Republicanism and the Compromise of 1850


Michael Dennis

Acadia University




            The elements of that controversy are yet alive and they are destined to outlive the government. There is a feud between North and South which may be smothered but never overcome.

                Charleston Mercury, January 23, 1851


The Civil War began in 1861, but the republican crisis that set the stage for the conflict unfolded in 1850. The Compromise of 1850, a series of legislative bargains over the western territories and slavery, demonstrated that American political leaders could still defuse sectional tensions. What they could not do was resolve deeper social and political problems that simmered under the surface of legislative bargains, congressional balancing, and soaring oratory. Excluding slavery from American politics made it possible for the Democrats and the Whigs -- the two major parties of the antebellum period --to function north and south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Although from 1820 to 1846 the parties maintained cross sectional alliances that suppressed sectional ideologies, the events that led to the Compromise of 1850 revealed how fragile those alliances were. To maintain the two party balance, national leaders would have to quarantine the issue of slavery. But national expansion and the rise of militant abolitionism made it increasingly difficult to exclude slavery from national attention.  

            The dispute that led to the Compromise of 1850 was at its root a crisis of republicanism, the ideological tradition that grew out of the movement for American independence. Both sections used their own version of republicanism to make sense of the crisis of the late 1840s; despite masterful diplomacy, the agreement of 1850 failed to resolve the conflict between them. Partisan allegiances returned after 1850, but the Compromise forced Americans to realize that they might have to “form a more perfect union” than the one they had inherited.


Following the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which provided for the admission of Missouri as a slave state but established its southern border as the northern limit to the extension of slavery, national political leaders moved to exclude slavery from congressional debate. The debate over Missouri’s admission drove tensions between the slaveholding South and the free soil North to a fever pitch, and most leaders wanted to avoid another dangerous showdown over slavery. Abolitionist agitation threatened the status quo in the late 1830s, but Congress maintained the silence on slavery through the Gag Rule of 1836, which prohibited antislavery petitions in Congress. [1]

            The controversy over the admission of California and New Mexico, which the United States had acquired in an expansionist war against Mexico from 1846-1847, once again thrust slavery front and center in national politics. New states would have to be carved out of the territories, and new states meant an adjustment in the balance of congressional representation between the North and South. The added territories also raised pressing social and cultural questions. Would the new states absorb the hierarchical, agrarian ethos of the plantation South, or pattern themselves after the entrepreneurial values and relatively fluid class structure of the North?  Would African Americans be subjugated within the territories, or excluded from them in the interest of preserving "free soil" for northern whites?  The Mexican war was comparatively easy; the difficult part was managing the aftermath.

            The catalyst for a renewed discussion of the slavery question came in 1846 when congressmen David Wilmot of Pennsylvania inserted a "proviso" into President James K. Polk's $2 million appropriations bill for acquiring the Mexican territory. Hoping to prohibit the extension of slavery into the new territories, Wilmot’s proviso stipulated that, in any land acquired from Mexico, "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime ... " Hostile to southern interests, the Wilmot Proviso disrupted the delicate North-South alliances that had operated as a brake against sectional polarization. Voting on the bill in both houses of Congress followed sectional lines.  After several attempts by a northern dominated House to push the proviso through, each of which the Senate rejected, Congress finally retired the measure. Yet the legacy of Wilmot's Proviso was heightened sectional animosity and a widening gulf between northerners and southerners over slavery.

            Before the 1830s, southern consciousness was shallow at best; most identified with their local communities, their churches, and their states before their region. The growth of southern nationalism began as a response to outside pressure against slavery. The Wilmot Proviso accelerated these forces in the South, encouraged by sectional-minded statesman such as South Carolinian John C. Calhoun who strove to raise awareness of collective southern interests.  The Wilmot Proviso, the question of the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state in 1845, and the problem of the Mexican cession and California politicized slavery on the national level in the 1840s.[2]

             The Wilmot Proviso threatened the South in a number of ways. As free states were added, northern congressional representation would grow while the South became a minority within the Union. The balance struck by the Missouri Compromise, in which free states (in Missouri’s case, Maine) were admitted alongside slave states, would be lost. If northerners gained sufficient strength in Congress, they might have the three-quarter majority needed to amend the Constitution and legislate slavery out of existence. The Wilmot plan also threatened to restrict the South’s social and economic development. For the most part, southern slaveholders believed that expansion would maintain slavery, the system of production and racial control at the center of the southern social order.[3] As William Barney writes, expansion was necessary for “securing territory against abolitionism, providing an outlet for surplus slaves, and furnishing a base for a possible Southern republic."[4]  Slaveholders believed that restricting the extension of slavery westward would spell economic and social stagnation for themselves and their region. 

            In many southern minds, the Wilmot Proviso exemplified northern disrespect for the ‘southern way of life.’  As a South Carolina congressman wrote to Georgia representative Howell Cobb, "The Wilmot Proviso is paramount to our Party. We are in great danger. The North is resolved to crush slavery—are we equally in the South resolved to defend it (emphasis added)?"[5]  Learning in 1849 that southern senators had rejected South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun’s hard-line approach to the sectional dispute, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi wrote contemptuously, "When a Southern man uses such language in connection with submission to the 'Wilmot Proviso', what hazards must we have in view.  The destruction of constituted rights and that sovereignty and equality which is the cornerstone of our confederation."[6] 

            According to Alexander Stephens of Georgia, the administration of the territories required that the federal government respect southern interests.  Any congressional legislation that obstructed the extension of slavery would “ in direct violation of the rights of the Southern people to an equal participation in them and in open derogation of that equality between the states of the South and North which should never be surrendered by the South.”  Stephens claimed that by interfering with slavery, Congress infringed on southern property rights protected under the Constitution. Such actions would be "in violation of the rights of the South, and a surrender of that equality between the different members of this confederacy...”[7] Southerners looked at the northern efforts to promote free soil in the territories as an aggressive challenge to the South and its republican principles. Prominent among these principles was freedom from government interference in matters of personal property, even when that property was human. But what was “republicanism?”

