South Carolina: A Bicentennial History

By Louis B. Wright | Go to book overview

9

Triumph of Extremism and
Devastation of War

THE Mexican War (1846-1848) added new territory to the United States and provided further grounds for quarreling over slavery. At the beginning, in 1846, a Pennsylvania Congressman named David Wilmot was the author of an amendment to a money bill which would exclude slavery in the new territories. The Wilmot Proviso immediately raised the hackles of Southerners, and secessionists in South Carolina began to scream louder for separation from the Union.

An uneasy calm was restored in 1850 by a compromise engineered by Henry Clay, in which California was admitted as a free state, with a sop thrown to the South by the inclusion of a more effective fugitive-slave law. Calhoun, old and too ill to speak in the Senate debate, expressed his disapproval through a colleague. Webster, almost as frail as Calhoun, urged upon his Northern colleagues the acceptance of the fugitive-slave provision as a means of placating the South and saving the Union. Clay's compromise, grudgingly enacted, helped keep the peace for a decade, but did not restrain growing talk of violence in South Carolina.

Extremist politicians and newspapers in the state were ready to secede and go it alone. One Carolinian, Edward Bryan, ex

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