1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wilmot, David

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WILMOT, DAVID (1814–1868), American political leader, was born at Bethany, Pennsylvania, on the 20th of January 1814. He was admitted to the bar in 1834 and practised law in Towanda. He entered politics as a Democrat, served in the National House of Representatives from 1845 to 1851, and although he favoured the Walker Tariff, the Mexican War and other party measures, opposed the extension of slavery. On the 8th of August 1846, when a bill was introduced appropriating $2,000,000 to be used by the president in negotiating a treaty of peace with Mexico, Wilmot immediately offered the following amendment: “Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, 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.” The amendment, famous in American history as the “Wilmot Proviso,” was adopted by the House, but was defeated, with the original bill, by the Senate’s adjournment. A similar measure was brought forward at the next session, the appropriation, however, being increased to $3,000,000, and the amendment being extended to include all territory which might be acquired by the United States; in this form it passed the House by a vote of 115 to 105; but the Senate refused to concur, passed a bill of its own without the amendment; and the House, owing largely to the influence of General Lewis Cass, in March 1847, receded from its position. The amendment was never actually adopted by Congress, and was in fact expressly repudiated in the Compromise of 1850, and its content declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. Although known as the Wilmot Proviso it really originated with Jacob Brinkerhoff (1810–1880) of Ohio, Wilmot being selected to present it only because his party standing was more regular. The extension of the principle to territory other than that to be acquired from Mexico was probably due to Preston King (1806–1865) of New York. Wilmot supported Van Buren in 1848 and entered the Republican party at the time of its formation, and was a delegate to the national conventions of 1856 and 1860. He was president judge of the 13th Judicial District of Pennsylvania in 1853–1861, United States senator in 1861–1863 and Judge of the United States Court of Claims in 1863–1868. He died at Towanda, Pennsylvania, on the 16th of March 1868.

See G. P. Garrison, Westward Extension (New York and London, 1906).