Compromise 1850 Essay

- Compromise 1850 Essay introduction.

                In these documents, the three men involved each lay out their philosophies regarding the compromise of 1850.  Each one shares a dynamic philosophy and eloquent speech about what each perceives as the problems surrounding the slave state/free state issue that was emerging in the years before the Civil War.  Each man makes a compelling argument for his point of view.  William Henry Seward makes the case for treating all men as humans, regardless of their state of servitude; John Calhoun brings home his point that the secessionist cause is more than just slavery-deep.  Finally, Daniel Webster takes a moral objection to slavery, a position that made him highly unpopular in the north, as he roundly criticized the abolitionist movement.

            William Henry Seward talks of the place of slaves within the broader society.  He looked at the Constitution and made a moral determination that slaves were people, too.  He also stated that only states had the capacity to make people slaves, as the national constitution made no such provision.  Where does this fit with the broader historic argument over slave versus free state?  It fits in because Seward makes the claim for there not being a state of equilibrium.  In his words, when the Constitution was ratified, twelve of the thirteen colonies were slave colonies, so no state of equilibrium existed.  It was only as the country grew that the need for a balance between slave and free state was perceived to be needed.  Overall, Seward seems to make the case that the state should make the choice as to if it will be free or slave, but he personally feels that slavery is an institution that is slowly beginning to die out.  He feels that the institution will eventually die out and only true freedom will remain.  He also feels that while the federal government has the right to accept new states, it also has a right to reject new states, should they not meet the criteria for new statehood.  One gets the impression that Seward would prefer that all the states be free states, but pragmatically, he realizes that situation is not possible at this time.

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            John Calhoun looks at other things that could potentially weaken the Union.  To him slavery is a large, looming question that interjects itself into the conversation at every turn.  He talks of the South’s contributions to the nation and how the North has indirectly benefitted from the slave trade and slavery in general.  He makes the case for equilibrium.  He feels that slavery has a right to exist and should exist, as that is what the South and by extension the nation is and was built on.  He makes the case that slavery is what the country needs in order to have some measure of sustainability in its economy.  Now the question arises, how does this fit in with the overall argument?  Calhoun makes the case effectively for his point of view.  His impassioned argument is well supported and talks about bringing balance to an unbalanced situation.  He feels that for every free state that is admitted there should be a slave state admitted.  One can also read between the lines of his argument and make the case that there should actually be a larger proportion of slave states than free states.  He feels that if the South is supporting the North, per se, then they should have more of the land with which to support the country as a whole.  If that means more slavery, so be it.  Calhoun does not appear to have the same moral turpitude as Seward or Webster.  He seems to be blatantly pro-slavery, and he wants to do anything he can to defend and protect that position.

            Finally, we have Daniel Webster.  He takes a highly pragmatic view, taking many shots at slavery and at the abolitionist movement.  He derides the movement as the one that has tightened the bonds of slavery and has ultimately made the situation for the slaves worse, and not better.  He realizes that slavery has existed before the country existed and will probably exist for a while.  While he ultimately hopes it dies out, he realizes that forcing the institution to die out will only hasten the collapse of the country.  He also states that both the North and the South consider the institution an evil, yet the South chooses to pursue it while the North chooses to reject it.  He points out that the North is taking a moralistic attitude towards slavery and that by doing so, it is only forcing the South to dig in deeper to resist any forcible change.  How does this fit in to the argument put forward by Seward and Calhoun?  Webster’s speech forces us to look at the problem from a unique perspective as the outsider viewing the problem from afar.  Webster sees the abolitionist movement as an anathema, something that is hindering the country’s ability to move forward.  He feels that slavery would die a natural death, should it be allowed to run its course.  By pushing abolition on the South, the North actually is making the institution last longer than it would naturally.

            Seward, Calhoun, and Webster all make valid arguments for their points of view.  They each enter into the fiery argument over the disposition of the new territories with vigor and candor.  They eloquently discuss and debate the finer points of their side with grace and dignity and one can tell from their arguments that they wish to work towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict that was arising.  They did not want to see the dissolution of the Union, they wanted to see the Union preserved.   Each man was doing what they thought to be the right thing, and each said what they felt needed to be said so all sides of the argument could be heard.  Ultimately, the Union did break up, but then reunited stronger and better than before, and it was all able to happen because of healthy debate and the ultimate strength of the Union.

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