The Compromise of 1850 & Fredrick Douglas The Compromise of 1850 was primarily about the future of slavery in the new territories and the Union. Out of the Compromise of 1850 came “The Fugitive Slave Law”, which gave owners of escaped slaves the power and the resources to procure their escaped slaves. It constituted one of its provisions was controversial federal laws that intended to pacify the slaveholding south and enraged the Northern abolitionist and ultimately provoked the Civil War.
The compromise was necessitated by the United States annexation of territory stretching from Texas to California after the Mexican American War (1846-1848). This national expansion confirmed “The Manifest Destiny”, ideology that claimed that God intended America extend “from sea to shining sea’, which posed a significant political problem. Since 1820 a balance had been achieved between free (non-slaveholding) & slave holding states. This balance had been established by the Missouri Compromise which legislated that slavery would not be allowed to spread above the Mason-Dixon, nor would slavery be prevented below it.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
The growth of the nation in the early nineteenth century including the admission of Missouri & Maine in 1820, the annexation of Texas in 1845, and the Oregon Territory in 1848 was monitored by a strict division of slavery in the south and freedom in the north. The Compromise of 1820 sought to allow the US to continue to function as a united nation by satisfying both the North & the South, thus deferring the political & ethical dilemma posed by the practice of slavery. In a nation founded upon “all men are created equal”.
The Compromise itself had 5 key bills that came out of it, 1). California was admitted as a free state, 2). New Mexico and Utah were organized without restrictions on slavery, 3). Texas, also unrestricted to slavery had its boundaries set and received $10 million for the land that would become New Mexico, 4). The slave trade (but not slavery itself) was abolished in the District of Columbia, 5). A new Fugitive Slave Act provided jurisdiction to assist slave owners in the recovery of escaped slaves.
In 1850 political balance was upset because the US eager to admit California because of its discovery of gold in 1848, but the Wilmot Proviso (1846) prevented slavery anywhere in the new territory gained from Mexico. So California could only be admitted as a free state. The Southern states viewed this as a threat and a blatant attempt on the federal government would soon be dominated by an antislavery agenda. The fugitive slave law was the only element of the Compromise of 1850, but it provoked the most passionate response.
The law was intended to placate southern concerns about the spread of antislavery sympathies into the federal government; ironically the public outcry over the law resulted in the abolitionist movement gaining a more prominent political role than it originally had. The law in other words said fugitive slaves or slaves from southern states that had escaped were still subject to be captured and return to southern states even if they had escaped to the north.
All a slave owner had to do was produce paperwork stating they owned them and they could come get them. Moreover, the law contained conspicuously corrupt provisions such as that those denied accused fugitive slaves the right to testify in their own defense or the right to trial by jury. Instead the law appointed commissioners to oversee the trials, who were compensated $5 for freeing a fugitive but $10 for returning on to the south. Northerners were outraged over the law’s ruling that they were required to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves.
Northern free blacks were particularly alarmed that the law did not contain allowances for those blacks who were not escaped slaves; blacks who lived their whole lives as free could be captured and sent into southern states as slaves who had never experienced slavery a day in their lives. Many slaves and free blacks fled to Canada because Canada would not extradite. The Underground Railroad, a secret alliance of abolitionist who assisted slaves in their flight to freedom, faced greater danger even as the activity on the railroad increased in response to the new law.
The Underground Railroad was started by Harriet Tubman, (1820? -1913) a Maryland slave, like Fredrick Douglas, Tubman made her way northward to freedom in 1849 and immediately returned to the South to aid other escaped slaves. The slave law provoked rather than help the growing division between the North & the South. Abolitionist leaders were very outspoken none more than Fredrick Douglas (1818-1895), was born to a slave mother and most likely sired by his first owner.
He was taught to read by the wife of one of his masters; although she had been told that it was illegal and unsafe to teach a slave to read- and taught himself to write in the shipyards of Baltimore. Douglas began a life devoted to the cause of freedom, for women as well as blacks. In the process, he became one of the most famous men in America, black or white. A speaker of extraordinary power, Douglas was first employed by William Lloyd Garrison’s Anti Slavery Society. During the Civil War, he became an advisor to Lincoln, recruiting black soldiers for the Union cause and lobbying for their equal pay, which was reluctantly granted.
After the war he accepted a number of government appointments, and was later made ambassador to Haiti. Douglas also started his own newspaper and spoke vividly out about slavery. In 1853 Douglas authored The Heroic Slave, a fictionalized account of the life of Madison Washington, a slave who led a revolt in 1841 against the slave traders who held him captive. By explaining Washington’s motives, Douglas explored the justification behind violent resistance and gave voice to his own frustrations over the Fugitive Slave Law.