On This Day
1850 – Senator Daniel Webster gives his “Seventh of March” speech endorsing the Compromise of 1850 in order to prevent a possible civil war.
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850, which defused a four-year political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired during the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, reduced sectional conflict, although controversy eventually arose over the Fugitive Slave provision. Although the compromise was greeted with relief, each side disapproved of some of its specific provisions:
Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico as well as its claims north of 36°30′. It retained the Texas Panhandle, and the federal government took over the state’s public debt.
California was admitted as a free state, with its current boundaries.
The South prevented the adoption of the Wilmot Proviso, which would have outlawed slavery in the new territories. The new Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory were allowed, under popular sovereignty, to decide whether to allow slavery within their borders. In practice, these lands were generally unsuited to plantation agriculture, and their settlers were uninterested in slavery.
The slave trade, but not the institution of slavery, was banned in the District of Columbia.
A more stringent Fugitive Slave Law was enacted, requiring law enforcement in free states to support the capture and return of fugitive slaves, and increasing penalties against people who tried to evade the law.
The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor. Although a slave owner, he had wanted to exclude slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850 because of opposition by both pro-slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery northern Whigs. Upon Clay’s instruction, Stephen Douglas divided Clay’s bill into several smaller pieces and narrowly won their passage, over the opposition of radicals on both sides.
Born On This Day
1788 – Antoine César Becquerel, French physicist and biochemist (d. 1878)
Antoine César Becquerel (7 March 1788 – 18 January 1878) was a French scientist and a pioneer in the study of electric and luminescent phenomena.
He was born at Châtillon-sur-Loing (today Châtillon-Coligny). After passing through the École polytechnique he became engineer-officer in 1808, and saw active service with the imperial troops in Spain from 1810 to 1812, and again in France in 1814. He then resigned from the army and devoted the rest of his life to scientific investigation.
In 1820, following the work of René Just Haüy, he found that pressure can induce electricity in every material, attributing the effect to surface interactions (this is not piezoelectricity). In 1825 he invented a differential galvanometer for the accurate measurement of electrical resistance. In 1829 he invented a constant-current electrochemical cell, the forerunner of the Daniell cell. In 1839, working with his son A. E. Becquerel, he discovered the photovoltaic effect on an electrode immersed in a conductive liquid.
His earliest work was mineralogical in character, but he soon turned his attention to the study of electricity and especially of electrochemistry. In 1837 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and received its Copley Medal for his various memoirs on electricity, and particularly for those on the production of metallic sulphurets and sulphur by electrolysis. He was the first to prepare metallic elements from their ores by this method. It was hoped that this would lead to increased knowledge of the recomposition of crystallized bodies, and the processes which may have been employed by nature in the production of such bodies in the mineral kingdom.
In biochemistry he worked at the problems of animal heat and at the phenomena accompanying the growth of plants, and he also devoted much time to meteorological questions and observations. He was a prolific writer, his books including Traité de l’électricité et du magnétisme (1834–1840), Traité de physique dans ses rapports avec la chimie (1842), Elements de électro-chimie (1843), Traité complet du magnétisme (1845), Elements de physique terrestre et de meteorologié (1847), and Des climats et de l’influence qu’exercent les sols boisés et non boisés (1853). He died in Paris, where from 1837 he had been professor of physics at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle.
He became a correspondent of the Royal Institute in 1836, when that became the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1851, he became a foreign member.
He was the father of the physicist A. E. Becquerel and grandfather of the physicist Henri Becquerel. His name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.
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