|AP US History Document Based Question
Directions: In the essay you should strive to support your assertions both by citing key pieces of evidence from the documents and by drawing on your knowledge of the period.
“To what extent did the Compromise of 1850 actually fuel the rising sectional disputes and growing animosity between the North and South instead of accomplishing its goal of settling the increasingly heated arguments over the issue of slavery. Inevitably this would lead to dissolution of the Union.” Using your knowledge of the period and the following documents, assess the validity of this statement.
“SIR, It will be recollected by all present, at the last session of Congress, an amendment was moved by me by which slavery should be excluded from any territory that might be subsequently be acquired by the United States from the Republic of Mexico.... But, sir, the issue now presented is not whether slavery shall exist unmolested where it now is, but whether it shall be carried to new and distant regions, now free, where the footprint of a slave cannot be found. I ask not that slavery be abolished. I demand that this Government preserve the integrity of free territory against the aggressions of slavery, against its wrongful usurpations.... Shall these fair provinces be the inheritance and homes of the white labor of freemen or the black labor of slaves? .... Shall the South be permitted, by aggression, by invasion of the right, by subduing free territory, and planting slavery upon it, to wrest these provinces from northern freemen, and turn them to the accomplishment of their own sectional purposes and schemes? ” David Wilmot, Wilmot Defends His Proviso, Pg.83 - Pg.84.
“The slaveholding interest watched these proceedings with constantly increasing alarm. The territories taken from Mexico were eluding its grasp. Instead of adding to the strength of the South, they would increase the power of the free States. It was a terrible shock. The mere anticipation of it had brought forth suggestions of desperate remedies. The cry of disunion was raised with increasing frequency and violence. Many meant it only as a threat to frighten the North into concession. But there were not a few Southern men also who had regretfully arrived at the conclusion that the dissolution of the Union was necessary to the salvation of slavery. On the other hand, while every Southern legislature save one denounced the exclusion of slavery as a violation of Southern rights, every Northern legislature save one passed resolutions in favor of the Wilmot Proviso....” Carl Schurz, The Clay Compromise, Great Epochs, Vol.7, Pg.97.
“In an attempt to preserve the Union, Henry Clay, early in 1850, proposed a series of measures intended to satisfy both North and South. After lengthy, heated debate most of Clay's program passed. The five acts making up the Compromise provided for the admission of California as a free state; organization of New Mexico and Utah as territories that could enter the union with or without slavery; the settlement of the Texas boundary claims with the federal government assuming $10 million in debts contracted by the Republic of Texas; the prohibition of the slave trade--though not slavery--in the District of Columbia; and a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law.” Michael F. Holt , The Political Crisis of the 1850's (1983).
“SLAVERY did exist in the States before the adoption of this Constitution, and at that time. Let us, therefore, consider the state of sentiment, in regard to slavery, at the time this Constitution was adopted. A remarkable change has taken place since; but what did the wise and great men of all parts of the country think of slavery then? ….
There has been found at the North, among individuals and among legislators, a disinclination to perform fully their constitutional duties in regard to the return of persons bound to service who have escaped into the free States. In that respect, the South, in my judgment, is right, and the North is wrong. Every member of every Northern Legislature is bound by oath, like every other officer in the country, to support the Constitution of the United States; and the article of the Constitution which says to these States that they shall deliver up fugitives from service, is as binding in honor and conscience as any other article.
Mr. President, .... I hear with distress and anguish the word "secession. Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! Who is so foolish--I beg everybody's pardon--as to expect to see any such thing? .... There can be no such thing as a peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility. No, sir! No, sir! I will not state what might produce the disruption of the Union; but, sir, I see, as plainly as I see the sun in heaven, what the disruption itself must produce; i see that it must produce war, and such a war as I will not describe.... Why, what would be the result? Where is the line to be drawn? What States are to secede? What is to remain American? What am I to be? An American no longer? .... What is to become of the public lands? How is any one of the thirty States to defend itself? .... Never did there devolve on any generation of men higher trusts than now devolve upon us, for the preservation of this Constitution, and the harmony and peace of all who are destined to live under it. Let us make our generation one of the strongest and brightest links in that golden chain, which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all the States to this Constitution for ages to come. Daniel Webster, The Clay Compromise, The World's Famous Orations, Vol.2, Pg.74.
