Civics, US Government, US History
Using an example of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, students will summarize the importance of compromise in the congressional process.
The Compromise of 1850 was a series of five legislative enactments, passed by the U.S. Congress during August and September 1850. These measures, essentially the work of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, were designed to reconcile the political differences then dividing the antislavery and proslavery factions of Congress and the nation. The measures, sometimes referred to collectively as the Omnibus Bill, dealt chiefly with the question of whether slavery was to be sanctioned or prohibited in the regions acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War. Two of the five measures represented concessions by the South to the North, authorizing the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia and admission of California as a free state. The third bill, a substantial concession to the South, was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which provided for the return of runaway slaves to their masters. By the terms of the fourth measure, the territory east of California ceded to the U.S. by Mexico was divided into the territories of New Mexico (now New Mexico and Arizona) and Utah, and they were open to settlement by both slave-holders and antislavery settlers. This measure superseded the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The fifth measure provided that Texas, already in the Union as a slave state, be awarded $10 million in settlement of claims to adjoining territories, further strengthening the South.
Assignments and questions to pose:
List the main arguments and issues discussed and name two defenders for each side of the argument and state their political affiliation and position in Congress.
How would you summarize the opposing sides in the compromise debate? Explain the national significance of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Compromise of 1850. What other congressional compromises might compare with the Compromise of 1850?
Investigate the circumstances leading up to the passage of this law. Why was compromise so significant in 1850? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the compromise?
What are the main ingredients needed to get such a compromise passed? Diagram how the compromise went through Congress. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the compromise?
What alternative solutions to national turmoil would you have suggested other than this compromise? How might Congress more efficiently agree on such issues of national importance without diminishing the impact of the law?
What was the most compelling argument that made passing of the compromise possible? How is the law representative of congressional procedure, and what do you think about having to compromise on issues of national importance? Which of the law's provisions have had the most lasting impact and why? Could the compromise have been more successful? How?
This lesson was created by the staff of The Dirksen Congressional Center.