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History of Compromise Legislation
An Annotated Chronology

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Missouri Compromise 1850 Compromise Antislavery Agitation
Congressional Controversies  
I. Northwest Ordinance (1787)    
  Prohibited slavery North of Ohio River: included fugitive slave clause. See Map of NW Ordinance.  
Conditional Termination of Slavery    
  In the early debate over slavery even slaveowners and slaveowning states acknowledged that slavery was at best a necessary evil (See Jefferson's Letter to Demeunier). It was hoped that it would eventually die out as the Union expanded. Efforts to gradually eradicate slavery included:

prohibiting the African slave trade
prohibing slavery in new territories (as in Northwest Ordinance)
enacting post-nati manumission laws where slavery existed
purchasing and recolonizing slaves to Africa
Constitution (Great Compromise)    
Constitutional Convention May 25–Sep 17 1787    
  Debate over slavery in the Constitutional Convention    
Ratification Dec 7 1787–Jul 26 1788: Creates balance of power between states and federal government, President and Congress, House and Senate, large and small states. 3/5 person
apportionment clause gives slave states 30% augmentation in House.

7 Dec 1787
12 Dec 1787
18 Dec 1787
31 Dec 1787
9 Jan 1788
6 Feb 1788
26 Apr 1788
23 May 1788
21 Jun 1788
25 June 1788
26 July 1788
2 Aug 1788
21 Nov 1789
29 May 1790

Ratifiying State
New Jersey
South Carolina
New Hampshire (9 state majority achieved)
New York
North Carolina
North Carolina again
Rhode Island (did not participate in convention)
30-0 in favor
in favor
38-0 in favor
26-0 in favor

128-40 in favor

187-168 in favor

63-11 in favor

149-73 in favor

57-47 in favor

89-79 in favor

30-27 in favor

84-184 opposed
194-77 in favor
34-32 in favor
  Article IV Sec. 2-3
Fugitive Slave Clause: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

Clause regarding Congressional control of territories: "New States may be admitted by Congress into this Union; … The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular State."

Constitutional Ratification Debates    
  First clauses of Articles of Confederation (1781): "I. The stile of this Confederacy shall be ‘The United States of America.’ II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled." Preamble to the Constitution  (1787): "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."As a result of the ratification debates, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution were added in the form of the Bill of Rights, based in large part on the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  
First Major Expansion of Slave Territory    
  Kentucky Enters Union as Slave State (1792)
Slavery Permitted in Mississippi Territory (1798)
Slavery Permitted in Louisiana Purchase (1803)
African Slave Trade Prohibited (1808)
Slavery Permitted in Arkansas Territory (1819)
First Two Party System  


Democratic Republicans

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay. John Marshall.

Patrick Henry, George Mason

No presidents after John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe (Madison, although a Federalist, campaigned for Jefferson and succeeded as Republican president)

industrial/mercantile economic base

agricultural economic base

Strong central government, central bank, infrastructure, strong defense, high tariffs. However, Old New England Federalists resist Federal limitations on states

Weak federal government, state sovereignty, low tariffs, weak defense, expansion of territory