“.... How can the Union be saved? To this I answer, there is but one way by which it can be, and that is by adopting such measures as will satisfy the states belonging to the Southern section that they can remain in the Union consistently with their honor and their safety. There is, again, only one way by which this can be effected, and that is by removing the causes by which this belief [that the South cannot honorably and safely remain in the Union] has been produced. Do that and discontent will cease, harmony and kind feelings between the sections be restored, and every apprehension of danger to the Union removed. The question, then, is, By what can this be done? But, before I undertake to answer this question, I propose to show by what the Union cannot be saved.
It cannot, then, be saved by eulogies on the Union, however splendid or numerous. The cry of "Union, Union, the glorious Union!" can no more prevent disunion than the cry of "Health, health, glorious health!" on the part of the physician can save a patient lying dangerously ill, .... It usually comes from our assailants. But we cannot believe them to be sincere; for, if they loved the Union, they would necessarily be devoted to the Constitution. It made the Union, and to destroy the Constitution would be to destroy the Union. But the only reliable and certain evidence of devotion to the Constitution is to abstain, on the one hand, from violating it, and to repel, on the other, all attempts to violate it. It is only by faithfully performing these high duties that the Constitution can be preserved, and with it the Union.... The South asks for justice, simple justice, and less she ought not to take. She has no compromise to offer but the Constitution; and no concession or surrender to make. She has already surrendered so much that she has little left to surrender. Such a settlement would go to the root of the evil, and remove all cause of discontent by satisfying the South she could remain honorably and safely in the Union, and thereby restore the harmony and fraternal feelings between the sections, which existed anterior to the Missouri [Compromise] agitation . Nothing else can, with any certainty, finally and forever settle the questions at issue, terminate agitation, and save the Union. But can this be done? Yes, easily; not by the weaker party [the South], for it can of itself do nothing--not even protect itself--but by the stronger. The North has only to will it to accomplish it--to do justice by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired territory, and to do her duty by causing the stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled--to cease the agitation of the slave question, and to provide for the insertion of a provision in the Constitution, by an amendment, which will restore to the South, in substance, the power she possessed of protecting herself, before the equilibrium between the sections was destroyed by the action of this government....” Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 1st session (March 4, 1850) pp. 453, 455.
Slave being taken to auction along the Potomac in the shadow of the capitol building.
“And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of the commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.... shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled…. and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose; and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State within which they are issued.... And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, ha: heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive....” Approved, September 18, 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Harvard Classics (1910), Vol.43, Pg.330.
“THAT the time has come for the South to look to her interests, when considered in connection with the great political strife now existing between the two sections of this country, I think no true Southerner, who loves liberty and hates oppression, will attempt to deny. Isn't it enough that the rights of the South, in the sovereign capacity of her several States, have been most persistently denied her for forty years? Have we not, as a section, been insulted and oppressed, not only at home, but in every Foreign Court in Christendom, by abolition fanatics, who should, as citizens of the same Government, regard us as brothers? The leaders and oracles of the most powerful party in the United States have denounced us as tyrants and unprincipled heathens, through the whole civilized world. They have preached it from their pulpits. They have declared it in the halls of Congress and in their newspapers. In their school-houses they have taught their children (who are to rule this Government in the next generation) to look upon the slaveholder as the especial disciple of the devil himself. They have published books and pamphlets in which the institution of slavery is held up to the world as a blot and a stain upon the escutcheon of America's honor as a nation. They have established Abolition Societies among them for the purpose of raising funds -- first to send troops to Kansas to cut the throats of all the slaveholders there, and now to send emissaries among us to incite our slaves to rebellion against the authority of their masters, and thereby endanger the lives of our people and the destruction of our property.... They have virtually repealed the Fugitive Slave Law, and declare their determination not to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court, guaranteeing to us the right to claim our property wherever found in the United States. And, in every conceivable way, the whole Northern people, as a mass, have shown a most implacable hostility to us and our most sacred rights; and this, too, without the slightest provocation on the part of the South. Never, in a single instance, has the South, in any shape or form, interfered with the North in her municipal regulations; but, on the contrary, has tamely submitted to paying tribute to the support of her manufactures, and the establishment of her commercial greatness; yet, like the "serpent warmed in the husbandman's bosom," she turns upon us and stings us to the heart…. All admit that an ultimate dissolution of the Union is inevitable, and we believe the crisis is not far off. Then let it come now; the better for the South that it should be to-day; she cannot afford to wait. With the North it is different. Every day adds to her sectional strength, and every day the balance of power becomes less proportionate between the two sections. In a few more years (unless this course is speedily adopted by us) there will not be an inch of territorial ground for the Southern emigrant to place his foot on. Our doom will be sealed; the decree shall have gone forth.” R. B. Rhett, Threats Of Secession, America, Vol.7, Pg.290.
