AP US History
Mr. M. Pecot
Chapter 19: Renewing the Section Struggle, 1848-1854
1. Trouble abrewin': The slavery issue about to boil over.
a) Expansion raises the issue of slavery and threatens national parties. The acquisition of enormous amounts of land from Mexico once again raises the issue of slavery. Anti-slavery forces in the north rallied behind the Wilmot Proviso, which had been (see 8a above) successfully blocked by southern senators. Most dangerously, the debate over slavery threatened to split the Whig and Democratic Parties, since each had support in both the north and the south. A split over slavery might mean that purely sectional parties might form…and this would surely put the Union in Peril. The response of politicians to this? Clamp the lid on the boiling pot of slavery and try to hold it down…
2. The Election of 1848.
a) The Democrats choose Cass and get "popular sovereignty". Polk held himself to a single term (he suffered from overwork and chronic diarrhea). The Democrats chose General Lewis Cass. The Democratic Party platform (true to the lid sitting policy) didn't even mention the question of slavery in the territories. Cass' views on the issue, however, were well known. His approach was to call for "popular sovereignty,' a philosophy which called for the people of a territory to decide whether or not that territory should be slave-holding or free. Popular sovereignty had wide appeal because of its democratic tone. It seemed a reasonable compromise to most, and a way to get the contentious issue of slavery out of the national government and turn it into a local issue.
b) The Whigs go with General Zachary Taylor. In line with tradition, the Whigs choose another war hero--this time, the hero of Buena Vista. Like the Dems--and true to Whig form ala the Hard Cider campaign--the Whigs avoided contentious issues. ZT was silent on slavery--but the fact that he was a wealthy Louisana sugar planter and owned slaves did not go unnoticed.
c) The Free Soil Party emerges. Unhappy with either option, ardent antislavery men from the north form the FSP. Their platform endorsed the Wilmot Proviso and opposed any extension of slavery to new territories (thus the name "free soil.") The party also took an heavily nationalistic stance, supporting federal funding of internal improvements and free homesteads for western settlers. Martin Van Buren was dusted off and made their candidate. The party became a broad coalition of diverse interests, ranging from industrialists upset by Polk's lowering the protective tariff to "conscience Whigs" who opposed slavery on moral grounds. It remained, however, confined to the north. As a widely inclusive political party organized around slavery and confined to a single section, the FSP foreshadowed the emergence of the Republican Party six years later.
d) Taylor becomes pres. 1,360,967 to 1,222,342…MVB polled just under 300,000.
3. California upsets the balance.
a) There's gold in them hills… The discovery of gold in early 1848 in California opened the floodgates of immigration to California. One-horse towns like Sacramento and San Francisco boomed overnight. By 1849, California had enough inhabitants to apply for statehood (bypassing the whole territorial phase), and did so…drafting a constitution that excluded slavery.
b) A delicate sectional balance in 1850. Keep in mind that the south in 1850 was sitting pretty with regard to slavery. The president was a Va-born war hero from Louisiana, it had a majority in the cabinet and on the Supreme Court, and--despite being outnumber in the House--it had equality in the Senate and could veto any measures threatening slavery. The 15 southern states could easily veto any proposed amendments to the constitution. In addition, cotton prices were high and the cotton industry was continuing to expand. Despite all of this, the south was worried. Political balance had been tipping for several decades, and now California threatened to destroy the senatorial balance between N and S.
c) The Compromise of 1850. With California banging on the door begging for admission, the debate moved into the halls of Congress. The ensuing debate brought the "immortal trio"--Clay (73), Calhoun (68), and Webster (68)--together for the last time. It also featured some rising names in American government, most significantly Stephen Douglas (D-Illinois) and William H. Seward (W-NY). Clay's role as the "Great Compromiser" shone as he moderated Calhoun (who was calling for the north to return runaway slaves under the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, leave slavery alone, and maintain senatorial balance--and even considered a scheme in which two presidents (one N and one S) would be elected, each wielding a veto!) and the southerners. Webster helped gain acceptance of compromise in the north, arguing that "Almighty God had already passed the Wilmot Proviso" by giving the new territories a topography which would not support slavery. In his famous 7th of March Speech, he called for coolheadedness, concession, and compromise: "Let us not be pygmies in a case that calls for men." Not all were ready for concession, though. William Seward argued that a "higher law" than the Constitution called for the abolition of slavery, and was backed by enough antislavery congressmen to threaten any compromise. Seven months of stormy debate ensued (during which time, Zachary Taylor died and Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency) before a series of compromises was passed, collectively referred to as the Compromise of 1850.
