A. Mexican context
In the 1820s, Mexico had encouraged colonization of its northern province, Texas.
Mexico thought that proper settlement might prevent any future expansion by the United
States, and would boost its economy. The region around present-day Houston and San Antonio, basically the eastern half of Texas today, seemed good for cotton, and it was sparsely populated. So the Mexican government encouraged a number of Americans to immigrate to Texas.
B. Points of conflict with the United States
Cultural differences: By 1830, there were
9,000 former Americans and only 3,000 Spanish-speaking residents. It was obvious that in less than ten years, Texas had changed, and there were really two different ways of life represented. They required the immigrants to become Catholic and to become Mexican citizens. Few became practicing Catholics.
In 1829, Mexico abolished slavery, but English-speaking Texans protested and were allowed to keep their slaves but not allowed to legally import them.
Illegal immigration angered the Mexican government and led to threats and military surveillance
Political problems—in 1824, Texas was combined with another province to the South, Coahuila. The capital of the area, then, was several hundred miles away and the government was dominated by Coahuilans, because they controlled the population.
C. Texan Independence
By 1834, there were 20,700 Yankees and only 4,000 Spanish-speakers. The build-up of these various problems and tensions, the cultural differences, the restriction of slavery, the trade restrictions, Mexico’s complaints about immigration, and the feeling that they had no political voice—and that they were still English-speaking Americans at heart, not Mexicans, led to an independence movement in 1835.
Santa Anna, then the president of Mexico, determined to put down this movement. He arrived in San Antonio in early 1836 with a force of 6,000 men. Texans evacuated the city, but left 150 men under the command of William Travis in an abandoned Spanish mission called the Alamo. 32 volunteers later arrived, including Davie Crockett, Jim Bowie (who they named the Bowie Knife after), and others. Santa Ana attacked the fortress, and for about ten days, the Texans held out against Santa Anna. Finally, Santa Anna demanded an unconditional surrender, and when the Texans refused, they were all killed or executed.
The loss at the Alamo motivated Texans to seek revenge. About a month later, Texans lost at the village of Goliad, and when they surrendered, expecting to be treated as prisoners of war, the Mexicans killed all 365 of them.
Things looked bleak for the Texans, but in April, at the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texans attacked Santa Anna’s army and won an amazing victory, and Santa Ana signed a treaty declaring Texas to be independent.
Mexico’s government declared the treaty void and illegitimate, and vowed to reconquer Texas, but because of a number of other distractions, this never happened. Texas, for a brief while, became an independent country, and began to talk to the U.S. about becoming an American state.
Texas immediately wanted to join the union as a slave state. It would have numerous advantages for the mostly-English speaking, and former American settlers in Texas. But Congress wanted to avoid a confrontation over slavery and the state remained an independent republic until 1845.
By 1844, a nationalistic movement called Manifest Destiny was sweeping the country. This vision held that the nation (comprised nearly exclusively of white European-descended citizens) was destined to spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With the election of 1844 and the victory of James K. Polk, it seemed that national expansion would become a priority of the United States.
Pause for 60-second Quiz #1: What factors influenced the creation of Texas and how did it come to be a state of the U.S.? Which answer is NOT correct?
Slavery – Mexico outlawed slavery but allowed American settlers to practice it; Congress later did not want to add another slave-holding state to the union
Manifest Destiny – Americans wanted to extend their country from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans and Texas would help accomplish this
Politics – Mexico wanted to be able to better control its northern provinces (e.g. Texas), so they allowed Americans to immigrate and settle there
Culture – Mexico wanted to decrease the number of Catholics living in their northern provinces (e.g. Texas), so they required Mormons to move to Texas
II. The Mexican-American War
A. Disputed Border
Texas, which since 1836 had been an independent nation, had wanted to become part of the United States. But because of the slavery issue in the United States, it had not happened. In 1845, the United States agreed to bring Texas into the Union as a new state. Mexico had two problems with this:
Mexico had never recognized or accepted Texas’s independence
on where the border was-Texas claimed it was on the Rio Grande River and Mexico claimed it was on a river farther to the North.
