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Congressional Leaders for Compromise of 1850

The initial impetus for the Compromise of 1850 came from the old guard in the Senate, but much of the hard bargaining was undertaken by less prominent figures, including:

  • Henry Clay of Kentucky—who was, at 72 years of age, near the end of his illustrious career and had finally rid himself of presidential ambitions. He introduced an omnibus bill that lumped all parts of the compromise into a single measure.
  • Daniel Webster of Massachusetts—who saved one of his greatest orations until the twilight of his career, expressing the opinion that the maintenance of the Union was more important than the injustices caused by an unpopular piece of legislation (the Fugitive Slave Act). Webster's support of a strong federal role in returning runaway slaves cost him much support in the North.
  • William H. Seward of New York—who had recently come to the Senate from a distinguished career in state politics and invoked a “higher law” than the Constitution in his arguments against slavery
  • John C. Calhoun of South Carolina—who was dying of throat cancer, but managed to supply the philosophical framework for the Southern position. His repeated plea was for the North to stop attacking the South and the institution of slavery.
  • James Murray Mann of Virginia—who spoke on behalf of the ailing Calhoun.
  • Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois—who secured passage of the compromise by breaking it into segments that could gain majority approval, one by one.