Henry Clay, U.S. senator from Kentucky, was determined to find a solution. In 1820 he had resolved a fiery debate over the spread of slavery with his Missouri Compromise. Now, thirty years later, the matter surfaced again within the walls of the Capitol. But this time the stakes were higher -- nothing less than keeping the Union together.
There were several points at issue:
� The United States had recently acquired a vast territory -- the result of its war with Mexico. Should the territory allow slavery, or should it be declared free? Or maybe the inhabitants should be allowed to choose for themselves?
� California -- a territory that had grown tremendously with the gold rush of 1849, had recently petitioned Congress to enter the Union as a free state. Should this be allowed? Ever since the Missouri Compromise, the balance between slave states and free states had been maintained; any proposal that threatened this balance would almost certainly not win approval.
� There was a dispute over land: Texas claimed that its territory extended all the way to Santa Fe.
� Finally, there was Washington, D.C. Not only did the nation's capital allow slavery, it was home to the largest slave market in North America.
On January 29, 1850, the 70-year-old Clay presented a compromise. For eight months members of Congress, led by Clay, Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina, debated the compromise. With the help of Stephen Douglas, a young Democrat from Illinois, a series of bills that would make up the compromise were ushered through Congress.
According to the compromise, Texas would relinquish the land in dispute but, in compensation, be given 10 million dollars -- money it would use to pay off its debt to Mexico. Also, the territories of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would be organized without mention of slavery. (The decision would be made by the territories' inhabitants later, when they applied for statehood.) Regarding Washington, the slave trade would be abolished in the District of Columbia, although slavery would still be permitted. Finally, California would be admitted as a free state. To pacify slave-state politicians, who would have objected to the imbalance created by adding another free state, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed.
Of all the bills that made up the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was the most controversial. It required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. It denied a fugitive's right to a jury trial. (Cases would instead be handled by special commisioners -- commisioners who would be paid $5 if an alleged fugitive were released and $10 if he or she were sent away with the claimant.) The act called for changes in filing for a claim, making the process easier for slaveowners. Also, according to the act, there would be more federal officials responsible for enforcing the law.
For slaves attempting to build lives in the North, the new law was disaster. Many left their homes and fled to Canada. During the next ten years, an estimated 20,000 blacks moved to the neighboring country. For Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive living in New York, passage of the law was "the beginning of a reign of terror to the colored population." She stayed put, even after learning that slave catchers were hired to track her down. Anthony Burns, a fugitive living in Boston, was one of many who were captured and returned to slavery. Free blacks, too, were captured and sent to the South. With no legal right to plead their cases, they were completely defenseless.
Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made abolitionists all the more resolved to put an end to slavery. The Underground Railroad became more active, reaching its peak between 1850 and 1860. The act also brought the subject of slavery before the nation. Many who had previously been ambivalent about slavery now took a definitive stance against the institution.
The Compromise of 1850 accomplished what it set out to do -- it kept the nation united -- but the solution was only temporary. Over the following decade the country's citizens became further divided over the issue of slavery. The rift would continue to grow until the nation itself divided.
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Anthony Burns captured
Eric Foner on the Fugitive Slave Act
Note (day 1): On the previous day, students participated in a discussion of the facts of the Stono Rebellion. They looked at the rebellion from the opposing viewpoints of slaves versus plantation owners. They contributed to a class discussion of the two viewpoints and contributed ideas for a class chart showing the contrast.Procedures Outline (day 1) :
1. Teacher-led discussion addressing the increased use of slaves on southern plantations during the early 1700’s, emphasizing slave trade, slave treatment, and slave population size, and economic necessity of slave labor.
2. Primary source:
Students were given individual copies of the newspaper ads showing announcements of slaves to be sold. This led to a discussion of slaves as property and why slaves may want to escape.
3. Students and teacher made a comparison chart on whiteboard comparing plantation owners view of slavery with the viewpoint of the slaves.
4. Review - students referred to map showing English, French, and Spanish land claims in 1700.
5. Connection - students learned of Spanish offer of freedom for escaped slaves who reached Spanish-held land and how this led to the Stono Rebellion.
6. Primary source:
Students were given copies of Governor Bull’s letter of October 5, 1739 giving details of the Stono Rebellion and the aftermath. Through discussion, students learned of the events and the horror of this rebellion. They also learned that Native Americans had been recruited with promise of reward if they caught and returned any of the insurgents.
7. Reflection - students and teacher worked together and made a flow chart on the white board cause/effect events leading up to Stono Rebellion.
8. Students in small groups made predictions about how this rebellion would change things for the plantation owner and for the slaves. These were recorded (along with their reasoning) and shared with the class.
Procedures Outline (day 2):
1. Introduction - List the dates 1739, 1963, and 2008 on the board. Teacher will label and explain each date with significant events: Stono Rebellion, Martin Luther Kings, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, and election of African American (Obama) as President. Students will examine a political cartoon published the day after Obama was elected. The cartoon shows Martin Luther King, Jr. saying “I have a reality.” Teacher will stress that there is almost 300 years between these events and encourage students to think about why it took almost 300 years to go from the slavery system to a point where an African American is elected President of the United States.
2. Review - Through class discussion, students will review the facts of the Stono Rebellion of 1729 presented the previous day.
3. Discussion of results - guiding questions (displayed on Promethean board):
- What happens to people when they misbehave at school?
- What happens to people who break the law?
- What happened to the slaves who were involved in the rebellion?
4. Display Governor Bull’s letter on the Promethean board. Call attention to the parts that tell how the slaves were punished.
5. Discussion (questions displayed on Promethean board) :
- Do you think the harsh punishment of the rebels was fair?
- Do you think this rebellion will encourage or discourage other slaves to try to escape? Why? Why not?
- What actions can the plantation owners and merchants take to prevent another slave revolt?
6. Small groups: In small groups, students will brainstorm ideas, then record in writing a list of actions that planters may take to avoid further slave rebellions.
7. Whole group: Small groups will share their lists and explain reasoning.
8. Students will receive transcribed copies of a portion of the Negro Act of 1740. On each page important lines will be highlighted for students to read and interpret. Through guided reading, the class will discuss the strict regulations placed on slaves by this act, and relate them to the prevention of insurgence. They will also be made aware that this Act provided some protection to slaves.
If time permits the class will continue with steps 9-11. If not, we will wrap up the lesson by talking about the writing, and they will do it on day 3 of the lesson.
9. Written response assignment presented. Writing prompt: “Explain the results of the Stono Rebellion and how it affected the lives of slaves in colonial America.”
10. Teacher will present and explain rubric.
11. Students will write independently.