Concessions to the North Concessions to the South
1. California admitted as a free state 1. The remainder of the Mexican Cession formed into
the territories of New Mexico & Utah, without
restriction to slavery, and open to popular
2. Territory disputed by Texas and New 2. Texas receives $10 million as compensation
Mexico surrendered to NM.
3. Abolition of the slave trade (but not 3. A more stringent Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 is
slavery in the District of Columbia) passed.
d) Reaction to the Compromise. Southerners were pacified, but recognized that they had gotten the worse end of the deal: loss of Senatorial balance; loss of a huge tract of proslavery territory in Texas, and the rising possibility of Free Soil in the new territories. Northern antislavery forces decried the Fugitive Slave law as the "Bloodhound Bill" and the "Man-Stealing Law." Particularly contentious were the terms of the FSL: the fleeing slaves could not testify in their own behalf, did not have a jury trial, and the federal commissioners who handled the case of a fugitive would be paid $5 if the slave were freed and $10 if he were returned. Opposition to the FSL resulted in protests in the north. When Anthony Burns, a runaway from Va was seized in Boston, he had to removed from the city under federal guard as Bostonians lined the streets and draped windows in black. Northern state legislatures passed numerous acts limiting the federal governments ability to enforce the code--Massachusetts went so far as to make it a crime for any state official to enforce the law.
e) The Election of 1852: Slavery breaks party unity. The Whigs split in this election, with southerners doubting candidate Gen. Winfield Scott's loyalty to the Compromise of 1850 and the FSL. The split foreshadowed the Civil War…parties dividing into north and south would preced the nation doing so. Furthermore, the split allowed a virtual unknown, Franklin Pierce, to waltz into the White House. Pierce, a dedicated expansionist, cast his eyes on Nicaragua (the site of a proposed canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific) and Cuba (which Polk had taken steps to offer $100 million for). A document called the Ostend Manifesto issued by Polks secretary of state called for Am to offer $120 mil. for Cuba, and if Spain refused, said that American would "be justified in wresting" the island from Spain. This document was leaked, raising protests from Northern free-soilers (Cuba was essentially one large sugar plantation), and Polk was forced to drop his plan.
f) A railroad to the west and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The new acquisitions of CA and Oregon were essentially islands. Both were over 8000 miles from Washington, D.C. The need for railroads to the Pacific were obvious…but where would they run from? The south wanted a southern connection to the Pacific (which would open trade with Asia and help increase the population and prosperity of the South); to that end, the Gadsen Purchase (1853) paid $10 million to Mexico for a small strip of barren land extending the US border. The land had been surveyed as the best location for a rail line west. The north wanted a transcontinental railroad to run to its factories and population centers. One of the bones of contention was that a southern line would run through organized territory, and thus be easier to defend (Texas, NM, Utah, and California). In response, northern railroad interests (spearheaded by Stephen Douglas, who hoped for Chicago to become the eastern terminus of such a rail line) called for the organization of the Nebraska Territory. Of course, a northern rail line would need southern support, so Stephen Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The act called for the Nebraska territory to be divided into two territories: Kansas and Nebraska, each to be admitted on the basis of popular sovereignty, anticipating that Kansas (next to slaveholding Missouri) would enter as a slave state, and Nebraska would enter as a free state. The act would require the repeal of the Missouri Compromise as the territory was above the 36'30" parallel. The measure passed, with heated debate, and in doing so opened the door for Civil War.