American troops send to the border and to Veracruz, war broke out in 1846, and in less than a year and a half, the United States won, and marched into Mexico City victorious.
As a result of the peace settlement,
Mexico lost half of its territory to the United States, including California (which revolted against Mexican rule in 1846), Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and all of Texas. The United States agreed to pay $15 million, but this was not much for what they got: 500,000 square miles of land.
loss of soldiers, battles, and territory was a huge psychological blow that shattered the nation’s honor and dignity. Former Mexican citizens were almost universally considered foreigners by the U.S. settlers who moved into the new territories and found themselves the victims of discriminatory laws and mistreatment. Mexico believed that the United States had acted in an arrogant way throughout the negotiations. Mexico harbored a permanent resentment against the United States. It left Mexico demoralized, disunited, and once again, subject to political infighting.
The Mexican War
was a tremendous military triumph. The United States had acquired 529,000 square miles of land, and present day California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and even some of Wyoming and Colorado.
1. Territorial Growth
America had grown rapidly to nearly 23 million people, and it now stretched across a continent. It was united by a common language, a common culture, economics and trade. Americans shared a rich history. Construction had just begun on the Washington Monument. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo seemed to be another proud achievement of American Nationalism.
2. Complications But, in fact, the true impact of the Mexican War was devastating. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had predicted, the Mexican War would be like swallowing arsenic.
U.S. victory set off a chain of events that would divide America North and South, would lead to unsatisfactory and short-lived compromises, and would ultimately result in war.
D. Slavery Question The territory acquired from Mexico brought up the question of slavery and the right of Congress to prohibit or restrict slavery in the territories. This came at a time when Congress was already divided because of disputes over tariffs and internal improvements and because of an active abolitionist movement.
How would the congress divide the new territory acquired from Mexico?
Four options were proposed during 1846 and 1847, all before the war even ended.
1. Wilmot Proviso
On the evening of August 8, 1846, Congress met to discuss a bill for money for the war with Mexico. Representative David Wilmot, a Democrat from Pennsylvania offered an amendment to the appropriations bill.
Wilmot proposed in any territory acquired from Mexico, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of the said territory, except for crime, where over the party shall first be duly convicted.”
Wilmot was antislavery, but he had no sympathy for blacks. In fact, he may have been a racist. Blacks competed with free whites for work. Wilmot envisioned Texas to be a refuge for white laborers; this was a Jeffersonian view, not one of plantations with black slaves, and certainly not one of industry and manufacturing. Wilmot believed that slavery hurt whites, and should not expand.
“If slavery is not excluded by law,” insisted one agreeing congressman, “the presence of the slave will exclude the laboring white man.”
In short, Wilmot’s amendment, the Wilmot Proviso, stated that slavery should be prohibited in any territory acquired by the war with Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso brought up the great issue that eventually would divide the nation. Did Congress have the right to limit slavery in the territories?
The proviso passed in the House, but not in the Senate. It came up several times again, but was never passed. Still, Wilmot had sparked a controversy.
2. Wick Proposal
In 1820, the Missouri Compromise had admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, but had specified that any territory in the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase, and above a certain line of latitude, 36-30’ would be free of slavery.
William Wick, a little-known congressman from Indiana suggested a second solution to the problem of slavery in the territories. This suggestion came up repeatedly in Congressional debates.
Wick proposed extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific—In other words, the Missouri Compromise should apply to the new territory. Any territory below a certain latitude (36-30’) would be reserved for slavery, whereas any territory above the line would automatically become free soil.
This might have been the best solution. It had worked for thirty years. It was clear, and unambiguous. It came up several times in Congress, promoted by several different people, but it too failed to pass.
The idea was somewhat popular. Even President Polk supported it. Some Northerners worried that it would give slavery to New Mexico and Southern California. Proslavery folks rejected it because it would concede that Congress could limit slavery in the territories.
3. Calhoun Proposal
Southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, opposed any barrier to the expansion of slavery south of the Missouri Compromise line. They believed that Congress had no power whatsoever to limit slavery in the territories. Calhoun’s reasoning was essentially states’ rights.
