All Subjects






Unit 5

5.4 The Compromise of 1850

2 min readmay 30, 2020


Caleb Lagerwey

Just like in previous decades, the United States had to deal with the problem of slavery in the Western territories.

The Context

As shown in the previous section (5.3), the US took over the Mexican Cession land after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War. California quickly needed statehood because of the massive settler influx during the California Gold Rush, but there was no slave state seeking admission to the Union to keep the balance of states in the Senate.

The Deal

The great statesmen of the day, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Stephen Douglas passed five separate acts to keep the Union together (you need to know the first two; the last three are minor details):  
  1. The South got a new Fugitive Slave Act, which put the federal government in charge of recovering runaway slaves up North.
  2. The North got California admitted as a free state
  3. The North got an end of the slave trade in Washington DC, although not the end of slavery itself
  4. The North got a boundary dispute between New Mexico and Texas. It was resolved in favor of non-slave New Mexico.
  5. The rest of the Mexican Cession territory would be based on popular sovereignty (people in the territory would vote if it would be a free or slave state)

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

While this Compromise was rightly hailed for keeping the Union together, it failed within just four years: the admission of more free states without slave states angered the South and the new Fugitive Slave Act caused outrage in the North.


Was this guide helpful?

🔍 Are you ready for college apps?
Take this quiz and find out!
Start Quiz
FREE APUSH Survival Pack + Cram Chart PDF
Sign up now for instant access to 2 amazing downloads to help you get a 5
Browse Study Guides By Unit
Big Reviews: Finals & Exam Prep
Document Based Questions (DBQ)
Exam Skills (MC, SAQ, LEQ, DBQ)
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ)
Thematic Guides
Unit 1: Early Contact with the New World (1491-1607)
Unit 2: Colonization of North America (1607-1754)
Unit 3: Conflict and American Independence (1754-1800)
Unit 4: Beginnings of Modern American Democracy (1800-1848)
Unit 6: The Industrial Revolution (1865-1898)
Unit 7: The Early 20th Century (1890-1945)
Unit 8: The Postwar Period and Cold War (1945-1980)
Unit 9: Entering into the 21st Century (1980-Present)
Join us on Discord
Thousands of students are studying with us for the AP US History exam.
join now
Play this on HyperTyper
Practice your typing skills while reading The Compromise of 1850
Start Game
💪🏽 Are you ready for the APUSH exam?
Take this quiz for a progress check on what you’ve learned this year and get a personalized study plan to grab that 5!
Hours Logo
Studying with Hours = the ultimate focus mode
Start a free study session
📱 Stressed or struggling and need to talk to someone?
Talk to a trained counselor for free. It's 100% anonymous.
Text FIVEABLE to 741741 to get started.
© 2021 Fiveable, Inc.