BECK index

US of Taylor, Clay & Fillmore 1849-52

by Sanderson Beck

Whigs and Taylor in 1849
Whigs and Taylor in 1850
Fillmore & Clay’s Compromise of 1850
United States Elections & Census of 1850
Fillmore Maintains the Union 1851-53

Whigs and Taylor in 1849

      Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War who was called “Old Rough and Ready,” was inaugurated as President on Monday March 5 and gave a short address that was probably heard by few of the 20,000 people who cheered him anyway. He and Fillmore attended the three inaugural balls. About 4,500 people paid $10 to get into the main one in the new large ballroom near City Hall.
      Although in 1848 Taylor had expressed that he would not be the slave of any party, he later said that his cabinet officers would all be Whigs, a promise he kept. Secretary of State John Clayton was a Senator and former chief justice from Delaware and was overworked because Taylor also relied on him for patronage and California issues. Pennsylvanian William Meredith at Treasury favored a protective tariff. The first Interior Secretary Thomas Ewing of Ohio supervised patents, pensions, public land, and Indians. The cabinet was completed by Secretary of War George Crawford, who had been Attorney General and Governor of Georgia, Navy Secretary Ballard Preston of Virginia, Postmaster General Jacob Collamer of Vermont, and Attorney General Reverdy Johnson, a Maryland Senator. Although Taylor owned 145 slaves in Louisiana, every member of the cabinet except Crawford was opposed to extending slavery.
      Taylor’s cabinet was criticized for not having Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Crittenden who had just been elected governor of Kentucky, and Abbot Lawrence of Massachusetts. Taylor did not choose Clay and Webster because they had offered him little support in the campaign, and his campaign manager Crittenden and Lawrence declined. Lawrence became minister to Britain in October for three years. Taylor allowed the cabinet to vote on issues, giving himself one vote and yielding to a majority against him.
      Henry Clay had been re-elected to the US Senate. The new Senator William Seward of New York would become a close advisor of President Taylor and controlled patronage in New York. In 1849 the Whigs removed 3,400 government employees, and 2,800 resigned. Seward was strongly antislavery, and Taylor lost the support of southern Whigs. Democrats criticized the Whigs for removing 540 of the 929 federal officials appointed by the President. The attorney Salmon Chase of Ohio had helped found the Liberty Party in 1841 and the Free-Soil Party in 1848, and that year he was elected a US Senator.
      The production of cotton in the US reached a new high of 2.7 million bales in 1848-49, and British agents made reports which caused the price to sink so low that planters could not cover their expenses.
      President Polk had sent Elijah Hise to investigate the British and Mosquito Indians in Central America, and on March 16 President Taylor and Secretary of State Clayton got a letter from Hise about a possible British canal. They sent George Squier to replace Hise a month later. Before Squier arrived, Hise signed a treaty promising US protection of Nicaragua against the British in exchange for access to the projected canal. Squier reported that Nicaragua had given the Atlantic and Pacific Company a 97-year contract for a neutral canal. British sailors took over Tigre Island at the Pacific end, giving Britain control of both ends.
      On May 8 partisans of the American actor Edwin Forrest booed the English actor William Macready off the stage of the New York Astor Place Opera House. Authors Herman Melville and Washington Irving protested this and promised public support for Macready. Two days later a riot with more than 10,000 people including Irish gangs left 25 dead, and 141 militia, 60 police, and 48 rioters were injured.
      During summer an attempt in New Orleans to organize a filibustering expedition to Cuba was stopped by President Taylor. In July he proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer because of a cholera epidemic. He left Washington on August 9 and traveled to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Erie making speeches that Democrats ridiculed in the press. In Pennsylvania he became quite sick for two weeks, and it took him a month to recover. He went to New York where he was guided by Seward and Thurlow Weed. He visited New England and returned to Washington on October 9.
      On June 3 California’s military governor Bennet Riley summoned a constitutional convention to meet at Monterey on September 1. They agreed on a constitution prohibiting slavery including a Declaration of Rights with 21 articles by October 12, and on November 13 Californians ratified it by a vote of 12,061 to 811. Riley turned over authority to a provisional government on December 20 led by the first elected civilian governor Peter Hardeman Burnett.
      On August 25 Henry Kinney wrote President Taylor that over 200 people had been killed in Texas, and $40,000 was stolen; but later they learned that only 39 people had been killed, wounded, or captured near Corpus Christi, and General George Brooke denied there were Indian attacks. Col. John Washington led 320 troops against the Navajos in the Laredo area, and Chief Narbona signed a binding treaty that not all Navahos accepted. Washington demanded the Navahos surrender property allegedly stolen, but they refused. His men attacked the Navahos, and a sharpshooter killed Narbona on August 30.
      On September 28 Squier signed a treaty with Honduras which loaned the United States the island of Tigre for a naval base temporarily.
      People in Santa Fé had met on August 12 and called for a convention on September 24 which lasted three days and approved a territorial constitution. They petitioned the Congress to be a territory and elected a governor and a delegate to Congress. President Taylor sent Col. John Washington who arrived in Santa Fé as the military governor of the New Mexico Territory on October 10, and two days later Taylor made the Rio Grande the border between that territory and Texas.
      Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina suggested that Mississippi summon the slave states to a convention, and in October they announced it would start in Nashville, Tennessee on the first Monday in June 1850. However, Senators Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and Sam Houston of Texas opposed disunion schemes.
      In July a rumor spread that Seminoles were killing whites in Florida, and Major General David Twiggs reported that Seminoles had purchased 120 rifles since 1842. Having fought the Seminoles there, Taylor sent additional troops but declined to call out the Florida militia. An investigation showed that five young Seminoles had killed one white on July 12, but then the leader, who was an outlaw, committed two more murders. Captain John Casey believed that the Seminole nation wanted peace, and Chief Billy Bowlegs turned over three of the Seminoles to General Twiggs.
      Sisters Margaretta and Kate Fox introduced Spiritualism based on psychic life after death by holding a public séance in Rochester, New York on November 14. On that day the longest suspension bridge so far was completed over the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia.
      When the US Congress met in December, the House had 112 Democrats, 105 Whigs, and 9 Free Soilers while the Senate had 33 Democrats to 25 Whigs and 2 Free Soilers. For the first time the President’s party did not control either house. On December 4 Taylor’s message to Congress urged the admission of California as a state but offered no action plan. For three weeks the House voted for Speaker, but no one could get a majority. Finally they agreed to elect the one with the most votes, and on the 63rd ballot four northern Democrats helped elect 102-99 the Democrat Howell Cobb of Georgia over Whig Robert Winthrop of Massachusetts. Cobb was one of four southern Democrats who had refused to sign Calhoun’s “Southern Address” in January 1849. Then southern Democrats voted to elect the southern Whig Thomas Campbell as House Clerk, angering northerners. Every northern legislature except Iowa recognized the power of Congress to exclude slavery in the territories.
      On December 4 the attorney Charles Sumner argued the case of black child Sarah Roberts to the Massachusetts Supreme Court that she should not have been turned away from a white school in Boston because the Massachusetts constitution and laws entitle all children the right to attend common schools. Segregation of Negroes originated in the North. Sumner was one of the organizers of the Free Soil Party. In 1850 he was chairman of the Peace Congress Committee of the United States, and he urged an American delegation to attend the Second General Peace Congress in Paris. European nations were planning to consider forming a Congress of Nations to revise international law, establish a world court to resolve conflicts and prevent war by arbitration. Benjamin Franklin had advised this, and Sumner quoted him as saying, “War multiplies instead of indemnifying, losses.” Sumner said,
The barbarous and incongruous War System,
which now encases our Christian civilization
as with a cumbrous coat of mail, will be destroyed….
Wise and good men will secure to themselves
the inexpressible satisfaction of aiding the advent of that
happy day when Peace shall be organized among nations.1