For example, Calhoun argued that “the territories of the United States belong to the several states composing the union” and that Congress had “no right to make any law or do any act whatever that shall,” as he said, discriminate between the states or deprive any states or territories of their full and equal rights.
Calhoun claimed that the Wilmot Proviso was unconstitutional. Since slaves were property, and the Constitution protected property, then people should be able to bring their slaves wherever they chose. Therefore, the Missouri Compromise and even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, was unconstitutional. This had tremendous implications.
Northerners disagreed strongly. Many southerners adopted Calhoun’s view. Limiting slavery would concentrate slaves in the old regions of the South, which were becoming used up, and would increase the risk of a revolt.
4. Popular Sovereignty
There was a fourth solution to the problem of slavery in the territories. Democrat Lewis
Cass of Michigan proposed the idea that eventually became known as popular sovereignty. Cass believed that slavery should be left to the control of the territorial government. He did not say when the government could decide on slavery—did they have to decide when they became a territory, or when they became a state? Still, Cass believed that citizens of a territory should settle the issue of slavery themselves. Cass did not believe that Congress had any right to regulate slavery either, but he believed that the citizens of a territory should have the power to determine their own issues.
Popular sovereignty was unclear. It did not say when the people of a territory could regulate slavery. Cass’s idea was popular because it left the option open.
Pause for 60-second Quiz #2: What were some of the causes and effects of the U.S.Mexican War? Which answer is correct?
The Adams-Onis Treaty ended the war and granted all of Texas but only southern California to the U.S.
Congress unanimously agreed to admit California as a slave state to the union
Southerners in Congress opposed any limitations on slavery in the territories gained from
Northerners in Congress backed the idea of popular sovereignty, which was the idea that people in the existing states should vote on the question of slavery in the territories
III. The Election of 1848
The election of 1848 took place with these conflicting ideas in mind. In fact, much of the political debates of the next few years would result in arguments by supporters of these four concepts.
A. Internal Divisions
In the Election of 1848, the Whig Party nominated Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor, a Louisiana Planter and general who tried not to take sides. The
Democrats nominated Lewis Cass of Michigan, but the Democrats were divided over popular sovereignty. Some sided with David Wilmot. Some sided with popular sovereignty, other Democrats sided with John C. Calhoun.
B. Free Soil Movement
A group of New York Democrats, Liberty Party abolitionists, and Massachusetts Whigs created the Free Soil Party. Their platform called for 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Man.' they vowed to “fight on, and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions.” They flat out opposed the extension of slavery but not because they felt that African Americans deserved to be treated equally to whites. Rather, free-soilers feared that slave labor in the territories would compete economically with free white (wage-based) labor, meaning it would make it impossible for free white men to move out there and find jobs, because slaves would be doing all the work more cheaply. The Free Soil Party nominated former President Martin Van Buren of New York, then quite old, and Charles Francis Adams, a Massachusetts Whig and the grandson of John Adams.
“Will the people of the South vote for a Southern President or a Northern one?” one Southern newspaper asked. “We prefer old Zack with his sugar and cotton plantations and four hundred negroes to all their compromises.”
C. Taylor Wins
Zachary Taylor was elected. Van Buren won only ten percent of the vote. Nevertheless, an increasing number of Americans opposed the spread of slavery, and that the antislavery movement could not be ignored.
D. Gold Rush
In January 1848,
just days before the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, An accidental discovery would forever change a new nation: Gold. The California Gold Rush began. Within a year, 80,000 people streamed into the state. California needed a government to oversee its rapid growth, lawlessness and price gouging, and to prevent conflicts between different ethnic groups.
Few gold-rushers were southerners. Slave labor would deny opportunities for work to many whites who were already there. So, Californians proposed to enter as a free state.
E. Mormon Church
Let’s back up a step and discuss briefly the Mormon Church. Though Church membership grew rapidly from 1830 to 1845, hostility, fear, and controversy, however, surrounded the church. The rapid growth of church membership, the financial success of the members and their church, religious beliefs that were outside mainstream Christian tradition, the practice of plural marriage (polygamy), a large well-armed militia, the blurring of lines between church and state, and the perception by some non-Mormons that the church was a threat all fueled intolerance. Hostilities escalated, and the Mormon Church moved west, stopping briefly in Missouri in the late-1830s and then settling in Nauvoo, Illinois.
