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[189]

Chapter 34: the compromise of 1850.—Mr. Webster.

The discovery of gold mines in California contemporaneously with the cession of that territory from Mexico brought an unexpected turn in political history. During the years 1848– 1849 emigrants by tens of thousands, largely enterprising young men from the free States, thronged to the Pacific coast in search of the precious metal. Slaveholders, slow in thought and action, could not keep abreast of this wonderful movement, combining thrift, adventure, and the high hopes which inspire the founders of a new commonwealth. Congress, divided on the slavery issue, failed to supply a government for the newly acquired territory. The people thus left to themselves, holding a convention at President Taylor's instance in September, 1849, formed a constitution, which was approved by a popular vote in November, and submitted to Congress the following February. One of its articles, which was voted unanimously, notwithstanding some of the delegates were emigrants from slave States, prohibited slavery. A new free State was ready for admission, making it impossible to keep the balance between the contending sections. At the same time the inhabitants of New Mexico sent a petition to Congress asking for a territorial government with a prohibition of slavery. Thus it was manifest that a war undertaken to extend and protect slavery was about to reduce the relative power of the slave States.

This failure in a well-laid and long-plotted scheme made the partisans of slavery desperate. When Congress met in December, 1848, the last session of President Polk's Administration, the character of the emigration then flowing into California assured for her a majority of free State citizens. The Southern members issued an address, and organized resistance to antislavery prohibitions. They strove to obtain by some vague and covert phrase a recognition of their right under the Constitution

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