Title Card-min.jpg

The Amendment Passes

ACT ONE: The Great Divide
Destiny Made Manifest

From “Westward Expansion: An American Story” by Harold Freeman
Published 1998

“The presidency of James K. Polk was defined by one question: should the United States expand north, or south? Judging Mexico to be the weaker power, and therefore, the easier victory, Polk set his sights on acquiring as much of Mexico as possible. The shift away from war over Oregon to war in Mexico was precipitated by not only persistent Mexican weakness in both Government and Army, but a rapid deterioration in relations between the two states over the American annexation of Texas.

The catalyst for Polk’s war of expansion came from a dispute over the Nueces strip. The Mexican government claimed that the southern border of Texas lay along the Nueces River. Texas, and by extension the United States government, insisted that the border lay along the Rio Grande River, and derived this claim from the Treaties of Velasco, which had established that river as the southern border, but the treaties had been repudiated by the Mexican Government. To intimidate Mexico, President Polk dispatched an army of 3,500 men, commanded by General Zachary Taylor, to occupy the territory in question. In reaction to this, Mexico was consumed by nationalist fervor. Despite having four different presidents in 1846, the people agreed that the government should resist American imperialism.

General Taylor refused Mexican demands to retreat north of the Nueces, prompting General Santa Anna to lead 2,000 cavalry troops in an attack on a 70-man American patrol group. Known as the Thornton Affair after Seth Thornton, the US commander, eleven US servicemen were killed in the US rout. Just a few days after the Thornton Affair, Mexican troops attacked the makeshift American camp built by Taylor, known as Fort Texas. The siege ended with the arrival of General Taylor himself, with 2,400 troops and a company of flying artillery [1]. The day after the abortive Mexican siege, the two sides engaged in the brutal Battle of Resaca de la Palma, fought in a dry riverbed and characterized by vicious hand-to-hand combat. In the end, the US army dealt far more casualties than it sustained, and the Mexican Army was forced to withdraw. The Mexican-American War had begun.”

From “The Sectional Rift” by Xander J. Walsh
Published 2009 (Re-print of the 1999 edition)

“Little did the members of the House of Representatives know, but the debate over a two-million-dollar appropriations bill would spiral into a great sectional debate, and, ultimately, a war for the preservation of the union. Little did these men of the House, Democrat or Whig, northern or southern, know that in a decade’s time, some of them would help lead the Union to victory or that some would become members of a secessionist alliance of states. What the members of the House of Representatives did know was that they had just come from a hearty meal, with not a small number intoxicated, and that they had just two hours to vote on the bill providing $2 million to finance Polk’s annexation of land taken from Mexico in the inevitable American victory, before Congress adjourned for recess.

Polk and his allies had carefully planned this last session of Congress before recess – two hours exactly were provided for debate and voting, with no Representative permitted to speak for longer than ten minutes. No sooner had the session opened than Representative Hugh White, a Whig from New York, lambasted President Polk for his expansionist plans. After White’s speaking time elapsed, Robert C. Winthrop, a Whig from Massachusetts, criticized the President in a similar manner to White, and called for an amendment to prohibit slavery in the territories annexed from Mexico. After Winthrop, two speakers defended Polk’s actions from the criticism of the two Whig congressmen.

Then, David Wilmot, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania, was recognized by the Chair from among the many Congressmen clamoring to speak. Wilmot was, up until now, a faithful Democrat. When the other Pennsylvanian Congressmen voted against Polk’s tariffs, Wilmot supported them. Wilmot had voted in favor of the Texan annexation treaty, and in favor of recognizing the northern border of the Oregon Territory as the 49th parallel, even when many northerners were agitating for a more northern boundary. It was all the more surprising to the administration when Wilmot began his address by criticizing Polk for masking his bid to extend slave power into the recently acquired territory under the guise of Manifest Destiny. He was not necessarily opposed to slavery – he supported admitting Texas as a slave state, but Wilmot opposed extending slavery to territories where it did not yet exist.
While White and Winthrop had called for an amendment barring slavery from the newly acquired territories, Wilmot introduced such an amendment to the appropriations bill after he finished his criticism of Polk. The ‘Wilmot Proviso’, as it has come to be called, mandated, “that, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico… neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.” The introduction of Wilmot’s amendment caused a stir on the House floor, and word spread quickly of the amendment. Three members of Polk’s cabinet rushed to view the proceedings. Though the amendment had disturbed the President’s plan for a quick and quiet vote of approval, the House Chair stuck to the two-hour time limit, and when that time elapsed, the House commenced its vote.

William W. Wick, a Democrat representing Indiana, tried to compromise by introducing an amendment extending the 36 30’ line established by the Missouri compromise all the way to the Pacific, but this measure was defeated 89-54. Then, finally, the House voted on whether to include the Wilmot Proviso in the appropriations bill. The amendment was added to the bill by a vote of 80-64, with the votes cast along strictly sectional lines – almost all votes in favor came from northern congressmen, and almost all votes against the bill came from southern congressmen. With the Proviso included, southern representatives launched a bid to simply kill the bill rather than ban the introduction of slavery into the territories in question. Despite this, the appropriations bill was approved by a vote of 85-80, with the votes once again falling along the north-south sectional divide.

