Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview
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chapter ten
The Antislavery Lobby and the Compromise of 1850

At least part of Bailey's enthusiasm for the Free-Soil movement stemmed from his living in Washington where the issue of the extension of slavery into New Mexico and California seemed more important to the antislavery cause than it might in western New York where the Liberty League had its strength. Like other antislavery spokesmen, Bailey had seen the Mexican War as part of a conspiracy to extend slavery that stretched back in time to before the annexation of Texas. In Washington, which to his mind was the home of the conspiracy, he became adamant in his conviction that southern leaders intended to force slavery into lands previously free under Mexican law in order to strengthen slavery where it already existed, add new slave states, and extend the rule of the Slaveholding Interest. As northern Whigs and Democrats responded to the territorial issue with compromise proposals aimed at avoiding the Wilmot Proviso and allowing for the possibility of slavery expansion, he came to believe that only a broad-based popular movement in the North could prevent it.1 By the time the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the war in early 1848 with the expected acquisition of territory, Bailey was convinced that the nation faced a choice between slavery restriction, gradual emancipation, democracy, and progress or slavery expansion, perpetual bondage for blacks, despotism for the entire nation, and degradation of the North. Therefore, he argued, it was necessary for "friends of freedom" to take a forthright stand while remaining flexible enough to enlist allies in the struggle. This was the policy Bailey adopted in Washington in the late 1840s as an editor, lobbyist, and as the host of informal Free-Soil gatherings, while Congress moved slowly toward a compromise that would permit the expansion of slavery. Nothing better served to


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