      Canada in 1849 suffered an economic crisis, and some believers in manifest destiny wanted the United States to annex the northern neighbor. They organized filibustering expeditions, but President Taylor enforced US neutrality laws and was prepared to send a military force led by General Winfield Scott to prevent an invasion of Canada.
      Greeley’s New-York Tribune increased its daily circulation to 13,400 which was much more than any southern newspaper. They were the dominant Whig paper and also distributed nearly 35,000 weekly and semi-weekly editions throughout the North and West. At this time 95% of English-language newspapers and periodicals in the United States declared their party affiliation. The price of most newspapers decreased from six cents in 1830 to two cents by 1850. Telegraph lines transmitted news in record time, and railways shipped newspapers rapidly.
       Also in 1849 Edward Kellogg published Labor and Other Capital: The Rights of Each Secured and the Wrongs of Both Eradicated. Or, an Exposition of the Cause Why Few Are Wealthy and Many Poor, and the Delineation of a System, Which, Without Infringing the Rights of Property, Will Give to Labor Its Just Reward. In that book he suggested,

A good government must have some system
by which it can secure the distribution of property
according to the earnings of labor, and at the same time
strictly preserve the rights of property:
and no government, whether republican or not,
that fails in these particulars, can ensure the freedom
and happiness of the people and become permanent.2

Whigs and Taylor in 1850

      On 17 January 1850 Senator James Murray Mason’s Fugitive Slave Bill came out of committee for debate. Seward proposed an amendment to give fugitives the rights to a jury trial and writs of habeas corpus. Calhoun opposed Congressional intervention and persuaded southerners not to extend the Missouri Compromise line. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois had submitted the Mormon’s Deseret statehood memorial on December 27, and this stimulated requests for the President to report on the governors of California and New Mexico. Taylor presented the documents with a special message explaining his plan on January 21, and this promoted editorial independence. On that stormy night the ill Henry Clay visited for one hour with Daniel Webster who said he would support his compromise for the nation.
      On January 29 Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a bill with the following eight resolutions:

1) admit California as a free state,
2) allow territorial governments to organize slavery with restrictions,
3) draw the western border of Texas to exclude New Mexico,
4) let the US assume the public debt of Texas,
5) prohibit bringing slaves into the District of Columbia for sale elsewhere,
6) no abolition of slavery in DC without its consent or Maryland’s or without owner compensation,
7) pass a more effective Fugitive Slave Act, and
8) have Congress declare it has no power to interfere in the interstate slave trade.