             The republican ideology gravitated around a collection of nebulous assumptions. Precisely because the notions of 'public virtue', 'character', and 'balanced government' were not rigidly defined, the republican ideology espoused by colonial and revolutionary leaders was elastic enough to form a broad consensus.[8]  Reduced to its common denominators, republicanism meant an antipathy for aristocracy and rigid class distinctions and an abiding fear of concentrated political and economic power.[9]

            According to the exponents of republicanism, governments were established to preserve the liberty of the people, but governments could also exercise arbitrary power and, in the case of democratic government, a tyranny of the majority. To prevent government tyranny, power should be distributed between the branches of government, each branch providing a check against the other that would maintain the republican ideal of 'mixed government.’ Enlightened statesmanship practiced by citizens who placed the interests of the republic ahead of their own would provide another check against irresponsible political authority. Ultimately however, the integrity of the republic depended upon a virtuous citizenry.  A conscious electorate, instructed in the merits of civic participation and suspicious of the corrupting influence of leisure, would provide the foundation of the republic. Each section, and sub-regions within those sections, emphasized different aspects of the republican creed in response to varying economic, political, and religious influences. Before the crisis over slavery in the territories pitted the sections against each other over fundamental questions of ideology and self-interest, republicanism was flexible enough to allow Americans to emphasize those features of the republican creed that best suited their particular needs.[10]

            Those needs were dictated by social and economic factors that set the North and South adrift from one another during the antebellum period.  Republicanism could accommodate what William Barney describes as "Yankee" version characteristic of New England, an "egalitarian" version found primarily in the Mid-Atlantic states, and an "individualistic" version commonly associated with the South.  The injection of slavery into national politics solidified each section’s republican ideals. Slavery polarized the regions along ideological lines, encouraging each section to view the other as a threat to republican freedom.[11] 

             Southern resistance to the Wilmot Proviso was phrased in the classical republican language of equality. Central to this language were the defense of liberty, individual independence, and the rejection of majority coercion. As Kenneth Greenberg explains in Masters and Statesmen, southern republicanism was grounded in the master-slave relationship that pervaded Southern political culture. According to Greenberg, southerners were peculiarly sensitive to the threat of "inequality", since they routinely confronted the reality of harsh subordination. Northern insistence on free soil was an affront to personal honor—an essential ingredient of southern republicanism—and a challenge to southern equality.[12]  To leading southerners, the Wilmot Proviso and the Taylor administration’s plan to admit California as a free state without passing through the territorial stage meant the government was prepared to deny the slaveholders their equality. 

            Similarly, northern politicians and a sizable proportion of the northern electorate began to view southern influence in the Senate and the White House as evidence of an ascendant Slave Power. The common feature in both versions of republicanism was the acute distrust of concentrated political power. Abolitionists and antislavery politicians disseminated the idea of the Slave Power in the 1830s, but it was not until the 1840s that it became a recurring theme of antislavery agitation and northern political discourse. The rhetorical value of this idea did not go unnoticed by the exponents of free soil. In 1848, Joshua Leavitt wrote to Salmon P. Chase about the approaching Free Soil Convention to be held in Buffalo:

            I believe now there is a general preparation in the minds of the people to look to 'the overthrow of the Slave Power' as the ultimate result of our movement.  I am struck with the facility with which this word has come into use in the documents of both Democrats and Whigs.  The Slave Power is now indissolubly incorporated in the political nomenclature of the country ... We must make the most use of that word.[13]


           While capturing inarticulate fears about southern slaveholders, the Slave Power image also stirred up support for sectional policies. The Slave Power trope played upon widely held assumptions that the South was economically stagnant, socially stratified, and morally stunted. While non-partisan abolitionists tended to focus on the human dimension of slavery, political antislavery activists argued that slavery was inimical to the interests of northern white workers. As the standard-bearers of the free soil ideology in the 1850s, the Republicans claimed that slavery not only dehumanized blacks but also degraded whites by forcing them to toil in abject poverty with little hope of social advancement. By focusing on the damage that slavery did to white laborers, the Republicans reached out to immigrants and a broad cross-section of northerners unsympathetic to arguments based on human dignity. As one Republican hopeful from Maine put it, “ The present political contest, when resolved into its simplest elements is the ever enduring and never ending warfare between free and servile labor…In such a contest the whole foreign labor of the country should of right be with us.”  According to the antislavery rhetoric, the dignity of free labor and access to free soil formed the pillars of a robust, entrepreneurial society free of class antagonism.[14]

                Of course, neither the North nor the South was homogenous, and antislavery activists routinely ignored the social divisions that infected northern society. Northern Whigs and Democrats clashed over the benefits of the market revolution, the meaning of free labor, and the function of government in social and moral affairs. Despite ethnic and social divisions, northerners coalesced around a general vision of true republican society. Central to this conception was free labor and economic individualism.[15]

            According to the northern republican vision, an expansionist Slave Power jeopardized the chance to recreate a free labor society in the territories and ensure eastern workers a chance for social mobility. The conflict over territorial expansion helped galvanize vague sectional prejudices into fears of anti-republican demons. As Michael Holt writes in The Political Crisis of the 1850s, "If Northerners railed against the tyranny of the Slave Power, Southerners found an arbitrary Northern majority just as heinous." Shared social values were submerged by the return of slavery into national politics, giving sectional differences a "false clarity and simplicity." In 1848, as Congress reached a stalemate over slavery in the territories, nationalist leaders tried to defuse sectional tensions by neutralizing slavery in the presidential campaign that year. Strategists tried to avoid clearly-defined party platforms, hoping instead to nominate candidates acceptable to both sections.  For instance, Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate from Michigan, advocated popular sovereignty, which would allow the residents to determine the status of slavery in the territories. To voters, Cass’ position could simultaneously mean free territories to northerners and protection of slavery to southerners. Popular sovereignty was itself ambiguous, since it did not clarify at what point—the territorial or the statehood stage—residents would determine the question of slavery. The Whigs, on the other hand, adopted a "no-platform" strategy while running Zachary Taylor of Louisiana, a war hero from the Mexican adventure and a slaveholder too.[16]

     Deliberate ambiguity allowed the parties in both sections to offer voters political alternatives, thus preserving the image that they could protect republicanism. According to Eric Foner, the Second Party System "functioned as a mechanism for relieving social tensions, ordering group conflict, and integrating the society." Political elites formed broad coalitions that suppressed ideological inflexibility and delayed sectional conflict.  Since parties provided the means for resolving local issues, political leaders focused on getting elected and holding onto power rather than fostering sectional unity.[17]

