Did all the chaos in Congress and threats of disunion amount to political theater? Had Calhoun and other Southerners adopted the pose as a negotiation ploy? The Free Soil leadership in both houses of Congress thought as much. Seward agreed. So did the new president.
Taylor did not believe the Mexican Cession suitable for the cotton or sugar cultivation and thus slavery. He also wanted to please the Free Soilers. He had, after all, just won election without taking any position on slavery and received plenty of Southern votes. He needed the Free Soilers, had good reason to believe he could risk alienating Southern Democrats, and saw the very idea of slavery in the Mexican Cession as impractical. Therefore Taylor proposed to resolve the matter swiftly and decisively.
The Whigs adopted the platform of No Territory after losing the battle to avert the Mexican War. They would accept Texas’s enlarged border but insist on taking no further land from Mexico, except perhaps the port of San Francisco. Taylor resurrected No Territory, proposing the immediate admission of California as a state and New Mexico as swiftly as could be managed. Thus slavery in their bounds would become an issue for their state governments and not the Congress. The Californians beat Taylor to the punch but New Mexico retained its disputed border and had only one English-speaking community of significance: the Mormons by the Great Salt Lake. As the Mormons went West to avoid other Americans, relations between Deseret and Washington remained cool.
Taylor never shifted from No Territory. Georgia’s Whigs Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs, appealed to him as a Southerner and warned him the South would not submit to No Territory. Their intransigence exceeded Taylor’s tolerance and he informed them he planned to personally lead an army to enforce the settlement on the South and hang any traitors as easily as he hung spies and deserters in Mexico…including the two Georgia congressmen. After the exchange, Taylor told others that he had long seen northerners as the guilty party in stirring sectional conflict, but his time in office taught that the “intolerant and revolutionary” party dwelled in the South. He named his former son-in-law Jefferson Davis the rebel-in-chief. Calhoun shared Taylor’s appraisal of the South, though it pleased him where it enraged the President.
Taylor and the Northern Whigs stood firm on No Territory against the third of Congress, mostly Border State and Lower North politicians, that rallied to the Clay Measures. The rest of Congress opposed the Clay Measures for predictable sectional reasons: the Deep South would accept no free California. Potential slavery in New Mexico would destroy party support in the North.
And then war threatened. Like California, New Mexico remained under a military government. A small gathering of civilians and soldiers convened in Santa Fe and wrote a free state constitution. It passed a referendum in late June where less than eight thousand people voted of the sixty-one thousand or so that lived in the area at the time. The new state claimed its eastern boundary ran on the 100th meridian west, embracing all the modern Texas and Oklahoma panhandles as well as portions of the surrounding modern states.
Taylor saw this all as another step the path to a No Territory solution. Governor Peter H. Bell of Texas saw it as a blatant attempt to steal a large section of his state, which maintained its boundary still ran to the Rio Grande in the west even if the Texans had never actually controlled most of the territory and resolved to defend the claim by force. The South aligned with Texas, Alexander Stephens insisting that a clash between federal troops and Texas would spark revolution and overthrow the Union.
Taylor prepared orders for the Santa Fe garrison to stand firm against Texas and then went to spend the Fourth of July hearing speeches at the unfinished Washington Monument. There he battled the heat with spirited offensives directed at raw vegetables, cherries, and iced milk. The tainted food conquered the sixty-five year old general. He fell ill and died five days later.