This comprehensive bill would stimulate long speeches by Clay and others. Richmond Enquirer’s editor Ritchie and Whig newspapers supported the compromise, but the Taylor administration did not. The Georgia legislature threatened secession. Clay made a long speech defending his compromise on February 5 and 6.
      On February 13 President Taylor submitted California’s constitution to Congress, provoking angry debate in the House. That day Jefferson Davis spoke defending slavery and criticizing northerners for trying to dominate the Union. The next day Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi suggested a committee of thirteen to discuss slavery proposals. In the House debate on the 15th the abolitionist Horace Mann argued eloquently against the extension of slavery into the territories. On the 19th a group of Whigs and Democrats proposed admitting California while limiting slaveholding in territories, but on the 22nd President Taylor urged statesmen to follow Washington’s farewell advice and “preserve the Union at all hazards.”
      On February 17 some Texans from San Antonio rode into El Paso and told the people that they were now citizens of Texas.
      On February 20 in his first House speech Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania said,

How often have these walls been profaned
and the North insulted by the insolent threat,
that if Congress legislate against southern will,
it should be disregarded, resisted to extremity,
and the Union dissolved….
You have too often intimated Congress.
You have more than once frightened
the tame North from its propriety,
and found “doughfaces” enough to be your tools.3

      On March 4 the elderly Senator Calhoun appeared and had his friend Mason read aloud his 90-minute speech. He doubted whether Clay’s plan or the Administration could save the Union. He asked the North to give slave states equal rights in the new territory and to stop agitating over slavery. Most considered his proposals too extreme. Three days later Senator Webster patriotically supported the Union in his last major speech urging the compromise, beginning,

I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man,
nor as a Northern man, but as an American,
and a member of the Senate of the United States….
I speak today for the preservation of the Union.
“Hear me for my cause.”4

Webster believed that peaceable secession was impossible.
      Both northern anti-slavery men led by Seward and southerners led by Jefferson Davis criticized Webster‘s speech. On March 11 Seward suggested that there is a higher law than the Constitution in the laws of God for freedom and equality. Stephen Douglas criticized Webster but agreed that California was “free by law and by fact,” and he praised Clay for his “kindness, moderation, and firmness.”
      Senator Douglas became chairmen of the committee on territories, and in his speech on March 13 and 14 he said,

The territories belong to the United States
as one people, one nation,
and are to be disposed of for the common benefit of all,
according to the principles of the Constitution.
Each State, as a member of the Confederacy,
has a right to a voice in forming the rules and regulations
for the government of the territory;
but the different sections—
North, South, East, and West—have no such right.
It is no violation of southern rights to prohibit slavery,
nor of northern rights
to leave the people to decide the question for themselves.5

Douglas argued that the territories from the Mexican cession were already free of slavery because of the prior Mexican law. He also claimed that slaves as property did not exist in the territories because they and states have the right to determine what is property. He suggested that climate has an influence. Southerners on the Douglas Committee on Territories reported out a bill on March 25 favoring slavery in California while leaving the territories open. Calhoun suffered from tuberculosis and died on March 31. His Disquisition on Government published in 1851 explained his theory of the “concurrent majority” that could protect the rights of those with a minority opinion.
      On April 17 Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi was giving a speech criticizing Senator Benton who approached him. Foote pulled a pistol and pointed it at Benton, who shouted that he had no pistol but challenged him to fire. They were quickly separated, and Daniel Dickinson took the pistol and locked it in his desk. The next day the Senate approved the select committee of thirteen with three Whigs and three Democrats each from the North and South whom Clay as chairman had selected.
      On May 2 the US Treasury settled a long-standing Galphin claim to compensation for much land taken by a Georgia colony by paying $192,353 in interest. This caused a scandal because their lawyer, Secretary of War Crawford, received $94,176.
      On May 8 Clay presented the committee’s Omnibus Bill of seven proposals which included establishing territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah without stipulating about slavery. The great debate on the compromise began on May 13 and would last several months. On May 21 Clay criticized the Taylor administration for ignoring four of the five main issues while being interested only in California.
      On March 4 a mob in Milwaukee had destroyed the residence of Wisconsin state senator John B. Smith because he voted for a tax on beer and whiskey.
      Both Britain and the US were interested in a canal across Central America. Secretary of State Clayton suggested that both nations renounce any claim to Nicaragua and agree to share the canal. In Washington on February 3 the British minister Henry Bulwer and Clayton accepted a proposal for Taylor and British Foreign Minister Palmerston to consider. Taylor and the cabinet objected to the British protectorate on the Mosquito coast and asked the Senate to approve Squier’s treaty on March 19, but Palmerston opposed the treaty. Clayton explained to Palmerston that the US would not allow Britain to occupy, fortify, or colonize Nicaragua or any part of Central America. Palmerston then agreed not to use the protectorate to violate any terms of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty which was signed on April 19 in Washington and neutralized any canal or railroad across an isthmus in Central America. On May 22 the US Senate ratified it 42-11.
      Filibusters also tried to take over Cuba, but President Taylor called those efforts criminal for endangering the peace and honor of the nation. He sent Commodore Parker with ships to New Orleans to stop the Round Island expedition, but later another effort led by General Narciso López reached Cuba on 18 May 1850. Taylor sent five navy ships; but the steamer Creole landed 500 troops led by López on the Cuban coast, and they captured the town of Cárdenas and burned the Governor’s palace. Then they fled from Spanish forces to their ship. The US Government seized the Creole and arrested López, but because of debatable laws juries would not convict the leaders.
      Major McCall was sent to Santa Fé to encourage New Mexico statehood, and in May a convention approved an anti-slavery constitution which was ratified by the people 8,381 to 39.
      Delegates from nine slave states attended the conference that began at Nashville on June 3, and they met for ten days. The southerners agreed on only one concession that would extend the Missouri Compromise line west to the Pacific Ocean. On July 1 a group of southern Whigs visited the White House to warn Taylor that admitting California and New Mexico and his view on the Texas border would push them into opposition. He replied that he would order the army to defend the New Mexico border if Texas tried to change it. Alexander Stephens of Georgia wrote a letter that was printed in the National Intelligencer on July 4 warning that the South would support Texas against the federal government over New Mexico. Taylor had antagonized southerners in his opposing slavery in the territories and disunion and by not following manifest destiny or the Monroe Doctrine but accepting a protectionist tariff.
       After a sleepless night because he had decided to replace most of his cabinet, President Zachary Taylor attended an Independence Day celebration in Washington and may have been in the sun for two hours listening to speeches. Then he went back to the White House and drank much ice milk and ate raw vegetables and cherries. People in Washington had been warned to avoid these because of an Asiatic cholera epidemic. He developed an intestinal disease diagnosed as cholera, and the symptoms were similar to his dysentery in Erie and Mexico. He was given opium and the mercury compound calomel. He died on July 9, and Congress immediately adjourned. More than a 100,000 people lined the streets to witness the funeral procession.

