Events Leading Up To The American Civil War - Compromise of 1850
The United States won the Mexican War in 1848. As a result, new territories were added to the United States as a condition of peace. Was slavery to be allowed in the new territories, which were the common property of all the existing states, both free states and slave states? It was then that California petitioned Congress for statehood. Slavery had been illegal in California, while under Mexican rule. The people in California did not want slavery to be legal. But if California was added as a free state, it would upset the balance of free states and slaves states in Congress.
Once again, as in 1820 with the Missouri Compromise, Congress had to address the issue of state rights and the future of slavery in America. Arguments in Congress were fierce. Fist fights broke out. One senator even drew a loaded revolver during a very heated debate.
The South felt justified in demands for their state rights, their right to keep slaves, and their right to have a balance in Congress of free states and slaves states, which was the compromise they had agreed to in 1820. States rights were guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and the Constitution stated male slaves would be counted as 3/5th of a man for the purpose of the census. There was a federal law enacted in 1793 (in support of Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution) that stated authorized slaveowners to enter any state in order to recapture their property. Slavery obviously was sanctioned by federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Southern representatives were furious their rights were being challenged. It was the position of many Southern representatives in Congress that if Northern states did not concede the constitutional rights of Southerners, then perhaps the South should secede from the Union. Secession was not illegal at the time. Northern representatives argued that it was time for new law.
Again, as he had done in 1820, the Senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay, presented a compromise to Congress that was ultimately accepted. California would be admitted as a free state, but Congress would enact a strict federal fugitive slave law, and would not restrict slavery in the territories. Once again, the Union was preserved.
Neither side was happy with the compromise but both sides were relieved. Congress knew that the individual states that made up the United States of America were much stronger when combined together into one country, especially when facing foreign aggression. But the question and recognition of states rights continued to loom. Compromise was achieved in 1820. It was again achieved in 1850. But by 1860, things would change. And by 1861, the North and South were at war over the question of states rights.