Wilmot Proviso

The old quarrel about the slavery question raged worse than ever. When President Polk, in 1846, asked for money to pay Mexico, a man named Wilmot proposed that it should be granted only on condition that the territory bought with it should be free soil. This is what is known as the “Wilmot Proviso,” and it gave rise to endless disputes, not only in Congress, but all through the country.

The quarrel between the slavery and antislavery parties, which had begun so long before, was to go on much longer, and many eloquent speeches for and against slavery were made in the House during the following years. Among the many able speakers of that time there was John Quincy Adams, who was now over eighty, and was known as the “Old Man Eloquent.” Hearing the wrangling over this vexed question, he once said, with great sadness: “Slavery is in all probability the wedge which will split up this Union.”

Still, John Quincy Adams did not live long enough to see his words come true, for he died soon after in Congress, crying: “This is the last of earth; I am content” (1848). As he had served his country faithfully for many years as minister, President, and in Congress, he had a public funeral, and Daniel Webster was asked to make a speech about him.