Fillmore & Clay’s Compromise of 1850

      On 10 July 1850 Vice President Millard Fillmore took the oath of office as President of the United States but did not make a speech. Fillmore was from a poor family in New York, but he became a lawyer and a politician. In the state assembly in 1831 he worked to end imprisonment for debt and court witnesses having to take a religious oath. In the mid-1830s he helped organize the Whig Party, and he was in the US House of Representatives for eight years and was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee 1841-43, helping to pass the 1842 tariff. In 1844 he was the Whig candidate for Governor of New York but narrowly lost to Silas Wright. Fillmore criticized Polk’s policies and opposed the Mexican War. In 1847 he was elected Comptroller of New York State. In the 1848 campaign he tried to explain to New York Whigs that Taylor would not extend slavery, and he persuaded Taylor to write a letter confirming this policy. Fillmore had told Taylor that if the vote in the Senate was a tie, he would pass the compromise bill. For six months Vice President Fillmore had been presiding over the Senate listening to the debates, and he understood the issues.
      Senator Mason’s Fugitive Slave Bill would punish a northerner, who refused to serve in a posse hunting for a fugitive slave. The law included a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail, and one could be made to pay $1,000 for each slave lost. The commissioner would be paid $10 for a black extradited to the South or $5 if he let the fugitive go. On August 20 Maryland Senator Thomas Pratt proposed an amendment to the Fugitive Slave Bill obligating the federal government to enforce that law; but many deep South senators opposed it because it would have authorized the US Treasury to compensate slave owners for the manumission of fugitive slaves.
      Daniel Webster agreed to be Secretary of State after his friends raised $20,000 to compensate him for the financial sacrifice he would be making because the salary was only $6,000. Fillmore chose Clay’s friend Crittenden to be Attorney General. He appointed his law partner Nathan Hall to be Postmaster General and Tom Corwin of Ohio for the Treasury. The South was represented by War Secretary Charles Conrad of Louisiana, Navy Secretary William Graham of North Carolina, and Interior Secretary Alexander Stuart of Virginia. They were all Whigs.
      On July 15 Texas Senator Thomas Rusk accused the federal government of threatening Texas on behalf of a New Mexico territorial government he considered illegal. Senator Benton tried to limit the size of Texas, but his amendment was defeated. Clay allowed Georgia’s Senator William Dawson to propose an amendment that would give Texans a say over their western border.
      On July 17 Webster gave his last speech in the Senate arguing for the Omnibus Bill or for passing each part of the compromise. Five days later in his last great oration Clay spoke eloquently for the compromise and warned against civil war over the border between Texas and New Mexico. He believed most Americans favored the compromise, and he criticized southern disunionists and northern abolitionists. Senator Robert W. Barnwell replaced Calhoun and called out that Clay was “disrespectful” of his secessionist friend Robert Barnwell Rhett. Clay replied,

If he pronounced the sentiment attributed to him
of raising the standard of disunion and of resistance
to the common government, whatever he has been,
if he follows up that declaration
by a corresponding overt act, he will be a traitor,
and I hope he will meet the fate of a traitor.6

