William Henry Seward: Speech on the Admission of California to Statehood

(1850)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In mid-1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred thousands of miles of Mexican territory to the United States. Debate over whether the newly acquired land would be opened to slavery began almost immediately. Thanks to the discovery of gold in 1849, California experienced fast population growth and had an immediate need for government. Southern leaders in the U.S. Congress, however, were reluctant to admit California as a free state without guarantees of protection for slavery in other territories. On January 21, 1850, President Zachary Taylor recommended admitting California to the Union under the antislavery constitution drawn up by its citizens. Eight days later, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced a set of compromise resolutions that combined California statehood with other measures addressing slavery-related issues. On March 11, Seward responded to Clay's proposals in his first major speech as a U.S. senator. Although...

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William H. Seward (Library of Congress)

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