on how to solve the
issue of slavery in the territories was
through popular sovereignty. This
would allow voters in the territory to
decide whether or not they wanted to
allow slavery.
• The issue of slavery in the Mexican
Cession dominated the election of
1848. Neither the Whigs nor the
Democrats took a clear stand on the
issue, so antislavery northerners
formed a new party called the FreeSoil Party.
• The members of the
Free Soil Party
supported the Wilmot
Proviso and chose
former president
Martin Van Buren as
their candidate.
• Van Buren won 10% of
the popular vote in the
election which helped
the Whig candidate
Zachary Taylor
narrowly defeat
Democrat Lewis Cass.
• The California Gold Rush had allowed
California to skip the territorial stage
and apply for statehood.
• This raised the question as to whether
California would enter as a free or
slave state. Most Californians did not
want slavery and hoped to enter as a
free state; however, this would upset
the balance in Congress of free and
slave states.
The Compromise of 1850
• Henry Clay had helped settle the issue of
slavery in Missouri with his proposal of the
Missouri Compromise. He now stepped
forward with a plan that had five main
1. He urged Congress to allow California to
enter the Union as a free state.
2. The rest of the Mexican Cession would
be organized into a federal territory. In this
territory, popular sovereignty would decide
the status of slavery.
3. He called on Texas to give up its claim
to all land east of the upper Rio Grande.
In exchange, the federal government
would pay Texas’s old debts.
4. An end to the slave trade-but not
slavery-in Washington D.C.
5. New, more effective fugitive slave law.
• Immediately, Clay’s plan was criticized.
Senator William Seward of New York spoke
for antislavery northerners. He demanded
the admission of California without
conditions or compromise.
• Senator John C. Calhoun spoke for the
South. Near death, he was very weak and
had to have another senator read his
speech. He argued that letting CA enter as
a free state would destroy the balance
between the two sections of the country.
He said the slave states would not be able
to live with that decision and should be
allowed to “separate and part in peace.”
• Senator Daniel Webster (Mass.) was in
favor of Clay’s plan. He was opposed
to the expansion of slavery, but he
thought that preserving the Union
was more important than regional
differences. He criticized northern
abolitionists and scolded southerners
who spoke of breaking away from the
Union. Webster also argued that
fighting over slavery in the west was
unnecessary b/c the climate and soil in
that region would not grow the crops
needed for slave labor.
• The Compromise of 1850 became law in
September. It accomplished most of what
Clay had wanted:
1. CA entered as a free state
2. The rest of the Mexican Cession was
divided into two territories-the states of
slavery would be decided by popular
3. Texas agreed to give up its claims in NM
and the fed. Gov’t would pay their debts.
4. The slave trade was banned in D.C. and a
new fugitive slave law was added.
The Fugitive Slave Act
• The Fugitive Slave Act that was made
part of the Compromise of 1850 made
it illegal to help runaway slaves. The
act even let officials arrest runaways
in areas where slavery was illegal.
• Slaveholders and their agents could
take suspected fugitive slaves before
U.S. commissioners to try to prove
ownership. Slaves were not allowed to
testify in their own defense.
• Commissioners received $5 for their
services, those who returned a
suspected fugitive to a slaveholder
received $10. Anyone who helped a
runaway slave faced 6 months in jail
and a $1000 fine.
Anti-Slavery Literature
• No anti-slavery literature had the impact
that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had. This story,
written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, told the
story of a kind, older slave named Tom. He
is separated from his wife and sold. He
becomes the slave of a cruel cotton planter
who treats him terribly.
• The book was published in 1852 and sold
nearly 2 million copies within 10 years.
• After the Civil War
had started,
Harriet Beecher
Stowe met
Abraham Lincoln.
When he met her
he said, “So this is
the little lady who
started this big
war.” This shows
the impact Uncle
Tom’s Cabin had on
the U.S.