      Seward offered an amendment to admit New Mexico as a free-soil state, but not one US Senator voted for it with him. Senator Douglas argued for popular sovereignty in each territory and state regarding slavery, and he persuaded Clay to support that. Senator James Pearce of Maryland offered two amendments that would remove the Dawson proviso from the New Mexico portion of the Omnibus. Then amendments to the Omnibus removed every section of the Omnibus Bill by July 31 except the one on the Utah Territory which passed the next day.
      On August 6 President Fillmore sent his message to the US Congress declaring that New Mexico was federal territory and that Texas had no authority beyond its borders. Acting Secretary of War General Winfield Scott prepared the military for a confrontation against Texans in New Mexico. Clay telegraphed support for the President. While Clay was away, Senator Douglas began organizing separate votes on each part of the compromise legislation. He and James Pearce of Maryland offered a boundary bill that added 33,333 square miles to Texas with $10 million to help pay off its debt, and Texas gave up its claim to New Mexico; the Senate passed it 30-20 on August 9. The Senate approved 34-18 the admission of California on the 13th and two days later the New Mexico Territory bill 27-10. Free Soilers led by Senator Salmon Chase of Ohio opposed that, and even Douglas noted that the new territory would have 223,000 square miles. Senator William Dayton of New Jersey proposed an amendment to the Fugitive Slave bill guaranteeing a jury trial to alleged fugitives; but it failed 27-11, and they passed the Fugitive Slave act on August 23.
      After some early opposition by extremists on both sides the US House of Representatives approved 107-99 the New Mexico-Texas boundary bill on September 6 and the next day approved 150-56 California which became a state on the 9th. Three days later the House approved the Fugitive Slave bill 109-75. The Senate finally backed 33-19 abolishing the slave market in the District of Columbia on September 16, and the next day the House passed it 124-59. President Fillmore signed each of the compromise bills between September 6 and 20. The efforts of senators Clay, Webster, and Douglas and the support of President Fillmore had helped bring about the Great Compromise of 1850. In the next 15 months 84 fugitive slaves were returned to their owners while only five were declared free. In the 1850s only 7 were freed while 332 were returned.
      Douglas had introduced the first federal land grant enacted for a railroad for the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago to Mobile on January 3; the Senate passed it on May 2, and it became law on September 20. On the 28th the Congress banned flogging in the Navy and the Merchant Marine. On the 23rd Fillmore wrote a letter asking the Congress to approve funds for a White House library, and by December they had 270 books and 258 periodicals. Dorothea Dix came to Washington asking for a bill for an asylum for the poor insane, and she and Fillmore often corresponded. A thousand people gathered in Worcester, Massachusetts on October 23 and organized committees to work for women’s rights. On the same day Douglas called a meeting in Chicago and spoke to 4,000 people for two hours defending the Compromise, arguing that it had not changed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.
      In October a crowd in Pennsylvania rescued a fugitive slave, and two judges asked President Fillmore to send federal troops. Webster had indicated that Fillmore would oppose nullification in the North as well as in the South, and Fillmore acted to enforce the law. On the other side Jefferson Davis of Mississippi approved of state nullification, and to be consistent he even accepted it by northern states on fugitive-slave laws. Also in October the slave-owner Robert Collins of Macon, Georgia sent two slave catchers to Boston to capture the couple William and Ellen Craft, but the abolitionists Theodore Parker and Wendell Phillips concealed them and organized a meeting that arrested the southern agents for defamation. Fillmore said he would use troops, but the Crafts were put on a ship and went to England. In the last three months of 1850 about 3,000 blacks fled to Canada. Harriet Tubman had a home base in St. Catherines, Ontario, and in the 1850s the black population of Ontario doubled to 11,000. In Syracuse a third of the 600 blacks fled to Canada, and 242 emigrated from two black Baptist churches in Rochester and Buffalo.

United States Elections & Census of 1850

      Georgia Governor George Towns called an election on November 25 for a convention that met at Milledgeville on December 10. In the fall Congressmen Alexander Stevens, Robert Toombs, and Howell Cobb traveled the state giving speeches defending the Compromise, and secessionists got only a third of the delegates who approved the Georgia Platform that accepted the resolutions in the Great Compromise “as a permanent adjustment of the sectional controversy.” They also passed a resolution warning the US Congress against breaching the compact in regard to slavery.
      Texas Governor Peter Bell ordered a state plebiscite, and only big slave counties rejected the Compromise and wanted war. Bell then restrained the Rangers’ use of weapons in October, and on November 11 he told the legislature that the popular sentiment was for a peaceful resolution. Two weeks later the Texas legislature voted to accept the $10 million and the western border imposed by the US Congress.
      Mississippi Governor John Quitman wanted to secede; but the federal government charged him with complicity in the López effort to take over Cuba, and he resigned and then tried to run for re-election against Henry Foote. Quitman hit Foote in the face in July 1851, and Foote’s followers won 57% of the delegates to a state convention. Jefferson Davis then ran against Foote who was elected governor.
      Plans to take over federal forts in Charleston from South Carolina led the US Attorney and other federal officers to resign. President Fillmore had difficulty filling those positions, though James Petigru agreed to be US Attorney. General Winfield Scott became Chief of Staff and prepared the military to handle an insurrection by strengthening fortifications in Charleston. A second convention had met at Nashville on November 12; but moderates prevailed, and the Compromise was generally accepted.
      In the elections held between 5 August 1850 and 4 November 1851 for the House of Representatives the Whigs lost 22 seats, and the Free Soil Party lost 5. The Democrats gained 17 seats, and in the South the Unionists gained 10 and the States’ Rights Party 3. The Whigs lost three of the five elections for governors.
      Democratic Senators Benton of Missouri and Frémont of California both lost their seats. Frémont was antislavery and had become a millionaire from gold discovered on his Las Mariposas property. President Taylor had chosen him to be a commissioner for the survey on the new US-Mexico border, and Frémont accepted but changed his mind.
      Unitarian minister Theodore Parker on Thanksgiving Day spoke on “The State of the Nation,” and said,