As the next day was a Sunday, the Senate did not convene to vote on the appropriations bill, amendment included, until August 10th, the day before Congress adjourned. The day of the Senate vote, leaders in the administration planned to remove the Wilmot Amendment from the appropriations bill, return the legislation to the House, where, pressed for time by the looming adjournment, the representatives would have no choice but to approve the appropriations bill, sans the amendment. However, the administration’s plan was thwarted by Senator John Davis, a Whig from Massachusetts and a strong supporter of the Wilmot Amendment. Davis planned to talk until the Senate had no choice but to vote on the appropriations bill with the amendment attached. Davis planned to speak long enough that there would be exactly eight minutes to vote. Interestingly, he almost miscalculated how long that would be because of a slow clock in the Senate chamber. Fortunately for the pro-amendment members of Congress, the clock was repaired overnight after a senator pointed out the discrepancy between the wall clock and his own pocket watch [2]. On August 10th, Davis addressed the floor and spoke, as planned, until there were eight minutes left in the Senate session. The vote was called, and the fifty-eight senators filed up to cast their votes. Like in the House, votes were determined by the geographical location of the Senator’s state, rather than their party. Since the Senate was evenly divided north south, it came down to one Senator to pass the appropriations bill and amendment. Senator John Clayton was conflicted – while he felt that the spread of slavery should be arrested, he was also sensitive to the wants and demands of the South. Ultimately, Clayton cast his ballot in favor of the appropriations bill, and it passed, 30-28.
With the appropriations bill, Wilmot amendment included, passed by the Senate, it fell to President Polk to sign it into law. Here, however, Polk wavered. On the one hand, he had his desired two million dollars to compensate Mexico for annexing slightly over half of their territory, but he was angered that the institution of slavery would be barred from the new lands acquired. Further, he was pressured heavily to sign it – northerners to halt the spread of slavery, and imperialists to ensure the acquisition of the northern half of Mexico.As he told his cabinet, “if I refuse to sign the bill, I will forever earn the enmity of the abolitionists, the nation’s finances will suffer from a prolonged conflict in the unhospitable mountains and deserts of Mexico, and I will be charged with a failure to expand our nation to the Pacific. If I sign it, the southerners, and my own party, will all but disown me, but I will have accomplished my greatest goal in office: annexing what was once the north of the Mexican nation but is now the American south west. I suppose I shall have to sign it.” He had come to his decision, one that would change the course of history - he would sign the appropriations bill.

On August 12th, James Knox Polk signed the appropriations bill placed before him. He got his two million dollars, the northerners got their amendment, and the United States emerged with a newly divided political atmosphere, as the issue of slavery began to take center stage.”

From “Prelude to Tragedy” by Abraham Lincoln
Abridged Edition, Published 1967 (Original, 1876)

“With victory in Mexico assured, President Polk dispatched his Chief Negotiator, James Buchanan, to Mexico City. Polk initially wanted to invite Mexican delegates to America but was cautioned by Jefferson Davis that such a move would result in the delegates being shot immediately upon their return, and that any Mexican government that acquiesced to American demands would be quickly overthrown.

Buchanan’s goal was to obtain as much territory as possible from Mexico. He was able to get Mexican assent to the American annexation of Texas south to the Rio Grande, New Mexico, and Alta California. However, Buchanan knew that Polk wanted him to secure, at a minimum, the peninsula of Lower California. As this work does not concern the Mexican War itself, nor does it concern the minutiae of the negotiations, it will suffice that Buchanan successfully negotiated American annexation of the Baja California, as well as the northern halves of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

Though President Polk expressed his disappointment that the border was not pushed farther south to include the states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, he decided that Buchanan’s Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo was satisfactory and submitted the treaty for Senatorial ratification. Several attempts were made to amend the treaty – Senator Jefferson Davis introduced an amendment that included Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila in the annexed territory, however this was defeated 44-11. On the other side, a Whig attempt to exclude California and New Mexico in the territories annexed failed 38-12 [3]. Aside from modifications to Article IX, which changed the process by which Mexicans living in the annexed territories were granted citizenship, the treaty proceeded to be ratified as it was drafted by Buchanan on March 10th, by a vote of 38-14.”

From “The Sectional Crises” by Herman Glass
Published 1973

“The signing of the appropriations act, and with it, the Wilmot Proviso, may have resolved the future of the new territories of the Southwest, but caused additional problems for attempts to incorporate the Oregon Country into a unified territory. The proposal to establish Oregon as an incorporated territory, whose inhabitants were already generally opposed to slavery, was most unwelcome to the south. Desperate to maintain a semblance of balance between free state and slave state, southern politicians, led by the most prominent of the pro-slavery southerners, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, vowed to fight the incorporation of Oregon tooth and nail. As Representative Robert Rhett of South Carolina wrote to the new Senator of Alabama, William R. King, “the passage of that dangerous attachment, the ‘Wilmot Proviso’, has greatly set us back in our cause – and our cause is the preservation and extension of the careful, intricate equilibrium between the states with the institution of slavery, and those states without.”

The Oregon Bill to incorporate Oregon as a Federal territory threatened to create a new free state – something the south was loath to allow. The first attempt to pass an incorporation bill failed in the Senate, as a southern bloc, led by Calhoun and King, vociferously opposed its passage. In particular, the southern bloc objected to the bill’s allowance for Oregon becoming a free territory without attempting to even the score between free and slave.

The intransigence of the southerners’ is not to suggest that there was no sense of urgency in incorporating Oregon Country – the Whitman Massacre, where the Christian missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, along with eleven others, were killed by the Cayuse Indians, who accused them of poisoning 200 Cayuse, had just ocurred. The massacre precipitated the Cayuse War, in what is now southeastern Jefferson. Oregon was controlled by a provisional government, which promptly formed volunteer militias, known as the “Oregon Rifles”. Skirmishes took place along the Columbia River and the Columbia plateau, with the Oregon Rifles emerging the victor on the battlefield, but the Cayuse frequently stole rifles and cattle in raids. The Cayuse warriors also burned homesteads, mills, and missions as they fought the Oregonian Provisional Government, severely harming the territory’s economy, and exacerbating the divides and instability within the Provisional Government.

Despite the Cayuse War that was ravaging the settlements of the Columbia War, the Senate was unable to resolve the disputes surrounding the incorporation of the Oregon territory. Several compromises had been proposed – abrogating the Wilmot Proviso in favor of following the 36 30’ line to the Pacific, which was defeated by the northern factions, and holding a referendum in the territory, which was successfully stopped by the southern Senators, because, as John Calhoun declared, “we all know what the settlers of Oregon Country will determine – the prohibition of slavery. It matters not whether they choose to prohibit the institution by the ballot, or whether Congress decides to incorporate Oregon as free territory.” Ultimately, time ran out before the Senate could reach a decision – August 14th was the final day of Congressional sessions, and on that day, yet another attempt to incorporate Oregon, this one simply ignoring the slavery issue, was defeated, opposed by anti-slavery northerners and pro-slavery southerners, by a vote of 40-18. The matter of Oregon, governed by an increasingly fragile provisional government and beset by mounting debt and a wounded settler economy, would have to be settled in the next session of the 30th Congress [4].”

[1] The American term for Horse Artillery – light, mobile artillery. At the battle in question, the American artillery far outclassed the slow Mexican guns. (So far, all OTL background)
[2] The POD – OTL, the Senate clock was eight minutes slow.
[3] OTL, three Southern Whig Senators voted for the bill. Here, with no slavery permitted in the lands annexed, they vote against introducing new, free territory not included in the Treaty.
[4] OTL, Oregon was incorporated the day before recess. TTL, with a greater debate over slavery earlier, the issue is left for future Congresses and the Compromise of 1850.

Up Next on NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM: Zachary Taylor and the Compromise of 1850
Last edited:
Your TL seems to have great potential, and I am excited to see where this extremely unique POD leads to. As a minor note, the picture you have labeled as John Davis is actually of Daniel Webster, another Massachusetts politician. I have found two photographs depicting Davis, and I will leave it to you to decide what you ultimately want to do.
Your TL seems to have great potential, and I am excited to see where this extremely unique POD leads to. As a minor note, the picture you have labeled as John Davis is actually of Daniel Webster, another Massachusetts politician. I have found two photographs depicting Davis, and I will leave it to you to decide what you ultimately want to do.
Oops. I guess that’s what I get for going off of google images.
P.S. thanks for the response!
Last edited:
The Last Compromise

From “The Sectional Rift” by Xander J. Walsh
Published 2009 (Re-print of the 1999 edition)

“Since the incumbent, President Polk, had declined to seek a second term, as he had promised in his 1844 campaign, the Democratic nomination was wide open.

Two candidates soon emerged as frontrunners – Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, a staunch supporter of popular sovereignty, and State Secretary James Buchanan, the Administration’s favorite. Cass believed that it should not be Congress or the Courts that decided whether a territory allowed or prohibited slavery, but that such a decision ought to be made by the people, via a referendum. Buchanan, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of abrogating the Wilmot Amendment and substituting the 36 30’ line. On the first ballot of the Convention, Cass emerged with a commanding lead of 125 delegates, but this was not enough to win the nomination; a two-third majority of 170 delegates being required. Over the next three ballots, however, Cass steadily gained delegates, until he secured 179 on the fourth ballot and clinched the Democratic nomination. For vice president, two main candidates emerged: Representative William O. Butler of Kentucky, and Senator William R. King of Alabama. Ultimately, King’s ardent support of slavery cost him the nomination, as northern delegates (those who hadn’t bolted to the Free Soilers) refused to support him. In the end, William O. Butler was selected as a less contentious running mate for Cass.

However, the nomination of Cass displeased several abolitionist Northern Democrats, who disliked the doctrine of popular sovereignty and believed that slavery throughout the United States should be barred, and the slaves there emancipated. Merging with the existing abolitionist Liberty Party, the new Free-Soil Party convened in Buffalo in August to nominate a presidential ticket. For the presidential nomination, the Free-Soilers turned to former President, and prominent abolitionist, Martin Van Buren. Though some doubted the sincerity of Van Buren’s abolitionist leanings, given the former President’s support for the gag rule barring debate over slavery, Van Buren won on the first ballot with the strong backing of most of the Democratic delegates, half of the Whigs, and a smattering of Liberty Party delegates. For Vice-President, the convention unanimously selected Charles Francis Adams, the son of the recently deceased former President and abolitionist John Quincy Adams.

The nomination of Cass also angered many southern delegates, who felt that popular sovereignty would not be enough to restore the free-slave equilibrium that had been upset by the passage of the Wilmot Amendment. Led by William L. Yancey of Alabama, a movement began to establish a party plank declaring that no Congress or Territorial legislature had the constitutional authority to prohibit slavery in a territory. When this failed by a vote of 46-206, Yancey and most of the Alabama delegation walked out of the convention [1]. Convening at a separate location, an “independent ticket” of John Calhoun, who, though not present at the convention, jumped at the chance to lead the ticket, and William R. King as his running mate. The “Southern Independent” ticket was thus born, making the election a four-way race.

The Whigs, despite having numerous candidates throw their hats into the ring, came down to just two: two-time nominee Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and General Zachary Taylor, who had commanded troops in the War of 1812, various Indian Wars, and the recent Mexican War. Though Taylor was very vague on his political positions, he won 111 delegates on the first ballot, placing him in the lead. With the support of the southern delegates, Taylor gained ground with each successive ballot, while Clay steadily lost support. On the fourth ballot, General Taylor had won more than half the delegates and thus became his party’s nominee for President, though a few of the more ardently abolitionist For Vice President, a close race between Comptroller Millard Fillmore and former Representative Abbott Lawrence began. On the first ballot, Lawrence emerged in with a narrow lead of 114 delegates, with Fillmore in a close second with 110 delegates. However, on the second ballot, Fillmore’s support declined significantly, with the New York Comptroller ending up with 87 delegates. Abbott Lawrence, on the other hand, secured the nomination with 173 delegates – three more than the minimum.

The 1848 Presidential election was defined by a few central issues. The first, and most divisive issue, was that of the spread of slavery. There were two extreme views on this issue: the abolitionist Free Soil Party, which believed slavery to be an evil institution and sought to halt its spread and ultimately ban the practice. On the other extreme lay the Southern Independent ticket. Calhoun loudly proclaimed his hatred for the Wilmot Amendment, and stated in no uncertain terms that slavery should be permitted to spread to all territories of the United States.

