The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in the United States in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, avoided secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict for four years.
The Compromise was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions.
- Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, which it had threatened war over, as well as its claims north of the Missouri Compromise Line, transferred its crushing public debt to the federal government, and retained the control over El Paso that it had established earlier in 1850, with the Texas Panhandle (which earlier compromise proposals had detached from Texas) thrown in at the last moment.
- California's application for admission as a free state with its current boundaries was approved and a Southern proposal to split California at parallel 35° north to provide a Southern territory was not approved.
- The South avoided adoption of the symbolically significant Wilmot Proviso and the new New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory could in principle decide in the future to become slave states (popular sovereignty), even though Utah and a northern fringe of New Mexico were north of the Missouri Compromise Line where slavery had previously been banned in territories. In practice, these lands were generally unsuited to plantation agriculture and their existing settlers were non-Southerners uninterested in slavery. The unsettled southern parts of New Mexico Territory, where Southern hopes for expansion had been centered, remained a part of New Mexico instead of becoming a separate territory.
- The most concrete Southern gains were a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, the enforcement of which outraged Northern public opinion, and preservation of slavery in the national capital.
- The slave trade was banned in Washington D.C.
The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slaveowner, had favored excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to the opposition of both pro-slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery northern Whigs. Upon Clay's instruction, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas (Illinois) then divided Clay's bill into several smaller pieces and narrowly won their passage over the opposition of those with stronger views on both sides.
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