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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
Wilmot Proviso
Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision
John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry
Election of 1860
Secession of Southern States
Battle of Fort Sumter
Underground railroad
The Wilmot Proviso was introduced on
August 8, 1846, in the United States House
of Representatives as a rider on a $2 million
appropriations bill intended for the final negotiations to resolve the Mexican-American
War. The intent of the proviso, submitted by
Democratic Congressman David Wilmot, was
to prevent the introduction of slavery in any
territory acquired from Mexico. The proviso
did not pass in that session or in any other
session when it was re-introduced over the
course of the next several years, but many
consider it as one of the first events on the
long slide to secession and Civil War which
would accelerate through the 1850s.
David Wilmot
Events leading to
the US Civil War
After an earlier attempt to acquire Texas by
treaty had failed to receive the necessary
two-thirds approval of the Senate, the United
States annexed the Republic of Texas by a
joint resolution of Congress that required
simply a majority vote in each house of Congress. President John Tyler signed the bill on
March 1, 1845 in the waning days of his presidency. As many expected, the annexation led
to war with Mexico. When the war began to
wind down, the political focus shifted to what
territory, if any, would be acquired from
Mexico. Key to this was the determination of
the future status of slavery in any new
Both major political parties had labored
long to keep divisive slavery issues out of national politics. The Democrats had generally
been successful in picturing those within
their party attempting to push a purely sectional issue as extremists that were well outside the normal scope of traditional
Northwest Ordinance
Missouri Compromise
Tariff of 1828
Nullification Crisis
Nat Turner’s slave rebellion
Amistad (1841)
Mexican American War
Wilmot Proviso
Manifest Destiny
Compromise of 1850
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Kansas-Nebraska Act
Bleeding Kansas
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
politics.[1] However, midway through Polk’s
term, Democratic dissatisfaction with the administration was growing within the Martin
Van Buren, or Barnburner, wing of the Democratic Party over other issues. Many felt that
Van Buren had been unfairly denied the
party’s nomination in 1844 when southern
delegates resurrected a convention rule, last
used in 1832, requiring that the nominee had
to receive two-thirds of the delegate votes.
Many in the North were also upset with the
Walker tariff which reduced the tariff rates;
others were opposed to Polk’s veto of a popular river and harbor improvements bill, and
still others were upset over the Oregon settlement with Great Britain where it appeared
that Polk did not pursue the northern territory with the same vigor he used to acquire
Texas. Polk was seen more and more as enforcing strict party loyalty primarily to serve
southern interests. [2]
the Second Party System were already dead.
Their political goal was to avoid any sectional
debate over slavery which would expose the
sectional divisions within the party.[3]
Introduction and debate
on the proviso
On Saturday August 8, 1846 President Polk
submitted to Congress a request for
$2,000,000 in order to facilitate negotiations
with Mexico over the final settlement of the
war. The request came with no public warning after Polk had failed to arrange for approval of the bill with no Congressional debate. With Congress scheduled to adjourn
that Monday, Democratic leadership arranged for the bill to be immediately considered in a special night session. Debate
was to be limited to two hours with no individual speech to last more than ten
David Wilmot, a Democratic congressman
from Pennsylvania, and a group of other
Barnburner Democrats including Preston
King of New York, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine,
Gideon Welles of Connecticut, and Jacob
Brinkerhoff[5] of Ohio, had already been
meeting in early August strategy meetings.
Wilmot had a strong record of supporting the
Polk administration and was close to many
Southerners. With the likelihood that Wilmot
would have no trouble gaining the floor in the
House debate, he was chosen to present the
amendment to the appropriations bill that
would carry his name.[6]Wilmot offered the
following to the House in language modeled
after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787:
"Provided, That, as an express and
fundamental condition to the acquisition
of any territory from the Republic of
Mexico by the United States, by virtue of
any treaty which may be negotiated
between them, and to the use by the
Executive of the moneys herein
appropriated, neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude shall ever exist in
any part of said territory, except for
crime, whereof the party shall first be
duly convicted."