             Party allegiance was critical to the campaign strategies of 1848. Despite sectional tensions, the North voted for the slaveholding Taylor over Lewis Cass, the “popular sovereignty” candidate, or the Free Soiler Party nominee, Martin Van Buren. In the South, Lewis Cass defeated James Buchanan, his adversary for the Democratic nomination and supporter of an extended Missouri Compromise line.[18]  As Joel Silbey argues in The Shrine of Party, movements for sectional unity, led by notables such as Calhoun and later Seward, echoed throughout national politics between 1848 and 1850.  But moderate politicians still worked to maintain party alliances, emphasizing issues that mitigated slavery as a political question. Moderates struggled to maintain the existing party system as an instrument of conflict resolution, but they did not relinquish sectional identification.  Rather, they believed that sectional disputes could be resolved in the traditional manner using the existing cross-sectional parties. The election results suggested that the system was still able to absorb volatile national issues.[19] 

            Southern Whigs were soon disillusioned when Taylor, the new president, announced a plan that would admit California under terms similar to the Wilmot Proviso. He requested that California draw up a constitution and seek admission to the Union immediately, knowing full well that it was populated by northern gold-diggers and other fortune seekers clamoring for a free state. Understandably, the South was incredulous at Taylor's proposal. Taylor did little to soothe southern anger when he took William Henry Seward, whom southerners considered the chief abolitionist rabble-rouser in the Senate, into his counsel. Committed southern nationalists charged that Taylor was in legion with northern fanatics, and that his plan to revitalize the Whigs as the "national party" was nothing but a scheme to subordinate the South. 

          Yet Taylor was not a closet abolitionist. He wanted to resolve the California issue and the whole question of the Mexican cession by removing it from the national political forum, the traditional strategy since the drafting of the Constitution.  Southerners, invigorated by Calhoun's "Address of the Southern Congressmen,” which called for southern solidarity against northern aggression, thought their fears confirmed by Taylor's "national party" agenda. In fact, President Taylor hoped that a non-sectional Whig program would restore "national silence" on the slavery question. In the process, however, he adopted a unilateral strategy hopelessly antagonistic to the South.  He alienated southern Whigs and Unionists by dispensing patronage to Free Soilers and Democrats while distancing himself from compromisers Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, all at a time when the party was increasingly divided over slavery.[20] 

            The President's policies could not heal a party or a nation infected with sectional militancy, precisely because they were too decisive, too uncompromising for partisan use. Taylor was content to ring the 'firebell in the night,' to use Jefferson’s expression, until the question of slavery in the territories had been addressed and resolved. Yet instead of achieving a 'national silence' on the slavery issue, he aggravated it.  The President's California policy betrayed a tragic political naivete. Or did it?

     At least one historian has argued that a "golden opportunity" was lost when Millard Fillmore, Taylor's vice president and successor to the White House, failed to "confront the disunionists with the bluntest sort of nationalism in the Jackson-Taylor tradition."[21]  Historian Holman Hamilton suggests that the fragile compromise required a brand of statesmanship that neither Franklin Pierce nor James Buchanan could deliver.  If Taylor had forced his measures through Congress—a distinct possibility considering the Free Soil and antislavery support in the House and Senate—the Texas "bluff" to acquire the disputed New Mexican territory may have been called and secession decisively defeated.[22]

     Perhaps Taylor's attempt to separate California from other territorial issues and bring it on board as a free state would have dampened the destructive energies unleashed by Lincoln’s election in 1860. The crisis of republicanism might have been resolved if the prudent statesmanship required by republicanism had in fact been practiced. And yet, the most ingenious leader would have had to reconcile the competing impulses of expansionist slaveholders and free soilers, the demands of black and white abolitionists as well as southern firebrands, and the ideological tensions that made the territories controversial in the first place. 

     Although the party system still functioned in 1849, the sectionalization of national politics was painfully evident in the fact that it took a month and sixty-three ballots to elect a Speaker of the House, and then only by a plurality. Southern extremists and northern abolitionists exploited the contest. The Free Soilers controlled the balance of power in the thirty-first Congress, and under the leadership of Joshua Giddings, the antislavery faction escalated sectional tensions by throwing their support behind none other than David Wilmot.[23] The controversy over the speakership accelerated the secessionists’ momentum, which had been boosted by the decision of a bi-partisan coalition to call a convention of southern states to consider courses of action in the event of congressional antislavery legislation. It was with this in mind that congressional moderates endorsed Henry Clay's compromise initiative. A compromise, they hoped, would settle the slavery question once and for all and restore sectional harmony. 

            Clay was motivated by a combination of political pragmatism, stubborn nationalism, and a thirst for the accolades that accompanied his earlier role as great conciliator. He may also have considered it his last chance to make a favorable impression for a presidential nomination bid.[24]  In any case, Clay proposed a compromise plan that met with the approval of most moderates and unionists and the condemnation of ultras from both sections.[25]  Clay's eight resolutions, presented in January of 1850, included:  1, the admission of California as a free state; 2, the organization of the remaining Mexican cession with no restriction upon slavery; 3, the delineation of the Texas-New Mexico boundary in the latter's favor; 4, compensation for Texas through federal assumption of the state's debt; 5, the preservation of slavery in the District of Columbia but 6, the proscription of the slave trade across the District's borders; 7, a stringent fugitive slave law and 8, the cancellation of congressional authority over the interstate slave trade.  By implicitly endorsing the Wilmot Proviso and arguing that, since slavery would "not likely be introduced" in the Mexican cession, that territorial governments could be established without mention of slavery, Clay angered southern slaveholders, particularly Democrats. Although northerners may have believed that slavery would never flourish in the Mexican cession, southerners saw it differently.  Jefferson Davis believed that slave labor was ideally suited for the gold mines and the rich arable land of California.[26]

             Southerners recoiled at the plan to award New Mexico the disputed territory instead of Texas; the plan would deprive slaveholders of the rich river valleys and reduce Texas to half its present size.[27] Deep South planters resented what seemed like a northern plot to encircle the South and restrict the expansion of slavery. Restriction and 'encirclement' could easily be interpreted as subordination, as enslavement. The suggestion that Mexican law forbidding slavery in the region should prevail under the new territorial administration further offended southern sensibilities. Invoking a "divine law" prohibiting slavery in the region seemed an offense against constitutional principle and southern honor. To leading southerners, handing over the Mexican cession to Northern interests would deny southern equality.