“In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people…. a negro of the African race was regarded by them as an article of property, and held, and bought and sold as such, in every one of the thirteen colonies which united in the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards formed the Constitution of the United States....
…. if the Constitution recognizes the right of property of the master in a slave, and makes no distinction between that description of property and other property owned by a citizen, no tribunal, acting under the authority of the United States, whether it be legislative, executive, or judicial, has a right to draw such a distinction, or deny to it the benefit of the provisions and guarantees which have been provided for the protection of private property against the encroachments of the government. Upon these considerations, it is the opinion of the court that the act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; Dred Scott v Sanford [19 Howard 393], 1857.
“Who got the better deal in the Compromise of 1850? The answer is clearly the North. California, as a free state, tipped the Senate balance permanently against the South. The territories of New Mexico and Utah were open to slavery on the basis of popular sovereignty. But the iron law of nature--the "highest law" of all--had loaded the dice in favor of free soil.
Even the apparent gains of the South rang hollow. Disgruntled Texas was to be paid $10 million toward discharging its indebtedness, but in the long run this was a modest sum. The immense area in dispute had been torn from the side of slaveholding Texas and was almost certain to be free. The South had halted the drive toward abolition in the District of Columbia, at least temporarily, by permitting the outlawing of the slave trade in the federal district. But even this move was an entering wedge toward complete emancipation in the nation's capital….
The Underground Railroad stepped up its timetable, and infuriated northern mobs rescued slaves from their pursuers. Massachusetts, in a move toward nullification suggestive of South Carolina in 1832, made it a penal offense for any state official to enforce the new federal statute. Other states passed "personal liberty laws," which denied local jails to federal officials and otherwise hampered enforcement. Should the shooting showdown have come in 1850? From the standpoint of the secessionists, yes; from the standpoint of the Unionists, no. Time was fighting for the North. With every passing decade this huge section was forging further ahead in population and wealth--in crops, factories, foundries, ships, and railroads.
Delay also added immensely to the moral strength of the North--to its will to fight for the Union. In 1850 countless thousands of northern moderates were unwilling to pin the South to the rest of the nation with bayonets. But the inflammatory events of the 1850s did much to bolster the Yankee will to resist secession, whatever the cost. This one feverish decade gave the North time to accumulate the physical and moral strength that provided the margin of victory. Thus the Compromise of 1850, from one point of view, won the Civil War for the Union.” David Kennedy, The American Pageant, Chapter 20.
“Mr. Toombs [of Georgia]--I do not, then, hesitate to avow before this House and the country, and in the presence of the living God, that if by your legislation you [Northerners] seek to drive us from the territories of California and New Mexico, purchased by the common blood and treasure of the whole people, and to abolish slavery in this District [of Columbia], thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy, I am for disunion. And if my physical courage be equal to the maintenance of my convictions of right and duty, I will devote all I am and all I have on earth to its consummation.” Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 1st session, part 1, pp. 28.
“....Mr. President, I have not brought this question forward as a Northern man or as a Southern man. I am unwilling to recognize such divisions and distinctions. I have brought it forward as an American Senator, representing a state which is true to this principle, and which has approved of my action in respect to the Nebraska bill. I have brought it forward not as an act of justice to the South more than to the North. I have presented it especially as an act of justice to the people of those territories, and of the states to be formed therefrom, now and in all time to come. I have nothing to say about Northern rights or Southern rights. I know of no such divisions or distinctions under the Constitution. The bill does equal and exact justice to the whole Union, and every part of it; it violates the rights of no state or territory, but places each on a perfect equality, and leaves the people thereof to the free enjoyment of all their rights under the Constitution.... I say frankly that, in my opinion, this measure will be as popular at the North as at the South, when its provisions and principles shall have been fully developed and become well understood.” Steven Douglas, Congressional Globe, 33d Congress, 1st session (March 3, 1854), Appendix, p. 338.
“Sir, the Senator from Illinois [Douglas] tells us that he proposes a final settlement of all territorial questions in respect to slavery, by the application of the principle of popular sovereignty. What kind of popular sovereignty is that which allows one portion of the people to enslave another portion? Is that the doctrine of equal rights? Is that exact justice? Is that the teaching of enlightened, liberal, progressive democracy? No, sir; no! There can be no real democracy which does not fully maintain the rights of man, as man.” Congressional Globe, 33d Congress, 1854), Appendix, pp. 134.