The Wilmot Proviso was seen as a stumbling
block for Presidential candidates, such as
The Whigs faced a different scenario. The
victory of James K. Polk (Democrat) over
Henry Clay (Whig) in the 1844 presidential
election had caught the southern Whigs by
surprise. The key element of this defeat,
which carried over into the congressional and
local races in 1845 and 1846 throughout the
South, was the party’s failure to take a
strong stand favoring Texas annexation.
Southern Whigs were reluctant to repeat
their mistakes on Texas, but, at the same
time, Whigs from both sections realized that
victory and territorial acquisition would
again bring out the issue of slavery and the
territories. In the South in particular, there
was already the realization, or perhaps fear,
that the old economic issues that had defined
William W. Wick, Democrat of Indiana, attempted to eliminate total restriction of
slavery by proposing an amendment that the
Missouri Compromise line of latitude 36°30’
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
simply be extended west to the Pacific. This
was voted down 89-54. The vote to add the
proviso to the bill was then called, and it
passed by 83-64. A last ditch effort by southerners to table the entire bill was defeated by
94-78, and then the entire bill was approved
85-80. Most ominously, these votes all fell
overwhelmingly along sectional rather than
party lines.[7]
The Senate took up the bill late in its
Monday session. Democrats hoped to reject
the Wilmot Proviso and send the bill back to
the House for a quick approval of the bill
without the restrictions on slavery. Whig
John Davis of Massachusetts attempted to
forestall this effort by holding the floor until
it would be too late to return the bill to the
House, forcing the Senate to accept or reject
the appropriation with the proviso intact.
However, before he could call the vote, due
to an eight minute difference in the official
House and Senate clocks, the House had adjourned and the Congress was officially out of
The issue resurfaced at the end of the year
when Polk, in his annual message to Congress, renewed his request with the amount
needed increased to three million dollars.
Polk argued that, while the original intent of
the war had never been to acquire territory
(a view hotly contested by his opponents), an
honorable peace required territorial compensation to the United States.[9]The Three
Million Dollar Bill, as it was called, was the
sole item of business in the House from
February 8, 1847 until February 15. Preston
King reintroduced the Wilmot Proviso, but
this time the exclusion of slavery was expanded beyond merely the Mexican territory to
include "any territory on the continent of
America which shall hereafter be acquired".
This time Representative Stephen Douglas,
Democrat of Illinois, reintroduced the proposal to simply extend the Missouri Compromise
line to the west coast, and this was again defeated 109-82. The Three Million Bill with the
proviso was then passed by the House
115-106. In the Senate, led by Thomas Hart
Benton (Democrat), the bill was passed
without the proviso. When the bill was returned to the House the Senate bill prevailed;
every Northern Whig still supported the proviso, but 22 northern Democrats voted with
the South. [10]
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
ending the war was submitted to the Senate
for approval. Douglas, now in the Senate,
was among those who joined with the South
to defeat an effort to attach the Wilmot Proviso to the treaty.[11] In the prior year’s debate in the House Douglas had argued that
all of the debate over slavery in the territories was premature; the time to deal with that
issue was when the territory was actually organized by Congress. [12] Lewis Cass (Democrat) in December 1847, in his famous letter
to A. O. P. Nicholson in Tennessee, further
defined the concept of popular sovereignty
which would soon evolve as the mainstream
Democratic alternative to the Wilmot Proviso:
"Leave it to the people, who will be
affected by this question to adjust it
upon their own responsibility, and in
their own manner, and we shall render
another tribute to the original principles
of our government, and furnish another
for its permanence and prosperity".[13]
An animation showing the free/slave status of
U.S. states and territories, 1789-1861, including the proposed Wilmot Proviso.
