The New International Encyclopædia/Wilmot Proviso

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WILMOT PROVISO. The name applied to an amendment proposed in the United States Congress in 1840 by David Wilmot (q.v.), a Democratic Representative from Pennsylvania, to a bill appropriating money for the purchase of territory from Mexico. On August 8, 1846, President Polk sent to Congress a special message asking that body to appropriate money to be used in adjusting the boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico. In response a bill appropriating $2,000,000 was introduced in the House, and it was expected that the money would be used in buying the Mexican claims to the disputed territory. In the debate that followed, Wilmot moved an amendment which provided “that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.” This amendment was adopted in the House by a vote of 83 to 64, and the entire bill was then passed. When it was taken up in the Senate, however, Lewis, of Alabama, moved to strike out the proviso; but Davis, of Massachusetts, spoke against the motion, and continued his opposition until Congress adjourned. In the following December the President again asked for the measure, and, as most of the Northern State Legislatures had declared in favor of it, bills were soon reported in both Houses. On February 8, 1847, Wilmot again moved his proviso to one of these bills (appropriating $3,000,000 instead of the original $2,000,000), and it was again adopted, on February 15th, by a vote of 115 to 106. Meanwhile, however, the Democratic Senate had passed a similar bill without the proviso, and this bill came up before the House. That body in committee of the whole voted to amend the Senate bill by adding the proviso, but the proviso was rejected by the Senate and the bill was finally passed without it.

In the contest the pro-slavery men had naturally fought the proviso, and in the effort to preserve harmony between the Northern and Southern wings of their party the Democrats were forced to evolve the doctrine of popular sovereignty (q.v.). Those who, like Wilmot, were unwilling to accept this doctrine split off from the party. The principle contained in the proviso continued to be a burning issue even after its temporary rejection. Attempts were made to apply the principle in organizing the territory that was acquired from Mexico, and it formed the basis, in part, of the Free-Soil Party, and later of the Republican Party. It was rejected in the Compromise of 1850, and its previous application in the Missouri Compromise (q.v.) of 1820 was wiped out by the Kansas-Nebraska bill (q.v.) of 1854; and in the famous case of Dred Scott it was held to be out of harmony with the Constitution. Ultimately, however, it was established by the act of June 19, 1862, which forbade slavery in “any of the territories of the United States now existing, or which may at any time hereafter be acquired.” Consult: Wilson, Rise and Fall of the Slave Power (Boston, 1872-77); Schouler, History of the United States of America Under the Constitution (New York, new ed. 1899); Von Holst, Constitutional and Political History of the United States (Chicago, new ed. 1899); and Stephens, Constitutional Veiw of the Late War Between the States (Philadelphia, 1868-70).