America in the 1850s

The Compromise of 1850

What was the first sign that the Compromise of 1850 was headed for failure?

It came in the reaction of the abolitionist groups in the North. Never, they declared, would any member of their community join in a posse or other kind of group to seize and return fugitive slaves. The new Fugitive Slave Law, written by Congress, required Northern sheriffs and constables to assist the slave-catchers, but they would have no part of it.

Even these early statements inflamed the passions of some Southerners, who claimed that the Yankees—as they labeled the people of the North and the West—could never be trusted to fulfill their obligations. In the first two years following the Compromise of 1850, two cities became the standout places, or homes, for the hardliners. That Boston would be the home of many abolitionists was no surprise: this was the city of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Boston also had a significant community of free persons of color and an increasing number of white residents who stood with them. That Charleston, South Carolina, would be the hardline city in the South was a little more surprising, but when one examines its position in the South, as the city that had received the largest number of enslaved Africans, the position of its people is more profoundly understood.


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