|Background for the Wilmot Proviso Debate
Wilmot Proviso (1846 & 1847): “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory [any acquired from the war with Mexico], except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.”
Westward Expansion and Slavery
Northwest Ordinance of 1787: forbade slavery and involuntary servitude in the “northwest territory,” which became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin
Louisiana Purchase (1803): United States purchased land from France that effectively doubled the size of the nation. President Thomas Jefferson justified the purchase by arguing that plentiful land was necessary to build an “empire of liberty” in which household heads could own enough land to make them independent voters.
Missouri Compromise (1820): Admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state (preserving the balance of power in the senate); Established a line at 36°30’ latitude, extending to the western edge of the Louisiana Purchase territory. Slavery was prohibited in any new states or territories north of the line and permitted south of it.
American Anti-Slavery Society (1833): Under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionists advocated the immediate, uncompensated emancipation of all slaves in the U.S.. Abolitionists sought to persuade southerners to their point of view by bombarding the South with abolitionist tracts, but they also used political means. In particular, they worked to get Congress to abolish slavery in Washington, DC, and in the territories.
Manifest Destiny: A pro-expansion ideology prominent in the 1840s that argued that Americans had not only the right but a God-given mission to expand westward into land that was not being “properly used” by its non-white inhabitants (i.e. Indians and Mexicans).
Texas: Won independence from Mexico in 1836, but was not annexed to the U.S. largely because northerners opposed adding such a big region open to slavery. Annexed in 1845 as a slave state, precipitating the outbreak of hostilities with Mexico.
Mexican American War (1846-1848): Nominally fought over the question of the Texas border. Many Americans, particularly Democrats, argued in favor of expansion into Mexico’s northern territories. Southerner planters also favored expansion in order to get more cotton land and to expand southern political power. Whigs, particularly in the North, strongly opposed the war and American expansionism.
Issues that came up in the Wilmot Proviso debate:
--The Union—Can the Union be divided? If so, who would be responsible for this division? How far should we be willing to compromise in order to preserve the Union?
--Attitudes toward African Americans--Both northern and southern white Americans were racist and (except for a few abolitionists) did not think African Americans should be treated equally. Many northerners voted to bar free blacks from their states.
--Slavery—What is its place in the United States? In the Constitution? Is it good or bad (economically, morally, etc.)?
--Wilmot Proviso—Is it appropriate? Is it dangerous?
--Abolition—Is it good or bad?
--Balance of power between North and South
--Mexican American War
--Party divisions (remember, both parties included constituencies from all regions of the country in the 1840s)
-DEMOCRATS tended to favor the war with Mexico; President Polk was a Democrat; Democrats had a history of working to protect slavery, at least within the South
-WHIGS opposed the war; abolitionists usually voted Whig although not all Whigs, by any means, were abolitionists.
List of Speakers in Wilmot Proviso Debate (in-class)
John Pettit (Democrat, Indiana)
R.W. Roberts (Democrat, Mississippi)
David Wilmot (Democrat, Pennsylvania)
Stephen Strong (Democrat, New York)
John S. Chipman (Democrat, Michigan)
Howell Cobb (Democrat, Georgia)
George Rathbun (Democrat, New York)
Richard Brodhead (Democrat, Pennsylvania)
James Dixon (Whig, Connecticut)
Bradford R. Wood (Democrat, New York)
Thomas H. Bayly (Democrat, Virginia)
James C. Dobbin (Democrat, North Carolina)
Paul Dillingham Jr. (Democrat, Vermont)
Joshua Giddings (Whig, Ohio)
Wheeler, William Bruce, and Susan D. Becker, Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence, 5th edition, vol. 1: to 1877 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002.
Congressional Globe (Debates and Proceedings 1837 – 1873), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwcglink.html (From here you can access the entire set of congressional records from the 1790s to the present.)