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The Wilmot Proviso was a proposal to prohibit slavery in the territory acquired by the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican War. In 1846, David Wilmot of the United States Congress attached the proviso to an appropriations bill to pay Mexico for land that the United States had seized as a result of the Mexican War. The Wilmot Proviso would have prevented slavery’s expansion into any of this new territory.
See the fact file below for more information on the Wilmot Proviso or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Wilmot Proviso worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- An encounter between military guards along the Texas border sparked the Mexican War in the spring of 1846. In summer of the same year, the United States Congress was discussing a bill which would grant $30,000 to start negotiations with Mexico, and an additional $2 million for President James K. Polk to use at his discretion to try to plan a peaceful solution to the crisis, such as acquiring Oregon territory and for a larger share of Texas from Mexico.
- On August 8, 1846, after a discussion with other congressmen, Pennsylvania representative David Wilmot, fearing the addition of a pro-slave territory, proposed an amendment to the appropriations bill that would ensure slavery could not exist in any land which the U.S. might acquire from Mexico:
“Provided, That as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said Territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall be first duly convicted.”
- More interested in Northern free labor than in the struggles of Southern slaves, Wilmot had been an administration loyalist until he presented his provision.
- The U.S. Congress debated the language in the Wilmot Proviso, and eventually, the amendment was passed and was added to the bill. However, the Senate had adjourned before the bill could even be considered.
Battles Over the Wilmot Proviso
- Southerners were deeply insulted by the Congress’ adoption of the Wilmot Proviso as it forced the issue of slavery as a central component of the Mexican War.
- Led by Senator John C. Calhoun, Southern slave owners claimed that the federal government had no right to curtail the spread of slavery into any new territories, arguing that it was each individual state’s right under the principle of state sovereignty to determine whether or not its territory would be pro- or anti-slavery.
- On the contrary, many radical anti-slavery advocates in the North embraced the Wilmot Proviso and found support among those who were apathetic on the slave issue.
- For Wilmot, slavery was a fundamental threat to the United States, not because of its brutality or coercive structure, but because it infringed on the rights of white freemen to labor and cultivate new lands in the West.
- The concern of most Northern statesmen was to protect free workers and farmers’ access to land and socioeconomic opportunities in the West from the slave states of the South that sought complete control and infiltration of any new territory in order to perpetuate plantation agriculture.
- The Northern-Southern debate over whether slavery would be allowed to exist in the West continued until the late 1840s. For several years, the Wilmot Proviso would be added to bills passed by the House of Representatives, but the Senate always refused to adopt any legislation containing provisions about slavery.
Impact of the Wilmot Proviso
- The resurgence of Wilmot’s amendment sparked a fundamental divide between Northern and Southern legislators, but it served a purpose as it kept the issue of slavery alive in Congress, and thus before the American people.
- The issue was finally settled early in 1850 in a series of Senatorial debates between Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, resulting in what would become known as the Compromise of 1850.
Wilmot Proviso Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Wilmot Proviso across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Wilmot Proviso worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Wilmot Proviso which was a proposal to prohibit slavery in the territory acquired by the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican War. In 1846, David Wilmot of the United States Congress attached the proviso to an appropriations bill to pay Mexico for land that the United States had seized as a result of the Mexican War. The Wilmot Proviso would have prevented slavery’s expansion into any of this new territory.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The Basics
- Little-known Facts
- My First Editorial
- For or Against?
- That’s a Wrap!
- Unify or Divide?
- Break the Chains
- We Resist!
- Meet the Abolitionists
- Break It Down
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Use With Any Curriculum
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