In contrast, the Democrats resolutely stuck to Lewis Cass’s doctrine of popular sovereignty. Cass expressed his dissatisfaction with the Wilmot Amendment and pledged to replace it with referenda in the territories in question to determine whether slavery would be prohibited. This received the backing of the majority of the Democrats, but the breakaway factions, the Free Soilers and Southern Independents, were vocal opponents – the Free Soilers viewed popular sovereignty as selling the party out to southern interests, while the Southern Independents attacked it as an abolitionist conspiracy. Amid a divided Democratic party, the Whigs put forward General Zachary Taylor. Taylor, though a Louisiana slave owner with the appearance of having no solid political principles, was strongly backed by such radical abolitionists as William Seward and Thurlow Weed. The Whigs largely ignored the issue of slavery and Taylor ran mostly on his successful prosecution of the Mexican War. The Whig’s lack of a party platform in 1848, combined with the vagueness of Taylor’s positions, was a great boon as the Democrats, despite their attempts to avoid discussing slavery as much as possible (though Cass’s support of popular sovereignty meant that Americans generally knew where he stood on the issue), emerged looking the more forceful party.

Ultimately, Zachary Taylor won the election, with his victory in Pennsylvania securing an electoral majority. Van Buren played the part of a spoiler, capturing enough Democratic votes in New York to allow Taylor to win a majority, though he also drew away enough Whig votes to throw Ohio to Cass, and won Vermont himself. The Southern Independents also failed to win a single state, and indeed failed to get above 5% of votes nationally. However, the Southern Independents did help swing Mississippi to the Whigs. [2]

The election left many key issues unresolved. Taylor had carefully sidestepped discussing the issue, while it appeared that the doctrines of abolitionism, popular sovereignty, and the Southern Independent policy of banning the banning of slavery in new territories, had been repudiated. In the end, it would be up to the new 31st Congress and President Zachary Taylor to figure such issues out.”

From “A House Divided” by Floyd Gregory
Published 1956

“The 1848 House Elections returned a Whig plurality [3]; though the Free-Soil Party having drawn away seven Whig Congressmen. However, a plurality is not the same as a majority, and without a solid majority, the House experienced a deadlock over the election for Speaker of the House. Northern Whigs, backed by the Free-Soil Party, nominated Robert C. Winthrop, who had spoken in favor of the Wilmot Amendment and thus received the backing of the abolitionists. Southern Whigs backed Meredith P. Gentry of Tennessee, while the Democrats pushed Howell Cobb of Georgia.

after over two weeks of contentious debate, a group of Whigs, both northern and southern, nominated Representative Edward Stanly, from North Carolina’s 8th District, as a compromise candidate between Gentry and Winthrop. Initially, Stanly received little support. However, on the fifty-sixth ballot, Winthrop withdrew and endorsed Stanly, and on the next ballot Gentry endorsed Stanly, giving him a majority of the votes. Though the issue was resolved, and Edward Stanly was Speaker, the fight over the Speakership had highlighted the sectional divide in Congress, even within parties.”

From “The Sectional Crises” by Herman Glass
Published 1973

“When the 31st Congress convened in March 1849, the first issue on the table was that of the incorporation of Oregon Country. Since August 14th, the Cayuse War had continued to plague the region, while the Provisional Government of Oregon was so heavily indebted that its credit was exhausted, and they could no longer afford weapons for the Oregon Rifles. Settlements and missions up and down the Columbia River had been burned, while disease had begun to strike the settlers just as much as the Cayuse. The Senate had barely been gaveled in before a petition from the Provisional Government arrived, begging the Senate to incorporate the territory before all organized government in Oregon collapsed and, “the Cayuse are permitted to ravage the countryside, pillaging any signs of civilization.”

The other issue the Senate faced was the claims Texas had on the Provisional Government of New Mexico. The state of Texas laid claim to eastern New Mexico up to the Rio Grande River, while the Provisional Government held control of the land. The issue would have been quietly resolved, except that the New Mexican Provisional Government prohibited slavery and Texas permitted it. This dispute thus became affixed to the growing crisis over Oregon.

Upon taking office, President Taylor made no secret of the fact that he wanted territorial legislatures in Oregon, California, and New Mexico established [4], “all due and deliberate speed, so as to ensure the quick establishment of stable and unified territorial authorities and indeed a stable and unified Union”, as he wrote in his letter to Congress amid their deadlock over the Speakership. He insisted that, of these territories, the admission of California as a state be expedited, and Oregon be incorporated immediately.

Taylor dispatched his two key allies [5] in the Senate, John M. Clayton and John J. Crittenden, to ensure his views were heard and clearly expounded and circulated. The two most powerful Whigs, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, did not hold the President in high regard, and indeed did not even view him as a full Whig – the President had only joined to run for his office. It was opportune, then, that Clayton and Crittenden had remained in the Senate. In January, Senator Crittenden addressed the Senate and presented to the members of that body the proposals of the Administration. Eight resolutions were presented by Crittenden and served to affix firmly the national and Congressional spotlights upon the platform and ideals of the President, rather than Clay and Webster. The first of these resolutions concerned the dual issues of California and Texas. Given that slavery was barred in all lands annexed from Mexico, including California, Crittenden proposed splitting the northern half of the Californian Territory off into a separate state that would be admitted to the union as a free state. Next, Crittenden communicated the President’s desire to form New Mexico into a territory. However, this raised the question of the disputed lands east of the Rio Grande, controlled by New Mexico, but contested by Texas.

To remedy this, and maintain a balance between free and slave territories, Crittenden advanced the administration’s view that Texas should be divided into two states, and that the land east of the Rio Grande should be made into a slave state, with Texas ceding its claims in exchange for Federal debt relief on Texan debts carried over national debts incurred during the struggle for independence from Mexico. After several weeks of negotiations, Texas agreed to divide into two states, with the boundaries to be determined by a Federal commission led by Henry Clay, John Bell, and Thomas Hart Benton. Further resolutions affirmed the legality of the interstate slave trade and promised the continuation of slavery in Washington D.C. unless the people of Maryland and the District moved to abolish the institution.

However, Southern anger over the Wilmot Amendment boiled over into fiery attacks on the north and even some distant calls for secession. Robert Toombs declared in a speech castigating not only the Wilmot Amendment, but proposals to incorporate Oregon, that, “I am for disunion” if no new slave territories were incorporated. Adding fuel to the fire, in October 1849 a convention in Mississippi, with both Democrats and Whigs present, advocated for a larger convention to be held in Nashville. The convention’s purpose would be as a roundtable for southern and slaveholding interests to discuss the furthering of their interests in the face of abolitionism and northern opposition. In early 1850, the state legislatures of Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, and South Carolina all passed resolutions supporting the Nashville Convention, which was scheduled for June. All of the previous states sent delegates, though Tennessee’s delegates comprised the majority, with several from each county.

