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Prologue to Conflict

Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850

With a New Introduction by Michael F. Holt
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Prologue to Conflict
    Book Description:

    The crisis facing the United States in 1850 was a dramatic prologue to the conflict that came a decade later. The rapid opening of western lands demanded the speedy establishment of local civil administration for these vast regions. Outraged partisans, however, cried of coercion: Southerners saw a threat to the precarious sectional balance, and Northerners feared an extension of slavery. In this definitive study, Holman Hamilton analyzes the complex events of the anxious months from December, 1849, when the Senate debates began, until September, 1850, when Congress passed the measures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5831-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Michael F. Holt

    The decision by the University Press of Kentucky to reissue Holman Hamilton’sPrologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of1850 forty years after its original publication is welcome indeed. For years, many of us regularly assigned the text in our undergraduate and graduate courses, and we have rued its recent unavailability.

    We assigned Hamilton’s book in part because of the critical role that the Compromise of 1850 played in defusing, however temporarily, a Union-threatening sectional controversy over the extension of slavery into western territories. That controversy was ignited by the outbreak of war with Mexico in May 1846 and...

  5. CHAPTER I Forty-Nine and Forty-Niners
    (pp. 1-24)

    All three hundred and sixty-five days immediately preceding 1850 are linked in the thinking of many Americans with a single spectacular event. Gold had been discovered in California, and the Gold Rush of 1849 saw thousands of adventurous spirits cross the Isthmus or round the Horn or traverse the western plains and deserts in quest of quick riches in El Dorado.

    In San Francisco and Sacramento and along the Tuolumne and Mokelumne rivers, men from New York and Philadelphia mingled with Southerners and New Englanders in the scramble for sudden fortunes with the magic of pick and pan. Sprawling settlements...

  6. CHAPTER II The Rising and the Setting Suns
    (pp. 25-42)

    No congress of Jefferson’s day–of Jackson’s, Wilson’s, or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s–has matched the color of the one assembling in December, 1849. That was a month when Congressional generations joined in what has been described as a meeting of “rising, risen, and setting suns.”¹ From the Bay of Fundy to Brownsville, Texas, and out to the gold mines and the Golden Gate, the newspaper reader, the idler, and the gossip watched from afar as young men and old displayed charm and ability on the Capitol stage. The tenseness of the sectional crisis alone was enough to capture attention. But...

  7. CHAPTER III The Appeal of a Venerable Kentuckian
    (pp. 43-62)

    It was in the House that the first rumblings of the thunder of 1850 were heard. Before Cobb’s election as Speaker, a spirited verbal exchange had occurred between Edward Stanly of North Carolina and several other congressmen. Stanly referred disparagingly to “Free Soilism, Wilmot Provisoism, and all such tomfoolery,” insisting that the Union was not in danger while Clay and Benton remained in the Senate and Taylor at the west end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Bayly of Virginia answered the southern Whig by blaming party distraction on Taylor’s “doubtful” position in the last campaign. Joseph M. Root then felt prompted to...

  8. CHAPTER IV Equilibrium or Union—Calhoun or Webster?
    (pp. 63-83)

    During the fortnight when Senate attention revolved around Clay’s resolutions, all five of the formal House orations were delivered by followers of Calhoun. On January 30, Albert G. Brown of Mississippi stressed his section’s economic strength and threatened secession if Northerners failed to substitute fairness for oppression. Among those who took the same line were Alabama’s Samuel W. Inge and Tennessee’s Frederick P. Stanton. Of the twenty-two set speeches in the House in February, nine were delivered by southern Democrats, four by southern Whigs, three by northern Democrats, five by northern Whigs, and one by a northern Free Soiler. At...

  9. CHAPTER V A Pattern Defined
    (pp. 84-101)

    When william Henry Seward rose in the Senate on March 11, 1850, a spectator might have assumed that the New Yorker belonged to a lesser breed. One newsman, not unsympathetic, wrote that “never were two heads more unlike each other” than Webster’s and Seward’s. Webster’s “ample brow, broad forehead, and lofty bearing” made you think you saw “a literary giant with corporeal dimensions to suit.” Not so Seward, who “looks thin and studious” and “has a compact, well-made head, with nothing extraordinary about it to the casual observer.” The voice and manner of the younger Whig were so commonplace that...

  10. CHAPTER VI The Wreck of the Omnibus
    (pp. 102-117)

    From outside Washington came two encouragements to the compromisers’ hopes. The delegates to the Nashville Convention took no irrevocable step in the direction of secession. True, most of the convention members approved resolutions opposing a compromise and favoring the 36°30’ scheme. But they hedged before advocating anything like overt disunion, being content to wait and see what action Congress would take.¹ Equally heartening to Clay and the compromisers were the everlouder demands for peace, voiced in the North by businessmen in general and seaboard merchants in particular. Petitions, sponsored by the business community, bore the names of thousands of signers....

  11. CHAPTER VII The Texas Bond Lobby
    (pp. 118-132)

    There never was a time in American history, from the days of Alexander Hamilton’s assumption bill down to the seventh decade of the twentieth century, when someone did not seek financial profit from pending legislation. The period between the Mexican War and the Civil War was no exception. For example, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, bribery was “extensively and habitually used.” In Austin, a friend of Sam Houston’s saw more “intrigue going on” than ever before in Texas history.¹ A Southeasterner characterized the national capital as a “theatre of heartless ambition and corruption.” In May, 1850, a New Yorker in Washington warned...

  12. CHAPTER VIII Douglas, the Maker of Combinations
    (pp. 133-150)

    It took douglas only seven of the Senate’s working days to demonstrate the quality of his aggressive leadership. Clay was a sore trial to his friends on Thursday, August 1. Not that they objected when he declared: “I was willing to take the measures united. I am willing now to see them pass separate and distinct.” This was fair enough. But what discouraged the moderates was Clay’s insistence on reviewing in detail his version of the reasons for Wednesday’s wreck of the Omnibus. More aggravating was the undisguised bitterness with which he blamed its collapse on Senator Pearce. The latter...

  13. CHAPTER IX Allegro Whistles and Cannon Salutes
    (pp. 151-165)

    While douglas and his allies were engaged in hammering out a compromise, the crisis seemed to grow more acute south of the Red River and west of the Sabine. Communication delays deepened misunderstandings. On August 13, a Nacogdoches Democrat warned Senator Rusk: “A Telegraphic rumor . . . of the failure of the Compromise Bill fills your friends here with grief and terror.” Even “the moderation men among us must look for amilitary promenade” to Santa Fe, “if not actual Civil War . . . North vs. South. Whatarewe to do?”¹ A less excitable correspondent thought on...

  14. CHAPTER X The Compromise in Operation
    (pp. 166-190)

    When the Compromise of 1850 was enacted into law, its proponents exulted in the achievement. The BostonEvening Travellerhailed the boundary-bill victory. as snuffing out “disunion and treason in Congress and the country.” The PhiladelphiaPennsylvanianfelt confident that “peace and tranquility” would be secured. Out in Springfield, theIllinois State Journalcalled for “national jubilation.”¹ Many Southerners agreed with the LouisvilleJournalthat a weight seemed to be lifted from the heart of America. The NashvilleRepublican Bannerurged friends of free government to congratulate each other. “We hope that the question is now definitely settled,” the New...

    (pp. 191-192)
    (pp. 193-194)
    (pp. 195-200)
    (pp. 201-208)
    (pp. 209-216)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 217-238)