to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
eighteen fifty, the United States Congress debated a proposal for an important
compromise. The compromise dealt mostly with the national dispute over slavery.
That dispute threatened to split the northern and southern parts of the
country. There was a danger of civil war. Many leaders supported the
compromise. But President Zachary Taylor did not.
in our series, Leo Scully and Larry West complete our story of the Compromise
of Eighteen Fifty.
not think there was a crisis. He did not believe the dispute over slavery was
as serious as others did. He had his own plan to settle one part of the
dispute. He would make the new territory of California a free state. Slavery
there would be banned.
plan did not, however, settle other parts of the dispute. It said nothing about
laws on escaped slaves. It said nothing about slavery in the nation's capital,
the District of Columbia. It said nothing about the border dispute between
Texas and New Mexico. The congressional compromise was an attempt to settle all
Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had written the compromise, questioned the
president's limited proposal. Clay said: "Now what is the plan of the
president? Here are five problems, five wounds that are bleeding and
threatening the life of the republic. What is the president's plan? Is it to
heal all these wounds? No such thing. It is to heal one of the five and to
leave the other four to bleed more than ever."
debate continued in Washington, the situation in Texas and New Mexico got
worse. Texas claimed a large part of New Mexico, including the capital, Santa
Fe. Early in eighteen fifty, Texas sent a representative to Santa Fe to take
control of the government.
States military commander in New Mexico advised the people not to recognize the
man. The governor of Texas was furious. He decided to send state soldiers to
enforce Texas's claims in New Mexico. He said if trouble broke out, the United
States government would be to blame.
Taylor rejected Texas's claims. He told his secretary of war to send an order
to the military commander in New Mexico. The commander was to use force to
oppose any attempt by Texas to seize the territory.
secretary of war said he would not send such an order. He believed that if
fighting began, southerners would hurry to the aid of Texas. And that, he
thought, might be the start of a southern struggle against the federal
In a short
time, the North and South would be at war. When the secretary of war refused to
sign the order, President Taylor answered sharply. "Then I will sign the
been a general before becoming president. He said he would take command of the
army himself to enforce the law. And he said he was willing to hang anyone who
rebelled against the Union.
Taylor began writing a message to Congress on the situation. He never finished
it. On the afternoon of July fourth, eighteen fifty, Taylor attended an outdoor
independence day ceremony. The ceremony was held at the place where a monument
to America's first president, George Washington, was being built.
was very hot, and Taylor stood for a long time in the burning sun. That night,
he became sick with pains in his stomach. Doctors were called to the White
House. But none of their treatments worked.
later, President Taylor died. Vice President Millard Fillmore was sworn-in as
was from New York state. His family was poor. His early education came not from
school teachers, but from whatever books he could find. Later, Fillmore was
able to study law. He became a successful lawyer. He also served in the United
States Congress for eight years.
Party chose him as its vice presidential candidate in the election of eighteen
forty-eight. He served as vice president for about a year and a half before the
death of President Taylor.
had disagreed with Taylor over the congressional compromise on slavery and the
western territories. Unlike Taylor, Fillmore truly believed that the nation was
facing a crisis. And he truly believed the compromise would help save the Union.
president, Fillmore offered his complete support to the bill. Its chances of
passing looked better than ever. Fillmore asked the old cabinet to resign. He
named his own cabinet members. All were strong supporters of the union. All
supported the compromise.
debated the compromise throughout the summer of eighteen fifty. There were
several proposals in the bill. Supporters decided not to vote on the proposals
as one piece of legislation. They saw a better chance of success by trying to
pass each proposal separately. Their idea worked.
By the end
of September, both the Senate and House of Representatives had approved all
parts of the eighteen fifty compromise.
Fillmore signed them into law. One part of the compromise permitted California
to enter the Union as a free state. One established territorial governments in
New Mexico and Utah. One settled the dispute between Texas and New Mexico.
Another ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
celebrations took place when citizens heard that President Fillmore had signed
the eighteen fifty compromise. Many people believed the problem of slavery had
been solved. They believed the Union had been saved.
however, believed the problem had only been postponed. They hoped the delay
would give reasonable men of the North and South time to find a permanent
answer to the issue of slavery. Time was running out.
true that the eighteen fifty compromise had ended a national crisis. But both
northern and southern extremists remained bitter. Those opposed to slavery
believed the compromise law on runaway slaves violated the constitution.
law said negroes accused of being runaway slaves could not have a jury trial.
It said government officials could send negroes to whoever claimed to own them.
It said negroes could not appeal such a decision.
supported slavery had a different idea of the compromise. They did not care
about the constitutional rights of negroes. They considered the compromise a
simple law for the return of valuable property. No law approved by Congress,
and signed by the president, could change these beliefs.
of slavery was linked to the issue of secession. Did states have the right to
leave the Union? If southern states rejected all compromises on slavery, did
they have the right to secede? The signing of the eighteen fifty compromise
cooled the debate for a time. But disagreement on the issues was deep. It would
continue to build over the next ten years. Those were difficult years for
we will tell how the situation affected the administration of President Millard
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Leo Scully
and Larry West. Transcripts, MP3s and
podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an
American history series in VOA Special English.
program #79 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION