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[Detail] Experience and personal narrative of Uncle Tom Jones...1858

The Mexican-American War and Accusations Against the South

The Wilmot Proviso ultimately died in Congress and the debate over the slavery in the territories continued. The term, Slavery—United States—Extension to the Territories in the Subject Index produces a number of arguments against the Mexican War and the introduction of slavery into new territories, including “Horace Mann's Letters on the Extension of Slavery into California and New Mexico.” Mann criticized the war with Mexico and claimed that it was merely a means for the South to add slave territories and states to the Union:

Hence the refusal to accept propositions of peace, unless territory south of . . . the Missouri Compromise line . . . should be ceded to us . . . And hence . . . the determination of a portion of the Southern members of Congress, to stop the whole machinery of the Government . . . and assail even the Union itself, unless slavery shall be permitted to cross the Rio Grande, and enter the vast regions of the West . . . .

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The opportunity to open the territories to slavery was debated when Democrat Lewis Cass, and Whig Zachary Taylor faced off in the 1848 presidential election. While Cass wanted the territories to decide on the slavery issue, Taylor, who was a slaveholder himself, failed to commit himself on the issue. Outrage surrounding both men’s handling of the slavery issue prompted the formation of the Free Soil Party and the nomination of Martin Van Buren in the race.

In “The Great American Question, Democracy vs. Doulocracy,” William Wilson characterized the 1848 presidential election as a contest between democracy and doulocracy, “the government of servants or slaves,--the 250,000 slaveholders being governed, through the medium of their fears . . . by their slaves, and they controlling the Republic . . . by threats of secession from the Union if they should not be allowed to rule,” (page 6).

  • What percent of the total U.S. population were slaveholders? Was their influence in propotion to their numbers?
  • What does Wilson mean by saying that the slaveholders were “being governed . . . by their slaves”?
  • Do you think Wilson would include Taylor among “the 250,000 slaveholders”?
  • How do Mann and Wilson characterize the South? Do you think that these are fair assessments?
  • How does knowing that Mann viewed the Mexican War as he did impact your understanding and evaluation of Wilmot's proviso? How does it impact your view of arguments made against Wilmot?