Who Wrote the Wilmot Proviso

The Wilmot Proviso is a very interesting document. It was written by a congressman in 1847, but the question that stays a mystery, is which congressman? Most see this document as it’s written, and think the obvious, David Wilmot must have written it, due to its name. Although this may seem just, assistant professor of history at Columbia University, Eric Foner, argues much differently. There is theory, that Wilmot was not the author of the Wilmot Proviso, but the spokesperson.

The true author of the Wilmot Proviso, is Jacob Brinkerhoff. In his document of The Wilmot Proviso Revised, he hypothesizes that possibly David Wilmot may not be the author of this Proviso, but member of the House of Representatives, Jacob Brinkerhoff of Ohio claims to be the true author of the Proviso. There is also another author, Charles Buxton Going that argues Wilmot is truly the author of the Wilmot Proviso. Both authors have very legitimate arguments to this mystery.

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Although there are a myriad of reasons why Wilmot is potentially the original author of The Wilmot Proviso including Charles Buxton Going’s ideas to convince historians of Wilmot’s authority over the Wilmot Proviso, Foner presents the many reasons why he may not be. In Foner’s exert from The Wilmot Proviso Revised, he brings up the ideas of congressmen rewriting the Proviso in their own writing in order to be the spokesperson, and Brinkerhoff’s claim of being the true author. There are many reasons for both sides of who is the true author of the Proviso.

Charles Buxton Going seemed to be able to convince many people with the idea that David Wilmot was the true author, even after they decided that it was Brinkerhoff. Going brought up the idea that it had to have been Wilmot because it was written in his own handwriting. He also said that the reason he wrote the Proviso, was because it was a humanitarian act, where the United States decided that slavery needed to end before expanding any further westward, and David Wilmot agreed. This was interesting considering the fact that in the past, Wilmot gave no signs of antislavery thoughts, and then the Proviso was presented.

I believe that Going does not have a solid enough claim to this idea that Wilmot is the true author of the Wilmot Proviso, he has many points that may seem just, but with further research they seem very inadequate. For instance, Going said that it had to have been Wilmot because it was in his own handwriting, but Foner counteracts that claim in saying that at the time the Proviso was presented, many congressmen wrote the Proviso in their own handwriting in case they got to be the spokesperson to announce the readings.

So the fact that it is written in his handwriting does account for ideas, the fact that there are multiple “original copies” of the Proviso written in different handwritings makes us second guess on Going’s ideas of Wilmot. Secondly, I don’t believe that the Proviso was written by Wilmot due to Going’s ideas, is that Going’s excuse for the fact of no previous antislavery acts were done by Wilmot before the Proviso. Wilmot was more on the loyal side and did not say much about slavery before the point of the presentation of the Proviso.

Going came to the conclusion that it was a humanitarian act, where most should see it as a sign that he is not the true author. One more idea that is brought up by Going as to why Wilmot was the author of the Proviso instead of Brinkerhoff, is the idea that at the time the Wilmot Proviso was presented, was the time that the President requested for funds, so that he could begin a peace treaty with Mexico. Going believed that this was the perfect time for Wilmot to present his information to the House of Representatives.

Although this may be a good account, and good reasoning to write the Proviso, it is still questioned due to the fact that Brinkerhoff could have done the same thing. In Eric Foner’s writing of The Wilmot Proviso Revised, Foner explains how Brinkerhoof would be the true author and how Wilmot may not be. Foner puts out the ideas on why Brinkerhoff would have written the Proviso rather than Wilmot. He also brings up the idea on why Brinkerhoff would have chosen Wilmot to represent him when reading the proviso, yet he took full credit for the democratic writing. Foner’s ideas and proposals about the Wilmot

Proviso have many strong points, that are debatable, yet really get us questioning on the ideas and facts of the Wilmot Proviso and its author. According to Foner, Brinkerhoff was much more inclined to write the Proviso rather than Wilmot. Brinkerhoff has written more on slavery in general and his ideas on what should happen. Brinkerhoff has presented many things to the House of Representatives, and knew that if he were the one to go and present his thoughts and writings to them they would not hear him out due to the fact that he has been their so many times, and presented much more information.