            For their part, northern antislavery proponents condemned Clay’s popular sovereignty and denounced the Fugitive Slave Bill. One of the charms of popular sovereignty was its ambiguity on precisely when the issue of slavery would be determined—at the territorial stage or once statehood had been conferred. Antislavery agitators felt that Clay's proposal for California's admission without the Wilmot Proviso was contemptible; for a territory they believed predestined to be free, the Compromise would open the door to the Slave Power.

             More objectionable was Clay's proposal to strengthen the Fugitive Slave Law by compelling northerners to assist in the capture and extradition of runaway slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act required that a state appoint "commissioners," rather than an impartial judge and jury, to determine if a suspect was a delinquent slave. Commissioners had the authority to decide a fugitive’s status on little more than a claim of ownership by a slaveholder. There was no statute of limitations on runaway slaves. Lawmakers also gave the commissioners an incentive to convict runaways, paying them $10 for the return of runaway slaves and $5 for any acquittals. But northerners found the directly coercive aspects of the bill most offensive. Citizens and local marshalls faced fines of $1000 and the possibility of a civil suit if they harbored suspected runaways or refused to cooperate with a posse in apprehending a fugitive slave.[28]  

    To Free Soilers, abolitionists, and antislavery activists, the Fugitive Slave Law compelled northerners to ignore their moral convictions and democratic convictions.[29]  A Massachusetts man wrote incredulously, "Does not the Fugitive Bill step in and tell me I must not obey God, must not act according to the dictates of my conscience, must not entertain the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked or help the distressed; but aid them in sending them back to slavery?"  To abolitionists, the fugitive bill reeked of subservience to the Slave Power. Northerners found this feature of the Compromise particularly reprehensible, since it directly challenged their republican notions of free labor and personal independence. Containing the Slave Power was no longer an abstraction safely confined to the new and obscure land of California. Now, apparently, it threatened the heartland of Puritan propriety and Yankee independence.[30] 

                      We need to be clear, though, that neither section was unified in its response to the Clay proposals; congressional leaders did strike a compromise despite concerted opposition. Daniel Webster calmed southern fears with his famous “Seventh of March” speech.  In this well-attended address to the Senate, Webster claimed to speak as an “American” rather than as a representative of Massachusetts or the North. Dismissing the Wilmot Proviso as a “shibboleth,” justifying the free status of the territories in terms of climate rather than any moral prohibition, and arguing that the proposed Fugitive Slave Law constituted a binding legal obligation, Webster placated the hostilities of many southerners toward a compromise that was looking more and more like an instrument of northern domination. Webster’s oration and James Mason’s amendments made the proposed fugitive bill palatable to southern representatives. Webster lent credibility to the compromise and garnered needed support from previously undecided senators. His pragmatic insistence on making the salvation of the Union the ultimate objective ingratiated him to southerners. So too, did his disavowal of the moral absolutism of Seward and the abolitionists.[31] At the same time, abolitionists and free-soilers condemned Webster for his apparent apostasy from the antislavery faith. And while his speech calmed southern anxieties about an abolitionist-dominated administration and House, it also helped fragment an already tenuous southern right’s movement. Unanimous in their opposition to the Proviso and northern hegemony, they divided on the question of how to address Northern ‘aggression’. 

                As William Freehling points out, southern debates over the Compromise fractured along lines separating the Deep South and the Border South.  These “Souths” differed sharply over the issues of territorial expansion and the Fugitive Slave Act.[32]  The meeting of southern delegates at Nashville on June 3, 1850 to discuss the Compromise was anything but a celebration of regional unity. Only nine slaveholding states sent delegates, and the resolutions adopted were hardly belligerent. In short, they agreed to defend the rights of slaveholders in the territories and the political equilibrium between the regions at the national level. The convention also resolved to support the extension of the Missouri Compromise line.  Beyond this, compromise supporters and southern fire-eaters could not agree on a strategy to confront the northern juggernaut.[33]

            Southerners were reluctant to jeopardize economic prosperity by embracing hotheaded political schemes.  As David Potter points out, they understood that the symbolic concessions they received balanced the material concessions they surrendered. Primary among these was congresses’ recognition of the legitimacy of slavery on the national level. National leaders had repudiated the Wilmot Proviso and devised a Fugitive Slave Act that would compel northerners to accept the peculiar institution. Southern radicals had sought to mobilize states’ rights’ supporters for an organized campaign of resistance. Yet public opinion, reflected in regional newspapers and by the lukewarm response to the Nashville Convention, favored Union and compromise. 

             Although at this point economic calculations deflected secession, party allegiances also continued to inhibit sectional thinking. Radical southern Democrats organized the convention, and although they participated, southern Whigs attempted to distance themselves from the apparently fanatical adversaries. At the same time, the Whigs sought to secure tangible concessions for the South. Partisan competition persevered because southern Whigs continued to propose alternatives to the Democratic program in the South.[34]  Yet party competition and the elusiveness of a clearly defined strategy did not obscure the central question before the Convention, a question of fundamental republican ideals.[35]  As Hiram Warner, a conservative Whig from Georgia, wrote to Howell Cobb after the Nashville Convention:

Now if the North intends to settle this question and to give the South equal rights in the common territory of the Union, she will settle on the basis of the Missouri Compromise line; and with that I shall be content, and the people of the Southern states will be content in my judgment ... If the North refuse us our rights south of that line then it will afford plenary evidence that they intend to exclude us for all time from an equal enjoyment of the common territory of the Union and we can act upon that  evidence...[36]     


Warner still believed that the North would guarantee the South its constitutional rights. But he and many other southerners considered the compromise more than a political expedient; now it was a question of rights, southern prerogatives, and honor, each inextricably tied to southern republicanism. Adopting the Missouri Compromise as the final line of defense on the California issue did not, of course, prevent these same men from voting in favor of Clay’s proposals in their final form. Yet in doing so, they attached new conditions to southern compliance, including the Fugitive Bill and the preservation of slavery in the District of Columbia.

