The acquisition of territory from Mexico created
acute new dilemmas concerning the expansion of slavery, especially for the
two major political parties, which had long tried to avoid the issue. The
antislavery Free Soil party pushed the issue into the election of 1848. The
application of gold-rich California for admission to the Union forced the
controversy into the Senate, which engaged in stormy debates over slavery
and the Union.
After the timely death of President Taylor,
who had blocked a settlement, Congress resolved the crisis by passing the
delicate Compromise of 1850. The compromise eased sectional tension for the
moment, although the Fugitive Slave Law aroused opposition in the North.
As the Whig party died, the Democratic Pierce
administration became the tool of proslavery expansionists. Controversies
over Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Gadsden Purchase showed that expansionism was
closely linked to the slavery issue.
The desire for a northern railroad route led
Stephen Douglas to ram the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress in 1854. By
repealing the Missouri Compromise and making new territory subject to popular
sovereignty on slavery, this act aroused the fury of the North, sparked
the rise of the Republican party, and set the stage for the Civil War.