Wilmot the Hatchet Man
As the North had done earlier, the American South could have dealt with African slavery – a relic of the British colonial labor system and perpetuated by Northern slave traders – in its own time and its own way. Regretfully, no peaceful or practical solutions to the riddle of slavery were forthcoming from the North.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Wilmot the Hatchet Man
“At the time of the Missouri Compromise, anti-slavery Thomas Jefferson, old and dying in his debt-ridden hilltop mansion, had warned the Southerners in Washington that they were making a mistake. Jefferson said that if the South allowed a precedent which admitted the restriction of slavery anywhere, a principle would have been established and the north would use it in gradual encroachments for the restriction of slavery everywhere.
Only sixteen years later, his prophesy came true over the admission of Texas and with the rise of an anti-slavery bloc in Washington.
The Westerners thought [President James] Polk had been less aggressively interested in their expansions, in Oregon and California, than in the Southerners’ movements in the Southwest. The Westerners held a long resentment anyway, because the Southerners chronically opposed internal improvements at government expense for the Midwest and free lands to the immigrants. To retaliate, the Westerners made a new issue over slavery in order to create trouble for Southern projects.
As their hatchet man the Westerners selected David Wilmot, and you will look in vain for national monuments to this political hack from Pennsylvania. Yet, with one unexplainable gesture, he contributed more to the sectional war than any dedicated patriot. As Wilmot had been an administration wheel horse, his independent act is obscure as to motive, except that he was aware of carrying out the Westerners spitefulness.
Specifically (in 1846), to an appropriations bill for the purchase of territory from Mexico, the former wheel horse attached a “proviso” which forbade slavery in any of the new territory to be obtained from Mexico . . . in the Senate only the aroused Southerners narrowly prevented its becoming law.
This Wilmot Proviso alarmed and enraged Southerners of all persuasions. It showed the most Union-loving Nationalists that they were in a fight against containment. The Southern States were to be restricted to their present territory while the North gained new States which would give it majority power.”
(The Land They Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, pp. 31-32)