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The Union, Map, 1850


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


In 1850, the United States was embroiled in the slave vs. Free State debate as more territories were being added to the Union. The Compromise of 1850 contained five separate bills that dealt with the issues related to enslavement and territorial expansion.

President Zachary Taylor, opposed any legislation that would address the problem and felt that the issue should be left to the courts. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky pushed for the Compromise of 1850, but the measure stalled until Taylor died in July, 1850. Millard Fillmore was sworn in as president and he was more open to such legislation.

The Compromise of 1850 was a plan that consisted of several important parts:

  • California was admitted as a free state
  • Texas was limited to its current borders in exchange for debt assumption by the federal government
  • New Mexico and Utah were admitted with the ability to determine if they would be a slave or free state
  • The Slave Trade was abolished in Washington, D.C.
  • A new, stronger Fugitive Slave Law was passed

The Union map by Humphrey Phelps, shows the territories of the U.S. in 1850 surrounded by a collection of portraits of American presidents, leading figures, and state seals.

Citation: Phelps, Humphrey. Phelps's national map of the United States: a travellers guide embracing the principal rail roads, canals, steam boat & stage routes throughout the Union.  New York: Ensign & Thayer, 1850. G3700 1850 .A8, Map Collection, Library of Virginia.



VS.1, VS.2, VS.6, USI.1, USI.8

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Take a Look: Look at the map of 1850. What do you notice about it? Why do you think the boundaries are different?

Post Activities

Up for Debate: How would you use this visual to either defend or repudiate the Compromise of 1850? Which sections or images support your argument?

Analyze: Find the figures who are NOT American presidents on the map border. Why do you think they were included?