Compromise of 1850: APUSH Topics to Study for Test Day

compromise of 1850 apush

The Compromise of 1850 aimed to ease the tensions between free and slave states. After the Mexican War, a heated debate regarding the status of slavery in the newly acquired southwestern territories gripped the nation. Compromise of 1850 APUSH questions might cover any one of the five laws passed in this packaged legislation, so it is important to study each individually.

What is the Compromise of 1850?

The Compromise of 1850 is a group of five laws passed in September of 1850. These laws made concessions to both free and slave states in an attempt to placate both sides of the slavery debate and preserve the union.

1. The Texas Provision

Texas, a slave state, had claimed lands all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as lands north of the Missouri Compromise line. As a part of the Compromise of 1850, Texas relinquished these disputed territories in exchange for $10 million to help pay off its debts to Mexico.

2. The California Provision

In 1849, California had requested to enter the union as a free state. The South contested this, as it would upset the balance between free and slave states. As a part of the 1850 compromise, California was allowed to enter as a free state.

3. The New Mexico and Utah Provision

In exchange for California’s free status, the federal government agreed to place no restrictions on slavery in the New Mexico and Utah territories. Instead, the territories would be ruled by popular sovereignty, allowing the residents of each territory to decide the issue when they applied for statehood.

4. The District of Columbia Provision

Washington, D.C. claimed the largest slave market in North America. To appease abolitionists, the slave trade was outlawed in the district. To appease slave owners, the practice of slavery would continue to be permitted.

5. The Fugitive Slave Law

The most contentious provision was the Fugitive Slave Act. This law required citizens nationwide to aid in the recovery and return of fugitive slaves.

Important years to note for the Compromise of 1850:

  • 1848: The Treaty of Hidalgo ends the Mexican War.
  • 1849: California requests admission to the union as a free state.
  • 1850: The five provisions of the compromise are passed into law.

Why is the Compromise of 1850 so important?

After the Mexican War, tensions between the North and South reached a fever pitch. Civil war seemed inevitable. Both sides felt betrayed by the federal government, and the issue of slavery was no longer just an issue of economics, but one of states’ rights and morality. Something had to be done to preserve the union. Although it left both sides unsatisfied, the Compromise of 1850 succeeded, for a time, in keeping the nation intact and staving off a civil war for another ten years.

What are some historical people and events related to the Compromise of 1850?

  • Mexican War- War in which the U.S. won vast southwestern territories, including the Utah and New Mexico territories
  • Henry Clay- Kentucky Senator who drafted the compromise
  • Stephen A. Douglas- Illinois Senator who brokered the compromise after its initial defeat

What example question about the Compromise of 1850 might come up on the APUSH exam?

“If you remain silent, you will compel us to infer by your acts what you intend. In that case, California will become the test question. If you admit her, under all the difficulties that oppose her admission, you compel us to infer that you intend to exclude us from the whole of the acquired territories, with the intention of destroying irretrievably the equilibrium between the two sections.”
– John C. Calhoun, 1850 (Source)

California was at the center of debate in the Compromise of 1850 because
A) a federal ban on slavery in the newly admitted state went against the wishes of its residents.
B) its admission as a free state would tip the balance of power toward northern interests.
C) the state should have been admitted as a slave state according to the Missouri Compromise.
D) without its admission as a free state, Congress would be overwhelmingly pro-slavery.


The correct answer is (B). The residents of California requested admission to the union as a free state in 1849. Southern Democrats were concerned that such an admission would upset the balance of power between free and slave states, which the government had been working to maintain throughout the century. Legislators such as Calhoun felt that by accepting California’s request, the federal government would reveal that it no longer had any interest in maintaining that balance, and that its goal was to overpower Southern and pro-slavery interests.

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  • Sarah Bradstreet

    Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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