The Federalist Papers were written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay to support ratification in New York, Oct 1787-May 1788.
Antifederalist documents are not so cohesive, coming from various states and sources, but have been collected after the fact.
Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)    
  Federalists seek to undermine Republicans by limiting rights of "aliens," providing fines or prison terms for "malicious" attacks on Congress or the President. Gives Republicans the mantle of free speech. Visit the National Archives exhibit on the Alien and Sedition Acts.
One Party Rule: Republicans Jefferson gains the presidency in 1801. Exiting Federalists "pack" the federal courts with midnight appointments. One of these, John Marshall, Secretary of State under John Adams, becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A generational split develops in which younger Republicans (including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun) favor some old Federalist policies, particularly nationalism. High tariffs tend to favor Northern industrial economies. In 1803, Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison, establishes Federal judicial review of Acts of Congress.  
  Panic of 1819 Inflames resentment over high tariffs, distrust of banks, and regional differences over the use of paper money.  
  The Marshall Court, 1819 Concurrently, in two major decisions, Marshall establishes the power of the Supreme Court to declare state laws unconstitutional (McCulloch v. Maryland, Dartmouth v. Woodward). In McCulloch, the power of states to tax the Bank of the United States is invalidated. In Dartmouth, the power of the state of New Hampshire to alter the charter of Dartmouth College is declared unconstitutional, with Daniel Webster arguing for Dartmouth.  
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NW Ordinance 1850 Compromise Antislavery Agitation
Missouri Compromise (1820)
  Northern Republicans attempted to ban slavery in Missouri statehood bill. Tallmadge Amendments, which failed in the Senate, would have enacted a post-nati manumission law and banned importation of slaves into Missouri. Bill that passed, crafted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, admitted Missouri as slave and Maine as free. Thomas Amendment banned slavery in Louisiana Territory N of 36°30´. See Map of Missouri Compromise. Federal fugitive slave law was enacted for parts of Louisiana Territory lying above the Thomas Amendment line. John Quincy Adams: "I take it for granted that the present question is a mere preamble—a title-page to a great, tragic volume." Also see Jefferson, Letter to John Holmes.  
  Elections of 1824–1828 John Quincy Adams defeats Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson with John C. Calhoun as Vice President. Jackson wins plurality of popular and electoral vote; election thrown to house. 1828: Adams prefers Clay to Calhoun as vice president; Calhoun consolidates Southern position by writing in secret, while still V.P., the South Carolina Exposition and Protest. Andrew Jackson leads Calhoun followers and coalition of enemies of high tariff to landslide victory and new Democratic party.  
One Party Rule: Democrats From 1828–1834 the Democrats replaced Republican one party rule, with a strong anti-tariff, expansionist, ant-federalist platform dominated by the personality of Andrew Jackson.  
  Webster-Hayne Debate of 1830 Erupted over a resolution by Samuel Augustus Foot of Connecticut, to limit sale of public lands, an attempt to prevent expansion westward and the possible acquisition of Texas from Mexico. Foot resolution attacked by Benton of Missouri and Robert Hayne of South Carolina. Hayne uses the occasion to defend the principle of nullification put forward in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest. In Daniel Webster's two replies to Hayne, his language in praise of the Union elevates the Union as a high ideal and is widely popularized and imitated. Jackson, who was expected to come in on the side of nullification, proposes a toast at a dinner to observe Jefferson's birthday: "Our Federal Union. It must be preserved."  
  The Marshall Court and the Cherokee Removal The State of Georgia wished to annex Creek and Cherokee territory within its borders and subject Indians to state laws while not allowing them standing as citizens. The Cherokee retained William Wirt to argue their case before the Supreme Court. By accepting the case, the Supreme Court asserted its jurisdiction over the State of Georgia. In the decision, however, the Court rejected the notion that the Cherokee Nation had the same rights as a foreign nation. In a second decision, however, the Supreme Court overruled a Georgia law requiring whites in Indian territory to swear allegiance to the State of Georgia. President Jackson refused to enforce the decision.  
Nullification Crisis
Calhoun resigns as Vice President in 1832, and is replaced by Martin Van Buren.
South Carolina nullifies the tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. Jackson responds in a Proclamation. Force Bill gives Jackson more military power and compromise tariff gradually lowers rates. SC nullifies the Force Bill but accepts the compromise tariff. Also in 1832, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank of the United States, ushering in an era of easy credit and inflation associated with Western land expansion.
Antislavery Agitation
Rise of Immediatist Abolitionism (1831) William Lloyd Garrison retracts his gradualist stance and calls for immediate universal abolition without compromise in the first issue of The Liberator. In the same year, Nat Turner's Revolt sparks a controversy over slavery in the Virginia Legislature that results in the nation's first Slave Laws restricting education and freedom of assembly for slaves.Abolitionist Tactics Abolitionists utilized the following tactics in agitating for anti-slavery:

organizing public meetings and oratory
mailing anti-slavery literature to post offices in the South
utilizing the right of non-voting citizens to petition Congress
collecting and promulgating testimonials to the horrors of slavery
[some abolitionists move to form political parties to directly influence Congress through the political process]

  American Anti-Slavery Society founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Lucretia Mott in 1833.    
Second Two-Party System  



Formed in 1834 by J. Q. Adams' National Republicans and Calhoun Democrats in protest over punishment of states rights. Attracted wealthy, Northern Democrats opposed to Jackson’s attack on the federal bank. In 1844 adopts high tariff platform and restrictions on presidential veto.

Continued to combine anti-Jacksonian, federalist fiscal policy with strong Presidential power and expansionist positions on Indian removal etc.