With the approval of the treaty, the issue
moved from one of abstraction to one involving practical matters. The nature of the
Constitution, slavery, the value of free labor,
political power, and ultimately political realignment were all involved in the debate.[14]
Historian Michael Morrison argues that from
1820-1846 a combination of "racism and veneration of the Union" had prevented a direct
northern attack on slavery.[9] While the original southern response to the Wilmot Proviso was measured, it soon became clear to
the South that this long postponed attack on
slavery had finally occurred. Rather than
simply the politics of the issue, historian William Freehling noted, "Most Southerners
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
raged primarily because David Wilmot’s
holier-than-thou stance was so insulting." [15]
In the North, the most immediate repercussions involved Martin Van Buren and the
state of New York. The Barnburners were
successfully opposed by their conservative
opposition, the Hunkers, in their efforts to
send a pro-proviso batch of delegates to the
1848 Democratic National Convention. The
Barnburners held their own separate convention and sent their own slate of delegates to
the convention in Baltimore. Both delegations
were seated with the state’s total votes split
between them. When the convention rejected
a pro-proviso plank[16] and selected Lewis
Cass as the nominee, the Barnburners again
bolted and were the nucleus of forming the
Free Soil Party.[17] Historian Leonard
"Overall, then, Southern Democrats
during the 1840s lost the hard core of
their original doughface support. No
longer could they count on New England
and New York Democrats to provide
them with winning margins in the House.
southerners had always felt that their
northern colleagues must toe the
southern line on all slavery-related
In Alabama, with no available candidate sufficiently opposed to the proviso, William L.
Yancey secured the adoption by the state
Democratic convention of the so-called
"Alabama Platform," which was endorsed by
the legislatures of Alabama and Georgia and
by Democratic state conventions in Florida
and Virginia. The platform called for no
Federal restrictions of slavery in the territories, no restrictions on slavery by territorial
governments until the point where they were
drafting a state constitution in order to petition Congress for statehood, opposition to
any candidates supporting either the proviso
or popular sovereignty, and positive federal
legislation overruling Mexican anti-slavery
laws in the Mexican Cession. However the
same Democratic Convention that had refused to endorse the proviso also rejected incorporating the Yancey proposal into the national platform by a 216-36 vote. Unlike the
Barnburner walkout, however, only Yancey
and one other Alabama delegate left the convention. Yancey’s efforts to stir up a third
party movement in the state failed. [20]
Southerner Whigs looked hopefully to
slaveholder and war hero General Zachary
Taylor as the solution to the widening sectional divide even though he took no public
stance on the Wilmot Proviso. However
Taylor, once nominated and elected, showed
that he had his own plans. Taylor hoped to
create a new non-partisan coalition that
would once again remove slavery from the
national stage. He expected to be able to accomplish this by freezing slavery at its 1849
boundaries and by immediately bypassing the
territory stage and creating two new states
out of the Mexican Cession.[21]
The opening salvo in a new level of sectional conflict occurred on December 13,
1848 when John G. Palfrey (Whig) of Massachusetts introduced a bill to abolish slavery
in the District of Columbia. Throughout 1849
in the South "the rhetoric of resistance to the
North escalated and spread". The potentially
secessionist Nashville Convention was scheduled for June 1850.[22] When President
Taylor in his December 1849 message to
Congress urged the admission of California
as a free state, a state of crisis was further
To them [Free Soil Democrats] the
movement to acquire Texas, and the
fight over the Wilmot Proviso, marked
the turning point, when aggressive
slavemasters stole the heart and soul of
the Democratic Party and began
dictating the course of the nation’s
Historian William Cooper presents the exactly opposite southern perspective:
"Southern Democrats, for whom slavery
had always been central, had little
difficulty in perceiving exactly what the
proviso meant for them and their party.
In the first place the mere existence of
the proviso meant the sectional strains
that had plagued the Whigs on Texas
now beset the Democrats on expansion,
the issue the Democrats themselves had
chosen as their own. The proviso also
announced to southerners that they had
to face the challenge of certain northern
Democrats who indicated their
unwillingness to follow any longer the
southern lead on slavery. That
circumstance struck at the very roots of
the southern conception of party. The
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
aggravated. Historian Allan Nevins sums up
the situation which had been created by the
Wilmot Proviso:
"Thus the contest was joined on the
central issue which was to dominate all
American history for the next dozen
years, the disposition of the Territories.
Two sets of extremists had arisen:
Northerners who demanded no new
slave territories under any
circumstances, and Southerners who
demanded free entry for slavery into all
territories, the penalty for denial to be
secession. For the time being, moderates
who hoped to find a way of compromise
and to repress the underlying issue of
slavery itself – its toleration or nontoleration by a great free Christian state
– were overwhelmingly in the majority.
