How Did the Compromise of 1850 Lead to the Civil War?

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The Compromise of 1850 set up an untenable status quo between the northern and southern regions of the United States in terms of slavery policy. The U.S. Congress intended to achieve a sustainable solution for the conflict over slavery policy. However, the Compromise of 1850 merely delayed the inevitable schism between rivalling regions of the nation.

Organized and championed by Henry Clay, the Compromise of 1850 was a series of laws and policy enactments that formed a comprehensive new national policy toward issues of slavery and westward expansion. At the core of this debate was the question of whether or not frontier territories should join the Union as new slave states. Southern states preferred an expansion of slavery into new territories, whereas northern states argued in favor of abolishing slavery in any new states. The Compromise of 1850 determined that new states would be slave-free, and the slave trade was also abolished in Washington, D.C.

In exchange for these concessions, southern states received an amendment to the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced northern states to take more aggressive measures to return escaped slaves into the southern states from which they departed. This was wildly unpopular in the North, and many northerners refused to abide by these policies, assisting escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad to Canada. As a result, tensions continued to escalate after the Compromise of 1850 failed to settle the slavery matter, and the Civil War became increasingly inevitable in the following decade.