MOOC | The Compromise of 1850 | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.4.4

MOOC | The Compromise of 1850 | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.4.4

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>>Along Comes…there’s a lot of…your Congress is paralyzed. In 1849 when they meet they can’t even elect a Speaker of the House until 100 ballots or something. Along comes Henry Clay of Kentucky, one of the great politicians of this time. Now this shows you how politics then is different from politics now. What was Henry…Henry Clay had been in political office for 50 years and when he started out in 1799 in Kentucky and now its 1849-1850 and there he is; Senator from Kentucky. What is he known…and he is loved; people loved Henry Clay. Abraham Lincoln loved Henry Clay. He said, “He’s my ideal of a statesman.” He was a great hero. Alright, why? What was his great you know moniker? He was called the “Great Compromiser.” Can you imagine a politician today running and saying, “I’m the Great Compromiser?” That’s not what the electorate wants to hear it doesn’t appear. We do say we want compromise and then we just vote for the most extreme candidates who will not compromise at anybody, but Clay is the Great Compromiser. You’d think a guy would like to run on a principle like, “I stand for…?” No, no, “I just stand for compromise; I don’t care what it is.” [Laughter] Alright, Clay had been the architect in the Missouri Compromise, he’d been the architect of the compromise that ended the nullification crisis, and now he comes forward with the Compromise of 1850, ok? So here’s compromise: One, admit California as a slave state…a free state, pardon me, it was a free state. Two, basically popular sovereignty for the rest of the Mexican Session. Congress will not say anything about slavery in those other areas; no Wilmot Proviso. There’s stuff about Texas, particularly assuming the state debt. Texas owed a lot of money to various people and they didn’t want to pay and so they wanted the Federal Government to pay their bills for them is that’s what’s going to happen here. Abolition of the slave trade but not slavery itself in Washington, DC. Abolition has been fighting for the abolition of slavery in the nation’s capital since the 1830s and there were quite a few in Congress — not abolitionists at all — who thought it was a little unseemly to have the auctioning of slaves within sight of the White House and the Capitol. There were slave markets, slave auctions, and for the Capitol for the Empire of Freedom — as Jefferson called it — or Empire of Liberty, it didn’t seem to link Congress and foreign diplomats sort of commented on this. So Clay said, “Alright, let’s get rid of the slave trade; people can’t buy and sell slaves in Washington anymore,” but not abolish it. And then of course this new fugitive slave…a much more powerful fugitive slave law. Now they followed one of the great…there’s Clay before the Senate. I am critical of politicians in general but back then, they were serious people. The Senate debate of February-March 1850 was one of the great political debates in American history where you had powerful speeches on all sides by very, very learned important people. Clay gave an impassioned speech for the Union. In early March Senator Mason of Virginia read the last speech of Calhoun who was dying and would soon die a few weeks later, and Calhoun was too weak; he was wheeled into the Senate. He could not give his speech and Mason gave it and Mason it said, “Is opposed to compromise. No compromise; the north must yield to the south,” he said, “and slavery must be allowed and protected in all the territories. I have believed from the first,” said Calhoun, “that the agitation of the subject of slavery if not prevented by some timely measure will end in disunion. And California must come in as a slave state, not as a free state,” he said. And a few weeks later, Calhoun died leaving behind a fragmentary draft of a Constitutional Amendment providing for two presidents; one from the north and one from the south, each able to veto any congressional legislation. This is absurd, but it’s an attempt to build into the political system a guarantee of the defense of the rights of the south; i.e., slavery. So Calhoun is giving you the no compromise; the south must get its way. Four days after him, Daniel Webster, the great Senator from Massachusetts gives his famous March 7th speech. Webster coming from Massachusetts had been strongly antislavery supporting the Wilmot Proviso. Now he says, “No, I’m giving that up. I support the compromise.” He starts with his famous line, you know, “Mr. President I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, not as a northern man, but as an American. I speak today for the preservation of the union. Hear me for my cause.” These guys understood rhetoric. They don’t anymore in Washington. Have you ever hear Harry — I’m talking about Senators — Harry Reid? Ted Cruz; he thinks reading Dr. Seuss aloud is rhetoric? I mean back then they understood what a speech was. Webster even said, “If it’s necessary to have this new fugitive slave law to conciliate the south, I will accept it.” So this is the voice of the older generation for compromise. Four days later, the new generation speaks and that is William Seward of New York. His speech is famous or infamous in the south for his declaration that there is a higher law, a higher law than the Constitution. This is the language of abolitionism now in the Senate. What is that higher law? It’s the law of morality. That’s what we should be following. Forget about the Constitution. Yes the Constitution says send back fugitive slaves but the higher law says no, we cannot do that. Now that, of course, is totally unacceptable to the south. If the north declares there’s a higher law, what use is any of these constitutional guarantees? But Seaward goes further. He says, “There cannot be an equilibrium.” He ridicules Calhoun’s idea that you can maintain this equilibrium between north and south. The north is growing. The north is thriving. The north is on the side of history. The south must yield eventually; that’s Seward’s position. In the beginning of July, General Taylor dies in office after a big 4th of July party which was too much for him and he is succeeded by one of the President’s from New York State; not the most widely known, Millard Fillmore from Buffalo. And Fillmore is much more pro compromise than Taylor and with the support of Fillmore the compromise of 1850 after a series of very complicated maneuvers passes through the Senate. But it’s not in Clay’s version; Clay had put all these measures in one little bill and that bill goes nowhere because anybody who opposes one part of it votes against it. Its then picked up by Stephen A. Douglas, the new Senator from Illinois and piloted to success piece by piece. Douglas realized you can’t pass this as one measure but if you break it up, you can create a majority for each measure. So the fugitive slave law; you create a majority of southern votes and a few northerners. The admission of California; you create a majority with northern votes and a few southerners. But there is no…in other words, there’s no compromise majority, but you can create majorities for each part of the compromise. So this is the Compromise of 1850, basically; admission of California as a free state, popular sovereignty for the rest of the Mexican session, abolition of the slave trade in Washington, DC, and a new fugitive slave law.

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