But history showed that in crises of this
sort the two sets of extremists were
almost certain to grow in power,
swallowing up more and more members
of the conciliatory center." [23]
[7] Morrison pg. 41. Potter pg. 22. Richards
pg. 152
[8] Potter pg. 22-23
[9] ^ Morrison pg. 53
[10] Richards pg. 152-153. Johannsen pg.
204. Silbey pg. 130-131
[11] Unlike appropriations bills that
constitutionally were required to be
initiated in the House, since a treaty was
involved the debate this time would only
involve the Senate.
[12] Johannsen pg. 216-217
[13] Johannsen pg. 227
[14] Holt pg. 50
[15] Freehling pg 461
[16] Political Party Platforms
[17] Richards pg. 154-155
[18] Richards pg. 159
[19] Cooper pg. 233-234
[20] Walther p. 102-117. Niven pg. 314 South
Carolina had boycotted the entire
convention, but a single South Carolinian
was admitted by the convention as the
state’s delegation and he made all nine
of the state’s votes at the convention.
[21] Cooper pg. 243-245, 273-176
[22] Walther p. 118-122
[23] Nevins p. 12-13
Combined with other slavery related issues,
the Wilmot Proviso led to the Compromise of
1850, which helped buy another shaky decade of peace. Radical secessionists were temporarily at bay as the Nashville Convention
failed to endorse secession. Moderates rallied around the Compromise as the final solution to the sectional issues involving slavery
and the territories. At the same time,
however, the language of the Georgia Platform, widely accepted throughout the South,
made it clear that the South’s commitment to
Union was not unqualified; they fully expected the North to adhere to their part of the
• Berwanger, Eugene H. The Frontier
Against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro
Prejudice and the Slavery Extension
Controversy. (1967) ISBN 0-252-07056-9.
• Cooper, William J. Jr. The South and the
Politics of Slavery 1828-1856. (1978) ISBN
• Earle, Jonathan H. Jacksonian Antislavery
& the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854.
(2004) ISBN 0-8078-2888-2.
• Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free
Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party
Before the Civil War. (1970) ISBN
• Freehling, William W. The Road to
Disunion: Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854.
(1990) ISBN 0-19-505814-3.
• Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the
1850s. (1978) ISBN 0-393-95370-X.
• Johnansen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas.
(1973) ISBN 0-252-06635-9.
• Levine, Bruce. Half Slave and Half Free:
The Roots of Civil War. (1992) ISBN
[1] Silbey pg. 123
[2] Morrison p.42. Johannsen pg. 202. Potter
pg. 22-29
[3] Cooper pg. 225-229.
[4] Potter pg. 18-19
[5] Earle pg. 233 fn. 1. Brinkerhoff is
claimed by some historians to have been
the actual author of the proviso.
[6] Silbey pg. 124. Potter pg. 21. Richards
pg. 150. Fire-eater William L. Yancey
(Democrat) in 1846 considered Wilmot
as the one northerner that could be
trusted. Walther pg. 91
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilmot Proviso
• McKnight, Brian D., article on Wilmot
Proviso in "Encyclopedia of the American
Civil War", edited by David S. Heidler and
Jeanne T. Heidler, 2000, ISBN
• Morrison, Michael A. Slavery and the
American West: The Eclipse of Manifest
Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War.
(1997) ISBN 0-8078-2319-8.
• Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: Fruits
of Manifest Destiny 1847-1852. (1947)
• Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the
Price of Union: A Biography. (1988) ISBN
• Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis
1848-1861. (1976) ISBN 0-06-131929-5.
• Richards, Leonard L. The Slave Power and
Southern Domination 1780-1860. (2000)
ISBN 0-8071-2537-7.
• Silby, Joel H. Storm over Texas: The
Annexation Controversy and the Road to
the Civil War. (2005) ISBN 0195139445.
• Walther, Eric H. William Lowndes Yancey:
The Coming of the Civil War. (2006) ISBN
External links
• Wilmot Proviso
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Categories: Slavery in the United States, Legal history of the United States, Mexican-American War, History of the United States (1849–1865), African American history, History of United
States expansionism, United States federal territory and statehood legislation
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