President Taylor clearly and strongly opposed such a convention. It was his belief that the union be upheld without making concessions to those who sought to divide the United States, a doctrine clearly derived from Andrew Jackson’s stance during the Nullification Crisis. Amid debate over the Compromise of 1850, Taylor looked upon the convention as an attempt to bully the Federal government into overturning established Federal law, namely the Wilmot Amendment. Nevertheless, Taylor refrained from acting, even as many pro-secessionists, such as Jefferson Davis, headed to Nashville. He instead restricted himself to denouncing the convention as a poor idea and a hotbed of secessionist thought. Ultimately, Taylor’s fears of the convention advocating for southern secession were unfounded as the moderates at the Convention narrowly outnumbered the secessionists [6] and simply recommended abrogating the Wilmot Amendment, the standard belief of a Southern Democrat.

On June 14th, three days after the end of the Nashville Convention, the Clay Committee released its findings on the division of Texas and the land east of the Rio Grande. The proposed borders were carefully drawn to split Texas more or less equally, to avoid leaving one state with the most population, bulk of the resources and arable land. The borders decided upon were a combination of Clay’s proposal for a diagonal line drawn from the Red River to just north of El Paso, and Benton’s proposal for a division along the Colorado River that bisected the state. The northern state, named Brazos after an important waterway, would comprise all the land north of the Colorado and east of the Clay Line. The southern state, Austin, comprised all the land south of the Colorado and east of the Clay Line.

The division of Texas to counterbalance the admission of California and the incorporation of New Mexico and Oregon was generally accepted by the Senate. However, among the resolutions presented by Clayton and Crittenden was an Escaped Slave Act. This legislation would force northern states, most of whom had laws protecting fugitive slaves from capture and re-enslavement, to return all fugitive slaves captured by slavecatchers. Such a notion was highly unpopular with northern Senators, especially the Free-Soilers and abolitionist Whigs. Despite his alliance with Taylor, Senator Seward, a noted abolitionist, lambasted the proposed Escaped Slave Act as, “an infringement upon the rights of free men everywhere, and a violation of the right of the state to protect its residents.” In spite of Taylor’s great concessions to the north in terms of territory, the idea of an Escaped Slave Act was cause for outrage.

Nevertheless, on July 31st, the laws drafted by Crittenden, Clayton, and Clay were put before the full Senate for a vote. The compromise consisted of four bills [7]: the Oregon Act, incorporating Oregon as a free territory, the Sacramento Act, admitting northern California as a free state, the Texas-New Mexico Act, dividing Texas, opening Indian Territory to slavery [8], and settling the border dispute, and the Escaped Slave Act. The final of those bills was set to be voted on last, so that if it was defeated by northern abolitionists, it would not jeopardize the others, which were viewed as more important by the Administration. In arranging the passage of the Compromise Acts, President Taylor was aided by Stephen Douglas, a Democratic Senator from Illinois. A powerful speaker, Douglas successfully positioned himself as an ally of the Administration’s agenda and was instrumental in assembling a majority for the acts.

The Administration and its Senatorial allies made effective use of “Compromise Blocs” which would stand with either the northern bloc or southern bloc to approve certain parts of the Compromise to form majorities. Of course, each bill had a separate compromise bloc to support it. The first three Compromise bills were put to the vote and swiftly confirmed – but the final one, the Escaped Slave Bill, proved far more controversial. With the provisions that an individual accused of being a slave could not testify to their freedom and that all private citizens had a duty to capture fugitive slaves by being summoned by a sheriff into a posse, it was detested in abolitionist circles and roundly denounced in Northern newspapers. Nevertheless, it too was passed through the Administration’s adept use of the Compromise Blocs. In the House, there was a greater fight over the Acts, and Douglas, Speaker Stanly, and Congressman Linn Boyd worked tirelessly to assemble the votes required to pass the four bills. Despite the majority of northern Representatives standing in opposition to the Texas Bill and the Escaped Slave Bill, the efforts of the Administration were successful in assembling a majority, and the Escaped Slave Act was passed by a comfortable margin and signed into law by President Taylor along with the other Compromise Acts.

The Compromise of 1850 did not solve everything – the future Utah, Colorado, and Sonora Territories remained unorganized, and the North and South were no closer to harmony than they were before. In fact, the Compromise opened new sores, with the passage of the Escaped Slave Act, even as it closed others.”

[1] OTL, only one delegate followed Yancey. TTL, due to greater southern militancy on slavery issues, Yancey is followed by about a dozen delegates, mostly from Mississippi and Alabama.
[2] The only real difference in TTL’s 1848 elections.
[3] Due to a stronger showing in 1846 and the victory of more northern Whigs, riding a wave of anti-slavery popular opinion, grant the Whigs a narrow plurality of five seats.
[4] OTL, Taylor wanted New Mexico admitted as a state. TTL, he changes to simply pushing for incorporation, not wanting an acrimonious debate over slavery to flare up.
[5] OTL, Clayton was appointed as Secretary of State, and Crittenden was elected Governor of Kentucky. TTL, neither of those events occur, and the two remain in the senate to serve as the floor leaders for the politically inexperienced Taylor, and prevent Clay from, as he did IOTL, seizing the opening and establishing himself, and not the President, as the leader of the Whigs.
[6] OTL, the secessionists were a small minority. TTL, they are a more sizeable group at the Convention, due to anger over the Wilmot Amendment.
[7] OTL, the Compromise was initially introduced to the Senate as a single, Omnibus Bill, which failed. TTL, with Taylor’s greater influence due to both having prominent spokesmen in the Senate and not dying on July 9th, the bills are introduced as separate bills right off the bat, rather than after the failure of the Omnibus.
[8] This doesn’t change much in the Indian Territory, but it does placate the South.

