5.4 The Compromise of 1850

2 min readmay 30, 2020

Caleb Lagerwey

Caleb Lagerwey

AP US History 🇺🇸

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Just like in previous decades, the United States had to deal with the problem of slavery in the Western territories.

The Context

As shown in the previous section (5.3), the US took over the Mexican Cession land after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War. California quickly needed statehood because of the massive settler influx during the California Gold Rush, but there was no slave state seeking admission to the Union to keep the balance of states in the Senate.

The Deal

The great statesmen of the day, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Stephen Douglas passed five separate acts to keep the Union together (you need to know the first two; the last three are minor details):  
  1. The South got a new Fugitive Slave Act, which put the federal government in charge of recovering runaway slaves up North.
  2. The North got California admitted as a free state
  3. The North got an end of the slave trade in Washington DC, although not the end of slavery itself
  4. The North got a boundary dispute between New Mexico and Texas. It was resolved in favor of non-slave New Mexico.
  5. The rest of the Mexican Cession territory would be based on popular sovereignty (people in the territory would vote if it would be a free or slave state)

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

While this Compromise was rightly hailed for keeping the Union together, it failed within just four years: the admission of more free states without slave states angered the South and the new Fugitive Slave Act caused outrage in the North.
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