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Compromise of 1850

Henry Clay introducing the Compromise of 1850The issue of slavery had grown since the creation of the United States and by 1850 the threat of civil war was just around the corner. The government in Washington D.C. was left trying to craft a compromise that would satisfy both the North and South, until a more permanent agreement could be established.

Many issues needed to be considered: the admission of California as a state, the territory dispute in Texas, slavery in Washington D.C., and the issue of slavery in the newly acquired territory from Mexico. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Stephen Douglas introduced a series of bills that were passed by Congress. California was admitted to the Union as a free state, and Texas was reduced in size but given $10 million dollars in order to pay its debts to Mexico. The slave trade was outlawed in Washington D.C. but slavery was allowed to continue in the nation’s Capitol. The new territories were established without restrictions on slavery, and when a territory applied for admission into the Union, its citizens would decide the status of slavery within its borders.

The Compromise of 1850 included the Fugitive Slave Act, which became largely disputed within the northern free states. The Fugitive Slave Act stipulated that citizens of free states were required to return slaves found in the North. The Act also denied a fugitive’s right to a jury trial. After the Act was passed many African Americans in the North fled to Canada. Not only were slaves recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act, but without the right to a jury trial, many free men were also sent back to slavery. 

After the Compromise of 1850, the Underground Railroad became much more active, helping escaped slaves make their way into Canada. Many northern states simply refused to abide by the Fugitive Slave Act, and some states and territories were caught in the middle of the dispute. Although Kansas was not officially a state during the Compromise, for the next several years Kansas would become a battleground between slaveholders and abolitionists as it sought to find a balance between the North and South.

Entry: Compromise of 1850

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2012

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.