Up Next on NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM: The Election of 1852 and Cuba
Last edited:
Didn’t Taylor oppose the fugitive slave act IOTL? What changed here?
Thanks for replying!
According to this thread, Taylor only opposed Clay’s Omnibus Bill that combined all compromise measures into one. He did not oppose the component parts, and would have signed any compromise bills put in front of him.
The Impending Crisis

From “The Collapse of the Second Party System” by Reginald J. White II
Published 1977

“In keeping with Whig party principles, Zachary Taylor declined to seek a second term as President. He had successfully brokered the Compromise of 1850, and he was thus satisfied with his work. However, without a popular incumbent, the Whigs were forced to find a new candidate. Henry Clay was much too old and in poor health, and Daniel Webster was disliked by many party officials. Thus, two candidates emerged as the frontrunners for the nomination: General Winfield Scott, a hero of the Mexican War, and Senator John J. Crittenden, a staunch ally of the President.

Crittenden’s role in the passage and enforcement of the Escaped Slave Act made him unpopular among the northern Whigs, who instead backed Winfield Scott. On the first ballot, Crittenden held a slight lead of three delegates, but did not have the requisite majority to win the nomination.

After the eighth ballot, where once again no candidate had secured a nomination, the Ohio delegation held a vote to decide between continuing their support for Winfield Scott or switching to back Senator Thomas Corwin [1] as a compromise candidate. Corwin had opposed the Mexican War, which had the potential to earn him support from northern antislavery Whigs, but he was also a supporter of the Compromise of 1850 (though he remained silent on his opinion of the Escaped Slave Act), which could build popularity with the southern delegations. By just four votes, the delegation decided to back Corwin, who promptly hurried to the Convention from Washington D.C. On the next ballot, his name was officially entered as a candidate for the Presidential nomination. Initially, Corwin had only the support of Ohio and a few delegates from Indiana, which totaled twenty-five delegates. However, by the eleventh ballot, he had secured all but three Indianan delegates, and many delegates from Illinois and Michigan were beginning to switch to backing him.

After the twelfth ballot, where Corwin won forty delegates, several of his closest allies reached out to John J. Crittenden to secure his support. Though the north coalesced behind him, Corwin still needed the support of the south to secure the nomination. The two figures were, despite the perception of the delegates, similar in their beliefs. Though Corwin kept silent on the Escaped Slave Act, he, like Crittenden, was a strong supporter of the Compromise of 1850, and both supported further compromises to keep the south in the Union. Crittenden agreed to support Corwin, though he made his support conditional upon being allowed to pick the Vice-President and Secretary of State. Corwin, who was rather unprepared for his rise in popularity, agreed to Crittenden’s demands. The Kentucky Senator directed his supporters to switch to Corwin, telling one, “the Senator from Ohio is most uniquely a bridge between the two halves of the party. I have never seen a man who could simultaneously appeal to the southerners and to the Free-Soilers. We must do everything to ensure this scion of Compromise wins.”

On the thirteenth ballot, Corwin surged into the lead, with 141 delegates, just shy of half the votes. Though some southern delegates tried to push William A. Graham, the former Governor of North Carolina, as the southern-favored nominee, Corwin had by that point amassed enough momentum that he clinched the nomination on the fourteenth ballot, with 162 delegates. True to his word, he permitted Crittenden to select his running mate. Two candidates were seriously considered: Maryland Senator James A. Pearce, who had helped divide Texas, and Tennessee Senator John Bell of Tennessee, who was opposed to the spread of slavery and a staunch opponent of secession. Ultimately, Crittenden went with Bell, who he felt would attract more southern votes than Pearce.

The Democratic convention was similarly divided over the issue of slavery. However, unlike the Whigs, who were divided mainly between Free-Soilers and the south, the Democrats were divided between those who supported popular sovereignty and those who supported Compromise acts similar to the one in 1850. Senator Lewis Cass, the Democrats’ nominee in 1848, once again sought the nomination, and was backed by most midwestern and New English delegates. His primary rival, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, had the support of the south and Pennsylvania (his home state). Several minor candidates also won delegates – William L. Marcy controlled the New York delegation, and Brazos Senator Sam Houston was backed by Brazos, Austin, and South Carolina.

The convention was beset by deadlock. Cass’s support declined with each progressive ballot, while his fellow popular-sovereignty supporter, Stephen Douglas, saw a sharp rise in support. On the 26th ballot, Douglas emerged about twenty delegates behind James Buchanan, the frontrunner. On the 27th ballot, the Missourian, Californian, Kentuckian, Iowan, and Tennessean delegations flipped to Sam Houston, as well as seven delegates from Ohio. This sudden jump can be attributed to leaders in the Upper South regarding Houston as a possible compromise candidate, given his support for expansionism. Houston had encouraged the annexation of the Caribbean, in order to further American economic power and might. This was seen as, as a delegate from Tennessee, remarked to a fellow delegate, “an excellent opportunity to further the institution of slavery. Cuba and the rest of those islands have the exact agricultural economy for slavery to flourish. What we will see is the satiation of the south with the admission of these wealthy slave states.” While Houston himself did not see such expansionism as extending slavery, the notion of the expansion of slavery won him the support of the upper south. His frontiersman persona, meanwhile, won him support in California and Iowa, who saw a fellow westerner who would be favorable to, among other things, a transcontinental railroad. These supporters, the westerners and railroad men, placed him in direct opposition to Stephen Douglas, who saw many of his delegates switch to Houston in order to ride his upwards momentum.