            The South’s response to the final compromise package reflected the widespread belief that the southern vision of republicanism was in crisis. Although Calhoun’s extremist views may not have represented a southern majority, his famous March fourth speech (read by Senator James Mason because Calhoun was terminally ill) reflected widening fears of republican subversion that the territorial question had fuelled.[37]

            Calhoun asserted that the territorial crisis was a problem of inequality. The unrestrained accumulation of power threatened the republican independence of the South.  Northern demands had destroyed the sectional equilibrium by deliberately excluding the South from the territories. Even more ominously, the federal government was under the control of sinister northern commercial interests. To prevent the total subordination of the South, a constitutional amendment was needed to guarantee a dual executive and a concurrent majority, giving the South a veto over measures of vital interest. Calhoun contended that congressional interference in the territories infringed the constitution by assigning un-delegated power to the federal government.  Brooding over the perilous state of the Union, he admonished southern leaders to purge abolitionism before it was too late. Although most southerners rejected his radical program, Calhoun managed to infuse the concept of political equilibrium into the South’s republican discourse, and it persisted as a central tenet of the southern states’ rights position throughout the 1850s.[38]

            The North had its own version of the republican crisis. Although William Henry Seward’s antislavery extremism failed to generate much northern support, his belief that the Slave Power threatened northern interests did.[39] On March 11, Seward gave an address that encapsulated northern grievances with the Slave Power and the compromise. California should be admitted, Seward contended, not because of climate or political expediency, but because it was in the “national interest.”  Legislative compromise was dishonorable since it ignored the obligations of individual conscience. Seward objected to Calhoun’s assertion that the Constitution required an ‘equilibrium’ between the sections since it contradicted republican principles by proposing that the majority should acquiesce to minority demands. Seward denounced Henry Clay’s proposal for an enforced Fugitive Slave Law as a violation of moral principles. As for Webster, Seward considered his suggestion that new slave states be carved out of the Texas territory as evidence of the great orator’s complicity with the Slave Power.[40]

                According to Seward, slavery was inimical to republican society. Since it violated the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution, slavery had to be uprooted from American soil.  By eliminating slavery, an industrializing country that cherished the principles of free soil and labor would pave the way to modernization.[41]  Of course, the Constitution that guaranteed individual liberty also underwrote the property rights of slaveholders, the international slave trade, a fugitive slave law, and a clause stipulating that African American slaves constituted but 3/5ths of a person.  Unconstrained by legal and temporal limitations, Seward appealed his case to a higher authority:

           But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes.  The territory is a part-no unconsiderable part-of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the Universe.  We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure, in the highest attainable degree, their happiness.


To Seward, slavery in the territories contradicted the natural order. Extending slavery there would threaten the growth of democracy, flowing as it did from the untamed frontier.  Augmenting his frontier motif, Seward claimed that slavery in the territories would undermine the “freedom of industry” promised by the Mexican cession.[42]  Seward’s speech confirmed the South’s worst fears:  an abolitionist faction dedicated to the restriction of slavery was trying to subvert the constitution and deny the South’s equality in the Union.  Southerners condemned the speech, but so too did northern Whig and Democratic supporters of the Compromise.  For many northern politicians, however, Seward had become their firebrand.

             President Taylor’s death in July of 1850 helped the Compromise, because with him died the opposition to organizing New Mexico and Utah under a popular sovereignty formula. His successor, Millard Fillmore, supported the Compromise and agreed with Clay that the admission of California should be linked to the other questions of territorial cession.  By this time the compromise measures had been referred to a select Committee of Thirteen, which, against the wishes of Henry Clay, combined the proposals into an “omnibus” bill, named after the newest mode of transportation in the capitol city. The omnibus strategy almost killed the entire legislative initiative.  Predictably, sectional alliances held during the votes on the bills, and politicians balked at the ‘all or nothing’ dodge that would have them vote for measures they opposed in order to win those they supported.

            This time, the upstart Stephen Douglas, senator from Illinois, stepped into the role of conciliator, organizing the measures into five separate bills that would accommodate sectional interests. Douglas relied on the moderates and Free Soilers to tip the balance if it came to an impasse on any of the measures. The final arrangement included the admission of California as a free state and the Texas and New Mexico Act, which adjusted the boundary in favor of New Mexico while compensating the state bondholders of Texas.  It also established the principle of “popular sovereignty” by organizing New Mexico without any restriction on slavery. In addition, the Utah Act established a territorial government under the same conditions as New Mexico, while the Fugitive Slave Act made the concealment or assistance of a runaway slave a punishable offense. Finally, Douglas’ plan called for the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The final measure passed on September 5, 1850, seven months after Clay had introduced the original proposals.[43] 

            Although popular sovereignty proved volatile in the coming years, the Fugitive Slave Act embodied the conflict of republicanism at the center of the territorial dispute. It also symbolized what the Compromise had become: a set of mutual assurances that could never be fulfilled. Northerners of an abolitionist or anti-southern persuasion found the fugitive bill repugnant. Slavery, it seemed, would reach into the political and social life of the North, a region that had grown used to its self-image of Puritan righteousness. Scheming southern politicians had insinuated slavery above the Mason-Dixon line. What would be next? At least in theory, the fugitive act compelled northerners to suppress their moral convictions and cooperate with the slaveholders. Not all northerners condemned the fugitive bill; Democrats with their eyes on the White House considered it a minor concession necessary for gaining southern support. Nevertheless, the fugitive slave bill signaled a dramatic change in relations between the North and the South. Even though many northerners opposed racial equality and harbored little enthusiasm for emancipating slaves, they resented the idea that slavery might now encroach upon the North, bringing with it the social evils that northerners feared most.      The prohibition of jury trials, of due process, and the financial incentives offered to those who cooperated in returning fugitive slaves angered most northerners. As William Freehling writes, “This controversy showed once again that both Yankees and slaveholders were democrats, but with a difference. While the racist North hardly provided color blind justice, every accused Northern black had a right to a jury trial.”[44]  The doctrine of popular sovereignty was vague enough to permit northern and southern interpretations, and the Texas boundary dispute could be settled by an uncomplicated bargain, but the Fugitive Slave Act offered its opponents little latitude. The fugitive bill demanded that northerners preserve the Union as it existed and accept the legitimacy of chattel slavery, not simply tolerate it as a southern aberration. The measure offended northern evangelical sensibilities and republican notions of independence, leaving northerners such as Steward wondering what kind of union the Compromise of 1850 had protected.               The South, by contrast, placed enormous weight on the Fugitive Slave Act to restore sectional harmony and equality. For southern compromisers, it became the litmus test of northern compliance with the agreement. As an anonymous Georgian explained in an article titled “Plain Words For the North,” slaveholders considered the original Fugitive Slave Act an essential mechanism of republican government. “Without this provision no constitution could ever have been formed.  Without it now every reasonable Southern man would acquiesce in the necessity of disunion.”  Northerners could prove their devotion to the union by cooperating in the return of escaped slaves.

