Senator Daniel Webster Delivers His "Seventh Of March" Speech

The acquisition of territory following the U.S. victory in the Mexican War revived concerns about the balance of free and slave states in the Union.

On March 7, 1850, Senator Daniel Webster delivered his famous "Seventh of March" speech urging sectional compromise on the issue of slavery. Advising abolition-minded Northerners to forgo antislavery measures, he simultaneously cautioned Southerners that disunion inevitably would lead to war.

Following the lead of senators Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas, Webster endorsed Clay's plan to assure sectional equilibrium in Congress. Passed after eight months of congressional wrangling, the legislation admitted California to the Union as a free state, permitted the question of slavery in Utah and New Mexico territories to be decided by popular sovereignty, settled Texas border disputes, and abolished slave trading in the District of Columbia while strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act.

Webster was bitterly attacked by abolitionists in New England who felt betrayed by his compromises. The Rev. Theodore Parker complained, "No living man has done so much to debauch the conscience of the nation." Horace Mann described him as being "a fallen star! Lucifer descending from Heaven!" James Russell Lowell called Webster "the most meanly and foolishly treacherous man I ever heard of." Webster never recovered the popularity he lost in the aftermath of the Seventh of March speech.

I wish to speak today; not as a Mass[achusetts] man – nor a Northern man – but as an American, & a member of the Senate of the U[nited] S[tate]s.”

— Daniel Webster's notes for his speech to the United States Senate