A Star-Studded Senate: The Compromise of 1850

A Star-Studded Senate: The Compromise of 1850
Abigail Fillmore: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two class periods to two weeks, depending on choice of activities


The Compromise of 1850 was an omnibus bill that the Congress passed with the strong support of then-President Millard Fillmore, in the hope of preserving the Union.  Interestingly, his wife, Abigail just as strongly counseled against his supporting it, saying it would cost him the next election.  It did.


Students participating in this activity will gain knowledge of the people and events leading up to the passage of the Compromise of 1850, become acquainted with the arguments, pro and con, of that bill, and gain experience in debate.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet


Background:  With tensions building higher and higher over slavery, the Thirty-First Congress met in December, 1849.  In January, 1850, Henry Clay and Stephen A. Douglas fashioned what they called the “Omnibus Bill,” a series of eight measures to deal with slavery and territorial issues that became known as the Compromise of 1850.
In the weeks that followed, the compelling oratory of Clay, Webster, Calhoun, and others drew capacity crowds to the Senate chamber.  On March 7, Daniel Webster opened his classic address with these memorable lines of national reconciliation—and political suicide—addressed to Senate President Fillmore: 

“Mr. President, I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an American.”1

[1Taken from “Vice President Millard Fillmore", at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/millard_fillmore.pdf]
1.  In addition to Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, this particular group of men comprised a “star-studded” Senate.  Who were these men? Using the web sites below, or print materials from your library, or other sources, select one or more of these “stars” and research their roles in American politics and in the Compromise of 1850.
2.  Then, using the web sites listed below regarding the Compromise, itself, research the elements of the Compromise of 1850.
3.  Then, do any or all of the following:

  •  Make a timeline of the lives of these men, their service to the country, the political parties to which they belonged, and their positions on the Compromise of 1850.
  • Write short biographies of each of them, containing the same information as listed for the timeline option.
  • Write a short paper on one of the elements (laws) of the Compromise of 1850.


Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having students stage a reenactment of the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850.

Sources & Resources:

Web sites:
     About Millard Fillmore
     The Star-Studded Senate
          Henry Clay, 1777-1852              
          Thomas Hart Benton, 1782-1852
          Daniel Webster, 1782-1852
          Lewis Cass, 1782-1850
          John C. Calhoun, 1782-1850
          Samuel Houston, 1793-1863
          Henry Stuart Foote, 1804-1880
          William Henry Seward, 1801-1872
          Salmon Portland Chase, 1808-1873
          Jefferson Davis, 1808-1889
          Stephen Arnold Douglas, 1813-1861

     Elements of the Compromise of 1850

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.