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ZACHARY TAYLOR VERSUS THE SOUTH Mark J. Stegmaier One subject which historians of the 1850 sectional crisis and biographers of President Zachary Taylor mention is the conflict between Taylor and Southern Whig leaders Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs of Georgia. Particularly emphasized is a famous confrontation during which a furious Taylor swore thathe would fightrather than give in to Southern demands. California, with President Taylor's urging, was seekingadmission as a free state; radical Southerners, dreading this tip of balance in favor of free states, threatened secession. Utah and New Mexico also sought government organization, and President Taylor had urged New Mexico, despite a meager white population, to seek immediate statehood; others argued that both Utah and New Mexico should be given territorial governments . If given territorial governments, many Northerners insisted that Congress outlaw slavery in the two places, under the Wilmot Proviso ; however, Southerners threatened secession if slavery was banned from the territories by Congressional fiat. And in New Mexico's case, what were its boundaries? Texas claimed all the territory east of the Rio Grande, an area including Sante Fe itself; the New Mexicans and their Northern supporters denied the validity of diat claim and pointed out that Texas had never actually exercised jurisdiction there. Tensions over this issue in 1850 led many to anticipate a bloody collision between Federal troops at Sante Fe and invading Texas volunteers, a collision which could be the prelude to all-out civil war. While Taylor's plan for solving the crisis was to admit California and New Mexico as states and to use force if necessary to repel marauding Texans and their Southern allies, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky devised a comprehensive plan that would address all issues threatening the peace of 1850. His plan prescribed California statehood, territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico (with the people there left to choose whether they would adopt slavery or not), and a concession of land by Texas east of the Rio Grande in exchange for Federal assumption of some $10 million of Texas debts. A special Senate committee placed all these provisions in a single bill known popularly as the Omnibus Bill. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, © 1987 by The Kent State University Press 220CIVIL WAR HISTORY Many Southerners hated both the Taylor and Clay plans, preferring instead to split California and the territories at the old Missouri Compromise line of 36°30'. Indeed, although Taylor was a Southern Whig and Louisiana slaveholder , his policies on California and New Mexico were extremely unpopular in most of the South. Therefore, Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs of Georgia, and other Whig leaders believed that if Taylor's attituderemained unaltered, if he continued to rely upon Northern advisors like Senator William Seward of New York and Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing of Ohio, political destruction for themselves and the nation would be the consequence.1 Thurlow Weed and Hannibal Hamlin provided accounts of the most famous confrontation which resulted from the Southern Whig efforts to pressure Taylor. Their story first appeared in Henry Wilson's History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. This brief report recounted the visits of Hamlin, then a Democratic senator from Maine, and Weed, editor of the Albany Evening Journal and New York Whig chieftain, with President Taylor immediately after a stormy interview between the President and congressmen Toombs and Stephens of Georgia and Thomas Clingman of North Carolina.2 A few years later, in May 1876, Weed resurrected the story in a New York Herald article, stating that the three Southern Whig leaders had demanded that President Taylor veto a separate bill for California statehood if it passed Congress. Stephens wrote a vigorous denial which was printed in the Herald in June. The initial exchange between Weed and Stephens opened the door for several more letters to the Herald, which added details to the story. Weed said he encountered Toombs, Stephens , and Clingman on their way from the White House, and was amazed at their passing him with only "a simple nod of recognition," since he knew them, especially Clingman, very well. Proceeding further 1 The issues of the 1850 crisis have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 219-241
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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