The Tortured Course of Compromise
The awkward Missouri Compromise hammered out in 1820 began to buckle in 1848-49 when gold was discovered in California. The territory was officially transferred to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War on February 2, 1848. On January 24, 1848, just a few days before the treaty was signed, gold was found at a sawmill on the South Fork of the American River. During the height of the gold rush, in .1849, more than 80,000 fortune seekers poured into the territory. This event suddenly made statehood for the territory an urgent issue. But would California be admitted as a slave state or free?
In 1846, Congress, seeking a means of bringing the Mexican War to a speedy conclusion, had debated a bill to appropriate $2 million to compensate Mexico for “territorial adjustments.” Pennsylvania congressman David Wilmot introduced an amendment to the bill, called the Wilmot Proviso, that would have barred the introduction of slavery into any land acquired by the United States as a result of the war. As usual, Southern opposition to the limitation of slavery was articulated by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. He proposed four resolutions:
1. Territories, including those acquired as a result of the war, were the common and joint property of the states.
2. Congress, acting as agent for the states, could make no law discriminating between the states and depriving any state of its rights with regard to any territory.
3. The enactment of any national law regarding slavery would violate the Constitution and the doctrine of states’ rights.
4. The people have the right to form their state government as they wish, provided that its government is republican.
As if Calhoun’s resolutions were not enough, he dropped another bombshell, warning that failure to maintain a balance between the demands of the North and the South would lead to “civil war.”