The Wilmot Amendment

“This narrative has remarked that a decisive tum was rounded at some time between August and December, 1846. On August 10, the First Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress adjourned while Senator Davis was discussing a measure, which had originated in the House and bore the name .of David Wilmot, to exclude slavery from the territory to be acquired from Mexico. Senator Calhoun of South Carolina said that the first volume of our political history under the Constitution had been closed and the second opened, that a curtain had been dropped between the present and the future which was to him impenetrable. Prescience woke in the nerves of William Lowndes Yancey, however; he resigned his seat in the House and went back to Alabama; in the second volume of our political history he could predict no future under the Constitution for the Southern states. Likewise, when the Second Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress convened in December, John C. Calhoun was able to penetrate the impenetrable curtain for at least a little way. He was the last survivor of the first period of the Southern politician, and Yancey’s resignation is the signal that the third period of that politician was taking charge. The survivor of a period when there were clearer and more powerful minds, aware that the thing had happened in, the intervening months, aware that a curtain had not been lowered but that at last a curtain bad been raised – John C. Calhoun thought he saw one way of saving the United States. It was a tolerably desperate way: the United States must enter again into the womb and be born a second time. Since the summer solstice of 1788 when by a vote of 57 to 46 the New Hampshire convention brought the number of states ratifying the new Constitution to the nine necessary for adoption – from that June day on, the whole course of the United States had been wrong. In the opinion of Calhoun, we must go back to the preceding September, reconvene the Constitutional Convention that then adjourned sine die, and start all over.

“The United States will conquer Mexico,” Ralph Waldo Emerson had said, “but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.”

The Second Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress convened in chaos and so accurately reflected the nation which, according to the provisions of the Constitution, it was to govern. That chaos was the reason why the United States could provide no government for Oregon till 1849 and none for New Mexico, Deseret, and California till 1850. When what is called the Compromise of 1850 was finally voted in Congress chaos had not been in the least resolved but a channel had been established which would contain it for just ten years.”