            But if this hope shall prove fallacious, if again a Northern party shall attempt             to make the government the arbiter of the existence of slavery ... or shall             endeavor to throw obstacles in the way of the slave-owner seeking to recover             the fugitive, the knell of the Republic will have struck.[45]  


Congress forged a compromise that was incompatible with northern sensibilities. The same, of course, could be said about the South, since northerners insisted that the Missouri line be preserved while, under the banner of popular sovereignty, Free Soilers poured into the Mexican cession and California. Who could be certain that slavery would be protected in unsettled territory under the political control of northern miners, herders, and railroad speculators?

      In 1850, though, popular sovereignty set a precedent for the expansion of slaveholding interests, as developments in Kansas and Nebraska confirmed. In the Fugitive Slave Act, the South drew a less tangible line and dared Northern abolitionists, Conscience Whigs and Free Soilers to cross it.  In the Southern Literary Messenger, John R. Thompson wrote:

We say to the people of the North then not as alarmists, but as those who love the Union of our fathers, in no spirit of menace but rather in that of expostulation, that in our judgment the continued existence of the United States as one nation depends upon the full and faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Bill.[46]


And in the North Carolina Standard, the editor wrote indignantly “respect and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law as it stands.  If not we leave you ... if you fail in this simple act of justice, THE BONDS WILL BE DISSOLVED.”[47]  Southerners placed a tremendous burden on a compromise arrangement decided not by a majority of northerners and southerners, but by a small bloc of pliable northern Democrats and conciliatory southerners, most of which represented the Border South.[48]  Rigid sectional voting characterized each of the compromise measures; only one measure generated a majority of northern and southern support.[49]

            To northerners, the Fugitive Slave Act confirmed that an expansionist “Slave Power” threatened the integrity of republican government. Northerners imagined that slaveholders not only intended to expand into the territories, denying working class whites the opportunity to transplant free land and labor in the West, but also to compel northerners to collaborate in preserving slavery where it currently existed. Never mind that northerners were already implicated in slavery, purchasing and manufacturing and wearing cotton produced by enslaved African Americans. Despite popular revulsion against the Fugitive Slave Act, northerners did not embrace a uniform republican creed. Ethnicity, religious denominationalism, class position, and locality influenced how individuals internalized the republican ideal. For instance, northern Democrats looked suspiciously on evangelical reforms that set out to regulate personal behavior and impose Protestant moral discipline on Catholic immigrants. Even so, the republicanism that the Protestant middle class espoused was on the way to achieving cultural dominance by mid-century.[50]  The sectionalization spurred by the Wilmot Proviso and the fireworks over the compromise obscured the cultural differences between the parties, fostering instead a common outlook on questions of land, labor, and politics. These common beliefs included free labor, economic self-determination, personal independence and the absence (real or imagined) of social hierarchy. The center began to disintegrate when republican conceptions hardened along sectional lines.

            In the southern mind, the northern “benevolent empire,” with its rabid abolitionists, temperance advocates, and acquisitive industrialists, stood poised to crush the Republic. They believed that northern attempts to monopolize the territories and upset the congressional equilibrium followed a pattern of aggression stretching back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Jacksonian Force Bill, and the “monster bank” that Alexander Hamilton and Federalists sponsored. The Wilmot Proviso and the distasteful features of the Compromise reinforced the perception that a corrupt majority was prepared to subjugate a virtuous but powerless minority.  As Richard Yeadon, an opponent of the Compromise, explained, disunion was more honorable than “submission to the late compromise,” since the federal government had become “an abolition machine whose main employment [was] to forge manacles on the South.”[51] As Calhoun explained, the loss of equilibrium between the sections would be the first step on the road to sectional subservience. Rooted in the master-slave relationship, the elitist, slaveholding version of republicanism conditioned southerners to interpret the sectional conflict in terms of masculine honor and independence, both of which the North seemed to challenge.[52]  


            What purpose did the Compromise serve?  Is “compromise” an accurate description of the legislative accomplishments of 1850?  Eric Foner concludes that the territorial debates represented the final, desperate attempt by Unionists from both sections to suppress the issue of slavery.[53] According to William R. Brock, the disintegration of the Whig party began with the controversy over the territories. The most damaging effect of the Compromise was that “it had persuaded many men that great issues could be solved by legal and verbal juggling.”[54]  In Division and Reunion, Ludwell Johnson emphasizes the fatal “internal damage” sustained by both parties as a result of the Compromise. Sectional alliances had consistently overwhelmed partisan allegiances, and though party unity regained strength after the Compromise, both parties inherited “a heavy burden of personal enmity and suspicion.”[55]  Theoretically, a compromise presupposes an agreement by two parties upon mutual concessions involving a sacrifice of vital interests by both sides. Yet it was moderates that carried the measure while sectionalists glowered at each other from across the Senate floor.[56]  Kenneth Greenberg argues that southerners preserved their honor and republican ideals despite the Compromise precisely because they were not required to vote directly against their vital interests. The Douglas strategy of separate bills relied on abstentions and compromise votes to pass the various measures. In the end, the majority of southerners never felt compelled to relinquish critical interests.[57]

            Perhaps most perceptively, David Potter concluded that the refusal to deal explicitly with the fundamental issue of slavery, of human bondage, in a democratic society created an “armistice,” not a compromise.[58]  However, Avery Craven places the Compromise episode in a larger historical framework, concluding that the congressional leaders addressed limited issues while deliberately overlooking the “principles” at stake. In fact, the Compromise changed little: “the conditions that had produced the crisis, and the interests and ideals that lay back of contending groups, were still there.  Most of them had to do with ...things that men will not compromise.”[59]  Competing republican ideologies embraced and expressed many of the things that ‘men would not compromise’ in 1850. 

