The history of the United States is carved with numerous triumphs,

challenges, pleasant and unpleasant events. Wars, colonization, plagues,
revolutions, civil rights movements, economic recessions, slavery,
depression and other challenges have undoubtedly had a tremendous impact
on its future and strengths as a country and will continue having the
same for the foreseeable future. This is especially considering that
most of these events have not only shaped policies but also necessitated
the making of laws that are currently entrenched in the constitution.
However, while the varied issues have had different impacts, none seems
to have been more fundamental than slavery. Of course, it is well
acknowledged that the history of the United States is rooted in slavery.
After all, the United States was one of the greatest consumers of the
slave labor. However, different states abolished slavery in different
times, in which case there was an element of disharmony between them.
The differences between such states led to threats of separation, which
threatened to tear away the fragile Union, which necessitated the making
of varied laws and compromises. One of these compromises is popularly
known as the Compromise of 1850.
The Compromise of 1850 is essentially a series of bills that were
passed in an effort to address issues pertaining to slavery (Craft 28).
They settled a dispute pertaining to Texas boundary, prohibited slave
trade in what was the District of Columbia, provided for decision on
slavery to be made by popular sovereignty in admitting new states, and
created stricter rules pertaining to fugitive slaves. The measures had
been taken all in an effort to settle varied outstanding issues
pertaining to slavery, as well as avert threats pertaining to the
dissolution or breaking away of the Union (Craft 34). This crisis had
been triggered by the territory of California’s request on 3rd
December 1849 for admission into the Union as a free state while its
constitution prohibited slavery. By 1850, the Union’s bond between the
South and the North was strained by sectional disagreements revolving
around slavery. The tensions worsened when the United States Congress
started considering whether western lands that had been acquired after
Mexican War would allow slavery (Craft 38). The request by California in
1849 meant that the Congress would have more free-state senators, which
spelt doom for the balance between free and slave states that had been
there following the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (Craft 43). All eyes
were on the senate as far as the diffusion of the crisis was concerned.
In this regard, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky came up with a raft of
measures aimed at maintaining an even balance between the slave and free
states. He attempted to satisfy both antislavery and proslavery forces
through varied measures. Slave trade was prohibited in the District of
Columbia, the return of runaway slaves was more rigorously provided for,
the boundary dispute between New Mexico and Texas was settled,
California was admitted as a free state, and Utah and New Mexico’s
territories were organized without conclusively dealing with the issue
of slavery.
The compromise, despite its intricacies involved give and take, where
what would be considered a “loss” would be counterbalanced by a
gain. The admission of California as the 16th Free State in the Union
was counterbalanced by the guarantee to the South that New Mexico or
Utah would not have federal slavery restrictions imposed on them. Texas
had $10 million in compensation from the Congress after it lost its
boundary claims to New Mexico (Craft 43). Washington DC could continue
abetting slavery, but there was a prohibition on slave trade. However,
the most controversial provision of the Compromise of 1850 was the
Fugitive Slave Law that required that northerners, under the penalty of
law, return runaway or fugitive slaves to their owners.
The fugitive law aimed at placating the concerns of Southerners
pertaining to the increase of antislavery sympathies in the federal
government. It is ironical, however, that the law elicited a public
outcry that resulted in the increased prominence of the abolitionist
movement in the political arena (Lowance 28). The law had provided that
slaves escaping from the south were still under the slave laws and could
be legally recaptured and taken back to their owners (Stegmaier 43). The
controversy resided in the fact that the law required antislavery states
to abide to the proslavery states laws. Even more conspicuous was the
denial of fugitive slaves rights pertaining to trial by jury or even
testifying in their defense. The law would appoint commissioners who
would oversee the fugitive’s trial, with a $10 for returning a single
slave to the south and $5 compensation in case they freed the slaves
(Lowance 32).
The Compromise of 1850 is seen as a precursor for the civil war as it
did not eliminate the divisions entirely, rather it seemed to exacerbate
them especially with the Fugitive Law (Stegmaier 43). It led to the
formation of groups that would save slaves from being returned to the
south even with the use of force (Waugh 54). It also inspired many
writers whose works shaped opinions against slave trade and slavery in
general. On the same note, it influenced the formation of the
Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which allowed the two states to use popular
sovereignty to make a decision on whether or not they could allow
slavery (Waugh 56). A conflict between antislavery and proslavery
supporters in Kansas during the vote resulted in a violent conflagration
commonly referred to as “Bleeding Kansas” that led to many deaths.
This violence was seen as having spilt into the civil war that later
came (Stegmaier 45).
While it is commonly held that both sides benefited from the Compromise
of 1850, it goes without saying that the North stood to gain the most.
This is especially considering that the admission of California as a
free state tripped the balance in the North’s favor, regardless of the
fact that it usually voted alongside the south on quite a number of
issues in the 1850s (Lowance 37). The Fugitive Slave Law was the most
fundamental victory that the south could claim. However, this law was
not enforced in the North, with states such as Massachusetts going as
far as to vouch for the nullification of the same (Buckmaster 29). All
in all, the northerners saw the law as unfair and even aided slaves in
defying the same. It is worth noting that it enhanced the political
prominence of the abolitionist movement that resulted in the elimination
of the law (Buckmaster 34). On the same note, it is noteworthy that the
Fugitive Slave Law was fragrantly violated, a factor that set the scene
for the civil war. As much as the Compromise of 1850 may have
temporarily quelled the differences between the north and the south, it
was not successful in the long-term (Buckmaster 38). This, however, does
not negate the fact that it was a fundamental political occurrence that
shaped or influenced the United States` future.
Works cited
Craft, William. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom. 1860. Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1999. Print.
Lowance, Mason I., A House Divided: The Antebellum Slavery Debates in
America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003. Print.
Stegmaier, Mark Joseph. Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850:
Boundary Dispute & Sectional Crisis. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University
Press, 1996. Print.
Waugh, John C. On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How
It Changed the Course of American History. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly
Resources, 2003. Print.
Buckmaster, Henrietta. Let My People Go: The Story of the Underground
Railroad and the Growth of the Abolition Movement. 1941. Columbia:
University of South Carolina Press, 1992. Print
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