  Election of 1836 Whigs lacked ideological focus. Ran multiple candidates for president on regional tickets in order to derail Van Buren majority. Van Buren was Jackson’s pick.  
  Gag Rule  Beginning in 1834–35, abolitionists began sending petitions to Congress daily to abolish slavery in DC, and sending abolitionist literature to Southern states. In 1836 Congress passed measures, submitted by Calhoun and supported by Van Buren, to seize any mail banned by state law and to automatically table antislavery petitions in the House. John Quincy Adams, after losing the 1828 election, returned to the House of Representatives in 1829 and served until he died on the floor of the House in 1848. He became the representative of the abolitionist cause in the House. Through his efforts, the Gag Rule was ultimately repealed in 1844.  
  Panic of 1837 Jackson’s attacks on the federal bank and hard-money policies resulted in a crash and depression that lasted into the 1840’s. Van Buren’s Independent Treasury solution absolved Jackson and brought back the Calhoun wing to the Democrats.  
  Schism in the AASS arises in 1839-40 over political vs. moral reform and whether women should speak in public meetings. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1839; Liberty Party, 1840
Annexation of Texas and Election of 1844
  The Calhoun faction agitates for the annexation of Texas as a slave state, gerrymandering the issue to defeat Tyler (National Democratic candidate) and Van Buren (Democratic candidate). Polk elected as compromise candidate. Henry Clay, Whig candidate, opposes annexation of Texas and loses. Abolitionist James Birney runs for the Liberty Party.  
War with Mexico (1846)    
  Wilmot Proviso would prohibit introduction of slavery in lands acquired from Mexico. Calhoun opposed annexation of Oregon Territory (nonslave).  
  Election of 1848 Whigs capture election with Zachary Taylor as president. Taylor will be the last Whig president. Martin Van Buren runs as Free Soil candidate and Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist, for the Liberty Party. Second two party system shows signs of deformation as Whigs and Liberty Party join forces to form Free Soil party.  
Jump to:
NW Ordinance Missouri Compromise Antislavery Agitation
1850 Compromise    
  Crisis precipitated by acquisition of huge lands from Mexico. Henry Clay comes back to the Senate from retirement and with Daniel Webster crafts the compromise. 1. California is admitted as free state. Utah and New Mexico are incorporated without restrictions. 2. Domestic slave trade is prohibited in Washington DC. See Map of 1850 Compromise. But the Fugitive Slave Act further strengthens Federal laws forcing free states to turn over fugitive slaves. Southern Congressmen will argue that admission of California constitutes a repeal of the Thomas amendment.
Election of 1852 Franklin Pierce, a weak New Hampshire Democrat with Southern ties, elected in 1852. Whigs, without Clay or Webster, suffer crushing defeat.
Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)  
  Stephen Douglas submits Kansas-Nebraska bill admitting Kansas to statehood under popular sovereignty: it will be up to the settlers to decide on the question of slavery. This effectively repeals the Thomas amendment and brings on the events known as Bleeding Kansas: One of the first duties of the chief justice of the territorial court, Samuel Lecompte, was to set conditions for electing a representative to Congress. Thousands of Missourians crossed the state line to vote for proslavery candidates. Northerners organized thousands of Free Soil emigrants to flood Kansas with free-state votes (alias Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company). These emigrants made Lawrence their headquarters. Outnumbered Southerners responded by organizing armed men from neighboring Missouri to intercept free-state emigrants (alias Society of Missourians for Mutual Protection). Thus guerilla war broke out in Kansas. Two rival governments formed. Andrew Reeder, governor of the territory appointed by Pierce, attempted to restrain the Missourians. Pierce deposed Reeder and instated William Shannon, a pro-slavery governor, in his place. Free Soilers then elected Reeder to Congress and wrote a free constitution in a convention at Topeka. Pierce denounced the Topeka constitution and supported instead a slave state constitution written under Shannon at Lecompton (between Topeka and Lawrence). An all-out range war ensued between the slave state forces under David Atchinson, a Missouri senator, and the free state forces under Henry Lane, recent Congressman from Indiana.  
  Republican Party formed in 1854 by members of the Free Soil Party, the Liberty Party and disgruntled Democrats. Calls for repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the Fugitive Slave Law.  
Dred Scott Decision (1856)    
  In the case of Dred Scott, an ex-slave whose return to slavery was sought by his former owners, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that 1) Scott was not a citizen and had no right to bring suit; 2) Not free based on residence in Wisconsin Territory—Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional on basis of popular sovereignty.
Election of 1856 Republicans ran John Fremont for President. James Buchanan, a Democrat, elected.
  Lincoln-Douglas Debates In 1858 Abraham Lincoln runs for Senate from Illinois against Stephen Douglas, architect of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the doctrine of polular sovereignty. Lincoln loses, becomes tarred as an abolitionist although in his House Divided speech he insists he is merely advocating the eventual elimination of slavery and keeping slavery contained where it now is.  
  Election of 1860 When Lincoln is elected, alarms are raised across the South, and several states, invoking the doctrine of state sovereignty put forth in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, secede before Lincoln has a chance to take office. War begins.  
Date Seceding State Vote
20 Dec 1860 South Carolina 169-0
9 Jan 1861 Mississippi 85-15
10 Jan 1861 Florida 62-7
11 Jan 1861 Alabama 61-39
19 Jan 1861 Georgia 208-89
26 Jan 1860 Louisiana 113-17
1 Feb 1861 Texas 166-8