            Sectional animosity did not destroy the Second Party System, at least not in 1850. The two party system continued to offer alternatives on a variety of traditional issues, at least until the Republicans, a party clearly dedicated to sectional interests, emerged after the Kansas-Nebraska crisis of 1854. The territorial disputes and the debates that shaped the compromise shook the foundations of republicanism. If the Compromise of 1850 was an “armistice,” it was one that failed to determine which vision of republicanism would define modern America.

             The common language of republicanism helped preserve sectional harmony, but it was a harmony that papered over the contradictions gnawing at the core of American national life since Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Excluding slavery from political debate may have been the modus vivendi of the Second Party System, but a host of African American and white abolitionists had little intention of allowing that to prevent a reckoning with the contradiction of slavery and freedom in the republic. The acquisition of California and New Mexico guaranteed that they would have a hearing.

              The contest over the Compromise seriously strained a political system designed to minimize slavery as a national issue. It was an agreement that failed to uproot sectional ideologies or to confront the social and cultural sources of those increasingly irreconcilable visions of national development. “Popular sovereignty” and the Fugitive Slave Bill promised that the cessation of sectional tensions would be temporary at best. Partisan alignments resurfaced, but they faced a precarious future when the broad consensus underlying sectional harmony seemed eroded beyond repair.

            Finally, the Compromise of 1850 alerted Americans that the basic premises of Union were unstable. The political elites who drafted the compromise did not want a soul-searching discussion of political principles, but growing sectional antagonism pushed these basic questions of republican liberty to the surface. Dred Scott, John Brown, the rise of the Republican Party, and events in Kansas ensured that those issues stayed on the surface until the force of arms resolved them. 


[1] The Gag Rule, which provided for the tabling of any antislavery petitions submitted to Congress, was part of a larger southern response to the abolitionist movement. Southerners destroyed abolitionist literature while local postmasters flaunted federal law by impounding antislavery material directed at the region. States imposed stricter slave codes and a range of laws limiting freedom of speech and the press. Against the backdrop of the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831 and the emergence of Garrison’s American Antislavery Society, the Gag Rule became another instrument for defending southern interests against the mounting forces of northern abolitionism. Only in 1844 after northern Democratic sympathy for the measure declined did Congress repeal the Gag Rule. See James Brewer Stewart, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 83-86; Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 183-84, 190.

[2]Avery Craven, The Growth of Southern Nationalism 1848-1861 (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 1953), 31-2.  As Craven puts it, "If there had been indifference and division before, there was unity of a new degree and character in opposition to ... the Wilmot Proviso.” 19-20.  Craven also places this discussion of the Proviso in the context of emerging regional identities in the Northwest, the West, and the East Coast.  The Northwest and West had increasingly resented national legislation that favored southern interests.  This included the Walker tariff of 1846, the taxation of certain staple commodities, and a presidential veto of a river and harbors bill that would have benefited Great Lakes shipping.

[3]William L. Barney, The Passage of the Republic (Lexington:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 198-9. It is important to emphasize that the South was not a monolithic society. Not all southerners were slave-owners, not all regions depended on slave labor and plantations to produce goods, and not all southerners supported secession. As William Freehling explains, it is also important to avoid generalizations about southern support for the expansion. Expansionist thinking dominated between 1793 and 1843, but it undulated considerably after that, influenced by regional and class considerations. The 1850s saw dramatic differences in opinion over the merits of expansionism. South Carolina planters, for instance, feared that expansion in the southwest might lead to decline in their own state; supporting secession, they opposed expansion, at least in the 1850s. Border South citizens frequently supported expansion, but they did so out of the hope that slavery could be exported out of their area. At the same time, some opposed expansion for fear that it might cause disunion. If we generalize at all about the 1840 to 1860 period, Freehling suggests, we would have to distinguish between the more constant political justification for expansion and the more uneven economic rationalizations in favor of extending slavery. See The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 158-160.    

[4]William L. Barney, The Road to Secession:  A New Perspective on the Old South (New York:  Praeger Publishers, 1972), p. 107; Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L Engerman, Time on the Cross:  The Economics of American Negro Slavery  (New York:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1974), 63-4, 186.

[5]Issac E. Holmes to Howell Cobb, August 21, 1847, The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, ed. Ulrich B. Phillips (New York:  Da Capo Press, 1970), 88.

[6]Jefferson Davis to Malcolm D. Haynes, August 18, 1849, The Papers of Jefferson Davis Volume 4 1849-1852, ed. Lynda Lasswell Crist et al., (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State Press, 1983), 35.

[7]Alexander Stephens to the Editor of the Federal Union, August 30, 1848, The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens and Howell Cobb, 117-20.

[8]Robert Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American historiography," William and Mary Quarterly, 29 (1972): 72.

[9] Although a coherent republican tradition would be difficult to identify today, it lives on in the form of the conservative critique of “big government” and an expansive bureaucracy, which, according to its critics, usurps American freedoms, most particularly the freedom from excessive taxation. Yet the Republican Party is not the sole keepers of the republican flame. Democrats and third parties throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century have tapped into the tradition by critiquing the concentration of economic power in private hands and government protection of corporate interests at public expense.      

[10]Kenneth Greenberg, Masters and Statesman: The Political Culture of American Slavery (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), x, xi; Shalhope, 72; Lloyd E. Ambrosius, A Crisis of Republicanism:  American Politics in the Civil War Era (Lincoln:  University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 3-4.

[11]For contrasting interpretations of regional distinctiveness, see Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1961), and Edward Pessen, "How Different From Each Other Were the Antebellum North and South," American Historical Review, 85 (1980): 1119-1149; Barney, Passage of the Republic, 122; Ambrosius, 4.

[12]Greenberg, 142; Anne Norton, Alternative Americas:  A Reading of Antebellum American Culture (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1986), 116-32.

[13]Joshua Leavitt to Salmon P. Chase, July 7, 1848, quoted in Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1970), 93.

[14]Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 50-60, quote on 69; Larry Gara, "Antislavery Congressmen, 1848-1856:  Their Contribution to the Debate Between the Sections," Civil War History 32 (1986): 198-209. Gara develops the importance of antislavery congressmen in legitimizing the movement against the peculiar institution.

[15]Barney, The Passage of the Republic, 158.  Barney considers the Whigs the "beneficiaries" of the market revolution, who generally favored governmental regulation of the economy in the interest of entrepreneurs. A seemingly uncontrollable market, by contrast, intimidated the Democrats, and they promoted individual freedom as a means of resisting economic decline. 