Brinkerhoff saw his information to be more important to get out and in the open rather than his fame. Jacob Brinkerhoff wanted the Proviso that he wrote to be heard and listened to because it was an idea that he believed the House of Representatives needed to know and understand. For Brinkerhoff to write the Proviso instead of Wilmot just makes more sense. The ideas in the Wilmot Proviso itself, are much more the ideas and believes of Brinkerhoff rather than Wilmot. In the Wilmot Proviso, the author is very antislavery, and is pushing the idea that it needs to stop moving westward and halt before slavery reaches Mexico.

Wilmot had never presented any ideas on the Antislavery and proslavery debates, shows that it was not as big of subject for him to write and present to the House of Representatives. Before the Proviso was presented, Brinkerhoff brought his ideas to the House of Representatives known as the Oregon Question, which was the idea of manifest destiny, and for the United States to “own” Oregon. Although this does not have much to do with the antislavery, it shows that Brinkerhoff was one to go and speak his mind for the House, whereas Wilmot was not and this was his only presentation.

In Foner’s The Wilmot Proviso Revised, he explains on the question of, why would Brinkerhoff want Wilmot to present his work? In Foner’s words, it is quite simple. The idea of trying to get the House of Representatives to listen to him was hard in itself, so why not bring in someone they haven’t heard from. This idea would work, because they are going to want to hear what someone new has to say rather that Brinkerhoff, who they heard from often. Brinkerhoff wanted an open ear from the House and this was a way to insure that they would consider listening.

Brinkerhoff had more of a fear that they would not listen to him giving them important information rather than the fame that he could possibly endure by presenting this Proviso to them. In the Wilmot Proviso, its main objective was to halt slavery from the newly founded territories, in this bill, it started a major uproar in the debates between the North and the South, and was a main point for the start of the Civil War. For David Wilmot to write this and to support it would be totally out of character.

It is more like Brinkerhoff, the person who was very interested in the new found land, and Oregon to want to stop the expansion of slavery rather than David Wilmot. Brinkerhoff was very supportive of antislavery, and is much more inclined to want to protect Oregon, from slavery rather than Wilmot, due to the fact that he has been fighting for Oregon to be a part of the United States since the Oregon question, it would not put it out of character for him to do this. It is all a mystery on who the true author is of the Wilmot Proviso, it may be Brinkerhoff and Wilmot was the spokesperson, or it may possibly be Wilmot himself.

What we do know though is the ideas of Brinkerhoff and the bill of the Wilmot Proviso, give us an idea of what was going through the minds of some of the middle colonies during this time. The Wilmot Proviso did what it was meant to do, and trigger the minds of the House of Representatives and side with the antislavery in the new territories. It brought the idea to end slavery in some of the country but allow it in the already slave run society. Although this caused uprising between the North and the South, without the Wilmot Proviso, we never know what the United States would be today.


  1. Bibliography Brinkerhoff, Jacob. The Oregon Question. Ohio: 1846. http://openlibrary. org/books/OL23703877M/Speech_of_Hon. _J. _Brinkerhoff_of_Ohio_on_the_Oregon_question (accessed April 19, 2013). Foner, Eric.
  2. The WIlmot Proviso Revised Journal of American History. Organization of American Histoirans, 1969. http://www. jstor. org/stable/1908123 (accessed April 19, 2013).
  3. Going, Charles Buxton. Free-Soiler: A Biography Of The Great Advocate Of The Wilmot Proviso. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, http://www. openisbn. com/preview/1161632115 / (accessed April 17, 2013).
  4. Unknown, . The Wilmot Proviso. 1846. http://media. nara. gov/nwl/gal/wilmot_proviso. pdf (accessed April 19, 2013).

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Who Wrote the Wilmot Proviso. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/who-wrote-the-wilmot-proviso/