This democratic idea is founded in human nature
and comes from the nature of God
who made human nature.
To carry it out politically is to execute justice,
which is the will of God.
This idea, in its realization, leads to a democracy,
a government of all, for all, by all.
Such a government aims to give every man
all his natural rights;
it desires to have political power in all hands,
property in all hands, wisdom in all heads,
goodness in all hearts, religion in all souls.
I mean the religion that makes a man self-respectful,
earnest, and faithful to the infinite God,
that disposes him to give all men their rights,
and to claim his own right at all times;
the religion which is piety within you
and goodness in the manifestation.7

      In his first annual message to the US Congress on December 2 President Fillmore expressed his readiness to defend the Union. Yet he was confident that an overwhelming majority would support what he called “a final settlement.” He wrote that the US would maintain neutrality during foreign wars and cultivate friendly relations with nations.
We make no wars to promote
or to prevent successions to thrones,
to maintain any theory of a balance of power,
or to suppress the actual government
which any country chooses to establish for itself….
We should act toward other nations
as we wish them to act toward us,
and justice and conscience should form
the rule of conduct between governments,
instead of mere power, self interest,
or the desire of aggrandizement.8

He favored the construction of a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in Central America and a railroad across Mexico. He advised modifying the tariff to make duties more uniform and to encourage domestic production. He would establish a mint in California. He reduced postage on a letter from five cents to three for a half ounce over 3,000 miles, and that rate was not increased until 1958. He noted that since the last annual report the public debt had been reduced by $495,277. He observed that three-fourths of the population was engaged in agriculture. He promised to improve communication with the unprecedented increase in territories. He estimated that 124,000 Indians were now within their boundaries.
      The American Colonization Society had helped 129 Negroes emigrate to Liberia in 1848, 422 in 1849, and 670 in 1850, but most free blacks opposed African colonization. Henry Clay supported it, and the US Congress provided funds for the relief of the society. In 1850 at two New York conventions the Whigs and the Silver Greys nominated Washington Hunt for governor, and he was elected in November; but two years later he would be defeated by the Democrat Horatio Seymour. The Quaker and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier published his poetic Songs of Labor.
      The 1850 census counted 23,191,876 people in the United States including 3,204,313 slaves. Ohio had become the third most populated state with nearly two million people. The percentage of those living in cities increased from 10% in 1840 to 20%. Many immigrants came from Europe with trans-Atlantic fares as low as $10. Immigration in the previous decade included 780,719 Irish and 434,626 Germans. In the years 1851-60 the German immigrants would increase to 951,667, and the Irish went up to 914,119. The Jewish community in the United States would go from 50,000 in 1850 to 160,000 in 1860.
      They estimated that about 1,000 slaves ran away in 1850, mostly from border states and not all got to free states. In the fifteen southern and border slave states the number of colored people was half as many as the whites. The ten states with the most free Negroes were Maryland with 74,723, Virginia 54,333, Pennsylvania 53,626, New York 49,069, North Carolina 27,463, Ohio 25,279, New Jersey 23,610, Delaware 18,183, Louisiana 17,462, and Indiana 11,262. The census also found that in the border states only one slave per 2,527 in bondage escaped that year. By 1850 telegraph lines connected New York to Chicago and Milwaukee as well as between Washington and New Orleans. By 1850 the number of native American “Indians” in the United States and Canada had been reduced in two centuries from about one million to half that. In 1850 the United States was the only nation in which as many girls as boys could get an elementary education and learn to read. The slave states had only 14% of the canal miles and 26% of the railway lines. The 15 slave states had 42% of US population but only 18% of manufacturing.
      The 1850 US census estimated there were 212,000 Texans, and Galveston was the largest city with 4,100 people. Texas cotton was prized by Europeans, and in 1854 some 84,000 of the 110,000 bales were shipped from Galveston. In the Compromise of 1850 Texas gave up land to the New Mexico Territory but retained El Paso and got its $10 million debt paid. Col. Peter Hansborough Bell was elected the third governor of Texas and was re-elected in 1851 as the only southerner running.
      In 1850-51 Phineas T. Barnum organized 130 concerts in 24 cities for the Swedish singer Jenny Linn, paying her $1,000 per concert.