[16]Holt, 58-59; David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis 1848-1861 (New York:  Harper and Row, 1976), 58.

[17]ibid., 65, 37-40; Foner, "Politics, Ideology, and the Origins of the American Civil War," Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) 415; Holt, 37.

[18]Potter, 82. As Potter writes, "Only the future could tell the significance of the triumph of the Louisiana slaveholder supported as he was by antislavery men like Seward, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin F. Wade."

[19]Joel H. Silbey, The Shrine of Party: Congressional Voting Behavior, 1841-1852 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967), 102.

[20]Potter, 86; Hopkins Holsey to Howell Cobb, January 29, 1849, The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, 144; Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate:  Webster, Clay and Calhoun (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1987), 457; Freehling, 490-93.

[21]Holman Hamilton, Prologue to Conflict:  The Crisis and Compromise of 1850 (University of Kentucky Press, 1964), 186.

[22]ibid., 186-7.

[23]Gara, "Antislavery Congressmen," 207.

[24]Peterson, 455-6.

[25]ibid., 38.

[26] William Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) 498.

[27]Freehling, 497. As Freehling points out, Clay proposed to sever an area of Texas that included the state's largest slave population, approximately 20,000 people. Essentially, Henry Clay's "line on the map would have effected one of the largest mutilations of an enslaved state ever to be proposed in an antebellum Congress.  This was a compromise?"497.

[28]ibid., p. 503;  Larry Gara, "The Fugitive Slave Law:  A Double Paradox," Civil War History 10 (1964): 229-234; Allen C. Guelzo, The Crisis of the American Republic: A History of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 51-53.

[29]Freehling, 503.

[30]K. Bayley to Horace Mann, February 12, 1851, quoted in Larry Gara, "Antislavery Congressmen," 205; Gara, 207. The furor over the fugitive act did subside, but Richard Sewel points out that sporadic resistance to the measure fanned the flames of sectional animosity.  A House Divided: Sectionalism and Civil War, 1848-1865 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 38-39.

[31]Major L. Wilson, “Of Time and the Union:  Webster and His Critics in the Crisis of 1850,” Civil War History 10 (1964): 302-4. Wilson makes an interesting distinction between Webster and Seward’s concept of time.  While Webster was concerned with the temporal, the “here and now,” Seward conceived of time in relation to eternity.  As a result, Webster the ‘existentialist’ confronted Seward the millennialist.

[32]Freehling, 497.

[33]Potter, 104; Richard H. Sewell, A House Divided:  Sectionalism and Civil War 1848-1865 (Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 38-39. Important also for the discussion of republican ideals, was the eventual recognition by Northerners and Southerners that Clay’s proposals, amended by the Senate and presented in separate bills (as opposed to the Omnibus), would require no concession of principle. Rather, the compromise measures required tactical “adjustments” that would reconcile majority and minority wills, and preserve the sanctity of the respective Northern and Southern conceptions of “liberty”.  For an elaboration of this point, see David Herbert Donald, Liberty and Union (Toronto:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1978), 42-46.

[34]Sewell, 35-37; Holt, p. 70-72;  Robert R. Russel, “What Was the Compromise of 1850?”  Journal of Southern History 22 (1956) 306.  Russell argues that the only aspect of the territorial acts that was unconditionally approved by proslavery men was the absence of a moral judgment against slavery, either explicit or implicit.  Of course, this concession was not inconsequential—it meant the denial of four years of diligent effort by abolitionists and free soilers to attach some form of slavery prohibition to the acquisition of the territories.

[35]Craven, 88.

[36]Hiram Warner to Howell Cobb, March 17, 1850, The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, 186-187.

[37]Potter, 101.

[38]Craven, 74-76; Barney, Road to Secession, p. 106-108; an anonymous Georgian, “Plain Words for the North,” American Whig Review, Vol. 12, December 1850, in The Union in Crisis 1850-1877, ed. Robert W. Johannsen (New York:  The Free Press, 1965), 32-43.

[39]James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1988), 73.

[40]Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1967), 122-125.

[41]Wilson, 295.

[42]Van Deusen, 123.

[43]Richard B. Morris ed., Encyclopedia of American History (New York:  Harper and Row, 1982), 252-54.         

[44]  Freehling, 501.


[45] “Plain Words For the North”, The Union in Crisis, 39.

[46]John R. Thompson, Southern Literary Messenger (Richmond), September 10, 1850, in Avery Craven, The Growth of Southern Nationalism, 103.

[47]North Carolina Standard, (Raleigh), November 13, 1850, ibid., 103-104.

[48]Freehling, 510.

[49]Potter, 112.

[50]Daniel Walker Howe, “Religion and Politics in the Antebellum North,” in Religion and American Politics, ed. Mark A. Noll (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1990), 132-138.  As Howe writes, confessionalists outside the evangelical consensus often viewed evangelical ecumenism as “religious imperialism.”  The Democrats became “the party of those opposed to the ecumenical evangelical ‘establishment’ of the antebellum era.” 132. Howe argues that the Whigs and their distinctive republican ideology formed the cultural “core” of the North, while the Democrats occupied the dissenting “periphery”.

[51]Greenberg, 129-132; Richard Yeadon to Benjamin F. Perry, January 6, 1851, in Avery Craven, The Growth of Southern Nationalism, 111.

[52]Greenberg, chapters 1 & 2.  According to Greenberg, the central dilemma of southern antebellum political life was to avoid being an enslaver or becoming enslaved.  The sectional conflict itself was a problem of “avoiding slavery”, as “corrupt abolitionists” and a foreign system of labor threatened to subjugate the South, 146.  The realities of independence and slavery confronted the southern slaveholder every day:  “Who else but slave masters should be so obsessively concerned with their independence? After all, they had before them black slaves, perfect examples in their thought of the degrading effects of dependence.”  x.

[53]Eric Foner, “Politics, Ideology and the Origins of the Civil War,” 423.

[54]Brock, 120.

[55]Ludwell H. Johnson, Division and Reunion:  America 1848-1877 (New York:  John Wiley and Sons, 1978),  20.

[56]Freehling,  510.

[57]Greenberg, 143.

[58]Potter, p. 92-120.  Potter’s chapter on the issue is titled “The Armistice of 1850.”

[59]Craven, 115.