On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by an angry mob while jailed in Carthage, Illinois. By 1845, the Mormon population in the Nauvoo area had swelled to 11,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the state. In September of that year, vandals burned more than 200 Mormon homes and farm buildings in an attempt to force the Mormons to leave.
A move to the Far West had been discussed by church leaders as early as 1842, with Oregon, California, and Texas considered possible destinations. In 1844, Joseph Smith had specifically mentioned the Great Salt Lake area, and this area had become the prime candidate for settlement. Finally in 1846, the church moved beyond the Rocky Mountains in to the then unsettled territory, then Mexican territory, where they hoped to be insulated from further harassment, antagonism, and persecution. But as tensions increased, the Mormons realized they had to go. There were growing rumors of some sort of U.S. government intervention, fears that troops would march on their city. Several thousand Mormons made the trip.
The initial movement of the Mormons took place in two waves. In the first segment, in 1846, the immigrants traveled about 265 miles before stopping for the winter along the Missouri River. The second segment was the rest of the way to Salt Lake City, about 1,032 miles. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, the new leader of the Mormons, the journey crossed primitive roads and Indian trails. They established several camps along the way where they planted crops and established supply stores for people who followed.
In July, 1847, the first Mormons reached Salt Lake City. The next 20 years would see about 70,000 Mormons traveling by wagons and handcarts to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Overland wagon travel declined after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, when emigrants could travel across the plains by rail.
Pause for 60-second Quiz #3: What are some other examples of the tension over slavery during the 1840s (aside from Texas- and Mexican relations)? Which answer is NOT correct? a. Free Soil Movement
Mormon message of abolitionism
Election of Zachary Taylor
IV. A Nation In Need of Compromise?
A. Problems Old and New
Texas, a slave state, had claimed part of New Mexico, where the Mexican government had banned slavery. Texas was in a tense border dispute, and Congress had struggled to resolve it. There were several solutions floating around, but Congressmen could not agree on any of them.
Two additional problems threatened the peace of the nation. Northerners became increasingly angry that nearly seventy-five years after the Declaration of Independence, the slave trade still continued in Washington, D.C., the capital of democracy. Northerners had been trying to ban the slave trade in D.C. for some time. Finally, Southerners complained about the weak enforcement of an old fugitive slave law. Slaves were running away, and southerners were unable to get them back. Any compromise would have to address these five issues.
Zachary Taylor soon aggravated the South. He rejected Calhoun’s ideas that the protection of slavery depended upon its expansion. The South thought he had sold them out. Here was this supposedly great Louisiana Planter, who seemed content to let California and New
Mexico become Free states. Taylor vowed to go to war with Texas over New Mexico. He said that if the Wilmot Proviso ever passed, he would not veto it. This scared southerners and warned them that slavery was under attack! If California entered the Union as a free state, it would tip the balance between slave states and Free states, and the South would be the minority in the Senate, Senator Jefferson Davis said.
“For the first time…we are about permanently to destroy the balance of power between the sections,” Jefferson Davis said, reminding senators that California would give free states a majority in the Senate. He saw the admission of California as a wicked plan, “a monstrous trick and injustice.”
Disgruntled with Taylor and fearing the worst, John C. Calhoun pleaded with southern states to meet and discuss their fears. Nine southern states responded to Calhoun’s pleas, and at the Mississippi slaveholder’s convention, they agreed to send delegates to a southern convention in Nashville in June 1850.
By 1849, Militant southerners had begun to discuss secession. What would happen in Nashville? Southerners called for a fugitive slave act, northerners wanted to abolish the slave trade in Washington, California and New Mexico petitioned to be added to the government as Free states and Texas was involved in a border dispute with New Mexico.
America desperately needed a settlement, and to resolve these issues.
