The Crisis and Compromise of 1850
Angry contention over the fruits of manifest destiny brought the nation to the verge of civil war by 1850. Because the area in dispute was of such imperial dimensions, it gave special credence to the claim that the shape of the new part of the Union might reshape the whole. Stretching from Texas and the upper reaches of the old Louisiana Purchase westward to the Pacific, it included Oregon south of the 49th parallel and all of the lands acquired from Mexico in 1848. A restless and rapidly growing population in some parts of the vast domain clearly indicated the need for regular government and thus lent urgency to the call for Congress to provide territorial organization. But there was a rub. Any measure of Congress for organizing new territories would inescapably reopen the fateful controversy over the spread of slavery.
Some success had come from earlier efforts to deal with the vast and unorganized area; yet larger failures pointed to an impending crisis in the nation. A territorial government had been formed for Oregon, but the inclusion of a Free-Soil proviso embittered southern leaders. For whatever it was worth as a face-saving gesture, President Polk made it clear that he signed the measure only because all of Oregon lay north of the old Missouri Compromise line of