to carry slaves into the territories; and the most outspoken and audacious among them threatened to dissolve the Union
if the asserted right was denied by Congress.
This defiant spirit grew in intensity to the end of the session.
The Senate, as before, was a pro-slavery fortress; and the House
was, as in previous sessions, unsteady,—members changing or withholding votes, with no final advantage on either side.
The contest was renewed in the next Congress,—1849-1850.
It began with the debate on the election of Speaker in December, and continued during the session which ended September 30, 1850.
It passed beyond the question of the territories, and comprehended all the relations of slavery to the nation.
It was marked by profound interest on both sides, and watched with deep anxiety by the country.
, Jefferson Davis
, and Foote
read elaborate speeches at the beginning of the session, and, supported by the bolder spirits of the South
, declared themselves ready for disunion in the event of legislation by Congress prohibiting slavery in the territories, or even of the admission of California
with her free State constitution.1
They seemed to be sincere in this aggressive and threatening attitude, though it was observed at the time that their governing impulse was ambition and empire, and slavery the pretext which was used to fire the Southern
But it did not yet appear that the masses of the Southern
people were with them in their revolutionary purpose.
Meanwhile preparations were made for a convention to meet at Nashville
These demonstrations had an effect on the more timid of the Northern
members, as appeared in the decisive vote, Feb. 4, 1850, against the Wilmot Proviso
The resolute and defiant attitude of the South
and the weakening resistance of the North
opened to Henry Clay
, now again a senator, the opportunity to appear for another and third time in his career as a pacificator between contending sections and policies; and late in January, 1850, he presented his scheme of a comprehensive and final adjustment.
His series of measures, reported May 8, at first failed as a whole, but afterwards prevailed in August and September in the shape of separate bills.
Their success was promoted by the co-operation of Fillmore
, who became President
on the death of Taylor
, July 9.