Fillmore Maintains the Union 1851-53

      President Millard Fillmore and Secretary of State Daniel Webster took a more moderate approach to the money the US believed that Portugal owed for damage to US ships during the War of 1812, and Webster and the Portuguese minister signed an agreement on 26 February 1851.
      On February 15 abolitionists had taken the accused fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins from a federal marshal in Boston and transported him to Canada. Three days later President Fillmore condemned that violation and urged citizens to support the law, and he ordered the military to aid local authorities in suppressing mob violence. The city of Syracuse to protect runaway blacks passed resolutions against the Fugitive Slave law. Jerry McHenry had escaped from Missouri and worked as a cooper in Syracuse. On October 1 he was arrested. Some thirty men stormed the courtroom to help him escape; but before he could leave the city, he was detained again. The black preacher Samuel Ward urged a crowd of 2,000 to act. A mob broke into the jail, and police released Jerry who went to Kingston, Ontario. Fifteen people were indicted, but none were punished. The Onondaga Grand Jury indicted the agent and the arresting deputy marshal, but they were acquitted. In September in Christiana, Pennsylvania two participants in a posse had been killed while trying to arrest a fugitive slave; but the violence against the hated law seemed to end in 1851 as verbal arguments continued in the press.
      Massachusetts elected as Governor the anti-slavery Democrat George Boutwell, and the legislature elected the radical Free-Soil lawyer Charles Sumner to the US Senate in April 1851. In February free blacks had rescued a fugitive slave who was being questioned in court by the Boston commissioner. Several conventions in the north accepted the Compromise that preserved the Union, though many radicals opposed the Fugitive Slave law. Most in the South also accepted the Compromise bills, but many warned against any violations of them concerning slavery. Shortly before the 1851 elections Edward Gorsuch and his son went from Maryland to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to get back a slave, but about fifty armed free blacks protected the fugitive. Gorsuch fired his gun; but he was quickly killed, and his son was seriously wounded. About forty blacks and two Quakers were arrested for treason. After the election Thaddeus Stevens and three other lawyers helped get them acquitted. The antislavery candidate for governor had been expected to win, but he lost.
      President Fillmore supported internal improvements. He attended the completion of the Erie Railroad to Dunkirk, New York on May 19, and in November he appeared at Newport, Rhode Island to celebrate the railroads that connected the Great Lakes and Canada with Massachusetts and the Atlantic Ocean. On June 2 Maine became the first dry state by prohibiting alcohol except for medicinal, mechanical, or manufacturing purposes. In the next four years twelve states in the northeast and Midwest would pass laws prohibiting alcohol, but they were rarely enforced. Ten of those states repealed those laws by 1861.
      On August 3 Narciso López led a force of 400 men from New Orleans and landed at Playtas, Cuba eight days later. Spanish troops defeated them. The Spanish coast guard captured 50 men led by Col. W. L. Crittenden, and after a trial they were executed by firing squad on the 16th. López and others were captured, and he was strangled to death on September 1. About 160 men were taken to Spain to be punished by working in the mines. In New Orleans a mob ransacked the office of the Spanish consul who fled to Havana. Secretary of State Webster apologized to Spain for this disgraceful conduct, and he promised better behavior toward the next consul. In response Spain released the 160 American prisoners. The US Congress then approved $25,000 to compensate the victims.
      On August 22 the New York Yacht Club’s America surprised the British by winning the first competition of the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta, and they renamed the trophy the “America Cup.”
      The Free Soilers held a convention of the Friends of Freedom in September at Cleveland. Salmon Chase urged them to restrict slavery in the slave states, prevent its ingress into territories, repeal the Fugitive Slave Law, and put the general government on the side of freedom so that emancipation would spring up in the southern states.
      The Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury died in September, and Fillmore appointed Benjamin Curtis who would dissent on the Dred Scott decision in 1857 and resign. In the summer of 1851 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe began being serialized in the National Era.
      At Traverse des Sioux in Iowa the Medwakanton and Wahpekute bands of the Lower Sioux nation on July 23 ceded all their land in Iowa and most of it in Minnesota to the US Government which promised to pay an annuity equivalent to 7.5 cents an acre so that it could sell the land to settlers for $1.25 per acre.
      Virginia had begun another constitutional convention on 14 October 1850, and it continued until 1 August 1851. Their compromise balanced the western and eastern representation in government. They also abolished the appointed Governor’s Council and let the people elect the Governor and added a popularly elected Lieutenant Governor. They removed property requirements for voting, and they allowed the people to elect judges. In October the voters approved the new constitution with 75,748 for and 11,060 against.
      On October 22 Fillmore proclaimed that the US Government would act to prevent any raids against Mexico.
      The “Great Compromiser” Henry Clay resigned his Senate seat on December 17, and he died on 29 June 1852. Clay had been instrumental in passing the compromise legislation on the Missouri statehood issue in 1821 and the Great Compromise of 1850. Some believe that if he had been elected President in 1844, the Mexican War and perhaps even the US Civil War might have been prevented.
      Fillmore in his message to Congress on December 2 described in detail the Cuban excursion. Then he wrote,

No individuals have a right
to hazard the peace of the country
or to violate its laws upon vague notions
of altering or reforming governments in other states….
“Friendly relations with all,
but entangling alliances with none,”
has long been a maxim with us.
Our true mission is not to propagate our opinions
or impose upon other countries
our form of government by artifice or force,
but to teach by example and show by our success,
moderation, and justice the blessings of self-government
and the advantages of free institutions.
Let every people choose for itself
and make and alter its political institutions
to suit its own condition and convenience.9