However, in order to win, Houston needed to draw away Buchanan’s southern backers. To do this, he needed to assure them of his support for slavery and its spread. Houston and his allies met with delegates from Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Louisiana to convince them to jump ship. Houston promised three things: the annexation of Cuba as one or even two slave states, the construction of at least part of a transcontinental railroad through the south, and the incorporation of Kansas as a slave territory. Initially the states wavered, but the Virginian delegation, which was at that time pledged to James Buchanan, held a vote on whether to switch to Houston. dissatisfied with Buchanan’s declining popularity, the Virginian delegation agreed to back Houston, followed soon after by the rest of the states approached. These defections from Buchanan all but sank his candidacy, but Houston still lacked enough delegates for an outright win. Then, New Hampshire Senator Franklin Pierce requested to meet with Houston. Inside Houston’s hotel rooms, the northerner explained that he and the New Hampshire delegation had planned to enter his name as a candidate. But, Pierce told Houston, he was willing to support Houston. Pierce told Houston he had influence throughout the New English delegations. He told Houston that, in exchange for his support of Pierce’s ambitions to become Vice President, he would throw his support behind the Senator from Brazos. Houston agreed, a decision that certainly gave him the nomination, but one that would come back to haunt him come 1856.

On the thirtieth ballot, the New Hampshire delegation, thanks to Pierce’s machinations, abandoned Lewis Cass and voted for Samuel Houston. On the next ballot, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut followed New Hampshire’s lead and voted for Houston. This gave Houston 160 delegates, more than half of the total delegates, but not the required two thirds. During the next three ballots, the convention appeared to be in deadlock once more. However, at the end of the 33rd ballot, Senator Stephen Douglas met with his remaining supporters, the Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin delegations, and urged them to switch to Houston. On the thirty-fourth ballot, those states switched their allegiance to Houston, who also gained the delegations of Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Delaware, and Rhode Island. This placed him at 198 delegates, one more than the minimum 197 delegates. True to his word, Houston threw his weight behind Franklin Pierce for the Vice-Presidential nomination. However, on the first ballot, Pierce was challenged by the William L. Marcy, backed by the mid-Atlantic and New York, and Stephen Douglas, who was supported by the Midwest. On the second ballot, Marcy dropped out and endorsed Pierce, which was enough to give him a nearly unanimous victory.”

From “American Realignment” by Jonas Walsh
Published 2019

“The Whigs suffered in 1852 from a nasty, festering divide over the issue of slavery. The southern wing favored continued compromises and negotiations, while a growing number of northern Whigs were free-soilers who demanded the spread of slavery be arrested. Senator Corwin was a compromise candidate and inspired little excitement in either wing of the party. He supported a Constitutional amendment barring Congress from restricting slavery, an end to American expansion, and he insisted that the Escaped Slave Act be rigorously enforced. This did not endear him to the free-soil wing, who were adamant that the Escaped Slave Act be abolished, and the spread of slavery halted.

By contrast, the Democrats were far more united. A diverse coalition of southerners, westerners, southerners, imperialists, filibusterers, and railroad interests assembled to place Sam Houston, the Senator of the State of Brazos, in the White House. He called for, as a campaign pamphlet put it, “COMPROMISE on the question of slavery, CONSTRUCTION of a transcontinental railroad, and CUBAN annexation.” These three “C’s”, compromise, construction, and Cuba were the linchpin of Houston’s campaign: they were what united the disparate groups behind him. Without the first C, compromise, the Southern planters would desert him. Without the second, construction, the railroad companies would abandon him. And without Cuba, the expansionists and imperialists would leave.

The fractious Whigs suffered their worst defeat in history. Thomas Corwin won only five states and fifty-nine electoral votes, the biggest loss since James Monroe won unopposed in 1820. In the House, the Democrats gained thirty seats, giving Sam Houston a large majority when he took office in March.”

From “A History of US” by Bruce Hakim [2]
Published 1993

“In his first year in office, Sam Houston pushed for his greatest dream: the annexation of Cuba. Most today know Cuba as a great vacation and gambling destination, or as the setting for some of the best Mob films. But in the 1850s, it was still a Spanish colony, and the south coveted it as a new slave state. A war was in neither nation's best interests - Spain was beset by growing economic and political troubles, and the United States had neither the army nor the navy to land in and conquer Cuba. Houston entertained the idea of a government-sponsored filibuster expedition. This plan was encouraged by Narciso Lopez, who had tried before to filibuster Cuba, and wanted government backing to assemble a true fighting force. Houston saw the most glaring problems with such a scheme: mainly, that such an expedition would be very likely to fail, and that it could easily draw the United States and Spain into a war neither wanted. However, Houston and his advisors saw a way to combine a filibuster with the other plan: purchasing Cuba outright. Houston could back Lopez's filibuster not in the hope of victory, but in the hope that such an expedition would convince Spain they could not hold onto Cuba and that they should sell it.

Thus, Houston gave his backing to Lopez's filibuster. to ensure they were successful in at least making the Spanish sweat, Houston convinced Major Robert E. Lee to command the filibuster army. Three hundred men were hired to undertake the expedition. Over a two-month period, the army was trained in using their weapons and in naval landings, before they sailed to Cuba. Under Lee's command, the army captured several towns near Havana and defeated two attempts by the authorities in Havana to defeat and capture them. By September 1853, despite lukewarm public attitudes, the filibusters had entrenched themselves and had actually expanded their control east and south to cut the island in half and prevent reinforcements from arriving in Havana. Queen Isabella II ordered an army of 3,000 to sail to Cuba and crush the revolt, but at that time a Carlist [2] revolt broke out in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Just four years after the Second Carlist War, a third one began when Carlos de Bourbon called for a restoration of the Catalan regional constitution abolished by the Nueva Planta decrees. Though this revolt was less intense than the previous uprising, it still consumed much of the ever-restless Catalonia and gave pause to Spanish plans to reinforce Cuba. At this moment, with a domestic insurrection in Spain and a very firmly entrenched filibuster army bisecting Cuba, President Houston directed his Secretary of State, James Buchanan, to offer Spain $115 million for Cuba. Though Isabella II was loathe to relinquish control of Spain's wealthiest colony, Buchanan heavily implied in his dispatches and negotiations that the United States would intervene militarily, and wrote "it would be inopportune for Your Majesty to engage in both open conflict in Cuba and open conflict with those within Catalonia who hold rebellious sentiments." Isabella strongly considered refusing to sell, but then the Spanish army was defeated trying to take a small village in Catalonia. 100 Spanish soldiers died, compared to 12 Carlist rebels. The defeat suggested that the new revolt would be harder to crush than the ruling generals thought, and they urged Isabella to sell Cuba rather than deal with both a potentially costly war with America and a Carlist revolt. On October 3rd, she told Buchanan that Spain would sell Cuba. However, Congress had to approve an appropriations bill to finance the annexation of Cuba.

