The Clay Measures

Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster

When Clay stood up with a piece of Washington’s coffin to offer his last great compromise and save the Union then and forever after, he did not quite stand alone. He teamed up with Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster, one of the finest orators of his age and a man widely hated in the South for both being antislavery and simply for representing antislavery Massachusetts. Like Clay, Webster had a long career that ran through the great controversies of the nineteenth century. Webster positioned himself as an antislavery man, but above that a Union man. In support of the Clay Measures, soon called the Compromise Measures, Webster spoke: “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States.”

If not quite to the same degree, seeing as Webster represented Northern antislavery interests, he lived the compromises like Clay did. Webster opposed slavery but could live with it. Clay had slaves, but imagined living without them. The two men shared a party and by bringing Webster on board Clay hoped to win the moderate antislavery North over to his proposals.

Space prohibited detailing those proposals yesterday, but here are Clay’s eight resolutions in his own words:

  1. “That California, with suitable boundaries, ought upon her application to be admitted as one of the States of this Union, without imposition by Congress of any restriction in respect to the exclusion or introduction of slavery within those boundaries.”
  2. “That as slavery does not exist by [Mexican] law, and is not likely to be introduced into any of the territory acquired by the United States from the Republic of Mexico, it is inexpedient for Congress to provide by law either for its introduction into or exclusion from any part of the said territory; and that appropriate territorial governments ought to be established by Congress in all the said territory, not assigned as the boundaries of the proposed State of California, without the adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery.”
  3. That the western boundary of the State of Texas ought to be fixed on the Rio del Norte, commencing one marine league from its mouth and running up that river to the southern line of New Mexico; thence with that line eastwardly and so continuing in the same direction as to the line as established between the United States and Spain, excluding any portion of New Mexico, whether lying on the east or west of that river.
  4. That is be proposed to the State of Texas that the United States will provide for the payment of all that portion of the legitimate and bona fide public debt of that State contracted prior to its annexation to the United States, and for which the duties on foreign imports were pledged by the state to its creditors, not exceeding the sum of $—, in consideration of the said duties so pledged having been no longer applicable to that object after the said annexation, but having thenceforward become payable to the United States; and upon the condition also that said State of Texas shall, by some solemn and authentic act of her Legislature, or of a convention, relinquish to the United States any claim which it has to any part of New Mexico.
  5. That it is inexpedient to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, whilst that institution continues to exist in the State of Maryland, wtihout the consent of that State, without the consent of the people of the District, and without just compensation to the owners of slaves within the District.
  6. That it is expedient to prohibit within the District the slave-trade, in slaves brought into it from States or places beyond the limits of the District, either to be sold therein as merchandise or to be transported to other markets without the District of Columbia.
  7. That more effectual provision out to be made by law, according to the requirement of the Constitution, for the restitution and delivery of persons bound to service or labor in any State, who may escape into any other State or Territory in the Union.
  8. That Congress has no power to prohibit or obstruct the trade in slaves between the slaveholding States; but that the admission or exclusion of slaves brought from one into another of them, depends exclusively upon their own particular laws.

And so the Henry Clay proposed to save the Union.

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