What Led to the Compromise of 1850?

The political conflict that led to the Compromise of 1850 was largely instigated by the acquisition of territories from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. The events and actions that made the compromise possible included the death of President Zachary Taylor and the political shrewdness of Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas.

The Compromise of 1850 was designed to appease the North and South and mitigate the chances of secession and civil war, according to PBS. Tensions were high due to the debate regarding the future of slavery in the territories acquired as a result of the Mexican-American War. Northerners wanted to keep slavery out of the new territories, while Southerners wanted the institution to continue into new states.

History.com describes Henry Clay of Kentucky as the chief architect of the compromise, which consisted of a series of regulations he hoped would maintain the balance between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. He drafted an omnibus bill that included important measures, such as the inclusion of California as a free state, the decision to leave the slavery question in the Utah and New Mexico territories to their respective peoples and a strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Act.

History.com further recounts that the omnibus bill was defeated in the Senate. However, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois divided the measures of the omnibus bill into individual bills. This enabled their passage in Congress. Millard Fillmore, who succeeded Zachary Taylor to the presidency, was more open than his predecessor to compromise and signed the bills into law.