He noted that Britain and France had warned they would stop any attempt to invade Cuba. Thus he opposed the acquisition of Cuba that many wanted. He promised to protect the Hawaiian islands ruled by King Kamehameha III to prevent any other nation from controlling them. He also reported that the previous year’s revenues exceeded expenditures by $4,307,101, and in his last fiscal year the surplus would be $8,907,701.
      Fillmore decided in December he did not want to run for re-election, but he was persuaded not to announce that yet. Henry Clay was dying, and in March he urged his Whig Party to nominate Fillmore. The Whig convention began at Baltimore on June 16. On the first ballot Fillmore got 133 votes, Winfield Scott 131, and Webster 29. Although he was in very poor health, Webster refused to give up and help Fillmore win the nomination. After 46 ballots Fillmore said that if Webster got 40 votes or more, he would support him; but after two Fillmore votes switched to Scott, those wanting Webster also voted for Scott on the 53rd ballot nominating him.
      On 3 March 1851 the US Congress had passed a resolution authorizing the President to free the Magyar Louis Kossuth from Austria and bring him and his followers to the United States. Fillmore arranged with Turkey’s Sultan the release of Kossuth on September 1 from Istanbul with his family and 58 refugees. Kossuth reached New York on December 5, and at the White House on 7 January 1852 Webster spoke and toasted “Hungarian independence.” In the debate whether to aid Kossuth and the Hungarian independence movement, Senator Cass on February 10 argued that the people of the United States should not do so by war but that they could offer moral support; but on March 18 Senator James Jones of Tennessee opposed such declarations.
      Economist Henry Carey published The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial. He argued that American capitalism with tariffs and self-sufficiency was better than the British system of free trade.
      Indiana and Iowa prohibited the immigration of free or enslaved Negroes into their states in 1851, and Illinois would do so in 1853.
      Also in 1851 Benjamin F. Perry founded and edited the Southern Patriot. He supported the Union and showed how a secessionist minority controlled the state’s politics. He reported that the 20% of South Carolina’s whites living near the coast controlled 40% of the House and 50% of the Senate while 50% of the whites were in northern mountains but elected only 33% of the House and 25% of the Senate.
      Horace Greeley serialized Karl Marx’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the New-York Tribune. In August the Flying Cloud clipper-ship completed a voyage from New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco in 90 days. Stephen Foster sold Swanee River sheet music for $15, but then he made a contract for 2 cents per copy for other songs. In the fall Herman Melville published his novel Moby Dick: or, The Whale, but it was not popular.

      In January 1852 Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire had said that he considered the Fugitive Slave Act inhumane, but he later clarified that he supported the Great Compromise.
      The abolitionist Congressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio spoke on foreign policy on January 28. He advocated extending the truth of human equality to the entire human family as the law of nations. He believed the United States could lead global efforts to persuade civilized nations to end war and oppression while working for brotherhood, social progress, and peace. Americans should use their moral influence and evangelize the world for equality. He noted that now nations and people are taught to rely on reason, truth, and justice more than on the force of arms. He hoped that they would spread “the spirit of Christian benevolence … in redeeming the world from the crimes and horrors of war.”10
      Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published on March 20, and it sold 3,000 copies on that day and 300,000 in the first year.
      Democrats met in Baltimore on June 1 and approved the rule requiring a two-thirds vote for nomination. For 46 ballots Lewis Cass and James Buchanan alternated taking the lead. Then the Buchanan team decided to let some of their supporters vote for other candidates, and Franklin Pierce became a growing favorite and was nominated on the 49th ballot.
      Frederick Douglass gave his “Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” address to the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York.
      In August the Free Soilers met in Pittsburgh and nominated New Hampshire’s Senator John Hale for President and George Julian for Vice President, and they renamed themselves the Free Democratic Party.
      On August 26 Senator Sumner gave his “Freedom National” speech in which he praised the Society of Friends (Quakers) for opposing the Fugitive Slave Law. He then offered an amendment to repeal that law, but only John Hale, Salmon Chase, and Ben Wade would vote with him.
      Daniel Webster liked to drink and suffered from cirrhosis of the liver from early 1852. He resigned on October 18 and died six days later. Fillmore appointed the outstanding orator Edward Everett of Massachusetts to replace him as Secretary of State, and in November they privately promised Spain that they would not interfere in Cuba.
      In the November election Winfield Scott got 44% of the popular vote but won only Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee for 42 votes in the Electoral College. Pierce, who had also been a general in the Mexican War, carried 27 states and received 51% of the votes and 254 Electors. Free Democrat Hale got only 5% of the votes. In the 1852 Congressional elections the Democrats gained 28 seats in the House. They lost two seats in the Senate but still retained a 33-22 advantage.
      In his message to Congress on December 6 Fillmore explained that the US had wronged Peru when some Americans took guano from the Lobos Islands, and he noted how his government had resolved the conflicts. Commercial treaties were also negotiated with St. Domingo, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Uruguay, and he sent ships to open relations with Japan. He explained why he objected to taking over Cuba by force and why he prevented a revolutionary Cuban group led by a spy from sailing on the Crescent City ship, denouncing efforts by private citizens to attack a friendly country.
      In 1852 young Richard King bought 75,000 acres and sold half later to Captain Mifflin Kenedy who brought 10,000 sheep to south Texas. The United States Agricultural Society was organized in 1852, and Marshall P. Wilder of Massachusetts became its president for six years.

Notes

1. Quoted in, Carl, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume 1 by Carl Sandburg, p. 110.
2. The Reform Spirit in America ed. Robert H. Walker, p. 89.
3. Congressional Globe, 31st. Congress, 1st Session, Appendix I-143 quoted in Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South by Fawn M. Brodie, p. 111.
4. Quoted in Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time by Robert V. Remini, p. 669.
5. Congressional Globe, 31st. Congress, 1st Session, Appendix, 364-375, p. 51.
6. Quoted in Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union by Robert V. Remini, p. 755.
7. The Annals of America, Volume 8, p. 119-120.
8. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume V, p. 78.
9. Ibid., p. 115-117.
10. U.S. Congressional Globe, 32nd. Congress, 1st Session, Appendix, 145 quoted in Joshua A. Giddings and the Tactics of Radical Politics by James Brewer Stewart, p. 207.

Copyright © 2020 by Sanderson Beck

 

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