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The Union, Map, 1850


In 1850, the United States was embroiled in the slave vs. free state debate as more territories were being added to the Union. Recently elected President Zachary Taylor opposed any legislation that would address the problem, and felt that the issue should be left to the courts. This was a barrier to Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky as he pushed for the Compromise of 1850, but when Taylor died, his successor, Millard Fillmore, 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

This map by Phelps, in addition to showing the territories of the U.S. in 1850, is also 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

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?


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