Study Guide

Compromise of 1850 Quotes

By Henry Clay

  • Slavery

    Resolved, That California, with suitable boundaries, ought, upon her application to be admitted as one of the States of this Union, without the imposition by Congress of any restriction in respect to the exclusion or introduction of slavery within those boundaries. (Resolutions.Section 1.2)

    This whole compromise business started over California wanting to become an official state, but one without slavery. Remember that it's a huge state that went across the invisible "slavery allowed" line established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, so California was just messing up the whole super-sophisticated system. Some people argued that California should be two states. Some people still do.

    Resolved, That as slavery does not exist by law, and is not likely to be introduced into any of the territory acquired by the United States from the republic of Mexico, it is inexpedient for Congress to provide by law either for its introduction into, or exclusion from, any part of the said territory; and that appropriate territorial governments ought to be established by Congress in all of the said territory , not assigned as the boundaries of the proposed State of California, without the adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery. (Resolutions.Section 1.3)

    This resolution echoes what Daniel Webster said in his Seventh of March speech defending the Compromise plan: there's no need to regulate slavery in Utah and New Mexico, because the land isn't really suited for slave labor. How convenient.

    […] the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission. (Utah.Section 1.2)

    The sections on the new Utah and New Mexico territories both have this clause, which leaves the "to enslave or not to enslave?" decision up to the people within the new states. It's Stephen Douglas' idea of popular sovereignty, in a nutshell. It had mixed success over the next decade—not so bad for Utah, pretty bad for Kansas later on.

    And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due […] may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant […] or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner. (Fugitive Slave Act.Section 6.1)

    Here, Congress uses some alternate phrases rather than "slave" for some reason, maybe to make it sound more legitimate. It's not your slave, it's the person "held to labor" to you.

    […] it shall not be lawful to bring into the District of Columbia any slave whatever, for the purpose of being sold, or for the purpose of being placed in depot, to be subsequently transferred to any other State or place to be sold as merchandise. And if any slave shall be brought into the said District by its owner, or by the authority or consent of its owner, contrary to the provisions of this act, such slave shall thereupon become liberated and free. (DC Slave Trade.Section 1.1-2)

    At least the Compromise ends on a somewhat happy note, if you can call outlawing the slave trade in one single city a happy note. There's some recognition that the nation's capital shouldn't also be home to a giant slave auction site.

  • Wealth

    The United States, in consideration of said establishment of boundaries, cession of claim—to territory, and relinquishment of claims, will pay to the State of Texas the sum of ten millions of dollars in a stock bearing five per cent. interest, and redeemable at the end of fourteen years, the interest payable half-yearly at the treasury of the United States. (Texas.Section 1.6)

    How do you stop Texas from invading New Mexico and taking back some of its claimed territory? Pay it off. Texas had just finished fighting a war with Mexico over its southern border, so they weren't going to be very happy with its new government adjusting its western border.

    […] no member of the legislative assembly shall hold, or be appointed to, any office which shall have been created, or the salary or emoluments of which shall have been increased while he was a member, during the term for which he was elected, and for one year after the expiration of such term. (Texas.Section 9.1)

    In the midst of all the talk about slavery, it's easy to forget that part of the Compromise of 1850 sets up territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah. Clay and Congress make it a point to throw in an anti-corruption measure to make sure that legislators in these new lands are in office because they want to be, not for the cash they can get.

    […] no law shall be passed interfering with the primary disposal of the soil; no tax shall be imposed upon the property of the United States; nor shall the lands or other property of non-residents be taxed higher than the lands or other property of residents. (Utah.Section 6.1)

    This clause is a reminder that the Compromise was also dealing with westward expansion, which people were excited about because of its economic opportunity. Westward expansion gave ordinary folks a chance to own land and build up a little nest egg of their own. Taxing non-residents at a higher rate could discourage westward migration.

    That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said District and Territorial Courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed to them for similar services in other cases […]in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services […]; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant […] (Fugitive Slave Act.Section 8.1)

    One of the North's objections to the updated Fugitive Slave Act, other than it was immoral and brutal, was the way that fees and compensation were distributed. Slave-catchers were paid more when the person they brought in was taken by the slave owner making the claim, and still paid even if the person turned out not to be a slave after all. Putting this monetary motivation out there set up a system that encouraged people to go after Blacks in the North much more aggressively to get the reward money.

    […] it shall not be lawful to bring into the District of Columbia any slave whatever, for the purpose of being sold, or for the purpose of being placed in depot, to be subsequently transferred to any other State or place to be sold as merchandize. (DC Slave Trade.Section 1.1)

    Slaves were expensive to buy, but helped plantation owners build huge wealth by providing free labor on a large scale. The large slave depot in Washington was a place very much connected to this southern wealth machine, but the Compromise of 1850 very deliberately shut it down. Between this and the Fugitive Slave Act, the Compromise both hurt and helped the slave-based economy of wealthy southerners.

  • Power

    The State of Texas cedes to the United States all her claim to territory exterior to the limits and boundaries which she agrees to establish by the first article of this agreement. The State of Texas relinquishes all claim upon the United States for liability of the debts of Texas, and for compensation or indemnity for the surrender to the United States of her ships, forts, arsenals, custom-houses, custom-house revenue, arms and munitions of war, and public buildings with their sites, which became the property of the United States at the time of the annexation. (Texas.Section 1.4-5)

    Texas was an independent republic for a few years, but just before the Mexican-American War it was annexed into the United States—which meant it had to submit to the authority of the central U.S. government. Part of the Compromise of 1850 involved dealing with how to get Texas to accept that arrangement and relinquish some of its own power. Spoiler alert: money talks.

