The year is 1850. The country is being pulled aparteveryone can see that. Each time a new state enters the Union, the balance in Congress between North and South is threatened. Now California wants to become a state. California's constitution prohibits slavery. If California enters the Union, free states will outnumber slave states. South Carolina's powerful senator John Calhoun says if that happens the South will leave the Union. He declares: "We are not a nation, but a union, a confederacy of equal and sovereign states. And how can the Union be saved? There is but one wayby adopting such measures as will satisfy the Southern states."
But Calhoun hasn't convinced the popular senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay, who has been working on another compromisethe Compromise of 1850 . California is to be admitted to the Union as a free state. A fugitive slave law will make Northerners return runaway slaves to their owners or face criminal charges . This proposal makes many Northerners, like abolitionist leader Theodore Parker, very angry. He says : "I will do all in my power to rescue any fugitive slave from the hands of any officer who attempts to return him to bondage. What is a fine of a thousand dollars, and jailing for one month, to the liberty of a man ?"
Calhoun is still not satisfied. The North must ''cease the agitation on the slave question,'' he says. "And then he adds: "[If the abolitionists are not silenced] let the states agree to separate."