By 1850, the United States had vastly expanded: Texas had
been admitted, the Mexican session had been acquired, around one and a half
million Irishmen had immigrated to the northern United states in the wake of
the potato famine, and the California Gold Rush was in full swing. However, it was
still unclear whether slavery should expand with the United States. As the United
States grew, so did the moral dilemma of slavery along with Southern-Northern
tensions. This tension between the different sections of the United States was
called the Sectional Crisis.
rich with the promise of gold, was seeking admission into the union as a free
state, which would tip the balance between the number of slave and free states.
Southern leaders like John C. Calhoun, a senator from South Carolina, were
threatening secession if California entered the union as a free state. The
United states needed compromise between the sections or else civil war would be
imminent. However, the then President of the United states, Zachary Tayler, a
Whig from Louisiana, opposed to any compromise over California admission, which
made the crises even more dangerous.
died in July of 1850, and his Vice President, Millard Fillmore, who also a
Whig, became president. Unlike Tayler, Fillmore was willing to sign any reasonable
compromise. In 1850, a compromise had to be shaped by the senate, where there were
thirty slave, and thirty free state senators. The senate turned to Henry Clay for
he was known for creating successful compromises. Clay put all the elements of
a compromise together in a single bill called the Omnibus Bill.
The elements of the Omnibus Bill were
as follows: California would enter the union as a free state, The Utah and
Mexico territories, including Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico
remain open to slavery on the basis of popular sovereignty, the Texas-New Mexico
border dispute was to be settled in New Mexico’s favor, the United States were
to agree to pay Texas’ national debt, the slave trade, but not slavery, was to
be abolished in Washington D.C. which was called cosmetics, a tough and enforceable
fugitive slave law was passed requiring the free states to apprehend and return
escaped slaves, outraging many in the north and forcing them to think about
slavery, and Congress was to declare that it would never outlaw the interstate
sale of slaves.
However, Clay needed thirty-one
votes in the senate to pass his bill, but since the compromises were so great, he
could not get them. The senate then turned to two younger senators, Stephen A. Douglas
– democrat from Illinois, and Daniel Webster, a Whig from Massachusetts. However,
Douglas and Webster, no matter how hard they tried, could not get enough votes
in the senate to pass the bill either. They then decided to try a different
tactic: take the bill apart and pass each element of it separately. This
eventually worked, and the compromise helped avoid southern secession and civil
war for another 10 years.