President Houston jumped to push through the appropriations bill. With Democratic majorities in both houses, the passage of the bill should have been easy. However, there arose a debate over the free blacks of Cuba. Though slavery was legal [3] in Cuba, there were large communities of free blacks. Though the opposition forces in Congress knew they could not hope to overpower the Democrats over barring slavery, they thought that by proposing protections be put in place for the free blacks, they could win a small victory and help cement the anti-slavery coalition. President Houston was amenable to such an amendment, as it allowed for slavery to persist and allowed Houston to accomplish his pet project. Despite the fury of the Fire Eaters (Preston Brooks claimed that "any negro with half a brain could escape their rightful bonds and claim protection"), the bill passed the House and made its way to the Senate. There, it encountered an interruption.

You see, Senator Charles Sumner gave a speech in which he criticized attempts to block protections for free Cuban blacks and accused southern senators of “falling prey to the seductive whisperings of the harlot, slavery.” Sumner compared slavery to a prostitute and the expansion of slavery to the “rape of an innocent, virgin territory”. This carried the additional connotation of southern planters raping their female slaves, which northern abolitionists frequently accused planters of engaging in. In the process, he implied that these southern senators were involved in such a heinous practice. Sumner’s rhetoric angered Congressman Preston Brooks, whose cousin was mentioned in Sumner’s speech. Believing dueling Sumner was improper as Sumner was of a lower social class, Brooks instead resolved to savagely beat him with his cane. On October 11th, at the end of the Senate’s session, Brooks advanced upon Sumner, who sat writing at his desk. Brooks informed him that, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” Sumner stood up to face Brooks and speak to him, but just as he got to his feet, Brooks struck him in the ribs with his cane. Sumner stumbled down the aisle as Brooks pursued and hit at him. A crowd soon gathered, and John Crittenden and William Seward tried to intervene but were halted by another Congressman brandishing a revolver. Sumner succeeded in wrestling the cane from Brooks, but not before suffering three broken ribs and a sprained wrist.

The brawl served to show just how fragile the peace was in the United States. As one Ohioan wrote in an editorial, “if not even a deliberative body as just and fair as the Senate of these United States is free from such sectional squabbling and regional invective, then the bonds of this Union are fragile indeed.” But exploring the ramifications of the Senate Brawl is getting ahead of ourselves. First, we have to finish with the battle over Cuban Annexation. The brawl hardened northern resolve to pass the bill, and enough Southerners who wanted Cuba admitted at all costs joined them that the Senate passed the appropriations bill. With the funding supplied, Houston gave Buchanan the go-ahead to sign the Treaty of Madrid, annexing Cuba to the United States. The treaty was signed on October 28th, and the Senate ratified the treaty on November 3rd. Houston had realized one of his chief goals in office, but the handover ceremony from Spanish to American rule was not the end of controversy. Cuba was held up by the nascent Freedom Party as an example of the "Slavocrat Conspiracy" - the idea that southern planter interests had, despite being the minority of the population, strong-armed the government into acceding to their wishes."

[1] OTL, Corwin proposed the 1860 Corwin Amendment that would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution.
[2] I know it's not the most plausible, and even though I try to make everything as realistic as possible, the acquisition of Cuba is very important in the lead-up to the Civil War, and I thought that the easiest way was to have Spain distracted by some internal matter.
[3] Not entirely true – Cuban slavery was declining, but the institution was still present and American annexation would not be a corrupting influence.

Up Next on NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM: The Birth of a Party and the Supreme Court’s Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decision
Last edited:
Quick little thing to point out about this. How did the US military have three hundred bolt-action rifles in 1853 to supply the fillibusters? Carbines, rifles, or muskets, plausible, but bolt-actions?
Quick little thing to point out about this. How did the US military have three hundred bolt-action rifles in 1853 to supply the fillibusters? Carbines, rifles, or muskets, plausible, but bolt-actions?
Good catch. Initially, I had planned to introduce the bolt-actions early so they could be used in the civil war, but I did some further research upon reading your comment and the first ones were only introduced into the army in 1857. Thanks for the correction!
I'm having trouble visualizing how the divided Texas and Cuba look.

Also, I do wonder why every time the US tries to buy Cuba, they never also pony up for Puerto Rico.

So far, very interesting TL.
I'm having trouble visualizing how the divided Texas and Cuba look.

Also, I do wonder why every time the US tries to buy Cuba, they never also pony up for Puerto Rico.

So far, very interesting TL.
Thanks for reading!
After I finish with the antebellum period, I will post some maps I've made of the state borders. Essentially, Texas is divided along the Bell Line (the Colorado River) and the Clay Line (the light green diagonal line). The land between the Clay Line and the Rio Grande is the Rio Grande Territory. Cuba isn't divided, unless I made an error.
This is looking quite good so far. One question though, the border between America and Mexico seems a bit unclear from the description, so do you have a map to clarify? I'm mostly curious as to how much territory the "the northern halves of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua" actually represents.
This is looking quite good so far. One question though, the border between America and Mexico seems a bit unclear from the description, so do you have a map to clarify? I'm mostly curious as to how much territory the "the northern halves of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua" actually represents.
I haven't finished the official maps, but I quickly made this sketch of the Mexican Cession:
mexico map.jpg

Hopefully this helps.
I haven't finished the official maps, but I quickly made this sketch of the Mexican Cession:View attachment 547620
Hopefully this helps.


Perhaps instead of a straight line, the border could follow the course of a river further south in OTL Mexico? The US seemed keen on using rivers as borders in OTL Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, and the only reason the Arizona and New Mexico borders are straight is due to a need for railroad land in the future. Looking at this map, the Conchos and Maya rivers form a natural border in the West, only needing connecting with a short line (as in OTL occurred between the Gila and Rio Grande). If you want the border further North, you could use the Yaqui river as well. Just a suggestion, of course! I'm enjoying the timeline so far.