B. Henry Clay
Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, the hero of the Compromise of 1820, now proposed a series of eight new resolutions which he hoped would patch up the differences between the North and South and solve the problems that plagued America.
Months of debate followed. A series of senators offered conflicting speeches.
Dying of tuberculosis, John C. Calhoun had to be helped into the Senate. He watched as another senator read his speech begging for compromise. The North was about to dominate the nation in both population, area, and with a majority of free states, and thus a majority of Congressmen.
“Unless something decisive is done, I again ask, what is to stop this agitation before the great and final object at which it aims-the abolition of slavery in the States--is consummated? Is it, then, not certain that if something is not done to arrest it, the South will be forced to choose between abolition and secession? It is a great mistake to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bind these States together in one common Union are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. If the agitation goes on, the same force, acting with increased intensity, as has been shown, will finally snap every cord, when nothing will be left to hold the States together except force.”
If the North loved the Union, it would have to be the North who conceded an equal amount of territory to the South and adopt a Fugitive Slave Law, or face the consequences.
Daniel Webster begged the north to compromise. “I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an American. I speak today for the preservation of the Union…” he said, “Hear me for my cause. He shuddered at the thought of secession.
Jefferson Davis vowed “I will never take less than the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean,” and said that California could support slavery. “The African race are altogether better adapted,” he insisted, to working the mines of California just as they were suited to working rice, sugar, and cotton plantations. It was only constitutional that California have the option for slavery, at least in some of its territory.
New York’s William Seward claimed that a “higher law” called Congress to ban slavery altogether right now. Slavery and compromise, Seward said, were both “radically wrong and essentially vicious.”
With so many different voices, compromise seemed impossible.
The Senate rejected the elements of Clay’s bills. Clay tried to lump all the proposals together into an “omnibus,” but this failed too. Entirely exhausted and burnt out, Clay went on vacation.
On June 3, the delegates of nine southern states met in Nashville. With Calhoun now dead, would the South unite? The answer was no. For one thing, Louisiana and North Carolina did not send delegates. For another, a majority of southerners disagreed with the radicals, and wanted to stay within the Union. Plus, Congress was still trying to hash out a compromise. The Nashville delegates agreed that they could not do anything and would wait to see how things played out. They adjourned and agreed to meet again in November.
That summer, after participating in the dedication of the Washington Monument, President Taylor fell ill and died.
His successor, vice-president, Millard Fillmore, desperately wanted a compromise. With Calhoun dead, Daniel Webster now appointed to the Cabinet, and Henry Clay unsuccessful, exhausted, and away on vacation, Stephen Douglas, a young Senator from Illinois, took over. Douglas was only thirty-seven, but already had a long career in politics. He was known as “the little Giant” because he was five foot-nothing, had an oversized head and shoulders, and a booming voice and abrupt and violent gestures. Douglas was well-liked in Congress.
He successfully built alliances of congressmen, rather than just try to create something everyone would agree on, he created proposals and then just tried to find enough people to support them. He got the proposals passed, one by one, by September, 1850.
C. The Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 included the following items:
Congress admitted California as a free state
It organized territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah under the popular sovereignty idea
The Compromise settled TX/NM border dispute and gave Texas its present-day borders. Congress assumed Texas’ debt and Texas gave up its claim on New Mexico’s land.
Congress abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C.
Congress approved a harsh fugitive slave act.
Millard Fillmore called it a “final and irrevocable settlement.” It was, however, a hollow victory. It looked good only on paper. Was it really a compromise, or was it just a temporary fix? After all, South Carolina and Mississippi had hardly voted for any of the bills. Northern Whigs rarely voted for the bills, too. It was the Border States that carried the bills to pass. What effect did the Compromise of 1850 have on America? What happened? (We’ll see in the next chapter.)
Pause for 60-second Quiz #4: What was the Compromise of 1850 and why did it come to pass? Which answer is correct?
It tried to tip the balance in the Senate in favor of free states
It implemented popular sovereignty in all states (old and new)
It abolished slavery in the District of Columbia
In included a new, much harsher fugitive slave law
KEY for 60-second Quizzes: