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Compromise of 1850


Millard Fillmore, Thirteenth President of the United States

Millard Fillmore, Portrait by Mathew Brady

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13013 DLC
Definition: The Compromise of 1850 was a series of five bills that were intended to stave off sectional strife. It passed during Millard Fillmore's presidency. Its goal was to deal with the spread of slavery to territories in order to keep northern and southern interests in balance. Here is a summary of the five bills:
  1. California was entered as a free state.
  2. New Mexico and Utah were each allowed to use popular sovereignty to decide the issue of slavery. In other words, the people would pick whether the states would be free or slave.
  3. The Republic of Texas gave up lands that it claimed in present day New Mexico and received $10 million to pay its debt to Mexico.
  4. The slave trade was abolished in the District of Columbia.
  5. The Fugitive Slave Act made any federal official who did not arrest a runaway slave liable to pay a fine. This was the most controversial part of the Compromise of 1850 and caused many abolitionists to increase their efforts against slavery.
The Compromise of 1850 was key in delaying the start of the Civil War until 1861.

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