Secession Era Editorials Project

The Object of the Compromise of 1850.

Detroit, Michigan, Free Press [Democratic]

(6 February 1854)

What was the oject of the compromise measures of 1850 -- their prime object, we mean? Was it not to settle for all time the connection of the General Government with the subject of slavery? Was it not to take the whole question out of the hands of Congress, and give it into the charge of the people interested in it? Was it not to determine the rule upon which territories should hereafter be organized?

We assert that such was the object of those measures, and we will prove it; and our authority is Henry Clay. In his report, as chairman of the Committee of Thirteen who reported the measure to the Senate, he said:

"Out of our recent territorial acquisitions, and in connexion with the institution of slavery, questions most grave have sprung up, which, greatly dividing and agitating the people of the United States, have threatened to disturb the harmony, if not to endanger the safety of the Union. The committee believe it to be highly desirable and necessary speedily to adjust all those questions in a spirit of concord, and in a manner to produce, if practicable, general satisfaction. They thing it would be unwise to leave any of them open and unsettled, to fester in the public mind, and to prolong, if not aggregate, the existing agitation. It has been their object, therefore, in this effort, to make such proposals and recommendations as would accomplish a general adjustment of all these questions."

Having stated the object of the committee to be to adjust all the questions connected with the slavery agitation, Mr. Clay proceeded to speak of the bills giving territorial governments to Utah and New Mexico, as follows:

"The bill for establishing the two Territories, it will be observed, omits the Wilmot proviso, on the one hand, and, on the other, makes no provision for the introduction of slavery into any part of the new Territories. That proviso has been the fruitful source of distraction and agitation. If it were adopted and applied to any Territory, it would cease to have any obligatory force as soon as such Territory were admitted as a State into the Union." * * "The proviso is, as to all these regions in common, a mere abstraction. Why would it be any longer insisted upon? Totally destitute, as it is, of any practical import, it has, nevertheless, had the pernicious effect to excite serious if not alarming consequences. It is high time that the wounds which it has inflicted should be healed up and closed; and that, to avoid, in all future time, the agitations which must be produced by the conflict of opinion on the slavery question -- existing, as this institution does, in some of the States, and prohibited, as it is, in others -- the true principle which ought to regulate the action of Congress in forming territorial governments for each nearly-acquired domain is to refrain from all legislation on the subject in the territory acquired so long as it remains in the territorial form of government, leaving it to the people of each Territory, when they have attained to a condition which entitles them to admission as a State, to decide for themselves the question of allowance or prohibition of domestic slavery."

The "true principle" which Mr. Clay here describes is embodied in Mr. Douglas' bill now before Congress.

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