    […] nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said Territory into two or more Territories, in such manner and at such times as Congress shall deem convenient and proper, or from attaching any portion thereof to any other Territory or State. (Texas.Section 2.3-4)

    There are a lot of parts of the Compromise of 1850 that outline how the governments of the new states will be set up. Here, though, is a not-so-gentle reminder that the federal government is still the big man on campus until you're officially a state. Then you get to decide lots of stuff for yourself.

    And be it further enacted, That the executive power and authority in and over said Territory of New Mexico shall be vested in a governor […] until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the President of the United States. The governor shall reside within said Territory, shall be commander-in-chief of the militia thereof […] and shall approve all laws passed by the legislative assembly before they shall take effect. (Texas.Section 3.1-2)

    Setting up governments in the new western territories meant creating a power structure for those territories. The final result gave power to the position of governor, but also kept some for the federal government. POTUS couldn't fire the governor of a state, but he could ax the governor of a territory. You can see why the territories were so hot to become states as soon as they could.

    And be it further enacted, That the legislative power and authority of said Territory shall be vested in the governor and a legislative assembly. The legislative assembly shall consist of a Council and House of Representatives […] An apportionment shall be made, as nearly equal as practicable, among the several counties or districts, for the election of the Council and House of Representatives, giving to each section of the Territory representation in the ratio of its population, (Indians excepted,) as nearly as may be. (Texas.Section 5.1, 5)

    The territorial governments created by the Compromise are basically the same set up as the federal government (and for the official states). Even though there's a governor for the new territories, there's also a legislature that wields power and makes sure that the governor has limits. Checks and balances, yo. And isn't it something that the original inhabitants of the U.S. are relegated to a parenthesis? All this discussion about territories and governments, and…Indians excepted.

    That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant. (Fugitive Slave Act.Section 5.1)

    The newer, more aggressive Fugitive Slave Act was freaking out the North. It gave the marshals more responsibility to enforce this particular law, whether they wanted to or not. Nothing says coercion like a heavy fine.

  • States' Rights

    And be it further enacted, That the legislative power of the Territory shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act; but no law shall be passed interfering with the primary disposal of the soil […] the laws passed by the legislative assembly and governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and, if disapproved, shall be null and of no effect. (Texas.Section 7.1-2)

    The territories get to make their own laws, but the federal government can nix them when they think that power belongs with the federal government instead. As seen during the nullification crisis of the early 1830s, though, it doesn't work the other way around.

    And be it further enacted, That all township, district, and county officers not herein otherwise provided for, shall be appointed or elected, as the case may be, in such manner as shall be provided by the governor and legislative assembly of the Territory of New Mexico. The governor shall nominate, and, by and with the advice and consent of the legislative Council, appoint, an officers not herein otherwise provided for […] (Texas.Section 8.1-2)

    Can you imagine if Congress had to define every single government position in every state? We'd be here for weeks.

    And be it further enacted, That a delegate to the House of Representatives of the United States, to serve during each Congress of the United States, may be elected by the voters qualified to elect members of the legislative assembly, who shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as are exercised and enjoyed by the delegates from the several other Territories of the United States to the said House of Representatives. (Texas.Section 14.1)

    As new territories were created and absorbed into the United States, the federal government made sure they got the same representation in Congress as the other territories. After all, you don't want the new kids to be treated unfairly, or no one will want to play with them.

    […] the Territory of Utah; and, when admitted as a State, the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission. (Utah. Section 1.2)

    The "popular sovereignty" strategy championed by Stephen Douglas got its first chance to really shine with the Compromise of 1850. The idea left a major decision—whether or not to allow slavery—in the hands of the states. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

    And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each organized Territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners […] which is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States; and all commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act. (Fugitive Slave Act.Section 1.1)

    How do you start enforcing a law that's been effectively ignored for decades? Well, you put more hands on deck. The new iteration of the Fugitive Slave Act, but gave both the fed and the states the rights to appoint commissioners to enforce the Act. Just to make sure people didn't get around obeying the law.

  • Rules and Order

    […] with said boundary line to the place of beginning be, and the same is hereby, erected into a temporary government, by the name of the Territory of New Mexico: Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to inhibit the government of the United States from dividing said Territory into two or more Territories […] And provided, further, That, when admitted as a State, the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission. (Texas.Section 2.2-4)

    You could consider this as threat to Texas, given that Texas was considering invading New Mexico to get its land back. We can chop you up even smaller, the guv'mint is telling them.

    And be it further enacted, That the executive power and authority in and over said Territory of New Mexico shall be vested in, a governor, who shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the President […] he may grant pardons for offences against the laws of said Territory, and reprieves for offences against the laws of the United States, until the decision of the President can be made known thereon. He shall commission all officers who shall be appointed to office under the laws of the said Territory, and shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. (Texas.Section 3.1, 3

    The Compromise statutes make sure there's someone in charge in the territories to get things up and running. Governors, Commissioners, officers—the territories are practicing being states.

    And be it further enacted, That there shall be a secretary of said Territory, who shall reside therein […]he shall record and preserve all the laws and proceedings of the legislative assembly hereinafter constituted and all the acts and proceedings of the governor in his executive department ; he shall transmit one copy of the laws and one copy of the executive proceedings, on or before the first day of December in each year, to the President of the United States, and, at the same time, two copies of the laws to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, for the use of Congress. (Texas.Section 4.1)

    Even in 1850, rules meant tons of paperwork.

    And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed ; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant […] or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars […] and after arrest of such fugitive, by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, […] such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or District whence he escaped. (Fugitive Slave Act.Section 5.1)

    The Fugitive Slave Act section of the Compromise is an attempt to maintain order by appeasing the South. Here, order is kind of aggressively maintained by setting rules that punish officials who don't uphold the law. Underneath all that complicated language is a simple: track down the runaway slaves or pay up big time.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...